- Hertha enjoying club record start.
- Vedad Ibisevic weighing in with tackles as well as goals.
- Hard work and young drive fuel Old Lady.
Hertha Berlin have enjoyed a club record start to a Bundesliga campaign, with head coach Pal Dardai among those credited for the Old Lady's perfect home form and impressive results to date.
Things are very much going Hertha Berlin's way this season. Following Saturday’s 2-1 victory in their crunch game against 1. FC Köln, the Old Lady are once again waltzing with the Bundesliga elite. Yet how is it that Pal Dardai's side have started the campaign in such striking fashion?
Hertha have won five and drawn two of their opening eight Bundesliga matches this term, earning them a club high 17 points at this stage of a top-flight campaign. The capital club have also enjoyed a perfect home record, managing four wins from four at the Olympiastadion. With statistics like these, it was no wonder 60,000 home fans hurried along to the stadium in Charlottenburg-Wilmersdorf to witness the weekend encounter against Köln.
Watch: Hertha goalscorer Ibisevic praises his teammates after the Köln victory:
Hertha's current achievements represent a stark contrast to how the team performed in the second half of last season. With just one victory between late March and mid-May, it was no surprise they ranked third from bottom based on their results during that period. Indeed, that poor form spilled into the current campaign, when Die Alte Dame were knocked out of the UEFA Europa League at the qualifying round stage by Danish side Brondby IF. In the first round of the German Cup, Die Blau-Weißen – or the Blue and Whites – only managed to see off third division side SSV Jahn Regensburg on penalties. Yet, from that point on, Hertha have hit lift-off.
But what caused the dramatic turnaround? There are those who feel that the Europa League elimination was a shot across the bows of Hertha's listing ship and that the jolt came at an opportune time. But the probable cause may be found elsewhere. Dardai focused his pre-season plans specifically on making sure his team hit the ground running once the Bundesliga got under way and took the risk of not having his players 100 per cent ready for the European eliminator against the Danes. At that time, Dardai's gamble appeared to have backfired, but the Hungarian is certainly reaping the fruits of his team's pre-season labour now.
A return to the principles of hard running and defensive solidity has allowed Hertha to mirror their feats of the first half of last season. They reached last term's Hinrunde stage in third place, with only FC Bayern München having conceded fewer goals. In third spot then, Hertha find themselves in the same position once again with a quarter of the current campaign concluded. Their coach pointed out that – apart from the 3-0 reverse against Bayern – his team overcame every opponent in terms of tackles made, which was also a key in the Köln win, with Hertha winning 54 per cent of their attempted challenges. "There is no other way; we do not have the footballing quality," striker Vedad Ibisevic said, almost apologetically, after Saturday's win.
Enjoying arguably the best moment of his career, the Bosnia and Herzegovina international is perhaps the best example of Hertha’s fighting spirit. With nineteen tackles and the game's opening goal at the Olympiastadion on Saturday, he proved a key figure in the victory against the previously unbeaten Billy Goats. The leadership role Ibisevic has assumed as captain is something few would have thought him capable a few years ago.
And to think that the man they call 'Vedator' – or Vedagoal – has not even had regular strike partner Salomon Kalou by his side during the current run. Due to two recent family bereavements, Kalou has been missing for weeks. With 14 Bundesliga goals for Hertha last season, the Ivorian was the team's most dangerous player. His return against Köln was largely rushed with Vladimir Darida and Valentin Stocker both out of action. "You could see that Kalou needs match practice," Ibisevic later said. "We must all help him to get back to peak fitness as the season is long and we will need him."
Other players have become indispensable, like youngsters Niklas Stark and Mitchell Weiser, both currently courting the interest of Germany coach Joachim Löw. Stark is a cool, calm and collected central defender who can also fill the defensive midfield role, as he did against Köln. The 1.90m-tall 21-year-old belies his young age and even proved he can chip in with important goals, as he did when scoring a headed winner at the weekend.
Weiser, meanwhile, was involved in the build-up to both of Saturday's goals but after the game, was reluctant to raise any excitement about the position his team currently occupies in the standings. "We've learned from last season and know it is still way too early in the season to be looking at the table," the Germany Under-21 wide man said.
Next up for Hertha is Tuesday's trip to face FC St. Pauli Hamburg in the second round of the DFB Cup, while a clash against fellow Bundesliga high-flyers TSG 1899 Hoffenheim awaits next weekend.