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1. FC Union Berlin vs VfL Wolfsburg

Bundesliga, 21. Matchday

1. FC Union vs Wolfsburg

Bundesliga, 21. Matchday

Sat., 10. February 2024, 15:30 Uhr
An der Alten Försterei
1 : 0
22.000
SR: Dr. Matthias Jöllenbeck

Union Beat Wolfsburg

Match report

1. FC Union Berlin came out 1-0 winners from a tough game against VfL Wolfsburg on Saturday afternoon, the winning goal scored by Danilho Doekhi with a wonderful, typical header from Kevin Volland’s corner at the end of a protracted first half.

1. FC Union Berlin: Rönnow – Král (81. Jaeckel), Doekhi, Knoche, Leite, Gosens (81. Roussillon) – Schäfer (59. Laïdouni), Khedira, Tousart – Volland (59. Aaronson), Hollerbach (70. Kaufmann)
VfL Wolfsburg: Pervan – Maehle, Lacroix, Jenz (46. Zesiger), Rogerio (80. Sarr) – Majer (74. Baku), Svanberg (80. Gerhardt), Arnold, Paredes (74. Černý) – Behrens, Wind

The starting XI

There was a familiar feel to parts of Nenad Bjelica’s starting team, from Frederik Rönnow in goal to a back three seen plenty of over the last year or so here at the Alte Försterei. In the absence of Kevin Vogt, he started Diogo Leite, Robin Knoche and Danilho Doekhi. They were flanked by Robin Gosens on the left and in, what he said would be a necessary piece of improvisation following Christopher Trimmel and Janik Haberer’s suspensions and Josip Juranović’s injury, Alex Král on the right.

His midfield three saw a single change from the midweek mudfight against Mainz, with Lucas Tousart coming back in for Aïssa Laïdouni alongside András Schäfer and Rani Khedira.

The front two remained the same as Wednesday’s clash, too, where Benedict Hollerbach partnered Kevin Volland.

Goals: 1:0 Doekhi (45. + 25)

Attendance: 21,816

A drawn out first half sees Doekhi power home late

In many ways the decisive image of this game - a hugely important Union win, after all - was the red bandage wrapped around Andras Schäfer's stitched up forehead. His will to play on, his spirit summed up his side's performance.

But on a long afternoon for when protests would drag the first half to previously unimaginable proportions, Wolfsburg would start the strongest. Lovro Majer found Rogerio, who dragged his shot wide of the right-hand post. Jonas Wind then saw his stabbed effort come back off Doekhi but Gosens was quick to snap into Majer a minute later on Union’s left, continuing where he’d left off against Mainz, when he didn’t stop, all hellish game long.

Gosens was a picture of determination for as long as he was on the pitch. When Union won a throw-in a third of the way into Wolfsburg’s half he was to be seen, gesticulating at his team-mates to push up, refusing to accept any deviation from the plan.

Joakim Maehle went down like he’d been shot in the box under Leite’s attentions, but the referee, Matthias Jöllenbeck, waved his pleas away as he rolled on the lush green turf, and Leite stood over him, a picture of rage at the attempted malfeasance.

Then Union conjured up a move as lovely as the early sunshine illuminating the Gegengerade. Volland starting it on the right, finding Hollerbach in a pocket made by Schäfer, who slid the ball out to Kral. The Czech’s cross was taken on first time by the man at the start of it all, the superb Volland, but he scuffed his left-footed volley well wide.

But then Schäfer and Majer clashed heads with ten minutes played. It was as worrying as it was sickening, both having to be bandaged up on the pitch, but both playing on, refusing to succumb to their wounds as the game re-started, and as Rönnow rushed to the edge of his box to slide a clearance out under pressure.

Both Knoche, with his foot, and Leite, with his head, made crucial tackles to get in ahead of the returning Behrens on exactly (and somewhat ironically) 17 minutes, within seconds of each other, making a point that it didn’t matter how long ago they’d been team-mates. Behrens had only been gone for 11 days. But this was different. And when he went up with Rönnow for Maehle’s deep ball into the box there was only going to be one winner, the keeper plucking the ball out of the sky at the second attempt.

Union were now playing with aggression and cohesion; Tousart and Khedira sweeping up; Schäfer, impish, looking to keep the ball constantly moving.

Hollerbach threw himself spectacularly at a bicycle kick from Kral’s ball in, but he couldn’t reach the cross, before it took another excellent Knoche intervention to stop Wolfsburg breaking through at the other end.

The game was stopped on 26 minutes, as the first of the tennis balls came onto the pitch, the continuance of fans’ protests against the DFL. The players took to the touchline before coming back on, and play re-started, albeit briefly, before the next ones came again and the players were led off the pitch, and down the tunnel. The ground staff busied themselves with their rakes and their divots to cheers from the crowd, giving them a deserved moment in the sun.

After half an hour the players once again returned to the pitch for five minutes of warmups, shuttle runs between two points in front of the main stand, Rönnow paced the width of his box.

Play restarted with his magnificent stop from Wind; he then ran out to claim the ball before Kevin Paredes could run onto it. Volland then chased back to tackle the same man as he jinked past Kral towards the left-hand side of the box. But then came the balls again, this time from the away end. Again, play stopped, and was, again, restarted after more discussions.

The referee indicated there were 21 minutes of time still to play. But it had already been the longest of weeks for Union. "It was the third game in a week for us. Nevertheless, we gave everything, ran a lot and deserved this win," said Bjelica after the final whistle.

Hollerbach, always involved, a now constant whir of limbs and corkscrew curls, pulled a shot wide of the right hand post with ten minutes to go of the half.

Wolfsburg reacted, Maximilian Arnold pinging a shot off Doekhi and out, but from the resulting corner Rönnow claimed the ball with full authority, launching it over-armed into the path of a suddenly breaking Hollerbach like Michael Holding in his pomp.

Union had the scent of something. Their goal was coming.

Gosens got down the left again, hitting a killer ball in first time, but a flying Schäfer’s header was deflected out for another corner. Volland hit it true this time, into the box where Doekhi charged in, heading it full and powerfully past Pavao Pervan in Wolfsburg’s goal. It was a resounding finish, one that proved how much the Dutch centre-half had been missed during his lay-off. His tackling was immaculate, his presence imposing all day. But he would be remembered most for this.

Union hold tight, and celebrate long into the night

Following a free kick, Tousart had a beautiful turn and volley from outside the box flicked over the bar by Pervan almost as soon as the half had started. Union had roared out of the traps. Hollerbach was everywhere, Tousart starting to pull the strings from midfield - fatherhood, apparently, having done him the world of good when many others would be floored by the prospect of sleepless nights and perpetual worry. Doekhi, meanwhile, was magnificent at the back, you could see the confidence he gave his team-mates with every challenge won.

Volland roared past Rogerio, and had the beating of Cedric Zesiger, but the Wolfsburg centre-back went down to ground easily in his own box, but then Majer found a bit of space up the other end, shooting wide when he had a sight on goal from the edge of the box.

Kral was superb, having so much demanded of him in position he is barely used to. Paredes tried to beat him, cutting inside, and again went down easily when he could have taken the ball on. Kral barely reacted, while Wolfsburg players surrounded Jöllenbeck. He waved them away dismissively.

Bjelica, meanwhile, had brought off the tireless and selfless Volland for Brenden Aaronson, and Aïssa Laïdouni for the battered and bloodied Schäfer with an hour (and more) played.

Wolfsburg rallied. Rönnow had to make a sharp stop to his right from either Wind or Knoche, the ball flying dangerously off the pair towards goal, then sweeping up ahead of Majer before he could get in ahead of Khedira.

Aaronson set Hollerbach off on the longest, hardest of sprints, a race that he somehow almost won against Rogerio, winning a corner. It summed him up. It summed them all up.

Aaronson won a corner off Zesiger he barely had any right to, showing strength to match his unshakeable will. When Tousart set him away he chased down Rogerio, Maxence Lacroix and Zesiger in one attack. He didn’t win the ball, but came as close to doing so as anyone could dare to ask.

Bjelica swapped his wingbacks out, for Jérôme Roussillon and Paul Jaeckel. And immediately the backline were back in action, Doekhi, Rönnow and Jaeckel all making vital interventions in the six yard box.

The crowd only grew louder as the clock wore down; as Roussillon tore past Ridle Baku down the left hand side, and as Maehle brought down Aaronson on the turn following Knoche’s superb long ball out, and his quick, chested control.

But by this point Union were happy to play for time, the free kick stroked to the wing as opposed to being whipped into the box.

Knoche, celebrating his 300th Bundesliga game, was tired – he’d given so much - but happy.

“We are pleased that we are once again more difficult to play against in our own stadium and have developed a certain strength at home in recent matches. Of course,” he continued, “our unique fans helped us enormously." They wouldn’t stop.

Wolfsburg fought until the end, winning a rash of corners, but as Rönnow held Lacroix’s header in the final seconds of the game, with the Wolfsburg keeper, Pervan, in the box, and the tension in the stadium crackling like the mains had been plugged into the stands, the roar from the Unioner was deafening.

It may not have been the prettiest win in the club’s history. But it felt, at least for that moment, like one of the most significant.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Aïssa Laïdouni

Jérôme Roussillon

András Schäfer

Union Host Wolfsburg

Match preview

1. FC Union Berlin will face VfL Wolfsburg on Saturday, February 10, 2024. Kick off at the  Stadion An der Alten Försterei is at 15:30.

The lie of the land

After picking up a point in the re-scheduled match at 1. FSV Mainz 05 in midweek, Union remain 15th in the table, five points behind the visitors from Wolfsburg. The club from Lower Saxony are also coming into Saturday's clash off the back of a draw, having twice come back in their 2-2 with TSG Hoffenheim last weekend. 

The opponents

With six wins, five draws and nine defeats, coach Niko Kovac's side have 23 points from 20 Bundesliga matches. They have scored 25 goals and conceded 32, have picked up eight points on the road, winning two, drawing twice and suffering six defeats. Their away goal difference shows ten goals scored and 20 goals conceded.

Though Wolfsburg are still unbeaten in 2024, they are still waiting for their first win. Before Hoffenheim, they drew 1-1 three times in a row - against Mainz, Heidenheim and Köln. Their last win came against Darmstadt on matchday 15, which they won 1-0. They lost their last game of 2023, 2-1 at FC Bayern München.

Saturday's guests mostly leave the scoring to Danish international Jonas Wind, who has been directly involved in 14 of those 25 goals this season with nine goals and five assists. But last week it was his team-mate, Lovro Majer, who shouldered the burden with his brace, his sixth and seventh goals of the season. Both players are new, having only joined in the summer for a total of 37 million euros. VfL Wolfsburg only made one move on the transfer market in the winter transfer window with the signing of Kevin Behrens.

The reunions

Just eleven days after signing his contract in the Autostadt, Kevin Behrens will be facing his former side. Paul Jaeckel and Robin Knoche also came through several youth teams in Wolfsburg before stepping up to the first team. Jérôme Roussillon also spent five years at the club.

The head to head

In nine Bundesliga encounters so far, Union have won two games, with three draws and four defeats. They are yet to lose a game at home to Wolfsburg, but lost the last match in Wolfsburg, 2-1. 

The personnel

Josip Juranovic is still injured and will not be in the squad, while head coach Nenad Bjelica will also be without Kevin Vogt and Janik Haberer (both having received five yellows) and Christopher Trimmel (facing the second match of his two match suspension).

The coaches' views ahead of the game

"We've showed ourselves very well at home in the last few games and want to do the same again tomorrow," said Union's head coach, Nenad Bjelica, during his press conference on Friday afternoon. "Wolfsburg have good footballers in their ranks who try to solve a lot of problems through play. We want to counter that with a lot of aggression, but also with a good tactical approach. Similar to the game against Darmstadt, we want to create scoring chances and, with our fans behind us, give everything we've got to keep the three points here."

Kovac, meanwhile, had this to say of the tough trip to Köpenick. "It won't be easy. Anyone who has ever played at the Alte Försterei knows that these are always very close games. Especially as there is very good support from the fans there. It's going to be a tough battle. The last few games have also shown that it's often close... It probably won't be a five-goal game. We have to get into the game well and create chances, even if it won't be easy against a five-man back line." 

Service information

As usual, the Stadion An der Alten Försterei will open two hours before kick-off. The home section is, as ever, sold out.

The match will be broadcast live on Sky and there will also be an audio stream on rbb24 Inforadio and rbb24. As usual, Union will also provide live updates via the club's own live ticker, as well as in English and Spanish on Twitter.

AFTV Videos

Frederik Rønnow

Frederik Rønnow

was Player of the Day for the last time against Wolfsburg

Frederik Rønnow

was Player of the Day against Wolfsburg

MatchStatistics

1. FC Union Berlin vs VfL Wolfsburg

41 % Possession 59 %
72 % Pass Completion Rate 74 %
42 % Successful Tackle Rate 58 %
8 Shots on Goal 17
14 Crosses 34
3 Caught Offside 1
1 Yellow Cards 2
0 Yellow-Red Cards 0
0 Red Cards 0

Last match

Date Home Result Away