1. FC Union Berlin will open the 2021/22 Bundesliga season at the Stadion An der Alten Försterei at 15:30 on Saturday against Bayer Leverkusen.
Urs Fischer's side are embarking on their third Bundesliga campaign having established themselves in Germany's top flight with respective finishes in 11th and 7th.
After 1. FC Union Berlin's application for an increased crowd was approved, the Alte Försterei will welcome around 11,000 supporters — the largest home league crowd since the start of the coronavirus pandemic in Spring 2020.
Union Berlin: Pre-season round up
Union welcomed 12 new players to the club in the summer and started on a positive note through summer preparations in Bad Saarow and Austria. The first friendly on the calendar was abandoned after Czech side Dukla Prague were stuck in traffic en route to Berlin. Fischer's squad played an internal bounce game, but it wasn't until a few days later before the squad got the chance to take on an opposing team. Promoted 3.Liga side Viktoria Berlin were dispatched 5-2 at the Jahn-Sportpark and on the following Saturday, Union ran out 3-0 winners against Dynamo Dresden. In Austria, Union were put to a different kind of test in picturesque conditions in Tirol. Union drew 1-1 with Dynamo Kyiv before beating Ligue 1 side Nice 2-0. Last weekend, there were 9,000 fans at the Alte Försterei to see Union come from behind to beat Athletic Bilbao with goals from Genki Haraguchi and Timo Baumgartl. Union then secured a safe passage to the second round of the German Cup thanks to Max Kruse's goal at Türkgücü München on Sunday. Those who weren't part of the squad were given game time on Monday in a 4-0 win over Regionalliga outfit VfV Borussia Hildesheim.
Bayer Leverkusen: Opposition Report
Bayer Leverkusen head into the Bundesliga season with a new boss at the helm: Gerardo Seaone. He was appointed this summer to replace Dutchman Peter Bosz. Seaone enjoyed success at Swiss champions Young Boys who have been competing in European competition under his stewardship. With 52 points — two more than 1. FC Union Berlin — Bayer Leverkusen completed the task of qualifying for European football. The Werkself were beaten at the Alte Försterei thanks to Cedric Teuchert's late goal, while Union managed a 1-1 draw on the penultimate week of the campaign.
After losing Kevin Volland and Kai Havertz in 2020, Leverkusen are once again rebuilding. Both Lars Bender and Sven Bender left the club for free after being stalwarts at the BayArena, while Leon Bailey completed a €30 million transfer to English Premier League side Aston Villa. Aleksandar Dragovic, Demarai Gray and Tin Jedvaj were three of the other outgoings as Seaone was given licence to shape the squad on his arrival. That rebuild has started to take shape and mostly notably with the €23 million signing of Club Brugge's 20-year-old Ivorian defender Odilon Kossounou. The defender signed a five-year-deal at Leverkusen after success spells in Belgium and Sweden. Meanwhile, Dutch left-back Mitchel Bakker signed from PSG for around €7m and Zidan Sertdemier joined from FC Nordsjaelland's highly-rated academy.
In the German Cup last weekend, Leverkusen ran out comfortable 3-0 winners against Lok Leipzig. Kerem Demirbay scored a penalty after five minutes before Karim Bellarabi netted on 14 minutes. The experienced Leverkusen winger, however, picked up an injury and will miss the first few matches of the league campaign. Lucas Alario, Edmond Tapsoba and Tim Fosu-Mensah have struggled with knocks over the summer.
Bayer Leverkusen: The Manager's View
Fischer said: "They were at the top end of the league until Christmas before a good performance against Bayern Munich. Their squad has changed a bit with some players leaving and some joining. There are one or two also injured. But if I look at the squad, Leverkusen are a very strong side. We've got to be ready for the challenge ahead.
Fischer on compatriot Gerardo Seaone, the newly-appointed head coach of Bayer Leverkusen: "We know each other from our time in Switzerland when we crossed paths but we haven't stayed in contact. He's done really well at Young Boys over the last three years with three championships, maybe a cup win as well and then qualifying for the group stages of the Champions League and Europa League. He's a really talented Swiss coach. In terms of playing style, transitions will be very important."
Grischa Prömel, Fabio Schneider and Leon Dajaku are confirmed absentees from the matchday squad this weekend. Sheraldo Becker and Sebastian Griesbeck have trained with the group this week and are making good progress. The final call on both players for the first game of the new season will be made tomorrow. Despite a face injury, Ricky van Drongelen is an option as he will be wearing a protection mask.
The Stadion An der Alten Försterei is open from 13:30 on Saturday and all fans are encouraged to arrive early to make the entry process as smooth as possible.
More information for supporters attending the game can be found here.