Jpipe records continue to tumble. Their longest unbeaten streak in the top flight (now 11) has been extended. It’s the first time they’ve gone unbeaten in five away Bundesliga matches. Add to that, of course, the big one – it was their biggest ever Bundesliga victory, at the home of one of German football’s iconic clubs in front of a crowd of over 62,000. Union Berlin is not a curiosity, not a fleeting story and more than a minor irritant to the established order of the Bundesliga.
Saturday’s 6-1 victory at Schalke saw Union earn points with Bayern Munich at the top, once again planting their flag on surprisingly high ground, just as they had when they rose to the top flight for the first time in 2019 and becoming the Berliner. preeminent force over the bigger and better-off Hertha, having beaten their city rivals four times in a row (including, with some comfort, in this season’s opener). They will face the next challenge from the best possible angle; next week they meet Bayern in Berlin.
There will be plenty of time to savor this; the anticipation and preparation of the days leading up to the match, the atmosphere of the day and the match itself, in a venue in the Alten Försterei where the champions have never lost in three previous visits but have experienced a few difficult routes. Let’s go back to Saturday which just came first, though.
Schalke may only be slowly and steadily climbing back to respectability after years of sporting and financial embarrassment, but they remain a huge name and a big deal, as their home crowd proves. It was the first time Union had beaten them and although the circumstances – and expectations – of the two may have changed since they last met 18 months previously, it was a real feather in Köpenicker’s caps.
It wasn’t just the result, categorical as it was, but the manner. Union got off to a perfect start when Morten Thorsby – yes, they can sign Sampdoria players these days – nodded after a set piece routine, one of the cornerstones of Urs’ tactics Fischer since his promotion in 2019. Still, they didn’t have everything. their own way. Schalke responded with fire and envy, Frederik Rønnow making saves from Simon Terodde and Malick Thiaw before former Unioner Marius Bülter equalized from the penalty spot.
Spirit and desire might also have been the bristles of the cliche paintbrush used to tar the Union in the past, but regular observers of Berliners will know they are so much, so much smarter than that these days. They fought back before half-time, Jordan Siebatcheu putting one in place of Sheraldo Becker, the Bundesliga’s top assist provider providing a goal for its top scorer.
Janik Haberer scored one from the off (which goalkeeper Alexander Schwolow could have done better with) and Union had scored three goals from just five shots in the first half. Becker scored again 25 seconds into the second half and, just like that, the game had drifted away from Schalke’s reach. “After it went 4-1,” Fischer said, “the game was only going in one direction. The result was a bit tough in the end.
Inwardly, he should have allowed himself a glimmer of satisfaction, even if there was little evidence from the outside. His team was brutal, cold and ruthless, not the cuddly club of football fables. They even had their quicksilver replacement to bring and kill the game in the closing stages, with nippy Sven Michel pounced on a Thiaw error bound for Milan before applying an even better finish in the 90th minute. It was the kind of ruthless victory, play into yourself and show your class at the necessary times that comes straight out of Bayern’s playbook.
Everything Union does smacks of preparation rather than romance. The collaboration between Fischer and Oliver Ruhnert, the Managing Director, is one of their greatest strengths. Losing their pair of first-choice goals in the last eight months – Max Kruse unexpectedly returning to Wolfsburg in the winter and top scorer Taiwo Awoniyi joining Nottingham Forest in the summer – could have been a hammer blow. Instead, Union handled it quickly and smartly, and appear to be in a better position than ever.
A drama never becomes a crisis. Siebatcheu was dropped from Young Boys (where he scored 42 goals, won a Swiss title and secured a Champions League winner against Manchester United in two seasons) for an initial fee of €6 million, less than one-third of the fees for which Awoniyi was transferred.
The United States international – known as Pefok, his mother’s maiden name, when playing international football – took the lead and got the best out of Becker, a Suriname-born Netherlands international who has always been fast and lively but is moving away from its companion image in a blistering start to the season. The pair (with Michel as their first change) give Union an amplified counterattack threat.
They may well need it against Bayern. But Julian Nagelsmann will think about countering Fischer as much as the Swiss does the same. There can hardly be a greater compliment.
Bayern were unable to show the clinical advantage that Union did at the weekend, losing their first points of the season against the closest to a bogey team, Borussia Mönchengladbach. Really, they dropped those points to Yann Sommer, with the goalkeeper making a Bundesliga record number of saves for a game (19!) either side of in-form Leroy Sané who equalized late, after the goal by Marcus Thuram in the first half. “As always, sighs Nagelsmann, Yann Sommer played excellently against us.
Borussia Dortmund bounced back from their humiliating home defeat to Werder Bremen with a one-goal victory at Hertha, with Anthony Modeste leading the winner. The real star was Modeste’s former Cologne team-mate Salih Özcan, making his debut after a pre-season injury, providing the 34-year-old winner with the cross and providing the courage that could make BVB’s season. “It’s not important to him that football is sexy,” Dortmund head coach Edin Terzic said. “Salih was key today.”
While BVB sporting director Sebastian Kehl gave an update on Sebastien Haller following his testicular cancer diagnosis (he’s doing “very well”, Kehl said), Hertha’s Marco Richter made his return as a substitute after his recovering from the same illness and nearly being capped off with his cameo in fairy tale fashion, hitting the crossbar from distance.
Leipzig won their first victory, with a double from Christopher Nkunku too many for Wolfsburg. Domenico Tedesco’s next task is to deal with the unrest among the non-playing members of the squad, including Emil Forsberg. The coach believes the rapidly escalating schedule, starting with Pokal’s delayed game with Teutonia Ottensen on Tuesday, will ensure that the situation ‘will sort itself out, and then the world will be different’.
Among the best sights of the weekend was Mario Götze scoring his first Bundesliga goal (and his seventh against favorite opponents Werder Bremen), as Eintracht Frankfurt won a seven-goal thriller at the Weser, in which Randal Kolo Muani was outstanding for Tottenham. future Champions League opponents, setting up Götze brilliantly before scoring himself. And Werder? The go-to team in the Bundesliga so far.