The Bundesliga is back after a month-long winter break, with new coaches and fresh signings joining the familiar faces to kick off the 18th round of fixtures. One of the Saturday afternoon ties sees Hertha Berlin travel to Nuremberg, with new coach Michael Skibbe taking charge of the visitors for the first time in a league match. Nobody associated with either of these sides will be able to sleep soundly in their beds until more points are on the board, with Nuremberg sitting in 15th spot having accumulated just 18 points, and the capital city outfit a mere four places and two points ahead of them.
As it stands, there will be no new players making the four-and-a-half-hour drive to Nuremberg with the likes of Adrián Ramos, Pierre Michel-Lasogga and Änis Ben-Hatira for Hertha BSC. Nuremberg, though, have been far busier, with coach Dieter Hecking being given two new purchases, Hanno Balitsch (deemed a troublemaker and surplus to requirements by Robin Dutt at Leverkusen) and Adam Hloušek (who joined Slavia Prague, but was on loan at Kaiserslautern last season). A third player, Omar Gonzalez (LA Galaxy), was also signed by the club, but in his first training session, the 23-year-old American defender collided with international colleague Timothy Chandler. Unfortunately, he picked up an injury that has pretty much brought the loan spell to an end.
The only player in either squad to have represented both clubs is Hertha BSC midfielder Andreas Ottl, who played 17 times for Hecking and Nuremberg in 2010. Although both Skibbe and Hecking have been around the block, neither has had any association with Nuremberg and Hertha Berlin respectively. Nuremberg have won five of the last six games played between these sides, and the last time the capital city side won a game at the Frankenstadion was way back in March 2003. Huub Stevens’ Hertha beat their hosts, coached by a soon-to-be-fired Klaus Augenthaler, 3-0 that day. And, one of the goalscorers was no less than Michael Preetz – Berlin’s current sporting director, and the man who so publicly and bitterly fell out with Markus Babbel prior to/instigating the 39-year-old coach’s acrimonious departure in December.
Hopefully this encounter is nothing like the drab 90 minutes played out by the sides on the opening day of the 2011/12 season. Nuremberg won 1-0, scoring with one of the very few chances either side created. Of course, Hertha were coached by the more offensively-minded Babbel then, and with Skibbe known as something of a defence-first kinda guy, and Nuremberg having a goal-shy record at the Frankenstadion so far this season (including a defeat in the cup at home to local and historical rivals Fürth in the final game before the winter break; Hertha, on the other hand, beat Kaiserslautern to reach the last-eight stage), perhaps Bundesliga fans shouldn’t bank on this match being a classic.
Nevertheless, fans of the home team will have plenty to celebrate, with key midfielder Timmy Simons having signed a new deal at the club. The Belgian capped putting pen to paper by scoring two penalties last Friday as Nuremberg wrapped up their friendly schedule in Turkey with a 5-0 victory over Moldovan opponents FC Costuleni. Hertha also played their final preparation game in Turkey last week, beating Swiss side FC Thun 4-2 in front of 180 people. The Berlin side’s goals were scored by Roman Hubník, Ben-Hatira, Tunay Torun and Ronny.
After being overlooked by Babbel during the first half of the season, the latter player appears to have caught Skibbe’s eye, and could feature in Franconia. His brother Raffael, however, won’t be playing, as he picked up a red card against Hoffenheim before the Christmas break. The Brazilian is likely to be joined in the stands by injured trio Maik Franz, Nikita Rukavytsya and Andre Mijatović. Nuremberg, meanwhile, also look like missing a host of key players, with defenders Chandler, Javier Pinola, Per Nilsson, Juri Judt and Timm Klose all likely to miss out through either injury or suspension, along with midfielders Balitsch and Markus Feulner.
Speaking ahead of the game, Hecking put some positive spin on having an injury-hit squad (“The best news is that nobody else has picked up an injury”), praised the players at his disposal (“We have a good team”), and stated his short-term aim (“We want to get away from the danger zone as quickly as possible”). His side really need to start scoring more goals, or find a goal-scorer, as at present, penalty-taking defensive-midfielder Simons leads the way with three strikes. Skibbe, meanwhile, declared: “We want to get the next 20 points to ensure we stay up and play in the Bundesliga again next season.” His top-scorer is Pierre-Michel Lasogga, who netted six times in the first half of the Bundesliga seas0n.
Nuremberg versus Hertha Berlin kicks off at 2.30pm in the UK on Saturday afternoon, and can be watched, live, on Bet 365.com.