DÜSSELDORF, Germany (AP) — Buckle up, Sami.
After playing only 28 minutes in all of 2020, Sami Khedira could take part in his first game since June on Friday when Hertha Berlin hosts defending champion Bayern Munich.
It will be like going “from zero to 100,” Hertha coach Pal Dardai said.
The challenge for Khedira, who previously played for Real Madrid and Juventus, is balancing the urgent need for game time against the risk of injury.
Although struggling Hertha needs a spark in its midfield, Dardai warned that Khedira could “get muscular problems or overload” with a sudden return to competitive action. At the same time, the coach said he had weighed up “throw(ing) him in there because game time is important” even if Khedira takes time to get up to speed.
Khedira, who joined Hertha on Monday, wasn’t part of the first-team picture at all for Juventus this season. Following knee surgery in December 2019, he played only 28 minutes as a substitute in an Italian Cup game in June against AC Milan.
The main positive for Khedira and Dardai is that expectations are low. Bayern has won four straight games following a blip in mid-January, while Hertha hasn’t won any of its last five games and is hovering above the relegation zone.
“I want to play. I want to take on responsibility and to achieve something,” Khedira said Tuesday. “I’m not the big boss, not the great savior. Instead, just see me as part of the team.”
Khedira may not want to be the boss, but as a Champions League and World Cup winner he is the most recognizable name in a squad already packed with expensive, underachieving talent. Flush with cash from investor Lars Windhorst at a time when other clubs are cutting back, Hertha has been among the biggest spenders in Europe over the last two years. It hasn’t come close to qualifying for European competition.
Khedira’s new teammates include Polish striker Krzysztof Piatek, signed from Milan for a reported fee of 24 million euros ($28.8 million) a year ago but with only five goals this season. In the midfield is Mattéo Guendouzi, still looking to find his best form since arriving on loan from Arsenal, and the 25 million euro ($30 million) former Lyon midfielder Lucas Tousart.
Hertha spent even more money on Monday. The club got Serbian winger Nemanja Radonjić on loan with an option to buy from Marseille, one of the few clubs in the major European leagues in greater turmoil than Hertha.
Dardai was reappointed as Hertha coach last week, a year and a half after his first tenure ended, following the firing of Bruno Labbadia. In his first match, Piatek briefly gave Hertha a glimpse of victory with the opening goal, but Eintracht Frankfurt leveled almost immediately and went on to win 3-1.
Hertha is in 15th place and could finish the weekend in the relegation playoff place if it loses to Bayern. Dardai, of course, is looking to win.
“We’re not going out onto the field,” he said, “just to somehow survive for 90 minutes.”
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