It is quiet and peaceful. The Liebenberger See rests peacefully and idyllically. The professional soccer players from Hertha BSC have moved into quarters for two days on its banks, in the middle of the countryside and 40 kilometers from the Berlin city limits: in the small community of Kienbaum, in the Olympic and Paralympic training center. But it’s not just seclusion that Hertha is looking for in preparation for the upcoming relegation games against Hamburger SV in Brandenburg. It is also the special aura of this place.
Hertha is here “because this is where the winners come from,” says Felix Magath, the coach of the Berlin Bundesliga club. Many successful athletes have trained here, Olympic champions and world champions. “You can smell it and feel it everywhere here,” says Magath. So you are “in good company”.
It remains to be seen whether Hertha will actually be one of the winners at the end of another complicated season: this Thursday (8.30 p.m., live on Sat1 and Sky) in the sold-out Olympic Stadium and finally on Monday in Hamburger Volkspark. Magath showed visionary abilities weeks ago when he predicted exactly this duel: the duel with his own past. Calling him a club legend at HSV is a lot, but certainly not an exaggeration. “It would be nonsense to say: I don’t care that it’s against HSV,” says Hertha’s coach. How is it going? “I’m not making any predictions.”
In public perception, it is currently the case that the psychological advantage is located at HSV, which surprisingly made it into the relegation with five wins in the end of the season. But: “Look who the opponents were,” says Magath about HSV’s run. Among other things, Regensburg, Ingolstadt and Hanover. “Then that puts it into perspective.” Magath thinks you have to be objective. And: “Objectively speaking, we played in the better league, so we should be able to play better.”
Nevertheless, the psychological aspect remains a factor, the fear of losing something – while HSV as a second division team can actually only win. “It’s definitely more tense,” says Hertha’s sporting director Fredi Bobic. But after the defeat at the weekend in Dortmund and the fall on the relegation place in the added time of the season, the players quickly got back up. In any case, Bobic is confident “that they can withstand it mentally and from the pressure”.
Magath takes a similar view, continuing to spread optimism after acting as a reminder and warner for a long time. “The fact is: Since I’ve been in charge, we’ve made positive progress,” he says. Hertha improved under him from 17th to 16th place and was particularly successful against teams at a similar level. “There’s no reason to go into the game with a bad feeling,” says Magath. “We’re in good spirits.”
The personnel problems do not change that. In addition to the suspended Santiago Ascacibar, Marton Dardai and Davie Selke are also absent. In addition, the use of goalkeeper Marcel Lotka is still questionable. After suffering a minor concussion and a broken nose against Dortmund, he was unable to train with the team. If Lotka can play at all, then only with a face mask.
“Of course it would be a loss for us,” says Magath about the Pole’s possible retirement. “He held up great and was a great support.” And it would be another crazy twist in this season, which is not poor in crazy twists. Lotka, listed as number five among goalkeepers at the beginning of the season, was only able to rise to number one because all other potential competitors were unavailable when Alexander Schwolow, Hertha’s actual number one, dropped out.
Just before what is probably the most important game of the season, Lotka now threatens to drop out. In this case, according to Magath, “the young Dane” would play: 23-year-old Oliver Christensen, who came to Berlin in the summer and has not yet played for the professionals. And who almost ended up at HSV a year earlier.