If you were looking for a likely top five clash on matchday eight in the Bundesliga, then the obvious candidate would be Bayern Munich hosting Borussia Mönchengladbach. But although Bayern are in their customary position at the top, it is in Berlin where fifth hosts second.
Both Hertha BSC and 1. FC Köln have started the season in fine style, and both will be eager to prove that they can sustain their excellent form. Who will take the momentum from this clash between two of Germany’s major cities?
Hertha with home advantage
Few were expecting Hertha to repeat last season’s impressive campaign, whilst the Billy Goats had flown under the radar in the pre-season predictions.
However Pal Dardai’s side have proved they are no one-season wonders, winning four of their seven games so far, and holding Borussia Dortmund in a fierce contest last weekend. They went into the weekend in fourth, but dropped to fifth after Eintracht Frankfurt’s victory on Friday night.
Köln have been propelled by the excellent form of Anthony Modeste, who has scored seven goals in as many games so far this season. Like Hertha they have won four times, but are crucially unbeaten as well. There of those wins have come at home though, including last Saturday’s 2-1 victory over FC Ingolstadt 04.
Hertha have had the better of recent encounters, with three wins in the last five games, including both matches last season. Vedad Ibisevic scored both goals in a 2-0 in the capital last September, and was again on target with the only goal in the reverse fixture in February.
Köln’s last victory at the Olympiastadion was in November 2009, with Milivoje Novakovic scoring in a 1-0 win, one of just nine victories for them there. Hertha have won 14 of the 32 matches they’ve played at home, although Köln’s home record means they have won more than half of their meetings overall.
Hertha favourites as Stöger plays down title hopes
Dardai is in bullish mood ahead of this game, and had no reluctance in proclaiming his team as favourites. "We are playing at home, and we have advantages with our playful quality. We are favourites and we have to accept this role," he said at his pre-game press conference.
Meanwhile comparisons have been made between Köln and Leicester City’s title win in England last season. Peter Stöger though advised against anyone thinking of taking advantage of the current 400-1 odds. "I am not allowed to bet, but if I were allowed to bet and wanted to be on the safe side, I wouldn't place a bet like this," he said.
Turning his attentions to the game, he said “we want to deliver the type of performance that has brought us results on the road this season.” He admitted though that Berlin is “a difficult place to play,” and added “they have been playing some good football for the past year and a half. They have a playing philosophy that I respect greatly.”
Kalou in line for first appearance of the season
Hertha will be without Valentin Stocker, who begins a three-game suspension after his sending off late in the game at Dortmund. His absence could well lead to the return of Salomon Kalou for his first Bundesliga start of the season, although Julian Schieber is also available after missing the Dortmund game.
Peter Pekarík, Fabian Lustenberger, Vladimír Darida and Ondrej Duda are all still out, although Duda is back in light training as he recovers from a knee injury that has prevented him from making his debut since joining from Legia Warsaw in the summer.
Unlike their hosts, Köln have no injury concerns, with Stöger having a full team to choose from. Whilst changes are unlikely from the team that beat Ingolstadt, Leonardo Bittencourt could come in for Konstantin Rausch having returned from a hamstring injury from the bench last weekend.
Hertha BSC: (4-2-3-1) Jarstein; Weiser, Langkamp, Brooks, Plattenhardt; Skjelbred, Stark; Esswein, Kalou, Haraguchi; Ibisevic.
1. FC Köln: (4-4-2) Horn; Sörensen, Mavraj, Heintz, Hector; Risse, Höger, Lehmann, Rausch; Osako, Modeste.
Quotes via Kicker, 1. FC Köln and ESPN.