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11.11.2023Bundesliga

Our next opponents: Union battling to turn things around

The last four years for Union Berlin in the Bundesliga had only seen the team go from strength to strength. This season, however, the capital club are down at the bottom end of the table after a run of defeats, but they were able to gain a confidence-boosting draw during the week in the UEFA Champions League ahead of their Sunday trip to the BayArena (kick-off: 15:30 CET).
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Position

There was palpable relief in the Union camp on Wednesday evening. “Finally, the team has been rewarded for a great performance,” said coach Urs Fischer after the 1-1 draw away at Napoli in the Champions League. It was a historic result as David Fofana’s second-half equaliser earned the club its first-ever point in the competition, having lost its first three games in the group stage. “Today you clearly saw that the team really wanted a result. They were tireless, threw themselves into every ball,” Fischer stated. The fact that Union can no longer qualify for the last 16 was ultimately secondary. “Maybe this point will still be very important in the final standings,” Fischer said looking at the possibility of finishing third, from which the Köpenickers are only two points away, and moving to the Europa League.

However, the important thing for Union was that it ended their run of 12 consecutive losses across all competitions, with a courageous display in Naples. “We did outstanding work in defence today. Everyone was there for each other,” stated Christopher Trimmel. “We fought for 90 minutes and also had enough chances to score. It feels very good,” added the captain, who hopes the performance will give his team greater energy for the coming weeks.

Things had only been up for Union since their maiden Bundesliga promotion four years ago, with finishes of 11th, seventh, fifth and most recently fourth to qualify for the Champions League. But things have been far harder this term with only six points from 10 games, making it their worst-ever start to a Bundesliga campaign. It had all started so well, though, with 4-1 wins over Mainz and Darmstadt before that run of eight straight league defeats. That equals their total number of losses from the whole of 2022/23. Union were also eliminated in the second round of the DFB-Pokal with a 1-0 defeat to VfB Stuttgart.

Personnel

Fischer will have to make some changes from the team that played in Italy. Central midfielder Rani Khedira is suspended in the league, while Danilho Doekhi is still injured. Andras Schäfer has just returned to training. Apart from that, Union have everyone else available for the trip to Leverkusen. It’s likely that Robin Knoche will return to the back three in place of Paul Jaeckel. The other two positions should be occupied by Diogo Leite and Italian legend Leonardo Bonucci. The 36-year-old arrived in Berlin from Juventus in September. Captain Trimmel could come in for Josip Juranovic at right wing-back, while it’s a choice between Robin Gosens and Jerome Roussillon on the left. Alex Kral is the most likely contender to replace Khedira. Up front, Sheraldo Becker and Fofana were the forwards in Naples and against Eintracht Frankfurt. Perhaps Kevin Volland will get a chance from the start back at his former club. The ex-Werkself striker scored 50 times in 148 competitive appearances for Leverkusen but is yet to strike in 10 outings for Union since his summer move from Monaco. And there’s also Kevin Behrens, who is their joint-top scorer (alongside Gosens) with four goals.

Performers

Much of Union’s play comes down the flanks. They are among the top teams in the division for crosses and crossing accuracy, so it’s no surprise to know that they are good in the air, with a league-high eight of their 11 goals coming from headers. And there’s also their strong mentality that permeates throughout the club despite the recent run. “You don’t have much ease when you’ve lost 12 in a row. But the team has still always shown that they can get back up,” Fischer affirmed.

Problems

The Köpenickers have always been among the Bundesliga’s best defences in the last three seasons. Last year they even had the meanest defence together with champions Bayern Munich with only 38 goals conceded. That solidity at the back has gone missing somewhat this term, ranking 11th in the division for goals shipped with 22. They have also lacked their usual clinical finishing at the other end, failing to make the most of the counter-attacks that they became feared for in the past. Union have in fact failed to score in six out of 10 games this season and in four of the last five. They have converted only 11 percent of shots, and their 11 goals have come from only five players.

Prediction

Have Union finally turned a corner? Will that hard-fought draw against Italian champions Napoli bring them the renewed energy Trimmel hopes for? The Köpenickers will obviously give their all at the BayArena to get that long-desired win. Few people can complain about their attitude and the effort they put in. They simply need to turn that into results again in the Bundesliga. “A relegation battle is a marathon, not a sprint,” Fischer has said, preparing his team for a “long and arduous road”. That now leads to Bundesliga leaders Leverkusen, who want to continue to be a stumbling block.

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