A stiff dose of discipline, a scoop of self-belief, and a cupful of courage is the recipe for success against Bayern Munich according to Salomon Kalou, part of the Hertha Berlin side that frustrated the Bundesliga leaders last weekend.
Kalou and Co. denied Bayern a club record 15th successive win in all competitions with a backs-to-the-wall, all-hands-to-the-pump performance that earned them a goalless draw at the Allianz Arena.
It was also the first time since May 2015 Bayern had failed to find the net on home turf, and Kalou revealed the blueprint for other teams to follow if they also want to keep this season’s most potent Bundesliga attack quiet.
Watch: Hertha's Berlin wall kept Bayern out on Matchday 24!
“Defend as we did, but also go forward quickly to keep them busy at the back, and cause them problems as soon as you win the ball. To do that, you need a little courage and self-belief,” the former Ivory Coast international, who also enjoyed his 2012 UEFA Champions League final trip to Munich to face Bayern while at Chelsea, told bundesliga.com.
“We knew that Bayern could create danger down the flanks especially. So, we doubled up on the sides to keep Arjen Robben and Franck Ribery in check. In the end, they weren’t able to make the difference and couldn’t use their pace as they usually do.”
Kalou’s own fleet of foot did come in handy at the home of the Bundesliga champions, but instead of using it to terrorise the hosts’ defence, it was put to good effect in helping out his own.
A central striker for most of his career, the 32-year-old has been employed by coach Pal Dardai in an unfamiliar role on the left side of the Hertha formation this term.
“It means I have to track back more when we don’t have the ball, and use my pace to cause opponents problems on the counter-attack. However, as soon as the situation presents itself, I look to get into the opposition penalty box where I am just as important as I was before. I’m very happy with my goals in the Bundesliga this season,” explained Kalou, who has already struck nine times in the league, twice more than in the whole of 2016/17.
“It’s no secret that I prefer to play in attack, where — in my opinion — my qualities are put to better use, but I’ll be a more complete player because of this experience on the left.”
That is great news for Hertha, who will need the former Feyenoord and LOSC Lille man’s know-how as they seek to scale the table in the remaining games this season.
If Kalou could help them find consistency in their performances, Dardai would surely not be the only one grateful. The battling, successful display at Bayern was in the same vein as victories over Bayer Leverkusen and RB Leipzig in recent weeks, while Borussia Dortmund were also held to a draw.
But Hertha head into Matchday 25 only in 11th place in the table, seven points off sixth and a UEFA Europa League qualifying spot, after damagingly dropping points to sides below them in the table such as Stuttgart, Werder Bremen and — most recently — Mainz, 2-0 victors in the capital on Matchday 23.
Watch: Hertha were beaten on home turf by Mainz on Matchday 23
“Teams that go forward, as you saw against Bayern and Bayer, suit us better,” Kalou conceded. “Against teams in the bottom three, we have to take the game to them, which isn’t always the best thing for us. Against teams that are compact and sit back, it’s difficult for us to create space.”
With their best performances coming against the teams competing for the top four and a UEFA Champions League place, perhaps what would be a daunting Matchday 25 trip to third-placed Schalke is exactly what Dardai’s men would have wished for in a bid to boost their own European ambitions.
“We haven’t met expectations in the run-in in the last two years. This time, we want to do better. We’re aiming for a good finish, but we know that it’s so tight in the table that we can still finish sixth and be in the Europa League again next season. To do that, we’ll have to now start getting more points from the so-called smaller teams and be a bit more consistent. That will be key,” Kalou said ahead of Saturday’s encounter in Gelsenkirchen.
“It’ll be anything but easy there, but with the result in Munich, we can be confident. But they’re going well, on course for the Champions League. We want to get at least a point and then polish up our home record with a win against Freiburg [on Matchday 26].”