Hertha Berlin’s humiliation at Schalke looks less like a setback, more like a fatal blow

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“That,” said Benjamin Weber, “was a real slap in the face.” The Hertha sports director has been on the field for less than three months, but has already settled into the chaos of the capital club. Not surprisingly, perhaps. Before returning to the club at the end of January, he had served the club for almost two decades in a variety of roles. “I am a Berliner. I’m a Herthaner,” he said during the introductory press conference.

So this will hurt. Hertha have been circling the drain for some time, retaining their place in the top flight through last season’s relegation playoffs after finishing two points clear of the playoff spot the previous campaign. This season has been more of the same struggle and instability. Yet this, as Weber’s assessment suggested, was something much worse than the troubles they have become accustomed to of late.

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Friday’s away match against Schalke was an opportunity to breathe new life into a season in crisis and to start cutting out one of the weakest (if not the weakest) teams in the league. Instead, Hertha ended up looking like a team “not fit for the Bundesliga”, as WAZ’s Philipp Ziser put it, conceding five goals to the lowest goalscorers in the division and slumping all the way down.

It seemed manager Sandro Schwarz was on the safe side before this, despite the team’s struggles, with the understanding that the on-pitch woes are largely a product of the last few seasons’ circus off it. They have seen unsuccessful investments, power struggles, a relatively modest Union becoming indisputably the best team in Berlin, the bizarre era of Jürgen Klinsmann and more. Yet the nature of this humiliation seemed not just a setback, but an inexcusable, unacceptable, and unforgivable fatal blow.

When asked about his future after the match, Schwarz didn’t try to hide. “It is legitimate and realistic that the club and its sporting director are concerned,” he admitted. Expert Jonas Hummels explained it on DAZN. “Honestly, after a performance like this,” he said, “this manager can’t survive the day.”

Kicker’s Steffen Rohr remarked that Marius Bülter ‘could have had a coffee’ before nodding in Schalke’s second goal

It took until Sunday for Schwarz to be confirmed as gone, to be replaced by the club’s most loyal man, Pál Dárdai – with two previous spells as Hertha head coach under his belt, following 297 appearances in the league with the club (between the top two divisions, of course). This is the last roll of the dice. Schwarz’s shortcomings were underscored here by the action of his opponent Thomas Reis, who made five changes to the XI he so thoroughly and demoralizingly lost at Hoffenheim the week before, and reaped the rewards.

Hertha, on the other hand, was inert. Tim Skarke, on loan from Union, was cleared to dribble in position to curl in a spectacular shot for Schalke’s opening goal within two and a half minutes, his first top-flight goal at the age of 26, and l ‘Hertha has rarely had anything like a foothold in this more important match from that point. They were 2-0 down in the 13th minute when a lonely-looking Marius Bülter nodded to Skarke’s cross at the far post – Kicker’s Steffen Rohr remarked that Bülter “could have had a cup of coffee” before nodding, such was the space and the time allowed. A brilliant comeback goal from Stevan Jovetic in first-half stoppage time should have revived Hertha’s hopes. On the contrary, he only underlined how he was largely given a football lesson by a club that would have walked on hot coals to have attacking qualities like Jovetic and Belgian Dodi Lukebakio, who had crossed towards the Montenegrin at the far post.

Sandro Schwarz before the match at Schalke

Friday’s defeat was Sandro Schwarz’s last in charge of Hertha Berlin. Photograph: Thilo Schmülgen/Reuters

The lesson continued. Simon Terodde and Bülter added goals after a more statuesque defense before a largely irrelevant Marco Richter goal for the visitors. Marcin Kaminski’s excellent late free-kick added salt to the wound and underlined another of Hertha’s many problems. They have the second-worst defensive set piece record and the worst offense on their side, but they still haven’t scored in 120 dead ball situations on offense so far this season. There were signs of turmoil everywhere, with recently returned midfielder Tolga Cigerci unhappy with his substitution after 26 minutes, but this performance was so listless – Berliner Morgenpost’s Inga Böddeling describing their defenders as ‘they looked like uninvolved extras’ it was perfect – no one could have complained about being taken away.

Weber promised after Friday’s match that “we will leave no stone unturned” as Hertha look to halt their slide. Dárdai may or may not have the answer – and the club are hoping for an answer as he last took over mid-season, in 2021, when an eight-game unbeaten run got them to safety – but at least some pride should be evident by now.

Talking points

• Borussia Dortmund have not lost ground in their title race this weekend but looked to have lost momentum and much more in a stunning finish to Saturday afternoon’s visit to Stuttgart. Taking a 2-0 first-half lead against the struggling side, who also had Konstantinos Mavropanos dismissed before the break, BVB inexplicably lost their lead late on, conceding two goals in seven minutes to the 10-man. They looked to have redeemed themselves when substitute Giovanni Reyna put them ahead in stoppage time, but then debutant defender Soumaïla Coulibaly struck fresh air trying to clear Josha Vagnoman’s cross and Silas scored to make it 3-3 with the last kick of the match. The final whistle had already gone to Munich, with Bayern drawing 1-1 with Hoffenheim, and Dortmund level on points with the champions before Silas struck. “It’s hard to find the words,” a shocked Edin Terzic told Sky. “We thought we’d already experienced the worst thing this season, losing at home to Werder Bremen when we led 2-0 in the 88th minute. This surpasses it.

Bayern Munich 1-1 Hoffenheim, Cologne 1-1 Mainz, Eintracht Frankfurt 1-1 Borussia Mönchengladbach, RB Leipzig 3-2 Augsburg, Schalke 5-2 Hertha Berlin, Stuttgart 3-3 Borussia Dortmund, Union Berlin 1-1 Bochum, Werder Bremen 1-2 Freiburg, Wolfsburg 0-0 Bayer Leverkusen

• The mood was almost as bleak in Munich, as Bayern also lost their lead on a side battling the decline. Benjamin Pavard had put Bayern ahead in the first half – once again, champions’ defenders do the job their forwards should be – before Andrej Kramaric’s free-kick beat Yann Sommer, who could have done better. Thomas Tuchel, so positive about his team’s performance in their defeat to Manchester City, was visibly deflated by this lethargic performance. “We have missed a huge opportunity to make ourselves and the fans believe,” he lamented ahead of Wednesday’s second leg, for which he confirmed Sadio Mané will return after a suspension.

• After Borussia Mönchengladbach drew 1-1 at Eintracht Frankfurt (the inevitable Randal Kolo Muani saved the out-of-form hosts with a point with seven minutes remaining) in Saturday’s final game, the sporting director Roland Virkus defended Sommer after recent criticism of the now Bayern goalkeeper. “You can certainly have a game that isn’t that great,” Virkus said, “but that doesn’t take away [his] results. Yann is an excellent goalkeeper and I don’t think it’s right to throw everything at him.”

• The Champions League race is tighter than ever, with Union holding on to third place despite a draw with struggling Bochum (with Urs Fischer lamenting “15 minutes where we were begging for a [Bochum] draw”), fourth-placed Leipzig beating Augsburg 3-2 and a Lucas Höler winner for Freiburg at Werder Bremen keeping them just a point behind.







Bayern Monaco


Borussia Dortmund


Berlin Union


RB Leipzig




Bayer Leverkusen


Eintracht Frankfurt






Borussia M’gladbach




Werder Bremen






VfL Bochum




Schalke 04


Hertha Berlin

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