Hertha Berlin began their incredibly busy end to the season with a draw at Mainz on Monday. Can the capital club - currently second bottom - save themselves from relegation?
bundesliga.com assesses the Old Lady’s prospects in their sprint finish to the 2020/21 campaign.
For their first outing in over three weeks, it was inevitable that they would take a little while to get going against Mainz on Monday. The visitors came under intense pressure early on against a home side who were previously in the relegation zone but now have the fifth-best record in the top flight in the second half of the season.
Watch: Highlights of Hertha's draw with Mainz
Inside the first 10 minutes Jean-Paul Boetius miscued from close range for Mainz before hitting the underside of the bar, and then Alexander Schwolow made a stunning save when Adam Szalai was played in one-on-one.
“I tried to stay tall for as long as possible and not let him nutmeg me,” Hertha keeper Schwolow said afterwards. “He recognised that and went for the chip but I saw it coming… That’s why I’m here - so that I can support the team and help us stay in the fight.”
“I’m just happy to have helped the team,” said French midfielder Tousart after getting his first goal for the club. “All together for the club and for this city - that’s the way forward.”
Hertha’s forward momentum was checked by a stunning equaliser from Phillipp Mwene before half-time, but the away side improved after the break. Substitute Krzysztof Piatek even missed a great late chance to win it, but Pal Dardai said a point was something to build on for the next game.
“We survived the opening exchanges and then stabilised,” he said. “We dug in and worked our way to a draw.”
Dardai announced himself “very satisfied” with the performance, suggesting that it was better than he had expected after such a long lay-off.
“It’s a good start,” the former Hertha midfielder stressed. “If you come out of a situation like we’ve been in and then lose straightaway, it would have been difficult psychologically.”
A draw against a Mainz side in exceptional form - unbeaten in eight now under new coach Bo Svensson - was certainly a positive way for Hertha to begin a run of six matches in 20 days. They next have home games against Freiburg and Bielefeld on Thursday and Sunday, before rounding off the campaign against Schalke, Cologne, and Hoffenheim.
Having invested in the squad over the last couple of seasons, Hertha have the quality - on paper at least - to get themselves out of trouble. A bird in the hand is worth two in the bush, however, so Dardai’s side still have plenty of work left to haul themselves above two other teams in order to avoid relegation.
A 2014 FIFA World Cup winner with Germany, veteran midfielder Sami Khedira’s experience could be telling. He moved to Berlin from Juventus at the start of February, and - with a passing accuracy of 92 percent and while winning 56 percent of his duels - he got through 61 minutes against Mainz.
The 34-year-old felt he “hadn’t quite drained the tank” by the time he was withdrawn, but he knows that Hertha need to manage their resources carefully to ensure they have enough energy to cope with a hectic schedule.
Khedira’s verdict is that the performance against Mainz wasn’t perfect, but the togetherness they had shown was a good sign for the run-in.
“That’s what it’s always about - being a family on the pitch, having that team spirit, and fighting for one another,” he declared after Hertha made it four games unbeaten.
Watch: Khedira: “A step in the right direction”
“Our young team has been learning that more and more. Overall, it was a good reaction from us and, even though we would have liked the three points, it’s a small step in the right direction.”
With the likes of Dodi Lukebakio and Marvin Plattenhardt to return, Hertha will - step by step - hope to climb up the table and out of danger. And thanks to a hard-earned point in Mainz, a win over midtable Freiburg could now lift them to 14th on goal difference.