Our next opponents: Union Berlin

Cup football returns to the BayArena. After a break of one and a half years, Bayer 04 now have another home game in the DFB Cup. Ambitious FC Union Berlin from the second division visit the Werkself on Tuesday (24 October, 18.30 CET) in the second round. The lowdown on the team from the capital.


The 2017/18 season sees Union in the second division for the ninth year in succession and they are the longest-serving team in the second tier. In the last six seasons the team from the capital have finished in the top half of the table and often competed for a top position. That is a remarkable achievement given the constant fluctuation in division two. But this consistency should soon stop: Union are looking to get promotion to the Bundesliga for the first time in the club's history after finishing just short in fourth place last term. This season, after a run of five games without a win, the team coached by Jens Keller are now back in the leading pack and in fourth place after a 3-1 win against Fürth.


Over the past few years, the management in Berlin-Köpenick have continually assembled a team able to hold their own in the leading group of the second division. Since 2016 the team has also been able to build on the services of Jens Keller as head coach with his past experience of managing VfB Stuttgart and Schalke 04 in the Bundesliga. That undoubtedly makes him one of the most high-profile coaches in the second division. And in terms of the attack, almost all other second division teams must envy the impressive quality of the Berlin strike force: Since moving to Berlin in January 2017, Sebastian Polter has scored an impressive 13 goals in 27 games including six in the current campaign and five in the last five matches – the man is on a run. In addition to the 6'2" central striker, Union also have a big name in the centre of midfield. Felix Kroos is not only the captain of the side but also plays a decisive role as a playmaker with the Berlin team – in similar fashion to his big brother Toni, who performs the same role at another level for Real Madrid and Germany. Both Polter (Nürnberg, Wolfsburg, Mainz) as well as Kroos (Bremen) have played in the Bundesliga. The same applies to the Japanese player Atsuto Uchida, right back at Schalke 04 for seven  years including a spell under Jens Keller. Uchida joined Union in the summer but is ruled out of the match against the Werkself due to a muscle injury.


Union found it difficult in the final stage of last season and also in the first third of the current campaign when playing against rivals for promotion. That was how Keller's team, top of the table on matchday 25 of the 2016/17 season, lost the chance of progress to the Bundesliga in the new year. One possible reason: against the top teams the attacking game largely focused on Polter as a target up front is often not enough. In general, the team from the capital often seem very dependent on goals from their star striker: Union only picked up two points between match days four and seven when the lofty striker failed to find the back of the net in four consecutive matches.


Union are continually working on the long-term aim of establishing themselves in the Bundesliga. The appropriate structures have already been created: The capacity of the venerable Alte Försterei stadium Is due to be extended from the current 22,000 to 37,000 by 2020 – a quantum leap for the club that has been up and down between the second and third divisions for years. Now the club is booming in every respect: The membership numbers are going through the roof, Union have a close relationship to the fans due to their cult image in the capital and now they are a serious competitor for the bigger club Hertha Berlin. One crucial element is missing to complete the development over the next few years: promotion to the top flight.


That is a work in progress in Berlin. The chances of that happening this year are certainly there. Union have the quality to compete for promotion  to the end of the season. If they show the necessary focus in crucial matches then Bayer 04  could be  playing a Bundesliga fixture at the Alte Försterei next season. First, the two teams meet at the BayArena on Tuesday. The club have already shown they are capable of springing surprises as in 2001 when Union made it to the Cup final as a Regional League side only to lose 2-0 against Schalke 04 –  the biggest success in the club's recent history.

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