In a battle of two teams who really needed a win, it was Hoffenheim who were victorious as they beat Hertha Berlin 3-0 on Tuesday night.
Story of the match
Hertha started far the better of the two sides. Camped around the Hoffenheim penalty area, die Alte Dame piled on a lot of pressure in the opening stages, doing particularly well to restrict the time their opponents were afforded on the ball.
Such early pressure earned the hosts a penalty, as recent returnee Jhon Cordoba was illegally brought down in the box after 10 minutes. Despite the presence of usual spot-kick specialist Matheus Cunha, the chance was given to Polish striker Krzysztof Piatek. The effort was placed low to goalkeeper Oliver Baumann’s right, but the 30-year-old was equal to the challenge and parried the ball beyond the post.
Die Kraichgauer took the lead against the run of play just past the half hour mark. Sebastian Hoeness’ side snatched possession from some sloppy movement in midfield and set forward in numbers. With options either side of him, Christoph Baumgartner slid a pass into the stride of Sebastian Rudy, whose shot wrongfooted the goalkeeper with a wicked deflection off Matteo Guendouzi. Suddenly, Hoffenheim were the side on top of proceedings.
Hertha came very close to equalising on the stroke of halftime. A free kick was whipped deep into the visitors’ box, which found an unmarked Niklas Stark only a matter of yards from goal. The centre-back rose well but squandered his lines and missed the gilt-edged opportunity. Later review showed Stark and several colleagues to be offside, at least.
Much like the opening period, Berlin started the second half brightly. Within five minutes of the restart Bruno Labbadia’s men had seen a pair of opportunities go begging. Almost immediately from kick-off Cordoba was given the freedom to rise to a high ball in the box, but his close-range header sailed over the crossbar.
Minutes later, incredible footwork by Cunha drew a free-kick 30 yards from goal. The Brazilian tried his luck from the dead ball, but his effort rifled safely wide of the mark.
After a flurry of Hertha substitutions, Hoffenheim doubled their advantage with 20 minutes still to play through Andrej Kramaric. The Croatian netted his ninth goal of the Bundesliga campaign not without an element of fortune, as he found himself ideally placed to trap and slide home a wayward effort from Malian teammate Diadie Samassekou.
The visitors sealed the tie with five minutes left on the clock. Substitute Ihlas Bebou stormed forward alone, beating the defence with his awesome pace. His effort struck the crossbar and bounced out, but the retreating Hertha defenders bundled the rebound recipient to the ground. Kramaric stepped up to the subsequent free kick and curled it beyond a hapless Alexander Schwolow after a deflection from the wall.
Hertha drop to 14th in the Bundesliga standings as a result, five points clear of the ever-looming relegation zone. Labbadia’s side are now faced with an excruciating run of fixtures all the way through to March, though.
Meanwhile, Hoffenheim move within nine points of Europe, and, more importantly, build a big gap to the cluster of clubs around the bottom.
Takeaway from the match
Money doesn’t buy you happiness
After reviving Hertha at the climax of last season, manager Bruno Labbadia spent more than £100m over the summer. It has not worked out, as die Alte Dame sit 14th, just five points clear of the relegation spots. Defensive disorganisation has been the achilles heel in the capital and has gone a long way in hindering the lavish Hertha side. Down the other end, they have not found the net in the last three matches.
A major shake-up is needed at the back, with focus taken away from rotation and instead put on ensuring a well-oiled centre-back partnership.
Man of the match
Andrej Kramaric – Hoffenheim
Kramaric’s two goals brought a lot of confidence to a Hoffenheim side who had been poor for an extended period of time. Although he barely bore a threat in the first half, the second was a clinic in finishing from the in-form forward – one his counterparts ought to take notes from.