Pal Dardai’s tactically flexible Hertha Berlin

Pal Dardai has used a 4-2-3-1, 3-4-1-2, 5-3-2 and 4-4-2 diamond formations as he is a tactical chameleon in the Bundesliga. Hertha Berlin employ a variety of approaches as their Hungarian Head coach develops his tactical mindset with his team. The 42-year-old makes clever in game tweaks while always reserves tactical adaptations for the opposition side in his preparations. Dardai has made sure Hertha finish in the top 10 during each of his seasons since his appointment while he regularly promotes young players from the youth academy and develops the acquisitions of Michael Preetz. In the ‘Laptop trainer’ generation, Dardai deserves more recognition as a progressive young manager in the Bundesliga.

High man-orientated pressing

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Dardai’s favoured formation is one with three at the back as it allows him to implement aggressive man-orientated pressure all over the pitch in order to force the opposition into playing long-balls where Hertha can win aerial duels and recycle possession rapidly. Strikers, Salomon Kalou and David Selke will lead the first phase of pressure marking the opposition centre-backs with a horizontal body shape to prevent connections with their fullbacks. Max Mittlestadt and David Lazaro will slide up to mark the opposition fullbacks as they have developed their abilities at winning possession in the opposition half.


Ondrej Duda will always mark the opposition defensive midfielder with Marko Grujic and Arne Maier marking the other midfielders. The picture above is intriguing as Borussia Dortmund play a double-pivot as Maier has pushed up to mark the other midfielder with Grujic marking Dortmund’s third midfielder. Hertha’s three centre-backs will push up and mark opposition attackers while implementing offside traps, but they are aggressive about pushing up to win loose balls into the pockets. Nicklas Stark who plays as a right sided centre-back has a developed sense of anticipation as he thrives at pushing up to win loose passes. The wing-backs will also push up to pressure the man in possession as the rest of the four defenders will move across to cover the space.

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Dardai is a tactical chameleon as his team and pressing shape will adapt to the build-up shape of the opponent. Their normal pressing shape will manifest as a high 5-3-2 but Max Mittlestadt’s ability to act as a wing-back, wide-midfielder and winger allows Hertha to switch into different formations. In the photo above, Hertha have switched to a 4-4-2 diamond to win possession as in the second-half of this game, Bayern switched to a double-pivot system and Hertha reacted by pushing another midfielder higher next to Duda. Hertha’s lateral pressing is also aggressive as Dardai’s side shift their wave of pressure out wide as they also thrive on winning the ball out wide and starting vertical passing moves to create opportunities.

Hertha’s compact mid-to low block

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Hertha Berlin sit in a compact 5-3-2 mid to low block with little spaces in between the attacking to midfield line and the midfield to defensive line. The spaces between the attackers and defenders is also small which makes it difficult to break them down. In Hertha’s low block, they use their wing-back and wide-midfielder to prevent crossing situations while they also have a wide centre back to close down the half-spaces and prevent low crossing opportunities for the opposition.


Hertha inculcate aggressive midfield pressing as they seek to win possession early and launch quick breaks with rapid combinations and passes into space. In the mid-block, the marking is man-orientated while in the low block, they switch to a more zonal defensive block closing down space in the central channels and forcing the opposition out wide. If Hertha are in a formation with a four chain, they switch to a 4-4-2 medium to low block where they also seek to constrain the central spaces and force the opposition into the wide areas where they have 2v2/2v1 situations. The defenders continue to be aggressive with their marking of opposition attackers as in the picture above, Karim Rekik has tracked his marker into the midfield line.

Hertha verticality in possession

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Hertha focus on quick vertical passing moves to move the ball out of pressure and progress into the opposition half as quickly as possible. Dardai’s side can switch to a 3-4-3 in possession with a midfielder dropping deep to work the ball out of pressure. Their passing sequences consist of centre-back to wide-centre-back to wing-back to deep-lying midfielder circulations or centre-back to wide-centre-back to midfielder to wing-back rotations. The three centre-backs will circulate the ball amongst themselves to move the line of pressure while if Fabian Lustenberger and Rekik are playing one of them will push into the midfield line to create a triangle amongst the back three. This allows the midfield line to push higher into space in between the opposition lines of pressure as Lustenberger will normally play in a centre-back and defensive midfielder hybrid position.


The midfielders, especially Marko Grujic and Maier will alternate into dropping into the deepest-lying midfielder role while Duda will also drop deep to use his dribbling ability and passing range to move the ball to runners in the channels. It is intriguing how Hertha utilise combinations in the half-spaces and wide zone in order to play quick passing moves as the deepest-lying midfielders and wide-centre-backs can drop into the half-space and work passing moves with the wing-backs. Mittlestadt and Lazaro are highly involved in build-up and will move up the field as play progresses from a deep position to a higher position.


Hertha can also work passing moves through the centre, especially when they win possession early and their opposition is disorganised. With Duda dropping deep into the midfield line, Kalou will drop into the pockets to receive early passes as he can use his dribbling ability to hold possession while he can also play passes to Selke who makes runs in behind. Dardai has trained his side to work quick one-touch passing moves to evade pressure as Lustenberger/Rekik, Duda and Kalou can work moves through the central channels.

Hertha’s counter-attacking prowess

Hertha are one of the most lethal counter attacking sides in the Bundesliga as they burst forward at pace after receiving possession. Kalou is a vital conduit as Selke uses his athleticism and physicality to hold the ball up and make darts in behind. Duda is a gifted through ball passer as Hertha seek to overload the opposition with attacking runs upon winning possession. The man in possession will have options on either side of him as wing-backs Mittlestadt and Lazaro will also burst forward as will midfielders, Maier and Grujic. The one-twos and three-man passing combinations are well-rehearsed as they are crucial in build-up and approach play as the man in possession will always continue his run after the pass. In a routine against Schalke, Grujic beat his man and played the ball to Maier who drove into the opposition the half and played a pass to Duda who backheeled it for Grujic to finish.


An impressive facet of Dardai’s philosophy is his development of young players as Jordan Torunarigha, Stark, Maier and Mittlestadt have improved under his tutelage while his son, Palko Dardai, Dennis Jaszstrzembski and Javairo Dilrosun are next on the production line. The Hungarian’s tactical versatility allows his team to adapt to injuries well while constantly surprising the opposition from week to week. Dardai’s sides have narrowly failed to qualify for Europe in the past as the 42-year-old achieved constantly despite a slimmer budget than some of his competitors. The young Hungarian coach is trying to develop his style into a more dominant and progressive style, but he should have more acclaim due to the stability he has brought to the club despite meagre means. Berlin was the one European capital that lagged as a football hotbed but Dardai and his side have breathed life into the city.