The fact that Peter Pekarik didn’t even know that his header had crossed the line summed up Hertha Berlin’s derby day in Köpenick.
The Slovakian’s effort in first-half injury time was only Hertha’s second attempt on goal, and first on target, and Union Berlin’s Robin Knoche’s desperate lunge couldn’t keep it out.
But it didn’t matter. Krzysztof Piatek was marginally offside in the buildup, the goal was ruled out by the video assistant and Union took their thoroughly deserved 2-0 lead into halftime.
Union have never enjoyed a more comfortable win over their city rivals, and certainly wouldn’t have dreamt of such when they were promoted to the Bundesliga for the first time two years ago.
They may have won a fiery first derby in dramatic late fashion in November 2019, but the roles were clear: Union were the feisty underdogs, the newcomers from the former East Berlin in their quaint, terraced stadium; Hertha were Bundesliga establishment, the Old Lady of German football from the Olympic Stadium in well-heeled Charlottenburg.
DW’s Matt Ford
But is that what Hertha really want to be? No-one really seems to know. There was no particular sense of identity, sporting or otherwise, at the Stadion an der Alten Försterei on Saturday.
While Union lined up well-organized and compact, waiting for their moments to counter-attack clinically through the ever-dangerous Taiwo Awoniyi, Hertha seemed unaware that there was a derby to win.
“We made too many tactical errors at the back and we didn’t have enough shots on goal ourselves,” summarized head coach Pal Dardai. “Union were stronger and more dynamic today, we were simply too harmless.”
It was a rather tame response to a comprehensive derby defeat, and not one which will have satisfied the angry Hertha supporters who told their players exactly what they thought of them at fulltime. At least one player’s jersey was thrown back.
But Dardai’s insipid analysis of an insipid performance summed up Hertha Berlin in 2021.
On the pitch, Hertha have sold some of their most creative and effective players in Matheus Cunha, Jhon Cordoba and Ondrej Duda, making it unsurprising that they’ve only scored 12 goals in 12 games this season.
On the touchline, Hertha have gone from homegrown solution Ante Covic to external maverick Jürgen Klinsmann to Bundesliga rescue man Bruno Labbadia … only to end up with club stalwart Dardai back in charge for a second spell.
And off the pitch, an unprecedented €374 million of investment from German businessman Lars Windhorst in return for a 66.6% stake in the club has yielded several cringey marketing campaigns but little more. Earlier this month, a Dutch court declared Windhorst’s company Tennor Holding to be insolvent. Windhorst denies this and wants to appeal the decision.
Are Hertha Berlin one of the richest clubs in Germany, or is their investor bankrupt? Who knows?
How do Hertha intend to approach the next two derbies against Union, in the cup and the league? Pal Dardai doesn’t know.
What was the point of the two pitiful smoke bombs in the away end? The fans probably don’t know.
Did the header cross the line? Peter Pekarik didn’t know. And that says it all, really.