Surprise leader Union Berlin revitalizes Bundesliga race

A young Union supporter salutes with a fan scarf during the German Bundesliga soccer match between 1. FC Union Berlin and Borussia Dortmund in Berlin, Germany, Sunday, Oct. 16, 2022. Berlin beat Dortmund by 2-0.  (AP Photo/Michael Sohn)

A young Union supporter salutes with a fan scarf during the German Bundesliga soccer match between 1. FC Union Berlin and Borussia Dortmund in Berlin, Germany, Sunday, Oct. 16, 2022. Berlin beat Dortmund by 2-0. (AP Photo/Michael Sohn)

PA

Bayern Munich have scored 30 goals in 10 Bundesliga games, but the 10-time defending champions are still four points behind surprise leaders Union Berlin.

Union will remain top regardless of how many goals Bayern score against Hoffenheim next weekend, meaning the capital side will lead Germany’s top soccer division for at least six consecutive weekends.

It’s a remarkable achievement for a club that was only promoted to the Bundesliga for the first time in 2019 and has seen its best players leave in every transfer window for higher-paying rivals.

Union’s sole objective for their fourth season in the top flight was to avoid relegation.

But the Köpenick-based club exceeds even its own expectations. Janik Haberer netted twice for a 2-0 win against Borussia Dortmund on Sunday, while the home side might also have scored more.

The Union players celebrated with the fans afterwards, jumping onto the pitch as the supporters sang for the league title.

It was the Union’s seventh victory in 10 league matches. He also drew with Bayern 1-1 last month.

“It’s crazy, actually unbelievable too,” said Union coach Urs Fischer, who dismissed any notion of a title challenge. Fischer said his team’s goal remains 40 points and staying “before maybe we talk about a new goal.”

At the same stage last season, Bayern led Dortmund by one point. It was one point ahead of Bayer Leverkusen after 10 games the previous season.

Union are the only team playing in the Bundesliga to have played in the DDR-Oberliga – the former East German league – and its fans have to trace their memories back to the first day of the 1970-71 season to remember when their team was last. top of the table. The only other time Union were first in the Oberliga was after the seventh round of the 1967-68 season.

“Of course I understand that,” Fischer said of the excitement generated by this team, “but I don’t care. It makes sense that our fans celebrate us, that they embark on a campaign to the championship, all good and correct. They can dream. But we are not the ones who should dream, but who should stay focused.

Much of Union’s success is due to the balanced Swiss coach. Fischer took over in 2018 and led the team to promotion via playoffs in his first season. Union finished 11th after their first year in the Bundesliga, then seventh, then fifth last season to qualify for the Europa League.

Union’s intensive first-half performance against Dortmund summed up everything Fischer expects from his players. The visitors had no time to fiddle with the ball, with the Union players challenging at every opportunity, winning the most, while every 50-50 ball seemed to go the home side’s way.

Dortmund coach Edin Terzić then praised Fischer’s side.

“That’s what sets the best teams apart. Everyone knows what he can do, but he can’t stop it. If you look at the last few years, it’s a very mature, very, very rooted style of play. You can see that everyone knows his work. They are not above doing things that are important,” Terzić said in what appeared to be a thinly disguised beard against his own players.

“There are a few things they are happy to concede, maybe possession of the ball and the risk of building the game. But what they don’t avoid is challenges. They throw themselves in all challenges and are very, very aggressive They help each other out, support each other, never leave a teammate alone, but always come back, so it’s not easy to fight your way in because you usually get hit by two or three challenges in seconds.

Union has the best defense in the league, but Fischer says there’s still plenty of room for improvement.

“We still have our issues that we need to work on,” said Fischer, who referred to the team having just 29 per cent possession and a 68 per cent passing rate.

“It needs to be more specific,” he said.

Union host second division club Heidenheim in the second round of the German Cup on Wednesday before traveling to bottom-placed Bundesliga side Bochum on Sunday.

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Naomi C. Amerson