1.FC Union Berlin: Frederic Rönnow – Julian Ryerson (Niko Giesselmann), Danilho Doekhi, Robin Knoche, Paul Jaeckel, Christopher Trimmel – Andras Schäfer, Rani Khedira, Morton Thorsby – Kevin Behrens (Sven Michel) , Sheraldo Becker (Jamie Leweling)
FC Bayern Munich: Manuel Neuer – Alphonso Davies, Matthijs deLigt , Dayotchanculle Oswald Upamenco, Benjamin Pavard – Marcel Sabitzer, Joshua Kimmich (Müller) – Leroy Sane, Jamal Musiala (Ryan Gravenberch), Kingsley Coman (Serge Gnabry) – Sadio Mane
Goals: 1-0 Becker (13), 1-1 Kimmich (15),
Attendance: 22,012 (sold out)
Union take the lead, Bayern claw it back
Urs Fischer was forced into making four changes from the side that had beat Schalke last week so convincingly, with Jordan Siebatcheu, Jannik Haberer, Diogo Leite and Niko Giesselmann making way. This didn’t help matters. But in many ways it also didn’t matter, because, really, no-one thought Union could hold Bayern, despite the optimism in the stadium before kick-off, despite the tantalising prospect of going top of the Bundesliga.
In the end, it would be Bayern who would be happy to get out of the bearpit that erupted here. Union have never beaten Bayern, but rarely have they come closer.
Christian Arbeit summed it up before kick-off. “Enjoy these moments”, he said. A banner the length of the Waldseite said “whether we win or lose, we’ll stand by you.” There was a sea of red and white spread across the terraces. They sung as one, they roared in the sunshine.
And here they were, the record champions of Germany, with head coach Julian Nagelsmann making eight changes, himself. He’d said that Union were like Viktoria Köln, only better, before the game. But while this could be interpreted as dismissiveness, he would have been all too aware of the threat Union posed to his side.
Because this Union side fear no-one. They roared into challenges, they fought and pressed all over the pitch.
And in Sheraldo Becker Fischer had a striker in the form of his life. He had already crossed into the box from the left after only four minutes, directed towards Kevin Behrens. Benjamin Pavard deflected the ball out for a corner. He was already showing his menace on both flanks. He posseses a devastating turn of pace, and his touch is like gossamer.
It would be he who set the place on fire after only 13 minutes. Pavard brought down Andras Schäfer on the turn and Christopher Trimmel stood over a free-kick 35 yards out, left of centre. He raised his arms, took a breath and a couple of steps and bent it over the wall with his right with architectural precision.
Becker had slipped his marker, he’d ghosted around the back, a manoeuvre honed on the training pitch and taken straight from the Arful Dodger playbook. The ball dropped onto his right foot, and he volleyed home inside the back post.
But Union had poked the Bayern bear. They tore back at Union, winning a corner only a couple of minutes later. The ball pinged around Union’s box. Kingsley Coman had a go, others tried, others strived for the ricocheting ball, limbs flying through the air. But it fell ultimately to Joshua Kimmich whose low drive from the edge of the box took at least one deflection on the way past a wrong-footed Frederic Rönnow.
It was breathless stuff.
Becker popped up on the right this time, beating Davies, but his cross was snaffled greedily by Neuer. Bayern pressed back relentlessly, clever combinations played at light speed. The crowd were stung but found their voice among the blood and thunder.
A loose Behrens pass had to be cleared up by a lunging Ryerson from the toes of an ominously looming Jamal Musiala. Coman left a boot on Knoche. Matthijs deLigt showed his strength against Behrens. Joshua Kimmich (whose every touch would be booed afterwards) was lucky to get only a yellow after a studs up lunge on a Thorsby who seemed to always be at the heart of the action, a whirling dervish in blonde.
Becker got the ball and told Schäfer where to be, and Rani Khedira conducted his teammates, arms out, like Leonard Bernstein.
Becker then robbed Kingsley Coman on his own goal line, hitting a 40 yard ball up to Behrens who was hammered by Matthijs deLigt on the stroke of the half hour. The volume was like a jet engine.
The Bayern bench were on their feet after half an hour and told in no uncertain terms to sit down.
Ryerson nutmegged Benjamin Pavard, and now even the famous FC Bayern looked rattled by this inferno. Danilho Doekhi robbed Coman again. Union were winning second third and fourth balls. And still they tried to force a gap. Schäfer harassed Sabitzer. Sane caught Doekhi.
Union still needed Frederik Rönnow to keep them in it though – you can never switch off against Bayern. He made a superb save with his feet as Musiala suddenly found Sane in a gap in the box, his shot was sliced over the bar by the keeper, diving superbly. He was on hand then to sweep up after Sane tried to jink his way through the crowd in the box.
A goalless, battling, raucous second half
It was to Rönnow Union would still owe their draw. Early in the second half he was there to save a Sane shot. He was there to sweep up a Doekhi stabbed backpass, doing so with his arms wide, telling his defender not to panic, he had this.
And how he did.
He saved five minutes later at the feet of Coman, kicking the ball then long and flat to Behrens who brought it down and was within millimetres of slipping becker through past Upamenco. He was there too with ten minutes to go as Davies threatened.
With twenty minutes to play he even dropped his shoulder like Johann Cruyff, sending Sadio Mane the wrong way, a concentrated look on his face followed by a cheeky grin. He was having the game of his life, but there would be better to come from the Danish stopper.
Sven Michel came on, fresh from his brace against Schalke, for Becker after an hour, joined up front by Jamie Leweling. Michel signalled to Rönnow to hit the ball long immediately.
A misguided backheel by Trimmel was taken up by Coman, who sprinted on the break, but Rani Khedira - who never stopped, who never gave up, who embodies the spirit in this side as much as anyone - would stop him in his tracks with a perfectly timed challenge. And no matter what Bayern threw at Union, Danilho Doekhi and Robin Knoche and Paul Jaeckel were there to get them out of trouble. They were organised and dogged and were the bedrock upon which this draw was based.
And they gave the solidity their team-mates further up the pitch needed to add their own flourishes, to take the game to Bayern.
Michel won a corner, bursting through the inside left channel, it fell to Ryerson who won another under the robust challenge of Davies. Union fans all around the ground raised their arms, they droned, 20,000 hornets in red and white, imploring their side on. And they sung as one about Union’s rightful place in the Bundesliga, about how this was right, how with all that togetherness and fight and organisation, none of this was only the stuff of fantasy.
With 15 minutes to go Leweling stormed onto the longest of balls, turning Upamenco inside out, his shot somehow parried by Manuel Neuer for another corner but the otherwise superb Schäfer barrelled it over the bar.
Bayern were now looking a little inelegant themselves. Through balls were over hit, they too could feel the pressure. Trimmel dodged Gnabry artfully, his ball flicked on towards the back post by Michel but it dropped wide.
Strong, keen and filled with the passion instilled by the crowd Lewelling robbed Gnabry, he shrugged off Upamenco, he battled with Goretzka on a touchline now cast in glorious sunshine and a dreamlike haze with a minute to go of normal time. It was all somehow unreal.
The final crowning moment would fall though to Rönnow who somehow stretched to palm a Mane shot over the bar.
The final whistle was greeted with a chorus of Deutsche Meister, nur der FCU. This time their tongues only slightly in the Unioner’s cheeks. For they had sent a signal to the Rekordmeister, to the wider footballing world. Rarely has a point seemed so pointed.