Their first league defeat since Matchday 14 notwithstanding, Hertha Berlin are still battling it out for a return to the European stage on two separate fronts after securing their place in the last four of the DFB Cup.
A 2-0 loss at VfB Stuttgart dropped the capital club to after Matchday 21, behind Bayer 04 Leverkusen on goal difference. “The cup game took a lot out of us. We need to learn how to deal better with a two-tournament schedule. We were struggling over the final 20 minutes,” coach Pal Dardai summarised after the setback at upwardly-mobile Stuttgart. Earlier in the week, Hertha had to come from behind before eventually seeing off second-flight 1. FC Heidenheim 3-2.
Final on home soil?
The hard-fought victory leaves them just one game away from a showpiece final, in their own backyard. Hertha have never made it that far since Berlin's Olympic Stadium was established as the regular venue back in 1985. Now, 'only' Borussia Dortmund stand in their way.
“We've earned this, and it's great for our fantastic fans,” said Dardai, whose charges will enjoy home advantage against BVB. “Dortmund are tough opponents, but we want to be in that final.” One way or another, the Hungarian tactician added with a laugh, come 21 May, “I'll definitely be at the stadium.” Preferably, of course, in his accustomed place in the home dugout.
Old Lady out to tame the Wolves
The most pressing current priority for the men from Berlin, however, is to get back on track in the Bundesliga. The defeat at Stuttgart came after three successive draws, leaving Hertha still chasing their first league win of the new year. The next attempt comes at home to VfL Wolfsburg on Saturday. Five points behind them in eighth place and direct rivals in the battle for European places, the Wolves will arrived buoyed by their midweek UEFA Champions League win on the road at KAA Gent.
Unsurprisingly, Dardai has this marked down as one of the defining encounters of the weeks ahead and expects his team to respond accordingly in terms of their focus and application. Indeed, for the coach, “This game will show where our journey's taking us.” Europe is the hoped-for answer to that one in Berlin – by one route or the other and ideally with a post-match victory party on home turf, on 21 May.