Hertha Berliner SC has a storied history, a good squad, a lot to play for, and a long-time rivalry against Bayern München. All that pales in comparison to what is at stake.
With a victory in the Olympiastadion, Bayern win its 24th title, beating their own record for the earliest clinch title in Bundesliga history.
While the Rekordmeister had a stellar season a year ago, the campaign it has run thus far has approached a perfection never seen in Europe. Die Roten have continued their unbeaten, increasing their tally to 51 matches, but now the squad is on a run of 18 consecutive victories, stretching into a new frontier of German dominance.
A Bundesliga victory on Tuesday would allow manager Pep Guardiola to prepare his squad on the other two fronts, increasing the odds for what was thought of as an elusive second consecutive treble.
The Match (64th Meeting)
Location: Olympiastadion, Berlin, Germany
Head: Marco Fritz
FC Bayern: 7 W, 0 D, 0 L – 5 YC
Assistants: Martin Petersen, Marcel Pelgrim
Fourth Official: Michael Weiner
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FC Bayern (3-2) Hertha BSC | Allianz Arena
FCB: Mario Mandžukić (30', 51'), Mario Götze (54')
BSC: Ramos (4'), Ben-Hatira (58')
Bundesliga: 32 W, 16 D, 9 L
DFB-Pokal: 2 W, 1 L
Ligapokal: 2 W, 1 L
1. Gerhard "Gerd" Müller, FCB – 19
2. Giovane Elber, FCB – 8
3. Ulrich "Uli" Hoeneß, FCB; Roy Makaay, FCB; Arjen Robben, FCB – 6
Biggest Victory: 6-0 (March 17, 2012, Berlin, Germany)
Biggest Defeat: 1-4 (February 1, 1975, Berlin, Germany)
Given the pulse of the situation, Guardiola will not want to let an opportunity to win the title slip willy nilly through his fingertips. That being said, the quality Bayern has from front to back, top to bottom may give him the desired result regardless of who plays.
Some integral pieces sat at the weekend, the integral applied loosely with the abundant squad depth, and a few might poke their heads into the midweek starting lineup while others will weight until the team returns home. A more productive exercise might be to go through what positions Guardiola will likely need to employ, rather than pick out specific players to fit together like puzzle pieces.
With Hertha BSC possessing such a wide presence, Guardiola will likely require players who will commit to the wings, making Franck Ribery, Arjen Robben, and Xherdan Shaqiri more likely options than the likes of Thomas Müller and Mario Götze. He will need an out-and-out center forward, the likes of Mario Mandžukić or Müller, although if Müller does start up top, having Claudio Pizarro and Mandžukić on the bench would be a bit of a redundancy.
Either the captain or the vice-captain will need to be in the center of the park. He will have to pair with one of the elite playmakers at Guardiola's disposal, who are both available with Thiago Alcântara's return to fitness, although do not rule out the possibility with the two helmsmen playing side-by-side. The Spanish gaffer has been less inclined to position either Toni Kroos or Thiago in the hole, vacating the space for Götze to fill.
The back rotation is always unpredictable, although with the importance of victory in mind, the pairing of Dante and Jérôme Boateng will likely come about. Having sat at the weekend, Rafinha's pitch time hinges on the experiment-caveat that Philipp Lahm is in midfield, and the wideness of play could dictate Guardiola's ultimate decision.
The last hurdle is all that stands between Bayern and the finish line, and on its current pace, it will have to be a Lolo-Jones-esque fall to not come across first.
Projected Lineup (4-2-3-1)
Franck Ribery – Mario Götze – Arjen Robben
Bastian Schweinsteiger – Philipp Lahm
Hertha Berliner SC was in a Champions League spot when it traveled south to Munich in October, and even had a grasp on a spot in Europe at the end of the Hinrunde. Nowadays it is a team on a steady decline, slipping into the bleak midtable as its form regresses towards the mean.
So what has changed for manager Jos Luhukay? For one, the Alte Dame has collected only eight points in the seven matches Fabian Lustenberger has missed. It surrendering eight goals to VfL Wolfsburg, Hannover 96, and Borussia Mönchengladbach, three teams that Hertha BSC is rubbing elbowing with in the upper half of the mid-table.
Another dim factor in defense is that Sebastian Langkamp, Hertha BSC's second best defender, is out with yellow card accumulation. Luhukay now has to rely on a 20-year-old John Anthony Brooks and either an undersized Christoph Jancker or a seasoned Levan Kobiashvili in the center of defense.
Luhukay has experimented with two up front, but those came against sides without a strong wide presence – SC Freiburg and VfB Stuttgart. Hertha BSC tends to play with width even with two at the front, Johannes van den Bergh and Peter Pekarík providing support in the fullback positions. Luhukay's newest fad is to play Ronny in behind Adrián Ramos, and while the Brazilian has had a form uptick with the added minutes, Ramos is trending more in a negative direction.
While not make or break for its season, a point at home against Germany's finest will be a momentum shifter in Hertha BSC's position.
Projected Lineup (4-2-3-1)
Änis Ben-Hatira – Ronny – Sami Allagui
Peter Niemeyer – Per Skjelbred
Johannes van den Bergh – John Anthony Brooks – Christoph Jancker – Peter Pekarík
Bench: Runne Jarstein, Fabian Holland, Levean Kobiashvili, Marcel Ndjeng, Hajime Hasogai, Tolga Cigerci, Nico Schulz
The last two teams Bayern has played that had yellow card hold outs in the back half of the pitch were Eintracht Frankfurt and VfL Wolfsburg, both of whom Bayern bashed to a five-goal winning margin. With Hertha BSC trending in the wrong direction, a similar scoreline could be possible, although Bayern came away a bit black and blue from the Blue and Whites in the Hinrunde.