Bayern Munich may have won their seventh consecutive Bundesliga title some 35 points clear of 11th-placed Hertha Berlin, but the Old Lady has history of giving the Bavarians a bloody nose, and there are few better ways to kick of the season…
All eyes will be on Hertha on 16 August as they get the new season up and running at the Allianz Arena in Munich (kick-off 8.30pm CEST/7.30pm GMT/2.30pm ET). The Old Lady may be the first of 34 hurdles Bayern need to clear if they're to retain their title once more, but it is a substantial one.
While Bayern have traditionally had the better of Hertha in the Bundesliga, winning 39 of the 68 top-flight encounters to date, the capital club have been something of a bogey team for their Bavarian rivals in recent years. Hertha are the only club across the last three Bundesliga campaigns to have taken points off Bayern in more than three games.
The Berliners have caused the record champions serious problems in the last couple of years, and in fact they were the only team Bayern failed to score against in the 2018 calendar year, drawing 0-0 in Munich before a 2-0 reverse at the Olympiastadion in the capital – the latter the first time in eight years Bayern had been defeated during Oktoberfest.
Even the most recent meeting at the Allianz Arena in February was a nail-biting affair. Hertha were in fact the superior side in the first 45 minutes before succumbing to a Javi Martinez header from a corner midway through the second half. It was a scrappy result for Bayern, disappointing for Hertha, but further proof that this Berlin side are no pushovers.
Remaining unbeaten against both Bayern and Borussia Dortmund throughout 2018, the men from the capital have already shown a flair for stepping up for the big occasion, and are unlikely to disappoint on the opening day of 2019/20.
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Hertha playmaker Ondrej Duda particularly enjoys the stage provided by Bayern. The Slovakia international scored his maiden Bundesliga goal against the record champions in October 2017 before striking again in the first meeting of last season. Last season's top-scoring No.10 has lost just one of his four Bundesliga appearances against the champions.
The experienced head of Salomon Kalou also tells in these clashes. The Ivorian has fond memories of the Allianz Arena, where he beat Bayern in 2012 to win the UEFA Champions League with Chelsea. More recently, the 33-year-old scored the equaliser for Hertha in their 2-2 draw in 2017/18, won the penalty for Vedad Ibisevic's opener in last year's 2-0 win and also set up Maximilian Mittelstädt for the opener when Hertha took Bayern to extra-time in the DFB Cup round of 16.
One point of criticism against Hertha last season was that they ran out of steam under coach Pal Dardai as the season rolled on. Fresh impetus is expected in the Berlin squad now with the promotion of reserve team coach Ante Covic into the Olympiastadion hot seat.
It's perhaps the toughest introduction to Bundesliga football possible for the former Hertha player, who like his one-time teammate and Bayern counterpart Niko Kovac is also a Berlin-born midfielder of Croatian descent. Covic takes over in Berlin as a familiar face after almost a decade coaching there, but his arrival on the Bundesliga stage poses new questions after four years of Hertha under Dardai.
Bayern are traditionally quick out the blocks, meanwhile. They have lost just once on Matchday 1 in the last 17 years, winning their last seven by an impressive aggregate scoreline of 25-4. The Bavarian juggernaut have averaged almost 3.6 goals in their last seven opening games, and are undefeated on Matchday 1 since 2002.
The record champions may come into this season on the back of seven consecutive titles, yet they are also in transition. The departures of Arjen Robben and Franck Ribery leave the Bayern squad 474 Bundesliga appearances and 17 titles poorer. Defenders Mats Hummels and Rafinha have also left with their combined 632 Bundesliga matches and 13 titles.
Young defenders Benjamin Pavard and Lucas Hernandez have both joined a year after lifting the FIFA World Cup with France, as well as striker Fiete Arp from Hamburg, but they are all still relatively raw talents for Kovac & Co. to mould.
The race for a 30th league title is about to get underway for this new-look Bayern side. They have 34 matchdays to clear if they're do defend their crown against strengthened opposition, yet this first potential stumbling block on 16 August looms larger than might first meet the eye.