The final game scheduled for Saturday’s batch of Bundesliga 2011/12 opening round fixtures sees newly-promoted Hertha BSC take on a side who just missed out on Europa League qualification last season. Nuremberg, however, have lost a few key players after their 2010/11 heroics, which halted two consecutive seasons that concluded with relegation play-off fixtures. Chief among those who coach Dieter Hecking can no longer count upon is İlkay Gündoğan, the young midfielder rewarded for his own fine season by Borussia Dortmund bringing him in.
But the young German midfielder isn’t the only key player to have left the Bavarian side, with Mehmet Ekici going back to Bayern – then Bremen – after a loan spell, Julian Schieber returning to Stuttgart after an impressive campaign leading the line in Hecking’s well-drilled 4-1-4-1, and Andreas Wolf moving to Werder Bremen to help shore up Thomas Schaaf’s defence. Yet, the only fee that the club have received all summer was the €4million spent by BVB on Gündoğan. Nevertheless, Nuremberg have spent just over €3million of that windfall on six new, first team-bolstering players – Markus Feulner (BVB), Daniel Didavi (Stuttgart, albeit on a season-long loan which cost Nuremberg €300,000), Patrick Rakovsky (Schalke), Alexander Esswein (Dynamo Dresden), Timm Klose (Thun), and last but not least, the man who €2million has been spent on in the bid to replace Schieber’s goals, Tomáš Pekhart (FK Jablonek).
Added to that, the club still has spent of the league’s best talents in Róbert Mak, Almog Cohen, Timmy Chandler and Raphael Schäfer, complemented by the experience of Timmy Simons, who sits in the hole, mops up, and dictates the pace. Nuremberg beat Arminia Bielefeld 5-1 in the DFB-Pokal last weekend (Feulner chipping in with three goals), and were joined in the next round by Hertha, who beat ZFC Meuselwitz 4-0. Adrián Ramos, who showed great potential when Hertha were in the Bundesliga last in 2009/10, scored twice in that game, and has come on leaps and bounds since his last spell in the top-flight. A key player in last season’s championship-winning campaign, and a focal player for Colombia in the recent Copa América (participation which one hopes doesn’t see him burn out before the campaign has concluded), another good showing in the top flight could see the vultures circling.
Ramos or no Ramos, coach Markus Babbel is spoilt for choice in attack anyway, with Pierre-Michel Lasogga and Rob Friend being his other two talented line-leading options, complemented by an array of fantastic attacking midfielders such as the Brazilian brothers Ronny and Rafael, speedy Australian winger Nikita Rukavytsya, and new signing Tunay Torun. The latter, who joins from Hamburg, is one of several strong additions to the squad which suggest that Hertha BSC have the quality to avoid a relegation scrap. And, not only was Torun acquired on a free transfer, so were Maik Franz (a bruising centre-back who leaves Eintracht Frankfurt) and Bayern Munich duo Andreas Ottl and Thomas Kraft – the former of whom has the ability to do a job at this level, and the latter of whom just might shine away from the spotlight of Bayern Munich and the politics of a maniacal Dutch coach.
Nobody of note has departed the squad which won 2. Bundesliga at a canter last season, but Babbel will have to make do without injured defensive duo Roman Hubník and Kaka for this game, along with midfielder Nico Schulz. Hecking also has a key defender missing in Per Nilsson, the Swede expected to join winger Mike Frantz on the sidelines. The latter was involved the last time these two sides met in March 2010, when Ottl, with Nuremberg at the time, helped set up an injury time winner for Angelos Charisteas – the Bavarian side won the game 2-1, leaving Berlin nine points adrift at the bottom of the table.
Hertha BSC-Nuremberg kicks off at 5.30pm in the UK, and can be watched on Bet365.com.