Berlin - Matchday 29 winds down in the capital on Sunday as Hertha Berlin host 1899 Hoffenheim at the Olympiastadion (kick-off 15.30 GMT / 17.30 CEST).
No hiding place for Hertha
Next to one another in the table and both free of the relegation battle but also 11 points off a European place, these are two sides whose campaigns are at risk of sliding into mid-table mediocrity with six games to go. However, their last meeting produced a 3-2 humdinger, while Hoffenheim games have yielded a massive 125 goals this season. Excitement, it would seem, is guaranteed.
After ending 2013 sixth in the table, Hertha have struggled considerably in the New Year. They have won just two of 11 matches, losing their last four, a streak that Jos Luhukay had never previously experienced since taking the coaching reins in May 2012. They have also found the net just twice in the last six encounters, with leading scorer Adrian Ramos receiving little or no support in carrying the goalscoring burden.
Neither has their home ground been a place of comfort of late. The 'Old Lady' are without a league win on their own patch since 13 December, and midfielder Fabian Lustenberger is hoping to put an end to that unwelcome run. “As players we owe the fans a performance,” said the Swiss international. “In terms of going forward, they have more quality than us, but if we can stay solid and make the most of our chances, we can get a result.”
Hoffenheim's two faces
The visitors’ attacking talents are certainly to be envied by most of the Bundesliga’s teams. Hoffenheim have scored 63 goals this season, behind only FC Bayern München and Borussia Dortmund, are the only team to score three goals against the Bundesliga champions this season and have one of the league’s most dynamic attacking trios in Kevin Volland, Roberto Firmino and Anthony Modeste, who have banged in 35 goals between them.
Yet as good as they are in attack, Markus Gisdol’s men are almost as bad in defence, having shipped 62 goals, more than any other side. “Our plan is to stay solid at the back and force their defence into making mistakes,” said coach Jos Juhukay. “We did that very well in the first game. We’ve never given ourselves a specific position to finish in. We’re just looking to leave the best possible impression we can in the last six games.”
The impression Hoffenheim will have left come the season’s end will be one of excitement and exhilaration after so many entertaining matches, and coach Gisdol is eager that their recent form - and attractive, aesthetically pleasing style of football - be maintained in the home stretch.
“People might have thought that the lads would take their foot off the gas, but that simply hasn’t happened”, said the 44-year-old. “We want to keep this positive momentum going into the final few games, and the players won’t be letting up.”
Hertha: Kraft - Pekarik, Brooks, Langkamp, van den Bergh - Hosogai, Sjkelbred - Allagui, Ronny, Schulz - Ramos
Hoffenheim: Grahl - Johnson, Süle, Vestergaard, Beck - Rudy, Polanski, Salihovic - Firmino, Volland - Modeste