Big-spending Hertha Berlin in battle for Bundesliga survival


BERLIN — Hertha Berlin has dropped into the Bundesliga’s relegation zone, a spot no one at the club could have imagined at the beginning of the season.

The 2-0 loss at Borussia Dortmund on Saturday coupled with Arminia Bielefeld’s 2-1 win over Bayer Leverkusen on Sunday left big-spending Hertha in 16th place in the 18-team division, a point behind Bielefeld and Cologne with nine games remaining.

Only goal difference separates Hertha from Mainz, which occupies a direct relegation place but has been improving with four wins and two draws in its last eight games. Hertha has won only two of its 12 games this year, losing eight.

Hertha has been targeting European qualification since financier Lars Windhorst first invested in the club in June 2019. Windhorst foresaw Hertha as a “big city club” on par with those in London, Madrid or Paris. He has pledged 374 million euros ($450 million) altogether.

But the team has only disappointed since, working its way through four coaches last season amid ongoing turmoil at the boardroom level. The club fired general manager Michael Preetz in January, ending his 25-year association with the club, a month after appointing former Sky Germany CEO Carsten Schmidt as managing director. Fredi Bobic is reportedly in talks about joining as sporting director from Eintracht Frankfurt.

Pál Dárdai returned for his second stint as coach on Jan. 25, when he pointedly refused to talk about relegation. But the team has gathered only four points from seven games since and has finally acknowledged it is in the middle of a battle for survival.

“Of course it’s in our heads,” Hertha captain Niklas Stark said of the unforeseen struggle. “But now it’s just about getting points in our next games. Nothing else matters.”

Hertha hosts Leverkusen on Sunday before a city derby at Union Berlin. Union already has almost twice as many points (38 to Hertha’s 21) and is in seventh place in its second Bundesliga season. Hertha then faces another tough game against Borussia Mönchengladbach on April 10 before decisive games against Mainz, Freiburg, Schalke, Bielefeld and Cologne.

“We have to have the right mix of calmness and a certain tension,” Stark said. “And we need to build on that over the coming weeks.”

Hertha has been showing signs of encouragement since Dárdai returned, but defensive mistakes and a struggling attack are proving costly.

Hertha lost to Bayern Munich 1-0, fared well against Leipzig before conceding late to lose 3-0, and was unfortunate to lose 2-0 in Wolfsburg, where recent signings Nemanja Radonjić and Sami Khedira, and Brazilian forward Matheus Cunha, all picked up injuries.

Against Dortmund on Saturday, the team competed well in the first half, then ran out of steam in the second.

“Perhaps the training was too much this week,” Dárdai said. “I have to talk to the guys and they have to be honest with me, if the training’s too much I need to make changes.”

The Hertha coach said the players might be preoccupied with the team’s position in the standings, but called for calm despite the precarious position.

“I’ve learned that,” said Dárdai, who made a club-record 286 Bundesliga appearances as a Hertha player. “Always keep working. Stay calm.”

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