1. FC Union Berlin won their final friendly of the pre-season preparations, 4-1, against Atalanta, with goals coming from Aissa Laidouni, Kevin Behrens, and a brace from the superb David Datro Fofana.
1. FC Union Berlin: Rönnow – Juranovic (46. Trimmel), Doehki, Knoche (84. Kaufmann), Leite (72. Skarke), Roussillon (72. Jaeckel) – Laïdouni (46. Becker), Khedira (84. Kemlein), Aaronson (46. Král) – Behrens (62. Siebatcheu), Fofana (62. Hollerbach)
Atalanta Bergamasca Calcio: Carnesecchi (72. Musso) – Kolasinac (72. Cambiaghi), Djimsiti (72. Bonfanti), Scalvini – Zappacosta (56. Maehle), De Roon (56. Èderson), Koopmeiners (72. Okoli), Bakker (56. Ruggeri), Pasalic (56. Touré) - Latte Lath, Lookman (72. Zortea)
Attendance: 20, 065
Goals: 1:0 Laïdouni (8.), 2:0 Behrens (25.), 3:0 Fofana (28.), 3:1 Pasalic (33.), 4:1 Fofana (51.)
The warmest of greetings
With an hour to go before kick off Christian Arbeit welcomed the whole Union squad onto the pitch of the Alte Försterei. They came out of the tunnel towards the centre circle, one after the other, to a cheer and a round of applause, forming a, largely, orderly line. Some ambled out, like David Datro Fofana, some limped, like Lucas Tousard and some trotted, like Big Kevin Behrens, a grin on his face a mile wide and a regal wave to all corners. Aljoscha Kemlein bounced on his toes, taking it all in. Then out came the staff and the physios and everyone else until they formed an endless centipede of black and white shirts, and only Urs Fischer remained - the 51st person to take to the pitch - to get one of the biggest cheers of all.
It was one of those days. the last friendly before the season starts, the last game without the tension brought by the necessity of the result.
The stadium was filling up already, and it had long sold out, a remarkable feat for a friendly - long gone are the times when Middlesbrough and Crystal palace played here to half full terraces on similar occasions.
And though the edge that will be there in a fortnight when the Bundesliga season proper starts was missing, of course, it was replaced by a warmth and an ease. Kids wore their new shirts, parents greeted old friends, and they whole stadium sung of their love and their pride and their club.
Fischer had made few changes from his starting line up from the successful game in Austria against fellow Serie A side Udinese. The keeper, Frederik Rönnow was behind the same back five of Jerome Rousillon on the left, Diogo Leite, Robin Knoche and Danilho Doekhi in the middle, with Josip Juranovic on the right. The most striking changes, however, were ahead of them where Rani Khedira was there to anchor a dynamic looking midfield of Aissa Laidouni and Brenden Aaronson. Up top were David Datro Fofana and Kevin Behrens.
Union superb, Laidouni scores early.
Laidouni snapped into tackles from the off, robbing Emmanuel Latte Lath as he chased back, going toe to toe with Mitchel Bakker and Sead Kolasinac on Atalanta’s left. Aaronson showed his nippy intent going forwards, jinking past two before finding Fofana. He was bundled over in the box as he cut across, but the referee waved the crowd’s appeals for a penalty away... and the Ivorian was just getting started.
It was Laidouni who opened the scoring after seven minutes, ghosting into the box after Behrens crossed from the left, and Fofana’s touch across goal. He finished without breaking stride, it was a superb break, a pure Fischer footballing move. It was as if Union had started where they left off last season.
Aaronson was a ball of energy on the left, after almost quarter of an hour he beat Davide Zappacosta before finding Fofana, whose every touch spelled menace, his low centre of gravity, sure touch and lightning pace terrified Berat Djimsiti every time he got the ball at his feet.
Rönnow saved from Mario Pasalic after Latte Lath’s good work found him down the inside left channel, but Union’s keeper was more than equal to the shot. Leite was there to head Zappacosta’s cross away having found space down the right a few minutes later. And Knoche and Latte Lath had a battle everywhere they went, constantly on each other, up and down and up and down.
It was compelling stuff, far removed from the docile affairs these games can often descend into.
Aaronson, was causing trouble. He is technically superb, particularly when on the front foot, turning with ease, always keeping the ball just there. He put Behrens through with a perfectly weighted through ball after 20 minutes, and it took a good stop from the keeper, diving to his right, to push his shot wide as the half wound down.
Union were now causing trouble every time they poured forward. They were imperious. Khedira drew a save with a scorching drive with his left from just outside the box. Then with 25 minutes played, Fofana found Behrens as he charged down on goal. He lifted the ball over Carnesecchi with an impish chip to make it 2-0 to the hosts.
It was Fofana, himself, who made it three when he beat Scalvini for pace down the inside left. As soon as the crowd saw him burst into the box with the ball, daring the defender to make his move with a couple of lightning little stepovers, they grew louder.
It was as if his finish was pre-ordained; there was a certainty about his direction, and while the keeper seemed to become a blur, he had all the time in the world. He put his shoulders back as Carnesecchi came out, looking the keeper in the eye all the time, and bent the ball around thim. He never looked like missing for a moment.
On this form he will terrify any Bundesliga defence in the land
But next up it was Atalanta’s turn. Giorgio Scalvini broke down the right and squared, where Mario Pasalic struck a fine, rising shot into the roof of Rönnow’s goal after half an hour from just inside the 18 yard box.
The guests were buoyed by the goal. Ademola Lookman drew a double save from Rönnow from the left. Leite made a great diving stop on Latte Lath. Lookman saw his shot from the right defected wide by Knoche.
Fofana bags his second, and the pace drops
Fischer changed things up during the break, Sheraldo Becker replacing Aaronson, joining Behrens and Fofana up front, with Kral – on for Laidouni - slipping into midfield alongside Khedira, and Trimmel in a like-for-like swap with Juranovic. But Fofana wasn’t done, not yet.
It was Kral who hit the simplest of long balls into the box that would set up Union’s fourth after only five minutes. It was of course Fofana who collected it, bringing it down on his chest with his first touch, killing it, before hitting it past Carnesecchi with his second. He had slipped into a gap so easily, but it was the gorgeous simplicity of the finish, again, that set it apart.
That largely took the sting out of the game, and it settled into a more placid routine. El Bilal Toure scuffed his shot under pressure from Leite with half an hour to go. Kral stopped Ederson’s from outside the box soon after. Lookman then got a yellow card after a late challenge on Doekhi. Latte Lath shot wide with his left, and Doekhi blocked El Bilal Toure’s drive.
Fischer took off Fofana and Behrens, replacing them with Jordan and Benedict Hollerbach, joined later by Paul Jaeckel and Tim Skarke, but by that point the game was winding down as the afternoon wore on.
The smoke was drifting across the Waldseite and the crowd started to chatter about more mundane issues. Matteo Ruggeri couldn’t drift onto Nicolo Cambiaghi’s ball down the line, and the move seemed to sum up the game by now. It was gently running out of touch.
And as the players drifted around the pitch at the end to say their thank you’s to the grateful stands, and the fans drifted off to get their new shirts signed, Fischer could be content after all.
He said it had been very efficient, and that his players had shown everything they'd been working on over the last, hard ten days away, but they still had things to work on, and the new players still needed to get more used to the system.
"It won't be boring," he chuckled, but he could also afford himself that much.
Because next week Union play in the first round of the cup, and there are worse ways to prepare, than with a 4-1 win against the fifth placed side in Serie A.