As most of German football has trended towards a high energy style focused on pressing and quick transitions, Hertha Berlin have essentially ‘gone acoustic’. Watch just one half of football from them and you’ll get the gist. An extremely slow and safe game with lots of very purposeful sideways passing along their defensive line, progressing up the pitch at a snail’s pace. For as excruciating as it can be to watch at times, it has, in fairness, brought success. Last season they finished 7th in the Bundesliga, and at the time of writing they’re sitting 6th in this season’s table, just a point off 5th.
There is one catch though. They are terrible away from home. Their home record this season is 12 wins, 1 draw and 3 losses with a goal difference of +13. Good for the 5th best home record in the league. All lovely. Their away record is 2 wins, 3 draws and 11 losses with a goal difference of -15. Which makes for joint-2nd worst away record in the league. At home they’re a Europa League side, away from it they’re somehow relegation fodder.
At home Hertha create 11.8 shots per game. Not a great number, but when you consider their intentionally slow pace and the fact only 35% of those shots come from outside the box (5th fewest in the league), you can see why it works. They limit opponents to an average 12.1 shots with 42% of them coming from outside the box. They also block the 3rd highest amount of shots per game in the league. And that’s the game plan: play it safe, get pretty good shots and don’t give up any great ones. Simple.
The problem is that the plan just doesn’t work on the road. Away from home they create an abysmal 7.9 shots. Not only is that the worst in the Bundesliga, it’s the 4th worst across Europe’s top 5 leagues. It’s also not like this offensive impotence comes with any defensive benefit. They give up 13.3 shots away from home with only 34% of those coming from outside the box, all this alongside a drop off in terms of shots blocked.
Things get even uglier when you bring their expected goals* production into it. Hertha, like their Bundesliga peers Gladbach, have been a slightly tough side to appraise via xG due to the combination of their odd style of play plus a high amount of blocked shots. Even so, the signs aren’t good. In 16 away matches they’ve managed to have the better of the xG tally just three times. Two of those three opponents – Wolfsburg and Augsburg – are in the bottom three of Bundesliga home records and are currently fighting off relegation.
Hilariously (depending on your perspective) they complete an identical amount of passes both home and away: 77%, on a similarly close amount of passes. It’s abundantly clear that they need to switch it up when travelling because home teams just aren’t falling for their schtick.
All credit to manager Pál Dárdai for the work he has done creating a solid home team. It’s looking likely that the home record will bring them Europa League qualification and their highest league finish since 2009. The away record, however, is unacceptable.
*All expected goals numbers in this piece are sourced from FiveThirtyEight.