1. FC Union Berlin beat VfB Stuttgart following a superb second half burst, with goals from Sheraldo Becker and Kevin Behrens, as well as an own goal for Genki Haraguchi who endured a miserable return to the Alte Försterei. The win leaves them six points clear in the Champions league places.
1. FC Union Berlin: Grill – Trimmel, Doekhi, Knoche, Diogo, Roussillon (77. Gießelmann) – Laïdouni (59. Thorsby), Khedira, Haberer (90.+1 Pantovic)– Behrens (77. Leweling), Becker (77. Siebatcheu)
VfB Stuttgart: Bredlow - Vagnoman, Mavropanos, Zagadou, Ito - Endo, Anton (63. Führich), Haraguchi (79. Nartey)- Millot, Perea (63. Coulibaly), Tomas (63. Guirassy)
Goals: 1:0 Becker (51.), 2:0 Behrens (67.), 3:0 Haraguchi (ET 68.)
Attendance: 22,012 (sold out)
Urs Fischer said on Thursday that preparing for the bottom team in the league is no different to preparing for the top team in the league. He repeated his mantras – the Tao of Urs, if you will – of sticking to the basics, of staying compact, of focussing on your own game, not on someone else’s.
They did all that and more, devastating Stuttgart in the second half, attacking with pace and wit and a bit of the necessary luck as well required to win games such as these, for Stuttgart tried gainfully to make things hard for Union.
Anyway, Fischer had other things to think about in the build up to this game. His worries over the fitness of Sheraldo Becker – who described himself as having been “very sick” and having to undergo tests in hospital - were allayed, but he was without Paul Seguin, also sick, and his keeper, Frederik Rönnow, who’d taken a knock. His place was taken by Lennart Grill, the ink on his new contract at Union, signed during the week, still wet. And, as is often the case with these things, was to them - to Grill and Becker - that the Union fans would be most grateful towards in the end.
However, the keeper could look at least ahead of him to a solid, dependable back three of Diogo Leite, Robin Knoche and Danilho Doekhi. Rani Khedira, that bulwark of midfield, was ahead of them, with Christopher Trimmel returning to left wing-back opposite Jerome Rousillon on the right. Janik Haberer and Aissa Laidouni made up the midfield behind Kevin Behrens and Becker.
He said he still felt rough as soon as he left the pitch, but it was going to take more than a bug to stop Sheraldo in his tracks, not today.
Laidouni was on the ball repeatedly as the game entered its opening phases. However, it was Rousillon who hit a deft ball in towards Behrens in the box from the left that needed Konstantinos Mavropanos to head it away from danger.
Union looked sharp. Rani Khedira snapped into a tackle on Josha Vagnoman, Robin Knoche strong as an ox standing up to lone striker Juan Jose Perea who also forced Leite into a fine header to clear moments later. And when Stuttgart tried to attack down the right Leite and Khedira took the ball so smoothly, before switching it effortlessly across the middle, they looked like they were playing park football.
Union enjoyed Stuttgart’s efforts; it gave them more space than they have been used to of late. Leite, Rousillon and Haberer exchanged passes on the left, looking to craft an opening. Rousillon was seeing a lot of the ball on his flank, and he was a constant whirl of action up and down that side. He threw his gloves away after five minutes before a throw-in. They didn’t help a bit in the constant rain pouring down upon the Alte Försterei pitch that was as slippery as the ball.
He was probing at the Stuttgart back line, almost finding Behrens after five minutes, and again after quarter of an hour.
Juan Jose Perea saw a header at the near post flicked wide from a corner after ten minutes. Then Union broke, Behrens setting Becker off, but he was tripped by Wataru Endo as he was about to hit the box. Trimmel hit the free kick high and deep where both Knoche and Leite were looming, but Stuttgart cleared up without too much fuss.
Khedira then turned playmaker, a break from his diligent, constant midfield watchfulness. He beat two men, running trickily through the middle. He exchanged passes with Trimmel, and squared but Behrens was inches away from getting his toe on it.
Genki Haraguchi had been given a send-off before kick off - he got the full treatment as a returning hero on his first time back since his winter transfer to Swabia - but that all stopped when they crossed the line to play. He got a yellow card after 23 minutes for a late foul on Roussillon out on Union’s left again. His day would not improve.
Then there was a worrying moment. Leite and Enzo Millot came together in the box for a fifty-fifty ball in the box and the panicked looks on the faces of his teammates and the pace of the physios as they ran onto the pitch was palpable as the midfielder lay on the floor, twitching in agony. Leite looked shocked. Millot was lead off to the relief of everyone a couple of minutes later, fortunately ready to play on.
Stuttgart were keen to play. Zagadou headed over when put through in the box by a cross from the right. It was a let off; he should have made Grill at least make a save.
Rönnow’s replacement did superbly later on as the half neared its end though as Tomas broke through, put in after an all too familiar darting run by Haraguchi. He stretched his legs out, making himself as big as possible, and stopped the shot with his left foot, the ball looping up to Trimmel whose reflex header was then held by the Union keeper.
Khedira headed over from a harder position following Trimmel’s corner from the left on half an hour. Fabian Bredlow had to rush out to the edge of his box when Becker darted past Dan-Axel Zagadou.
Stuttgart thought they had made it 1-0 when Perea then charged down Grill coming out. Union’s keeper got to the ball first, but it bounced off the Stuttgart striker’s hand as he passed him, before rolling the ball into an empty net. The referee had to go to his video screen to confirm what the Unioner were sure of all along.
It was a battle out there as Stuttgart tried to take the game to Union. The game was littered with fouls as it wound towards the half way mark. Anton caught Behrens. He returned the favour five minutes later. Leite got a yellow card for dragging back Perea from behind.
Rousillon drove over from an angle when played in by Behrens with five minutes to go of the half, Haberer held his head in his hands as he waited in vain in the middle for a ball that didn’t come. He then just over hit a through ball to an onrushing Laidouni, on his way into the box.
Haberer drove from distance to Bredlow’s right, but didn’t get enough on it to cause the keeper too many problems.
The second half sees Union burst into life. Three goals in 17 minutes
Fischer said after the final whistle that he’d been unhappy with his side during the first half, and they certainly came out as if they intended to show him a reaction. Union roared out of the blocks. Rani Khedira made a delightful flick around the back to Trimmel, who set off Behrens. His pass was perfect, but Haberer dragged his shot just wide of the back post. It was a wonderful move, incisive and as quick as lightning, and it all just went to prove that it is not just defensive solidity that defines this side. For they can also play.
Union’s opener was coming, and it came from Rousillon on the left, only six minutes after the restart. His cross this time was picture perfect as Becker raced into the box. He volleyed it waist high from in front of Bredlow, hitting it almost with his studs. He had not scored since last year, and you could see how much it meant as he raced away in delirium, shedding all that self-built pressure off his shoulders as he was mobbed by his ecstatic teammates.
He didn’t show any signs of sickness, not then.
Union poured onto Stuttgart now, emboldened by the goal. Becker almost turned provider when he tried to find Behrens from the right. Khedira was then certain he had seen a handball as the ball ricocheted through the box. Union were rampant, and Stuttgart had no response to the onslaught.
Rousillon danced around Vagnoman and Perea back at left back again; he pirouetted, then he barged them away. Becker’s tail was up. It took a great, diving save from Bredlow to stop his curling, left-footed shot towards the back post after an hour, having cut inside of Mavropanos deftly. He then tested the keeper a minute later from the left, this time, forcing him to punch clear.
And it was his hooked back ball that lead to Union’s second, though it took a while for them to be able to celebrate it in the proper manner. Behrens finished, but the referee immediately ruled it out for offside without pause for thought. The video assistant gave it eventually, even after play had re-started with a free kick.
Behrens then made the third only three minutes after that. He shot from the right, but the ball took a wicked deflection off poor Haraguchi who could only watch on as the ball rolled into an empty net. Though the goal was claimed by the Union striker, it was given as an own goal. The Unioner roared in delight, they did not care whose name it went to. Union had turned the game on its head in 17 minutes of relentless attacking verve.
Then came chaos. Grill made two superb stops in in a row, from Millot with his feet, then with his fists from Hiroki Ito. The ball came back and Rousillon cleared it off the line, punching the air as he did so. He then tipped Vagnoman’s shot over the bar miraculously having failed to hold more regulation shot, it bouncing out into the box dangerously off his chest.
Danilho Doekhi was there to help him out with five minutes to go, hoicking the ball away for a corner when his keeper was caught out of position, suddenly stranded. Mavropanos headed straight into the keepers grateful arms from the set piece. He clutched onto the ball this time like a baby.
Stuttgart never gave up, even as Fischer made three changes, taking off his goalscorers and their supplier for Jordan Siebatcheu, Jamie Leweling and Niko Giesselmann. But there was little more they could do to drag themselves back into a game that Union had now deservedly, comprehensively and convincingly won.
Despite all the fears of playing the side at the bottom, their basics had worked, their attentions had remained laser guided. Becker echoed his boss when he, too, mentioned how you can only focus on yourselves. They had done all Fischer had said they could, and they now could look around for a moment, and enjoy a six point cushion inside the Champions League places.