KAISERSLAUTERN, GERMANY - DECEMBER 03: Head coach Markus Babbel of Berlin gestures during the Bundesliga match between 1.FC Kaiserslautern and Hertha BSC Berlin at Fritz-Walter-Stadion on December 3, 2011 in Kaiserslautern, Germany. (Photo by Thorsten Wagner/Bongarts/Getty Images)
Hertha have made an impressive return to the Bundesliga after a year's hiatus. Ross Dunbar explains the revivial under Markus Babbel.
The capital of Germany has been starved of Bundesliga success for some time with most of the triumphs appearing in cities such as Munich, Bremen or Dortmund. In fact, it has been just over 70 years since a club from Berlin were crowned German champions, and it came in an era where the Blue & White half of the city were one of the finest sides in the country.
In the early years of the German championship, it was BFC Viktoria Berlin - now of the Oberliga Nord - who won the title on two occasions and even confirmed their 1894 crown in 2007 with a rather controversial re-match with another amateur team, Hanau. But in the late 1920s, Hertha BSC lost the final of the German championship four years in a row before finally securing their first title victory against Holstein Kiel in 1930 and then 1860 Munich in 1931.
The Berliners are still quite some distance from being the dominant force in German football, but they have made some impressive steps this season, including beating current Bundesliga holders Borussia Dortmund at Signal Iduna Park.
Nearly 18 months ago, former Liverpool, Bayern Munich and Hamburg defender Markus Babbel was appointed Hertha's head coach. This followed Freidhelm Funkel's departure, which capped off a disappointing year for ‘The Old Lady', who were relegated from the top-flight.
The first season in charge at the Olympic Stadium for 39-year-old Babbel, capped 51 times for Germany, was a success. Hertha cruised to promotion with 74 points from 34 matches.
The Blue & Whites were tipped along with Bundesliga ‘newbies' FC Augsburg to make a sharp return to the second-tier at the end of the season, but Hertha BSC have performed well above expectations. They currently hold a tenth place position in the Bundesliga with just six points separating them from a place in next year's UEFA Europa League.
Unsurprisingly, Babbel has used his experience as a defender at the top level in European and International football to make The Berliners an extremely compact side who have only lost four matches this season in the Bundesliga. It is a reflection of Babbel's excellence in the dugout that he has managed to adapt Hertha to the tough challenge of staying in the Bundesliga after playing a more expansive game in the second division, where they were the league's leading scorers last term.
In the summer, Babbel went back to his old clubs and brought Thomas Kraft, Andreas Ottl, Anis Ben-Hatira and Tunay Torun from FC Bayern and Hamburg SV respectively. Ottl has built an excellent relationship in midfield with another new signing Peter Niemeyer who was a £400k addition from Werder Bremen during the close season.
As much as they are applauded for their defensive abilities, they also possess some very good options in attack with Adrian Ramos, Raffael and Pierre-Michel Lasogga, netting 14 of their 22 goals this season. With the Colombian Ramos and the Brazilian Raffael providing some much-needed flair in Babbel's 4-2-3-1 system, the onus has been on 19-year-old hitman Lasogga to score the goals. The German U21 international has earned some rave reviews in the Bundesliga and has been likened to Mario Gomez.
The tag of the "draw-specialists" is something that could follow Hertha throughout this season with seven draws so far this season - the highest in the Bundesliga. Impressively though, they have managed to pick up draws away from home at the likes of Bayer Leverkusen and Hannover.
If they can continue to be the "draw-specialists" and be hard to beat this season, then there's absolutely no reason why they can't pip Stuttgart and Leverkusen to sixth - and a place in Europe.