Berlin - Two of the Bundesliga’s most traditional and passionately-supported clubs face off in the Olympiastadion on Matchday 11, when Hertha Berlin host FC Schalke 04 in a fight for fourth-place (kick-off 15.30 CET).
Hertha’s outstanding rise has taken them into fifth-place, thereby providing a direct obstacle to Schalke’s re-evaluated season aim of fourth place. “We respect Schalke”, said Hertha’s Dutch coach Jos Luhukay in his pre-match press conference. “That doesn’t mean that we won’t be trying to keep up our good winning record at home.”
The Berliners’ home record speaks for itself. In their six games this season, they have picked up twelve points from a possible 15, the only stain a a 1-0 loss to VfB Stuttgart on Matchday 5. Their home victories have played a pivotal role in them scaling the standings, and although their form on the road has been less imposing, the overall experience has not been a negative one, particularly against FC Bayern München last week.
After a fearless performance in Munich and an eventual 3-2 defeat, this week’s hosts have been working on their “defensive control” according to Luhukay. “We’ve been working on certain things in training, but we’ll need all the support we’re going to get in order to impose our style of play.” 62,000 tickets have been sold in advance, and the capital’s excitement for the visit of Schalke’s stars is palpable, but not all are so enamoured about seeing Schalke’s attacking quartet. “Julian Draxler and “Max Meyer can decide a game in a second,” said Luhukay. “They’ve got a good defence, and we all know the names of their powerful attacking quartet.”
There's no guarantee they’re going to be firing on all cylinders, however. Schalke come into this battle for the UEFA Champions League slots rocked by a Revierderbydefeat to Borussia Dortmund on Matchday 10, and wary of their hosts. “Hertha are having an excellent season,” acknowledged coach Jens Keller. “There’s no way they’ve been lucky this season, they’ve played well and shown great team spirit.”
Despite Luhukay recognising Schalke’s “good defence”, Keller doesn’t see it quite that way. “Unfortunately we’re making too many individual errors which are leading to goals,” said the 42-year-old ahead of this clash with “strong opposition”. Furthermore, Schalke have hardly inspired confidence on the thier travels this season, conceding over two goals per game, and only picking up two wins, most recently on Matchday 9 in the dying seconds against Eintracht Braunschweig.
Roman Neustädter scored the winner, but part of Schalke’s recent mixed form can be attributed to the absence of the underrated Marco Höger, his usual partner in holding midfield. Former Hertha youth teamer Kevin-Prince Boateng, who has had a marked impact on Schalke's fortunes since joining the club, is still a doubt to feature against his former side due to a recurring knee injury.
While Schalke’s bad form is compounded by injuries, Hertha’s good form is aided by a near-clean bill of health. “Only Alexander Baumjohann is unavailable for this weekend,” said Luhukay, who is expected to bring back club joint-top scorer Sami Allagui in place of Tolga Cigerci on the right-flank.
Hertha Berlin: Kraft - Pekarik, Lustenberger, S. Langkamp, J. van den Bergh - Hosogai, Skjelbred - Allagui, Ben-Hatira, N. Schulz - Ramos
FC Schalke 04: Hildebrand - Uchida, Höwedes, Matip, Aogo - Neustädter, J. Jones - K.-P. Boateng, M. Meyer, Draxler - Szalai
Schalke's very own Prince is returning to his former stamping ground, check it out courtesy of the official Bundesliga YouTube channel: