Dodi Lukebakio's goals and the return of Marco Richter have been the highs for Hertha Berlin in a 2022/23 campaign that has produced glimpses of good performances but not yet the results to back that up.
The story so far
Given Hertha had gone through seven coaches since the end of Pal Dardai's four-year tenure in summer 2019 - including the Hungarian's 10-month return in 2021 - stability was the order of the day when they appointed Sandro Schwarz. Initial results were certainly consistent but not in a positive sense. For the second time in three years, the Old Lady lost their opening fixture of the campaign in the DFB Cup against Eintracht Braunschweig. They were then comprehensively beaten by city rivals Union Berlin in the Matchday 1 derby.
A 1-1 draw at home to Eintracht Frankfurt a week later was followed by back-to-back 1-0 defeats to Borussias Mönchengladbach and Dortmund. It took the Berliners until Matchday 5 to finally get their first three points, winning 2-0 in Augsburg when Richter scored the second to crown an emotional return from cancer.
Four straight draws followed before defeat at RB Leipzig and then a first home win of the campaign - at the sixth attempt - against Schalke. A run of three more defeats on the bounce was then ended in the final game of the year. That 2-0 victory at home to Cologne also ensured Hertha would spend the long winter break outside of the bottom three - but only on goal difference.
Schwarz stated during the break that Hertha "definitely could have had more points". It was often individual mistakes or single instances in a game that ultimately cost them, which frequently happens to teams struggling in the tight battle at the bottom.
Key player: Dodi Lukebakio
If you're making some mistakes at the back, you need a goalscorer at the other end able to make up for that. Lukebakio has been by far Hertha's best attacking outlet with seven goals out of the team's 19. That's already just three shy of his personal best in a season (10 for Fortuna Düsseldorf in 2018/19). Despite the Berliners' attacking struggles, the Belgium international is at the top end of the division's attacking stats, ranking 10th for shots (37) and seventh for goals. He has started every match so far and also has one assist.
Just three wins doesn't give Hertha the greatest highlights reel. The 2-1 victory over Schalke on Matchday 11 was their first of the season at home and filled with late drama, but there's no beating the inspiring story of their 2-0 victory in Augsburg. Lukebakio had the visitors a goal to the good after an hour before Richter - a week after his first appearance following surgery to remove a testicular tumour - came off the bench to bag the second. A heartwarming tale in itself, but he did it in front of his close family and back at his boyhood club. It was the perfect homecoming.
Watch: Richter's return in Hertha's victory at Augsburg
One to watch: Marco Richter
That comeback goal was just the start for Richter. He struck the September Goal of the Month off the bench the following week as Hertha earned a 2-2 draw with Bayer Leverkusen. The 25-year-old also got an assist against Freiburg before he was finally given his first start since surgery. Another provision against Bayern Munich and goal in the win over Cologne show he's gently returning to both full fitness and form. That will only boost Hertha's chances in 2023.
View from the camp
"Things are going in the right direction for us on the whole, without us beaming with happiness because we can still improve and also have to. We've created stability overall and made good development, but we still have steps to take." - Schwarz
Key fixtures in 2023
- Bochum (a), 21 January
- Union Berlin (h), 28 January
- Schalke (a), 15 April
- Bayern Munich (a), weekend of 29 April
- VfB Stuttgart (h), weekend of 6 May
- Bochum (h), weekend of 20 May
Watch: The Bundesliga is back!
All 2022/23 season reviews:
Augsburg | Bayer Leverkusen | Bayern Munich | Bochum | Borussia Dortmund | Borussia Mönchengladbach | Cologne | Eintracht Frankfurt | Freiburg | Hoffenheim | Mainz | RB Leipzig | Schalke | Union Berlin | VfB Stuttgart | Werder Bremen | Wolfsburg
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