Babbel’s Berlin defying expectations

Prior to the new season, many were predicting a tough battle against relegation for 2. Bundesliga champions Hertha BSC, the “Grand Old Dame” of German football, with the club short on money and concerns over their leaky defence. But Hertha have already beaten VfB Stuttgart, Borussia Dortmund and, last weekend, the improving 1. FC Köln, conceding just once in the process.

A brace from German Under-21 international Pierre-Michel Lasogga helped them to a crushing 3-0 win at home to Köln on matchday eight. The scoring was complete just after the half-hour mark. The 19-year-old Lasogga, having struggled to adapt to life in the Bundesliga so far, after scoring 13 goals in the club’s promotion season last year, scored twice from close range after good work from Anis Ben-Hatira for both goals. Raffael added the third with a fine volley, the Brazilian netting three times this season despite showing some patchy form.

As well as keeping a clean sheet here, they defended superbly against Dortmund, cramping space in the final third and making several tackles and interceptions. Since gaining promotion, Hertha have worked excellently on their defensive unit, and Babbel, still a fairly inexperienced coach, is seen to be doing a fine job there so far.

Another feature of Hertha’s good start, linked to their strong and well-drilled defence, has been their aggression. Robust and energetic midfielder Patrick Ebert has been in excellent form, while Babbel’s side have already collected 22 yellow cards and two reds in their first eight games. “I encourage my team to play aggressively”, their coach told the tabloid Bild, although he complained, perhaps justifiably, about some dubious refereeing decisions against his side, including receiving eight yellow and two red cards in their defeat to Werder Bremen.

Some astute signings have also aided Babbel’s side’s cause, especially given the lack of money at the club. Bayern München chairman Karl-Heinz Rummenigge took some of the credit for the Berlin club’s successful start to the season following their shock win at Dortmund, saying that Hertha “had three Bayern players assisting them, which helps explain things”. Indeed, the free-transfer summer signings of goalkeeper Thomas Kraft, once tipped as Bayern’s successor to Oliver Kahn, and midfielder Andreas Ottl have settled very well into their new team.

But despite a comfortable start, with three wins and just two defeats in their first eight games, Babbel is keen to stress the importance of continued hard work, and to improve on some of the poorer performances of the season, expressing disappointment at the 2-2 home draw against FC Augsburg three weeks ago. “It shows how far we have to go”, he said.

Fellow promoted club Augsburg, unlike Hertha, have failed to convince at this level so far, and are still without a win two months into the new season. They were beaten 4-0 last weekend by Borussia Dortmund at the Signal Iduna Park, as the German champions released their frustrations from the previous weeks with a dominant and flowing performance. Mario Götze was at the heart of all of Dortmund’s creation, showing just how important he is to the team, but the star of the show here was Robert Lewandowski, who scored a hat-trick. The Pole’s first two goals were scrappy efforts, but he provided a stunning pass for Götze to make it 3-0 with an equally good finish, before the young star crossed for Lewandowski to complete his triple. Augsburg have earned plucky points against the likes of Hannover 96 and SC Freiburg but, on this evidence, it seems that pre-season forecasts of a campaign of struggle seem likely to occur.

Hamburger SV remain alongside Augsburg at the bottom after a 2-1 home defeat to Schalke 04 on Sunday, in a clash between two sides who had lost their managers the week before. After Ralf Rangnick’s sudden resignation, new coach Huub Stevens has seen Schalke to two consecutive victories. After the match, Stevens revealed he had spoken to Rangnick last Wednesday, who his taking a break at Lake Constance with his wife. Hamburg, however, are yet to appoint a new coach, allowing interim boss Rodolfo Cardoso to take charge of team affairs for the last two matches, and performances have already drastically improved, despite defeat here. But coaches who, like Cardoso, lack the UEFA Pro Licence, cannot run a Bundesliga club for longer than two weeks, meaning a more qualified one will need to be in the dugout for HSV’s next match.

Bayern München were denied victory for the first time in eleven matches in all competitions, but they kept up their record of eleven consecutive clean-sheets with a 0-0 draw away at 1899 Hoffenheim. Hoffenheim gave Jupp Heynckes’ side probably their sternest test of the season so far, and largely outplayed their opponents, who had Manuel Neuer to thank for some good saves in certainly his best performance for his new club.

After Bayern’s draw, Borussia Mönchengladbach and Werder Bremen had the chance to join the Bavarian club at the top of the table, but they both suffered only their second defeats of the season. Borussia went down 1-0 to SC Freiburg, Johannes Flum’s deflected long-range effort separating the teams. Werder Bremen were beaten 3-2 by Hannover 96 in a thrilling match on Sunday. Hannover’s in-form striker Mohammad Abdellaoue netted a hat-trick to seal the win for the hosts. Abdellaoue’s goals have kept Didier Ya Konan, Mirko Slomka’s side’s star player from last season, out of the team. Hannover had gone 2-0 up in the first half, the first a penalty and the second brilliantly created by Jan Schlaudraff. The former German international has been plagued by injury over the last few years, and his return to form has been an important feature in Hannover’s good start to the season too. Marko Arnautovic pulled one back for Bremen, before Abdellaoue sealed the win. Another in-form striker, Claudio Pizarro, scored a stoppage-time consolation. Hannover sit in fifth spot after the win.

Bayer Leverkusen sealed a comfortable 3-1 win over Felix Magath’s VfL Wolfsburg. Robin Dutt has operated with a 4-2-3-1 system for Leverkusen since taking over in the summer, utilising the pace of wingers Andre Schürrle and Sidney Sam, with Renato Augusto in an advanced position, one striker and largely no Michael Ballack in the team. But with some inconsistent form, and a suspension to their €8 million signing Schürrle, the hosts here switched to 4-4-2 here and put in possibly their best performance of the season, and both strikers were on target. Gonzalo Castro finished a wonderfully worked opener, and although Mario Mandzukic equalised in the second half, Leverkusen eased to victory thereafter. Eren Derdiyok’s contender for ‘goal of the season’, a brilliant bicycle-kick, put his side back in front, and a defence-splitting pass from Simon Rolfes allowed Stefan Kiessling to seal the win.

1. FC Nürnberg and FSV Mainz 05 shared a 3-3 draw in another of the weekend’s gripping encounters, with Mainz’s shaky defence still hindering their progress as they sit in 14th place. On Friday evening, VfB Stuttgart won 2-0 at Kaiserslautern.

Finally, it was announced on Thursday that Breno, Bayern’s young defender who had allegedly set fire to his own house two weeks ago, is to leave jail after having his arrest warrant suspended. Breno, whose mental health Bayern officials are concerned about, had spent the last two weeks behind bars following the incident.

The Author

Jonathan Lines

Jonathan Lines is a football writer from England, with a particular interest in German football, the relationship and differences between the Engish and German game, and the current fortunes of eastern German clubs.

One thought on “Babbel’s Berlin defying expectations

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *