Borussia Dortmund face old foes Hertha Berlin in their home-opening match of the 2017/18 season.
Hertha Berlin have been a recent thorn in the side of Die Schwarz-Gelben. In the previous five matches, there have been three draws, one BVB victory, and, likewise, one Hertha victory. Hertha is a gritty club led by manager Pal Dardai, who every season seemingly gets more out of very little from his side.
After a brush with relegation and a 15th place finish in 2014/15, Berlin have been on a steady climb in the Bundesliga. They flirted with Champions League qualification in both 2015/16 and 2016/17 but ultimately ended up in Europa League spots at the conclusion of both seasons. Nevertheless, this was a massive accomplishment for a club with a budget the size of Hertha’s.
Hertha are perhaps the weakest “capital club” in Europe’s top five leagues (Bundesliga, Premier League, La Liga, Ligue 1, and Serie A) when it comes to finances, but you will find it difficult to find any team that plays harder. What Hertha lack in skill and creativity, they more than make up for with their fitness and ability to quickly strike down the wings using well-timed counter-attacks.
Simply put, Hertha Berlin will run the opposition into the ground. Their pace is unmatched in the Bundesliga. This has paid dividends for the club, as they have finished each of the previous two Hinrunde sessions in third and fifth place. Berlin must now find a way to sustain this success over the course of an entire campaign, as their performances begin to waver the longer the season goes. This is where the lack of quality impacts Hertha the most.
The issue with Hertha Berlin is not necessarily that they lack quality in their starting XI (sure, they could use a more creative centre mid as well as a more potent forward than Alexander Esswein) but rather their overall squad depth. Pal Dardai understands this well, so in order to compete and remain in the top half of the table, Dardai has ensured that his side would simply outpace the opposition for the duration of a match.
Something to be aware of—Hertha will hustle for 90 minutes, attempting to create chances at scoring a cheap goal. A scrappy bunch, they will look to draw a foul somewhere within a reasonable distance of their opponent’s goal. Free-kick specialist Marvin Plattenhardt is especially lethal with his left foot anywhere within 30 metres of goal. It would behoove Dortmund to minimise Hertha’s chances in this area of the match.
Dortmund’s backline should be more concerned with Hertha’s ability to create chances with individual skill rather than through link-up play. Players such as Salomon Kalou and Vedad Ibišević can score a goal from almost any angle.
While it is true that Hertha BSC have a few players who can create their own shots, it is also true that their attack will often fizzle as a result of the many errors committed in their build up. This is where the lack of a creative centre mid hurts this team.
It appears that Dortmund captain Marcel Schmelzer will again be absent due to an injury suffered during the club’s Asia pre-season tour. This means Dan-Axel Zagadou will again start at left-back for BVB. Hertha normally prefer to attack down the right wing, but for Saturday’s match Pal Dardai will surely recognize the Dortmund left side as a glaring weakness, with Zagadou’s lack of experience and him playing out of position. Look for Hertha to capitalise on this.
Following the outstanding performance against VfL Wolfsburg, which saw Dortmund dominate for virtually the entirety of the match, manager Peter Bosz will again apply his attacking 4-3-3 formation. Brilliant shots by Christian Pulisic and Marc Bartra saw BVB go up 2–0 over the Wolves. Dortmund may again need a goal or two from long distance, as Hertha excel at defending the area in front of goal.
Bosz might also be wise not to play the backline as high up the pitch in this match, considering Hertha’s pace. As long as the defence stay disciplined and do not allow Berlin’s speedy attackers to get into open space, they should turn in another stellar performance, building off of last week’s fantastic effort. If Hertha are limited to taking long shots from open play, it could be a long day indeed for the capital-city club.
Dortmund will need to be crafty and opportunistic. It has only been one match, but it appears that Mario Götze is well on the way of returning to the “Super Mario” of old. If he can duplicate his performance from the previous match, he will make it difficult for Hertha to combat the Dortmund attack. His creativity in midfield, along with Christian Pulisic and Maximilian Philipp attacking down the wings, will put constant pressure on the Hertha defenders. Dardai will have his lads well prepared, but even the best defence eventually breaks when a side with such tremendous offensive capabilities as Dortmund attacks from all angles of the pitch over the 90 minutes.
Prediction: Borussia Dortmund have not lost a home match in the Bundesliga since April 2015. Hertha BSC have been one of the worst sides away from home in that same time span. It will be a tightly contested match, with Hertha annoying Dortmund for long stretches. In the end, Dortmund’s quality and Hertha’s lack thereof will be the difference maker. BVB 2–1 Hertha BSC
Dortmund: Bürki – Piszczek, Bartra, Sokratis, Zagadou – Götze, Şahin, Castro – Pulisic, Philipp, Aubameyang
Coach: Peter Bosz
Hertha BSC: Jarstein – Weiser, Langkamp, Rekik, Plattenhardt – Stark, Skjelbred – Leckie, Darida, Esswein – Ibišević
Coach: Pal Dardai