It is 15 miles in an almost straight line between the Olympic Stadium and the Stadion An der alten Forsterei, but Hertha BSC and Union Berlin could also exist in different galaxies at the moment.
Following Saturday’s 2-0 win, their fifth consecutive derby triumph, Urs Fischer’s side are second in the table, a point behind leaders Bayern Munich. “Lady Anna” Hertha are second from bottom, asking for oblivion, also known as Bundesliga 2.
Things are so bad in Charlottenburg that the manager of the Swiss Union has spared his former local rivals. “I wish you the best of luck in the relegation battle,” said the 56-year-old proudly. “We miss those games.”
The test of the latest and perhaps the last in the flight at the summit, which will not be common to all media. Hertha fought well in a slow, sub-zero temperature match, and could have had a penalty with Rani Khedira connecting with both the ball and Marc Oliver Kempf’s foot. But no more than a semi-decent performance from a typical Canta and the well organized visitors failed to score all three points.
Hertha’s increasingly desperate situation at the bottom of the board raised doubts about the suitability of head coach Sandro Schwarz but, instead of appointing a ninth coach in four years, the board took a leaf out of the German FA’s book and fired the sporting director instead. Fredi Bobic, who had been a contender for being fired by national team director Oliver Bierhoff not so long ago, was fired by president Kay Bernstein two hours after the final whistle.
Bernstein, the former ultra, explained the next day that it was not “an explicit decision against (Fred) Bobic” but a reflection of changed circumstances. When the Swede arrived from Eintracht Frankfurt almost two years ago, Hertha still had the faintest dreams of turning into a super club with support from investor Lars Windhorst and Bobic’s transfer acumen.
But Windhorst’s millions are already almost spent and the former Germany international’s bets on big players (Tayfun Korkut as manager, Kevin-Prince Boateng and Stevan Jovetic as senior players) only plunged Hertha further into trouble.
Bobic was no longer seen as the right man to lead a much leaner, self-sufficient and academy-focused club to a brighter future, with new investors the 777 Company balanced to accept and, moreover, the club felt its public entertainment. The German FA had revealed their lack of love for Hertha. Former youth development director Benjamin Weber and icon Andreas “Zecke” Neuendorf need to inject some “Hertha DNA” and define the “Berlin way” to turn the team’s fortunes around, as Bernstein put it.
The way to Berlin? An interesting re-branding effort considering the well-deserved reputation of head disorder and inactivity. Whether the new policy is more of a national identity will become clearer in time, but Hertha seem to have come to an appreciation of the current situation, at least.
The self-proclaimed “Big City Club” is getting ready for the season.
But the union should not be content with the best part in the city for much longer. While Fischer continues to talk about avoiding relegation out of habit or superstition, his first participation in the Champions League has become eminently possible. The way things are going in Munich, he doesn’t even rule out a challenge for a fourth season in the top flight. Even the Counts of Park FC’s fictional reputation of Footballers’ Wives could not tackle such a fantastic arc.
And not just having a great time on the pitch. A spurious rumor linking them with the signing of former Real Madrid maestro Isco has sparked a whole class of self-deprecating jokes among the players. “This is for Isco!” captain Christopher Trimmel posted after the win at Hertha, prompting the man himself to respond with a flexing muscle emoji. It’s funny, you can almost see it happening. The way they go, the eastern Berlin district of Kopenick will soon become a bona fide football center, the re-unified capital of Germany has been inducted since the 1990s.
But what did Munich, before the Iron Curtain was lifted, call the “secret capital” of Western Germany? Bayern are still at the top of the league after their third consecutive 1-1 draw – goals from Leroy Sane and Frankfurt’s mercurial Randal Kolo Muani – but they have become unrecognizable.
“This team is different than the one we saw before the World Cup,” executive chairman Oliver Kahn said after a nervously awkward encounter with high-flying Eintracht. Kahn has hinted at Qatar’s relationship problems with confidence, but seems to have forgotten how to play fast, cutting football altogether.
Unlike a barren August-September run of four league games without a contest, largely due to poor finishing, the current run has seen them create precious few chances.
According to Thomas Muller, there was no shortage of anger to fuel Bayern’s drive, but a lack of direction got them nowhere. Julian Nagelsmann criticized too much space between the lines, a lack of time and too much lack of wing play, but his team’s curious combination of long-ball development and empty possession play like Louis Van Gaal’s diminished second season (2010-2011) has raised some more fundamental suspicions.
Nothing but a win in Wednesday’s DFB Pokal game against Mainz, two weeks before a season-defining meeting with Paris Saint-Germain in the Champions League, will put the manager’s handling of the team under severe scrutiny.
In happier news, Borussia Dortmund is where they belong, preparing to qualify for the Champions League and perhaps a late appearance in the title race. Sunday’s 2-0 win at Bayer 04 Leverkusen made them only the second team to win all three league games this calendar year alongside Union. Karim Adeyemi’s first Bundesliga goal, assisted by a fantastic Sebastien Haller, sent the visitors on their way, and the super confident Judas Bellingham forced Edmond Tapsoba’s goal to secure all three points in the second half.
Borussia’s defensive performance was still more serious. A five-man defense with Emre Can in the center and two hard-working, no-nonsense wings (Julian Ryerson and Marius Wolf) provided the kind of resilience seen just at the start of the previous decade. A match against Xabi Alonso’s much-improved side will help Edin Terzic’s efforts to reform the side into a much stronger proposition. “This game needs to set the tone,” Powers said. “If you are strong in duels and work hard with each other, you can keep a lot of clean sheets.”
Fourth placed BVB are now only three points away from Bayern. “Are we ready to take the next step?” Terzic, surprised. The league for its own sake and the author did not feel in years if the answer was affirmative.
If Dortmund can’t chase Bayern, maybe RB Leipzig can. Their 2-1 win over VFB Stuttgart (a brace from Dominik Szoboszlai) wasn’t as convincing as the 6-1 loss to Schalke in midweek and also saw Dani Olmo pick up a hamstring injury, but Marco Rose’s men will need to take this seriously. at the time The same can be said about SC Freiburg (5th), who bounced back from a relatively poor start to 2023 with a 3-1 home win over FC Augsburg. Stefan Reuter, the club’s visiting sporting director, said Freiburg, despite their reputation as the league’s most flamboyant club, “are a smart club and are using all the available methods”, but he also admitted that his side was alone. criticize, after Mergim Berisha had excited the Europa-Stadion crowd with a goal celebration.
Nicolaus Hofler called Freiburg a “Drecksspieler (dirtbag or idiot)” afterwards, Reuter also claimed. “That’s beyond the pale,” said the 1990 World Cup winner. While it’s true that the opposition’s coaching staff is often privately receiving the kind of speech from their opposite numbers, Freiburg isn’t punching well above its weight during the game. You just have to do it.
(Top photo: Maja Hitij/Getty Images)