Union Berlin has been defending first place for weeks now and the league is wondering: will it always go on like this? About a flight that is more than just a flight and which, in addition to a few risks, also offers great opportunities for Berliners.
So far it’s only a trend, but still: Union Berlin has been enthroned at the top of the table in the league since the sixth matchday and none of the established clubs have been able to even come close to getting close to the Berliners since then. Bayern are now the number one pursuers, but four points behind are quite an impressive mark, which the Munich team – who did not get beyond a draw even in Berlin – have to catch up before the World Cup break in a few weeks.
After almost a third of the season, Union Berlin is no longer a random leader, but a serious competitor in the fight for the Champions League places – or maybe even more? “Insane, insane. What else can I say,” said coach Urs Fischer, summing up the mood after the comfortable win against Borussia Dortmund.
And it’s actually a bit crazy what’s happening at FC Union. Not just since this season, but the last few weeks have strengthened and strengthened the suspicion that a club has not just come to stay – but is showing the veterans and wannabes of the league how to do it with manageable means, but with clearly defined guidelines can be successful at all levels.
Union Berlin thwarts some of the rules of the game
The sporting success of the Berliners has developed rapidly in the last four years. She was so fast that not all areas around the club could keep up, as was recently seen again during the visit of Hungary’s head of state Viktor Orban and the club’s completely unsuccessful communication. In the sporting field, however, Union’s work could not be better.
Urs Fischer and his team are the counter-evidence to some learned laws of football. For example, assuming that the chances of winning increase with the number of goal chances created. Or that a team has to excel in all four phases of the game – five including the set pieces – to ensure lasting success.
Neither the one nor the other is the case at Union, whereby both factors are mutually dependent. The Berliners are at best in the middle class of the league in their own ball possession, have problems with a powerful positional play and clearly fall behind in this discipline compared to the other sub-areas. However, this is concealed by the best defensive in the league, not only on paper, and outstanding behavior in the defensive and offensive transition phases when the ball changes hands.
Union Berlin: Outstanding defensive work and clever fouls
Union has only conceded six goals, by far the fewest in the league. Only Bayern (eight goals conceded) can keep up to some extent. Behind this mere number lies an almost perfectly functioning defensive work with patterns of behavior that are as simple as they are clear: Union is usually lower than other teams, but moves through with absolute precision and moves up, there are hardly any gaps in the dense network, because sometimes several covering shadows are superimposed at the same time and, in addition to the very direct approach to the ball, almost all pass options are taken away from the opponent in the center and in the half-spaces.
Fischer has orchestrated this superbly over the years and kept it as simple as possible so that even new players can gain a foothold immediately and without any initial difficulties. In addition, there is the behavior after losing the ball, when the Berliners always manage to make the space unusable for the opponent in two ways: Either there is so much ball pressure immediately that a clean release is not feasible and the opponent loses the ball again quickly, or at least plays dirty. Or Union commits a standard foul and thus prevents the attack and thus the chance for the opponent to switch.
142 fouls on the opponent is the absolute top value in the league. In addition, there are only 14 yellow cards and not a single dismissal. Similar to Mainz or Freiburg, Union commits “clever” fouls that stop the game, but do not lead to personal penalties. And indiscipline is almost never to be seen here either.
It’s all calculated and predictable. And yet all opponents sometimes have massive problems with the type of football in Berlin. That’s what makes a top team: Everyone knows how they play, but nobody can prevent it,” said Dortmund coach Edin Terzic on Sunday after the game about the opponent and indirectly made a judgment about his own team. It seems that not everyone knows what to play and when.
Union Berlin: Statistics after the 10th matchday
|shots on goal||120||14|
|Pass rate (percent)||76.3||14|
|Ball Possession (Percent)||43||17|
|fouls on the opponent||142||1|
|Running distance (km)||1192.8||1|
Union Berlin: Cannot be defeated after the lead
The second big plus point in addition to the splendid defensive work at Union is the unbelievable and now hardly explainable efficiency in front of the opposing goal – and the luck in the game that Union has literally been pursuing the entire season. 52 great chances created are an average in the Bundesliga, but then scoring 18 goals and statistically taking advantage of every third of these chances is enormous.
In addition, there are moments kissed by fate, such as Gregor Kobel’s slip-up, which turns a whole game on Union’s side – after only eight minutes of play. Or the corner kick given in the penultimate game against Stuttgart: Union, as leaders in the penultimate game, showed no intention of scoring a goal for 80 minutes. And then hit with the first reasonable shot on goal. As in the games against Leipzig, Schalke, against Bayern – and now against Dortmund.
So there’s a lot of luck involved, which will turn away at some point. But currently it is the perfect accomplice for Union’s plan to defend your own goal from a deep position and to be successful with switching moments on the offensive. And in the best case scenario, scoring the first goal of a game. If the Berliners managed to do that, they have been unbeatable for the past 44 Bundesliga games.
Union Berlin: There are risks – and a very big opportunity
Which in turn speaks for Union’s strength – but does not cast a particularly good light on the rest of the league. Berlin football may not be that easy to get to grips with. The fact that other clubs with completely different (financial) means are not able to even come close to becoming a threat to Union Berlin is not good news.
Union usually boils down expectations of a football game to the lowest common denominator, and that’s the result. That’s not reprehensible, but it’s also anything but entertaining for the neutral observer. And there is a real danger that the total focus on stringent defense and quick switching to the offensive without the necessary luck will sooner or later be watered down.
However, nothing changes in the fundamental chance that Union has this season with the weakening or ailing big clubs from Munich, Leipzig, Dortmund or Leverkusen. The constellation with the World Cup in the middle of the season is likely to affect these teams – after all, they send a large part of their players to the tournament.
Union, on the other hand, can watch the hustle and bustle in Qatar in a relaxed manner and gets a good two-month break to fully recharge the batteries. In any case, the triple burden has hardly led to a drop in performance so far, with an eight-week break for the broad squad, the conditions for a successful second half of the season could hardly be better.
And the trend may actually become a certainty at some point: Union Berlin will play for the top four places until the end.
Union Berlin: The rest of the program until the winter break
|October 19th||1. FC Heidenheim (H)||DFB Cup|
|23rd October||VfL Bochum (A)||Bundesliga|
|October 27th||Sporting Braga (H)||Europe League|
|30th of October||Bor. Moenchengladbach (H)||Bundesliga|
|November 3rd||Union Saint Gilloise (A)||Europe League|
|November 6th||Bayer Leverkusen (A)||Bundesliga|
|November 9th||FC Augsburg (H)||Bundesliga|
|November 13th||SC Freiburg (A)||Bundesliga|