The Bundesliga’s biggest spenders during in January transfer window were, by some distance, Hertha Berlin.
The capital club invested a total of €78 million on four players as they look to distance themselves from a relegation battle. Hertha’s Sporting Director Michael Preetz secured the signings of:
- Santiago Ascacibar from Stuttgart
- Krzysztof Piatek from AC Milan
- Matheus Cunha from RBL Leipzig
- Lucas Tousart from Lyon (who remains in France until the summer)
The signings each offer different profiles to Hertha’s squad and tactical style. Although there are still some decisions to be made for Preetz in the summer, with the addition of a likely new coach to replace Jurgen Klinsmann, Hertha could be an exciting team with high expectations next season.
THE NEW SIGNINGS
Ascacibar arrived from Stuttgart in the 2. Bundesliga for €10 million; the 22-year old remained with the club despite their relegation from the Bundesliga and he has featured in both the No. 6 and 8 role in Stuttgart’s midfield. He was known for being the primary ball-winning midfielder as well as a conservative passer and the latter has been showcased in Ascacibar’s first few appearances.
In the 0-0 draw against Schalke, Ascacibar completed 30 of 38 short passes, 23 of which were either sideways or backwards. Ascacibar’s lack of long-range forward passing is even more interesting in the context of Hertha’s deep low-block and counter strategy against Schalke in that clash.
Ascacibar’s direct competition next season will be Tousart. The 22-year-old was sold by Lyon for €25 million and operates in similar roles to Ascacibar. Depending on Hertha’s other personnel and new coach, both midfielders could easily feature together. Tousart’s passing is the more expansive, however; this season he has completed 197 of 231 (85.3%) attempted long passes.
Tousart’s defensive capabilities are more dynamic, too. This season for Lyon in Ligue 1, Tousart has averaged 1.77 tackles won P90 and 1.50 interceptions P90 . while Ascacibar in the 2. Bundesliga averaged 1.2 tackles won P90 and 0.71 interceptions P90. They could be balanced together in a well-structured midfield.
In the attacking third, Cunha was added from RB Leipzig for €15m. The 20-year old Brazilian has only played 273 minutes this season but is still a young winger with plenty of potential. An intelligent player with vision to play through balls, in the 2018/19 season his Expected Assists P90 of 0.8 for his 846 minutes played.
Even with fewer minutes in 19/20 he has 1 Key Pass P90, and Cunha’s passing range might suit him better in more advanced midfield roles or in a forward pair with another more traditional striker.
That striker could be Piatek, signed from Milan for €27m. The Polish striker's 30 goals for Genoa and AC Milan in the 2018/19 season put him on the map but after a slow spell this year, with just four goals in 14 starts, Milan chose to cash in.
Piatek is a classic poacher in style, utilising smart off-the-ball movements to create space for himself, but he does lack the technical ability to create passing combinations by dropping deeper into the midfield.
This means his contribution will likely come down to the service he receives from his Hertha teammates, which should be a priority for whoever takes charge next season.
There will be a learning curve for the Polish striker as well - Serie A is not the same as the Bundesliga - but the striker will have to earn his reputation in the Bundesliga beyond one prolific Serie A season.
Images 1 and 2 above are two potential line-ups for Hertha in 2020/21 based on the current squad before further reinforcements during the summer. Image 1 would resemble a Hertha side tactically similar to how Klinsmann organises them, with Tousart placed ahead of Ascacibar to play longer passes to Piatek or wide players. However, Cunha would miss out on starting as Meier would be better suited to control the midfield in their likely defensive structure.
Image 2 would see Hertha become a slightly more possession-based side. Tousart and Ascacibar, two well-balanced central midfielders with Cunha in a more advanced position to play into Piatek, yet the pace to make runs towards the opposition defense when a channel allows.
Either line-up sees Hertha become a stronger Bundesliga side. As Preetz invests it becomes even more so important for the club to establish a clear plan for overarching style they want their signings to operate in.