Bundesliga’s welcome return enters its second gameweek today, with Hertha Berlin hosting Union Berlin in what promises to be a closely-fought derby in the German capital.
Despite this being their debut season in the top flight, Union Berlin have quickly caught up with their city rivals. Although they’re currently a point and a position worse off than Hertha, Union have the local bragging rights after winning the reverse fixture – the first top flight meeting between these two – back in November.
The old age fable may well be that the form book goes out of the window when it comes to local derbies, but the recent contrasting fortunes of these two cannot be ignored.
New Hertha manager Bruno Labbadia got off to a perfect start last weekend, with a 3-0 away win at Hoffenheim. The clean sheet would have been particularly satisfying given that in the two matches prior to last week’s return, Hertha had to recover from a 3-0 half-time deficit to salvage a point at Fortuna Dusseldorf and also battled back to earn a draw at home to Werder Bremen, despite being 2-0 down after just six minutes.
Union had the league’s toughest assignment last weekend, with Bayern Munich providing a difficult test on their return to action. What might have been a tricky away game for the current champions would have undoubtedly been made easier given the current Bundesliga crowd restrictions. It was far from a stellar performance from Bayern, but ultimately Hans-Dieter Flick’s side ambled to a workmanlike 2-0 win over Union, not needing to go through the gears.
It’s now three games without a win for Union Berlin, who surrendered a 2-0 advantage at home to Wolfsburg before going down 3-1 at Freiburg ahead of sport’s untimely break due to the global Covid-19 outbreak.
Union striker Sebastian Polter was the hero when the red half of the capital prevailed in November’s derby, but he has since fell out of favour with Urs Fischer – remaining an unused substitute despite new rules allowing up to five changes available to the head coach for last week’s defeat to Bayern.
Another factor may well be the absence of any supporters at tonight’s game. Union’s fervent fans certainly had an influence on November’s fixture, but it remains to be seen if the empty stands at Berlin’s Olympic Stadium will have any impact on proceedings this time around.
The away side will welcome back Marvin Friedrich back from suspension, after the centre back was dismissed against Freiburg back in March. It’s a timely return for Friedrich, who should slot in to replace Keven Schlotterbeck after he picked up his fifth yellow card of the season against Bayern last time out. Today’s derby comes too soon for Sheraldo Becker, Akaki Gogia and Yunus Malli, who all look set to sit this out with injuries.
Hertha also welcome an important player back from suspension. Influential midfielder Vladimir Darida should come straight back into the team. However, Marius Wolf, Matthew Leckie, Karim Rekik and Salomon Kalou are all unavailable for tonight’s game at Olympiastadion.