Matchday 20 of the Bundesliga sees the surprise package of the season Hertha BSC host Borussia Dortmund at the Olympiastadion in a top of the table encounter.
Hertha, in 3rd position, have a healthy 3-point lead over Bayer Leverkusen and Dortmund have a healthier 10 point lead over their opponents for the upcoming fixture.
Dortmund’s sweaty 2-0 win over Ingolstadt last week was a lethargic game with neither side playing noteworthy football, nevertheless a Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang brace secured the win for the Black and Yellows. Star men Marco Reus and Ilkay Gündogan sat out the win with a bout of flu, but will be available for selection again in Berlin.
Hertha BSC are on a bit of a downward spiral after failing to win any of their two games after the winter break — both ending in draws. An entertaining 3-3 at Werder Bremen last matchday saw the capital outfit squander a 2-goal lead which ultimately cost them two points, something that could be vital if Hertha hope to be in the running for a Champions League spot. Vladimir Darida, Salomon Kalou and Marvin Plattenhardt were the goalscorers.
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Pal Dárdai, of Hungarian national team fame, is the man behind Hertha’s resurgence. The 39-year-old manager has primarily tightened up the defence, with Sebastian Langkamp and John Anthony Brooks forming a particularly strong partnership at center-back. Further, tweaking the midfield by playing all three workhorses — Fabian Lustenberger, Per Skjelbred and Vladimir Darida — has significantly improved Hertha’s ability to win the ball back in the centre of the pitch .
Dárdai has also brought the best out of captain Lustenberger by moving him from defence to midfield, and Mitchell Weiser the other way around. With all due credit to the players, it is not an overstatement to say that Dárdai has single-handedly transformed Hertha from bottom-dwellers to a team worthy of European football.
Borussia Dortmund’s Thomas Tuchel has filled in the void left by Jürgen Klopp surprisingly well. The former Mainz man has fixed the problems from last season and has made the team better equipped to deal with different oppositions. Tuchel’s build-up play and different approach to shot-taking have improved upon his predecessor’s work.
A revitalised Marcel Schmelzer and Ilkay Gündogan look to be back to their best, and the introduction of young Julian Weigl to the team has worked wonders. Further, Tuchel’s constant positional rotation of his attacking midfield — Reus, Kagawa and Mkhitaryan — has made Dortmund a different team.
Strength and Weaknesses
Not a team reliant on possession, Hertha prefer to play in their own half. While this has worked wonders against teams that like to press all over the field, it has backfired against teams that focus on build-up in the final third. Thus, this is both their biggest strength and their biggest weakness. Full-backs Weiser and Plattenhardt provide a lot of width to the team which is a great asset to have offensively, but often raises questions in defence.
Dortmund’s strength very obviously lies in the attacking trio of Mkhitaryan, Reus and Aubameyang, who already have 36 league goals between them this season. The supporting squad of Julian Weigl and Ilkay Gündogan have performed brilliantly as well and the team as a whole looks very cohesive. However, individual errors in defence and vulnerability to direct attacks have stopped BVB from waltzing away to victory every time, and they also often seem incapable of stopping opponents from creating chances.
Marvin Plattenhardt vs. Henrikh Mkhitaryan
Former German youth international Marvin Plattenhardt is a modern-day attacking left-back who provides a lot of support in the opposition’s half, but occasionally dozes off in defence and allows the opposite winger to get past him way too easily. The one man who could punish him for this is Henrikh Mkhitaryan. The Armenian’s quick feet and thinking will give him the upper edge, but the duel nevertheless will be fun to watch throughout the game.
Vladimir Darida vs. Ilkay Gündogan
The battle of the playmakers. With Hertha’s Per Skjelbred suspended, Czech international Darida could play as a deep-lying playmaker on Saturday. The energetic midfielder has covered the most distance in the Bundesliga this season and much of his team’s success could be attributed to him. His counterpart Gündogan has played a similar role for Dortmund and it will be interesting to see which of the two talented midfielders pulling the strings will come out on top.
Hertha, although winless since the winter break, are an imposing home team with just 1 loss at the Olympiastadion all season. Players like Mitchell Weiser and Vedad Ibisevic have regained their form after being written off, and the team plays with a confidence like no other. Expect a strong performance from the hosts who could quite possibly grab a point or more from their visitors.
Hertha Berlin 1-1 Borussia Dortmund