Hertha Berlin near breaking point to leave Labbadia on thin ice

Andy Brassell
·7-min read
<span>Photograph: Boris Streubel/Getty Images</span>
Photograph: Boris Streubel/Getty Images

The semi-legendary escalators that lead from the dressing rooms to the Olympiastadion pitch are a great idea in principle. You see how it’s meant to work – let the tech take the strain, and just get in the zone for the game. So when Hertha’s two most naturally gifted players, Matheus Cunha and Matteo Guendouzi, argued on the escalator out for the second half on Tuesday night like a couple in a department store locking horns over the future of their soft furnishings, it was clear this team had reached some sort of breaking point.

Understandably so. Sebastian Rudy’s deflected shot which opened the scoring for Hoffenheim in the first half was “symbolic of the whole Hinrunde”, coach Bruno Labbadia lamented after the game, but there were few excuses to be made here. They had their early chance to settle nerves, which Krzysztof Piatek spurned from the penalty spot. When Andrej Kramaric got a second with just over 20 minutes to go, a visiting team who had looked to be in a post-Christmas freefall and recently even become Schalke’s first victims of the season were on their way to a comfortable away win.

Related: European roundup: Real Madrid crash out of Copa del Rey to third-tier Alcoyano

A second for Kramaric was academic and after victories for Köln and Arminia Bielefeld on Wednesday – and being anywhere near those two teams should be a cause for concern – Hertha are just two points above the relegation play-off spot. The image of the new CEO Carsten Schmidt, appointed in December, on his feet in the main stand with arms tightly folded as the match ebbed away, has not gone unnoticed in Berlin.

This season’s aim of European qualification is pretty much over (while it is very much alive for neighbours Union who, despite being one of only two teams to lose to Hertha at the Olympiastadion this season, are still 11 points in front of them) and all that really remains is to see if Labbadia can stop the slide and stabilise the team – if he is allowed to. If Schmidt, and major investor Lars Windhorst, disagree, it has been suggested that former boss Pal Dardai might return from leading the under-16s to steady the ship.

Ralf Rangnick has also been linked with the job and here, at least, would be a plan, though the sense is that certain supporter groups would not be happy with a boss so closely linked with non-traditional projects like Hoffenheim and Leipzig. Yet “like no other in Germany”, as Jörn Lange wrote in Berliner Morgenpost, “he stands for coherent concepts and their consistent implementation”.

For this column’s money, sacking Labbadia shouldn’t be the move. He’s an experienced, steady hand who had Hertha playing some of the best football in the Bundesliga post-lockdown, before the team bottomed out on the home strait and missed out on Europe. The problem at the moment for him – or any immediate future incumbent – is that Hertha’s ambition outstrips the squad’s means, even if this current set of players could and should be doing better. The squad is talented but unbalanced, much of which falls on general manager Michael Preetz, who is attracting even more ire than the coach at present.

Head coach Bruno Labbadia gestures towards general manager Michael Preetz and sporting director Arne Friedrich on the Hertha bench
Head coach Bruno Labbadia gestures towards general manager Michael Preetz and sporting director Arne Friedrich on the Hertha bench. Photograph: Boris Streubel/Getty Images

The question now is one of nerve. As well as prospective new coaches, big-name players have been put forward as solutions, with Julian Draxler (again) and Atalanta’s Papu Gómez of interest. Yet neither fix the team’s issues in shielding the defence or the problem that Kicker’s Steffen Rohr referred to as Hertha comprising of “11 individual parts, but not a whole”. Optimism was originally fostered by buying the right players to grow with, not the biggest stars.

“Of course I have the feeling that I can still get through to the team,” Labbadia said bullishly at full-time. For his and, perhaps, for Hertha’s sake, let’s hope so.

Talking points

• Again, Bayern Munich were far from dazzling, this time at Augsburg – and again they just about got it done, with Robert Lewandowski’s early penalty proving decisive after the home side’s Iago hit a spot-kick of his own against the post in the second half. “If we want to take something positive out of it,” said an unimpressed Hansi Flick, “the team fought hard and kept a clean sheet. But it’s clear we made too many mistakes.”

Wednesday: Arminia Bielefeld 3-0 Stuttgart; Augsburg 0-1 Bayern Munich; Freiburg 2-2 Eintracht Frankfurt; RB Leipzig 1-0 Union Berlin; Schalke 1-2 Cologne. Tuesday: Bayer Leverkusen 2-1 Borussia Dortmund; Borussia Mönchengladbach 1-0 Werder Bremen; Hertha Berlin 0-3 Hoffenheim; Mainz 0-2 Wolfsburg.

• Leipzig are the nearest to being in touch, getting past a dogged Union with a single, very nicely crafted goal by substitute Emil Forsberg, which keeps them four points behind the champions and leaders. Julian Nagelsmann praised his side for being “incredibly mature” and this was something we haven’t always seen from them; they had 74% possession but never lost their patience or nerve..

• Leverkusen got themselves out of their recent funk with a win over Borussia Dortmund, which should have been comprehensive on the back of a dominant first-half display yet in the end could have been a defeat, with Florian Wirtz’s stylishly-finished winner scored against the run of late second-half play as the visitors pushed for a decisive goal of their own – and just after the point when Peter Bosz was thinking of substituting the 17-year-old. “I don’t know how,” marvelled the coach, “but he suddenly breathed new life into his game.”

• For the away team, Edin Terzic now owns the worst start as a Dortmund coach since Thomas Doll in 2007. Terzic properly chided his team for the first time, calling out their poor “body language” after conceding the opener to Moussa Diaby, while captain Marco Reus admitted chasing “the championship had no relevance [in what we were doing] either before or after the game”.

• Next up for BVB is a Friday trip to Mönchengladbach, which now takes on an extra significance with the home side trailing them by just a single point after a hard-fought win over Werder Bremen. After Nico Elvedi’s winner, Marco Rose’s men came perilously close to conceding yet another late equaliser but a bigger concern is perhaps off-pitch, with the controversy surrounding Breel Embolo, who missed the Bremen match after breaking health and safety protocol on a visit to nearby Essen. The Swiss forward denies attending a 23-strong party there investigated by local police, but the constabulary have said they suspect a figure spotted escaping on the roof was Embolo himself.

• It was a battle of the two teams that have stunk out the Bundesliga in Gelsenkirchen, and a second straight home victory for Schalke might have pushed Köln’s Markus Gisdol towards the exit door – but despite Christian Gross’s team dominating the encounter and getting a fifth goal in three games out of teenage sensation Matthew Hoppe, they fell to a stoppage-time, breakaway winner from Effzeh’s own wunderkind, 18-year-old Jan Thielmann. Arminia Bielefeld’s surprise 3-0 win over Stuttgart a few hours later, sealed by a solo goal from the excellent Ritsu Doan, made it an even worse evening for Schalke, who are now 10 points from safety.

Pos

Team

P

GD

Pts

1

Bayern Munich

17

24

39

2

RB Leipzig

17

15

35

3

Bayer Leverkusen

17

15

32

4

Borussia Dortmund

17

11

29

5

Wolfsburg

17

7

29

6

Union Berlin

17

11

28

7

Borussia M'gladbach

17

5

28

8

Eintracht Frankfurt

17

4

27

9

Freiburg

17

3

24

10

Stuttgart

17

5

22

11

Hoffenheim

17

-5

19

12

Augsburg

17

-9

19

13

Werder Bremen

17

-6

18

14

Hertha Berlin

17

-5

17

15

Arminia Bielefeld

17

-11

17

16

Cologne

17

-13

15

17

Mainz

17

-21

7

18

Schalke 04

17

-30

7