Never Mind The Ballacks

Babbel’s Hertha making sense

Never Mind The Ballacks

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Babbel won six Bundesliga titles with Bayern Munich, but this weekend the
Hertha Berlin coach will be aiming to undo his former employers, and give the
rest of the league a glimmer of hope that the season may just be interesting
after all.

Hoffenheim
showed that the Bayern machine is manned - and not operated by superhuman
robots - before the international break, and Holger Stanislawski's men may even
have become the first team to beat Manuel Neuer - and Bayern - since
Monchengladbach on the opening day had their finishing matched their approach
play.

That
honour could now be bestowed upon Hertha, who have adapted well to life in the
top flight. Newly-promoted sides are automatically tagged as relegation favourites,
but while that may be true of Augsburg, Hertha are proving they have the
quality to re-establish themselves. 

The omens for a win over Bayern - even
discounting current form - are not great though: Muhammad Ali was heavyweight
champion the last time Hertha beat Bayern in 1977, but as Peter Niemeyer points
out, "We're a very different team to two or three years ago, and certainly different
to that of 30 years ago."

You would
expect the Hertha youth academy to have produced some fresh talent in the last
three decades, but Babbel has rather cleverly blended the fruits of other teams' scouting
networks to produce his own brand of Berlin, er, juice. 

Niemeyer, who emerged at Twente Enschede
before becoming a 'lemon' at Werder, epitomises that receipe, and he has
been magnificent in the midfield holding role.

"At Bremen I was a
passenger, here I lead," said the tigerish midfielder, who earlier this
season proved that by backing up Babbel's public criticism of team-mates by
saying: "We're not in Barbie World - we're men." 

Niemeyer's highly-masculine, lung-bursting
lead-by-example play has meant Munich-born Andreas 'Ken' Ottl to show the
talent that persuaded Bayern to snap him up as an 11-year-old.

While
Roman Hubnik and Andre Mijatovic have made the step up to the top flight -
surprisingly keeping Maik Franz on the bench - other Bayern
by-products, Christian Lell and Thomas Kraft, have helped make the Hertha back
four one of the most solid in the business. 

Only five teams have conceded fewer than the
five goals Hertha have let in this season, and Lell - though foolishly
dismissed against Bremen - has linked up superbly down the right-hand side with
Hertha born-and-bred Patrick Ebert, even chipping in with a goal and an assist.

Lell's
forward bursts have helped Hertha be remarkably productive at the other
end of the pitch where only six teams - including three of the top four, and champions Dortmund
- have scored more than Babbel's side, not a fact you would have bet on coming
into the season. 

The key to that efficiency in front of goal has
been Raffael, who after a shocking first 45 minutes of the season in the
opening-day defeat to Nuremberg, has been virtually unplayable.

Key goals in unlikely
wins over Stuttgart and Dortmund were Babbel's reward for listening to the likes
of Lell, who - after a shambolic Week 1 cameo from his Brazilian team-mate -
insisted Raffael was "difficult to replace".

Not that
Babbel has a wealth of riches at his disposal, though canny summer additions
Tunay Torun and Änis Ben-Hatira have added youthful verve and artistry to the
team going forward with Adrian Ramos and Pierre-Michel Lasogga, a forward as
promising as he is powerful, giving Babbel contrasting but equally effective
options to lead the line.

Lasogga is
a particularly exciting prospect. An unknown nicknamed 'Lasagna' for the extra
kilos he brought with him from Leverkusen's youth side in 2010, the bulldozing
19-year-old - "There aren't many players like me now," he rightly
pointed out - has slimmed down and sharpened up. Lasogga struck 13 times in 25
second division games last season, and has three in six this. 

"He's like Mario
Gomez. I got to know them both at the same age," said Babbel, who was the
Bayern Tor-meister's team-mate at Stuttgart. "I think that there are a lot
of similarities."

There will
be a chance to compare the two virtually face-to-face this weekend as Babbel
eyes his first win from the dug-out against the team with which he made his
name on the pitch, even if the man himself does not sound particularly
convinced his team can do it.

"We don't just
want to be sparring partners for Bayern," said the 39-year-old. "But
we're not the biggest opponents Bayern will ever face either." 

Defeat in Bavaria would certainly not be a new
phenomenon or a particularly worrying one given Bayern's form this season, and
the fact that Hertha have already shown that they have more than enough
to earn themselves a second bite of the cherry next season.

Ian Holyman - Eurosport 2 Bundesliga commentator

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