BERLIN: Hertha Berlin will look to build on their winning return to Bundesliga action last weekend following the coronavirus suspension and avenge November’s derby defeat by city rivals Union when the pair meet on Friday in the German capital.
Union, the side from the east of Berlin, pulled off a famous 1-0 win over their west Berlin rivals when the teams met for the first time in the top division this season. The return match at Hertha’s Olympic Stadium home would in normal times have been a 74,000 sellout.
“We all remember the match at the Alten Foersterei. It was a black, black, day. Now we’ve got the chance to put it behind us just a bit,” said Hertha’s general manager Michael Preetz. “The conditions are very different, therefore it’s a different sort of derby,” added Hertha coach Bruno Labbadia, who started with a win in his first match last Saturday.
The Bundesliga became the first major European league to resume last weekend following the two-month shutdown, with draconian hygiene measures enforced at all matches across the country.
Players are undergoing regular virus tests while games are being played behind closed doors as part of strict guidelines approved by the government.
Germany’s top two tiers will pay tribute to the victims of the virus outbreak over the course of the next two rounds of matches. More than 8,000 people have died in the country, which has reported over 175,000 cases of COVID-19.
“The spread of the coronavirus has already taken many lives throughout the world. German professional football would like to express its condolences on the next two matchdays,” said German league chief executive Christian Seifert.
Players will also wear black armbands and observe a moment of reflection before the start of each match.
Union coach Urs Fischer missed the 2-0 loss at home to Bayern Munich last weekend after breaking the team quarantine following a family bereavement.
Borussia Dortmund will try to keep pace with leaders Bayern Munich away to Wolfsburg ahead of Tuesday’s crucial top-two showdown at Signal Iduna Park, although they could be without captain Marco Reus for the remainder of the season due to a thigh injury.
Bayern, four points clear at the top, host Eintracht Frankfurt, who won 5-1 in the reverse fixture — inflicting the heaviest league defeat on Bayern since 2009 and putting an end to Niko Kovac’s turbulent spell in charge.
Champions League quarterfinalists RB Leipzig go to Mainz on Sunday, having have fallen behind in the title chase after three successive draws. Julian Nagelsmann’s side set a club record with an 8-0 win when the teams met in November.
Bayer Leverkusen picked up where they left off before the league’s suspension with a 4-1 rout of Werder Bremen, Kai Havertz further enhancing his reputation by scoring twice as the club made it 10 wins in their last 11 games in all competitions.
The 20-year-old Havertz, who saw Florian Wirtz (17 years and 15 days) break his record on Monday as Leverkusen’s youngest Bundesliga debutant, has emerged as one of the best young forwards in Europe and is attracting interest from several of the continent’s top clubs.
With nine goals and seven assists since the turn of the year, Leverkusen will hope for more from Havertz when they take on third-placed Borussia Moenchengladbach.
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Fixtures (1330 GMT unless stated)
Friday: Hertha Berlin vs. Union Berlin (1830)
Saturday: Borussia Moenchengladbach vs. Bayer Leverkusen, Wolfsburg vs. Borussia Dortmund, Freiburg vs. Werder Bremen, Paderborn vs. Hoffenheim, Bayern Munich vs. Eintracht Frankfurt (1630)
Sunday: Schalke vs. Augsburg (1130), Mainz vs. RB Leipzig (1330), Cologne vs. Fortuna Dusseldorf (1600)