Lucien Favre is a difficult topic for many Hertha BSC fans. On one hand, he brought them to within a couple of games of an incredibly implausible Bundesliga title in 2008/9; on the other, he alienated a number of star players and oversaw a start to the following season so dreadful that not even drafting in Sylvester Stallone as goalkeeper could have helped them escape. In the end, it was another craggy-faced mumbler, Friedhelm Funkel, that replaced Favre after the final straw – a 5-1 tonking at Hoffenheim, and the 2. Bundesliga followed anon.
Many Favre naysayers will point to the fact that he had Andriy Voronin in the form of his life in that sadly non-seminal success season– with über-cautious defensive play the name of the game, a razor-sharp presence up front is imperative. Favre is now at Mönchengladbach, and has the latest German Wunderkind, Marco Reus, leading the attack and attracting all sorts of covetous come-hither beckoning from all over Europe.
Reus looked quite special again on Saturday afternoon in the Olympiastadion – his constant darting runs had Hertha defensive pairing Andre Mijatovic and Maik Franz tied in knots all afternoon. Franz, in particular, was torn pieces. For the equaliser, Reus nipped in front of him on the blind side from Patrick Herrmann’s through ball and somehow managed to find a gap between Franz’s desperate lunge and the static Thomas Kraft to find the far corner of the net.
The equaliser had come soon before half-time in a game that Hertha had heretofore dominated. The opener, on 17 minutes, was a master class in trigonometry by Adrian Ramos and Raffael. The Brazilian’s angled ball was picked up by Ramos’ intelligent run, and despite the fact that Gladbach keeper Marc-André ter Stegen appeared to have covered all the gaps, Ramos managed to find the only possible way to goal – underneath him. It was a perfect finish, and put Favre’s team in a position they don’t like – needing to chase the game and take the initiative.
“Luckily we stayed calm after we fell behind,“ said Favre after the game, “the equaliser before half-time was psychologically very important for us.“ Clearly, it was: Gladbach roared out of the dressing room into the second half and almost immediately, Roman Neustädter thrashed a long-range effort at goal that Thomas Kraft tipped over.
A goal was looking likely as the tempo increased. Franz and Christian Lell were taken out of the game by a standard-issue long-ball into the box, leaving Juan Arango free to avoid Franz’s second futile, desperate lunge of the game. Kraft stood up well to block the shot, but the rebound spun away and gift-wrapped itself for Reus, unmarked as the ball dropped at the perfect height and speed to be smashed home.
It was clear that changes needed to be made for Hertha – Nikita Rukavytysa, making only his second start of the season, was well off the pace, as was Hertha’s attacking spearhead, Pierre-Michel Lasogga. The youngster was far from the usual energetic nuisance that never allows the opposition defence a moment’s peace – Gladbach’s central defender, Dante, completed comfortably more passes than anyone else on the pitch, and all but three of them were before Lasogga’s withdrawal for Tunay Torun on 71 minutes.
With Patrick Ebert on for Rukavytysa, Hertha were a much more energetic, fluid and dangerous proposition. Raffael’s delicious curler from outside the box hit the top of the bar, and Ramos, moved up into Lasogga’s more advanced position, broke free on a couple of occasions only to find ter Stegen covering his angles a lot more vigilantly.
After the game, both coaches agreed that Gladbach’s victory was “not undeserved“. The difference, of course, had been Marco Reus. His movement is exceptional, reliant more on timing, anticipation and awareness than anything as crude as simple raw speed, and not even the most blindly optimistic of Gladbach fans will expect him to still be a Foal next season. One wonders whether Favre’s overachieving charges will react to the impending loss of their creative fulcrum as poorly as Hertha did two years ago.
For now, there is plenty to enjoy for both sets of fans: relegation looks highly unlikely for either, and that is more than enough reason to be content.
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