Many can wonder what could have been, but the results have proven to have fallen in FC Bayern München's favor once again.
When Jupp Heynckes usurped Louis van Gaal as FC Bayern head coach in 2011/12, one of the first moves FC Bayern made to support the new regime was to snatch a 25-year-old goalkeeper named Manuel Neuer from Schalke 04.
That left Thomas Kraft, a 22-year-old goalkeeper who got 12 senior side appearances under van Gaal, out of a spot and out of contract. Thus, Kraft took his craft to Berlin, moving on a free transfer to Hertha BSC.
This week he came out and warned any young goalkeeper who wants to sign with Bayern that they might be in the same predicament that he is in:
"When a 27/28-year-old is between the posts there, you have to make up your mind whether you want to line up behind him and go the extremely difficult -- maybe even impossible -- route [of trying to take his place]," Kraft told Sport Bild ahead of Hertha’s away game at the Allianz Arena next weekend.
Now 25, Kraft returns to Allianz Arena for the second time with his recently promoted side, and will get a retry against his former club after allowing 10 goals in his first two reunions.
The Match (63rd meeting)
Location: Allianz Arena, Munich, Germany
Time converter at worldtimebuddy.com
Television and Streaming:
Germany: Sky Bundesliga 1 & 2 | HD, Sky Go
FC Bayern: WWDWW
Hertha BSC: WDWDL
Bundesliga: 31 W, 16 D, 9 L
DFB Pokal: 2 W, 1 L
Ligapokal: 2 W, 1 L
Biggest Victory: 6-0 (March 17, 2012, Berlin, Germany)
Biggest Defeat: 1-4 (February 1, 1975, Berlin, Germany)
Biggest Draw: 3-3 (January 30, 1971, Berlin, Germany)
Pep Guardiola, welcome to the real squad tests. Mario Götze, Franck Ribery, Arjen Robben, Toni Kroos, Thomas Müller and to a lesser extent Mario Mandžukić and Bastian Schweinsteiger are all on good form. Now the man managing begins.
Will "The Experiment" last another week? When Shawn Parker shocked Allianz Arena with his 44th minute goal, Rafinha was the first that Manager Pep Guardiola pulled to put on more firepower. Then the starting XI showed Rafinha back on the pitch, with Philipp Lahm in the single pivot. Maybe Guardiola will still plan to start games with "The Experiment", at least to start.
Götze is still a fascinating case. His form has knocked down the door for a playing time increase, although Guardiola denied him that chance, at least on Wednesday in the Champions League. A squad rotation is a reasonable assumption, but given that he's come off the bench three times since his return, it would be unwise to put money on him playing.
Guardiola will not be able to rely on Dante, who is still recovering from the stitches he got in his ankle during the 1. FSV Mainz 05 match. That could mean a return of a Jérôme Boateng/Daniel van Buyten partnership, one that only has featured against Hannover 96 during Matchday 5. While Diego Contento got a run in at center back, but he should return to his spot on the bench.
Finally, Javier Martínez 's return to practice was quickly followed with a return to the team sheet, and now it is hard to rule out another bench appearance for the 25-year-old. A reserve could once again make the final spot as well, and peaking at the reserve lineup is a good indicator of which one it could be, as Mitchel Weiser, Patrick Weihrauch, and Pierre-Emile Højbjerg were held out of Wednesday's reserve win.
The rest? Your guess is as good as any, but it will still be all hands on deck for fourth-place Hertha BSC.
Projected Lineup (4-1-4-1)
Ribery – Kroos – Schweinsteiger – Robben
Alaba – Boateng – van Buyten – Rafinha
Bench: Tom Starke, Contento, Jan Kirchhoff, Martínez, Højbjerg, Götze, Müller
Hertha BSC were not a side expected to be anywhere close to the top four (well, not by me), but that does not mean they do not belong there. Four teams have allowed less than ten goals in nine Bundesliga matches, and they all sit in the top four.
Football can be stupid simple sometimes; do not let in goals, and you'll win games. While Hertha Berlin may not be the best going forward – their 15 goals ranks 9th in the Bundesliga – their stellar defense keeps them in games, and in the positives in goal differential.
Take last week's match against Borussia Mönchengladbach. Die Fohlen had 56 percent of possession, out shot Hertha 13 to 5 (4 to 2 with shots on target), and even passed better at 84 percent. None of that mattered because Johannes van den Bergh, Sebastien Langkamp, Peter Pekarik and Fabian Lustenberger all stood their ground and Hertha held their shape. All they needed was Adrián Ramos to finish once, which he did.
A noteworthy aspect to Hertha Berlin is what formation manager Jos Luhukay puts his squad in. After sticking with a 4-2-3-1 all year, Luhukay re-arranged his starting XI into a 4-4-2, pushing Per Ciljan Skjelbred up top, sliding Änis Ben-Hatira over to the left, and benching Nico Schulz.
Luhukay has called on the same players to get him to this point, so one should not expect much difference.
Projected Lineup (4-2-3-1)
Ben-Hatira – Ronny – Allagui
Hosogai – Skjelbred
van den Bergh – Langkamp – Pekarik – Lustenberger
Bench: Burchert, Kobiashvilli, Jancker, Schulz, Cigerci, Niedermayer, Wagner
Based on the last two home games – a 1-0 victory against VfL Wolfsburg and a 4-1 victory against 1. FSV Mainz 05 – FC Bayern have shone and soiled at home. Against a motivated defense of Hertha Berlin, they could have struggle scoring. Hertha have done well thus far, but could really stamp a holding campaign with a result in the Allianz, so this could be a hard team to break down. That being said, Hertha have yet to win on the road, and FC Bayern have yet to lose at home.
Projected Score: Bayern Munich 2-0 Hertha Berlin SC