Hertha BSC Berlin coach Lucien Favre insists there is no secret ingredient behind his side's rise to third place in the Bundesliga, saying: "Building a football team is like baking – it's just a question of getting the right mix."
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The Bundesliga has been full of surprises this season with none greater than TSG 1899 Hoffenheim's assault on the title. Not far behind, though, is the rise of Hertha BSC Berlin, who are third following Friday's 2-1 win at home to 1. FC Köln and on course for a UEFA Champions League place.
Goals from Serbians Gojko Kačar and Marko Pantelić ensured a fourth successive league victory for Lucien Favre's side, with Köln falling the way of Hoffenheim, Hamburger SV and VfL Bochum 1848 in November. Key now for Favre will be to carry that form into Europe. After draws against SL Benfica and FC Metalist Kharkiv in Group B, Hertha will likely need to beat either Galatasaray AŞ, on Wednesday, or Olympiacos CFP if they are to advance to the round of 32. "I'm really satisfied with Favre's work and glad the risk we took going for a relatively unknown coach in July 2007 is paying off," Hertha's sporting director Dieter Hoeness said. "It took some time for Favre to give the team the shape he wanted, but now we're successful because of that. He improves the performance of each player and I really like that."
The 51-year-old Favre joined Hertha after leading FC Zürich to back-to-back Super League titles in 2006 and 2007. The former Swiss international midfielder puts a team ethic above all else and is not afraid to drop anyone if he feels they are putting themselves before the collective. Fans' favourite Pantelić, who scored 13 goals in 28 matches last season, is not guaranteed a place in the side, the occasional demotion to the substitutes' bench Favre's way of saying that attitude counts for more than past achievements. That is a borne out by the fact that midfielders Cicero and Kačar lead the team in scoring with five goals apiece, followed by Pantelić (four) and Andriy Voronin, who has scored three league goals on loan from Liverpool FC.
"We have had to really battle hard to win these recent matches," Favre said. "Now I can see we're on the right path. Since I came to Berlin a year ago many things have changed and we have had a lot of ups and downs. Building a football team is like baking. You need butter, sugar, flour and many other ingredients. It's a question of getting the right mix. Too much of one thing and it tastes bad. Sometimes you have to try a few times to get it right." Favre has certainly hit on a winning formula and his work has not gone unappreciated by his charges. "The coach is completely accepted by all the players and we know what he wants us to do," Germany international defender Arne Friedrich said. "The team has become a lot more confident. Matches we would have lost or drawn before, we are winning now."