Munich - At times the very definition of a yo-yo club following two relegations and as many promotions since the 2009/10 campaign, Hertha Berlin are well versed in capital punishment.
Their one season of consolidation in that self-same period came by way of an 11th-place finish last term, with top-flight survival once again the overarching goal in 2014/15.
After Hertha opened up their 2013/14 account with a flourish against Eintracht Frankfurt, players and fans alike from the blue and white half of the capital had every reason to temper expectations following the biggest Matchday 1 victory (6-1) for a newly promoted outfit since the Bundesliga's inception. "Two years ago we went into the winter break on 20 points and still went down," warned Hertha defender Fabian Lustenberger at the time. "We're not getting carried away."
Sure enough, with only FC Bayern München, Bayer 04 Leverkusen, Borussia Dortmund, Borussia Mönchengladbach and VfL Wolfsburg boasting a higher Hinrunde return at the halfway stage of the season, sixth-in-the-table Hertha swiftly fell by the wayside in the new year, adding just 13 more points to their pre-winter tally before the campaign's end. Second-half-of-the-season syndrome had struck again.
In with the new
"We have to be realistic," admitted head coach Jos Luhukay. "We're still not in a position to deliver top performances week after week, but if teams like Leverkusen, Mönchengladbach and Dortmund go through bad patches, we're allowed to as well. The only team that didn't were Bayern München and that's because they have enormous strength in depth. We need to improve in defence, midfield and attack if we're to compete."
To his credit, the Hertha tactician has duly covered all the aforementioned bases in the transfer market, but not before losing Adrian Ramos to BVB. The Colombian international netted 16 times in the Bundesliga last term, with the onus now on the likes of Roy Beerens, Valentin Stocker, Genki Haraguchi and Julian Schieber to help the club along the road to top-flight permanence.
"We've got a handful of new guys who all need to integrate as quickly as possible" Luhukay told local newspaper B.Z.. "The first three-and-a-half weeks of training weren't overly intense, but now we've got another three-and-a-half weeks until our first competitive outing in the DFB Cup. You need a lot of self-discipline to stay on top of your game for 34-plus matches. Every session counts."
And so it's with a familiar sense of trepidation that Hertha prepare for another assault on Germany's top table. In the last four years alone, their onerous travails have served as a poignant reminder of the fluctuating fortunes of the historic city the Alte Dame calls home, but this time, it is hoped, will be different. Luhukay doesn't expect silverware; he just wants stability.