Two sides locked on 13 points – five away from second-bottom HSV, six off second-placed BVB – meet at the Volkswagen Arena tomorrow afternoon. Wolfsburg’s away form may be poor, but at home, they’ve won three of the four games played in the 2011/12 Bundesliga campaign to date, and striker Mario Mandžukić is in world-class form. Hertha Berlin, meanwhile, look as though they have enough quality and spirit to stay in the top-flight, and even though they’ve lost their last two games on the road to Werder Bremen and Bayern Munich respectively, Markus Babbel’s side have won at Dortmund already this season, and until being defeated – with nine men – at the death by Bremen last month, they’d gone the whole of 2011 without suffering an away loss.
However, the capital-city outfit had to play a tricky cup tie in the week (although they did overcome third-tier side Rot-Weiss by three goals to nil), whereas Wolfsburg’s reward for being eliminated by third-division Leipzig in the first round was a week off. If Hertha play anything like they did on the opening day, though, a 1-0 defeat at home to Nuremberg, or two weeks ago in a 4-0 hammering at the hands of Bayern Munich, they don’t stand a chance of beating Wolfsburg. Coming into this game, Babbel, who looks like he’ll have a fully-fit squad to choose from, stated: “Wolfsburg are in very good shape and will use their physical power – we have to fully stop this, but I am convinced of our quality.” Officially, 2,883 Hertha fans will be there to support the team in Wolfsburg, and will be hoping for success similar to that savoured during the sides’ last meeting at the VW Arena in March 2010, when Hertha won 5-1.
While Hertha coach Babbel has a pretty settled line-up, Wolfsburg coach Felix Magath is renowned for tinkering. And, the temptation to do just that will be there for this home tie, as Magath also has almost a complete squad at his disposal. This includes Srđan Lakić, who missed out in Hamburg with a muscular problem. The Croat’s first club in Germany was tomorrow’s visitors (ditto Ashkan Dejagah), and speaking about his former employers this week, Lakić said: “The jump was a little too big for me. Nevertheless, Hertha was an important experience, and I learned a lot.” Alexander Madlung, who suffered a muscle sinew tear during the game against Nuremberg a few weeks back, is also making clear improvement, and could feature against his old club. However, the 29-year-old cautiously stated: “I’m not going to put myself under any pressure and I can’t make any prognosis. Things are looking better, though.”
Magath is in unbeaten in his last five meetings with Hertha BSC teams, and speaking to the club’s website yesterday, he said: “For us, success at home is important, because so far, away, we have not collected as many points. With the support of the fans, we want to build on our strength at home and fix ourselves with a further victory to not let the distance to the front teams get bigger.”
Turning to tomorrow’s opponents, the former Bayern Munich coach – who worked with Hertha players Andreas Ottl, Thomas Kraft and Christian Lell – added: “Hertha are a good team who are not easy to beat. I think Babbel is a coach who has done a great job and has a future in the league.” Unwisely, Magath also chose to identify a weakness in the game of the visitors’ former Wolfsburg striker, Pierre-Michel Lasogga: ” One must reckon with the fact that he runs up to us as a former Wolfsburg player,” the 58-year-old said. “Compared to [Adrian] Ramos, he is not technically as strong. But, he is very assertive.”
The referee for tomorrow’s game will be Robert Hartmann – the official who flashed seven yellow cards in the game between Hannover and Hertha back in August. Wolfsburg vs Hertha BSC kicks off at 2.30pm in the UK, and can be watched live on Bet365.com.