1. FC Union Berlin: Frederik Rönnow – Niko Giesselmann, Diogo Leite, Timo Baumgartl (Tim Skarke), Paul Jaeckel, Christopher Trimmel – Janik Haberer (Paul Seguin), Rani Khedira (Kevin Behrens), Morton Thorsby (Andras Schäfer) – Jordan Siebatcheu, Sheraldo Becker (Sven Michel)
SG Eintracht Frankfurt: Kevin Trapp – Evan N’Dicka, Makoto Hasebe, Tuta – Luca Pellegrini (Christoph Lenz), Daichi Kamada, Sebastian Rode (Dina Ebimbe), Ansgar Knauff –Mario Götze (Djibril Sow), Jesper Lindstrom (Rafael Borre) – Randal Kolo Mouani
Goals: 1-0, Götze (11). 2-0, Lindstrom (42)
Red card: Kolo Mouani (2nd yellow, 70’)
Attendance: 50,500 (Sold out)
1.FC Union Berlin suffered their first loss of the season on saturday afternoon, outplayed by an Eintracht Frankfurt side reduced to ten men for half an hour. It was a bruising encounter, but Union remain top of the Bundesliga for another week.
Union outplayed in the first half, Kolo Muani unplayable
Urs Fischer had cut a relaxed figure in the press conference before his Union side were to defend a top of the Bundesliga spot for the first time in their history. He, and his co-trainer, Markus Hoffmann had just pledged their near futures to Union, and it was all everyone wanted to talk about. When asked why he’d signed again Fischer smiled and said, simply, “because it fits”.
But he was keen to divert attention from himself. He, as always, was focussed on Eintracht, the first of three away games in the space of a week. It was going to be a rough time, he said, knowing that, like an amateurishly dressed mod, Union now had a target on their backs.
He’d also spoken of the need to manage his squad, of the need for rotation. And here it came in the shape of Morton Thorsby returning to the right of midfield and Paul Jaeckel back on the right of the back three, next to a Timo Baumgartl who had replaced Robin Knoche, out with a cold, at the last minute.
The sun shone down on a packed out stadium, the volume deafening, but there was also a palpable tension. Eintracht had played badly here all season so far. And Union started strongly, Jordan dragging Hasebe out wide on Union’s left, then battling Luca Pellegrini on the right and trying to set Sheraldo Becker free on the opposite flank. Janik Haberer got involved on the right, exchanging passes with Khedira and Jordan, then Baumgartl 0verlapped, crossing for Jordan, but his header flashed well wide of the far post.
Eintracht coach, Oliver Glasner bellowed at his players, urging them to press up without the ball.
They would soon enough. Union's period of domination was short-lived.
For they were to be caught short after only 11 minutes. Randal Kolo Mouani beat Timo Baumgartl, before cutting back and leaving Diogo Leite for dead. Rani Khedira’s lunge already taking him way past the point of stopping him. The French international pulled the ball back for Mario Götze, who finished with his right foot past Frederik Rönnow from near the penalty spot. It had been a superb bit of attacking play from Kolo Muani who, while he was on it, was the best player on the pitch.
Eintracht weren’t going to give this up lightly. Becker- was stopped in his tracks when in full flight by a lunging, sliding tackle from the superb Pellegrini who took the ball, and quite a bit of Becker with it. Kolo Mouani then beat Baumgartl again, his head spinning, turning him inside out before crossing to Pellegrini who should have done better than blazing the ball over the Union bar.
Kolo Mouani was close to unplayable at moments in that first half, tricky and fast, the ball glued to his toe, his shoulders ready to be dropped at any moment. And Union looked unsettled, uncharacteristically so. Khedira misplaced a pass to Becker, and Trimmel had to scamper back to stop Pellegrini.
Union’s director of professional football, Oliver Ruhnert, said after the final whistle that they had just made too many simple mistakes of the kind that they’d previously largely eradicated from their game. He was all too right.
Union still had their chances, Haberer’s nice shot from distance, acrobatically palmed away by Kevin Trapp, and a brief flickering of the old Becker / Jordan magic, but Eintracht’s fans were certainly happier than the Unioner after half an hour. Finally Baumgartl stopped his nemesis, only to see the deflection drop to Pellegrini who hit a wicked, waist high volley, the shot dipping and swerving all the way onto the bar and away to blessed saftey.
But worse was to follow as Niko Giesselmann hit a pass straight across the backline, but Jaeckel’s touch, as he stretched for the ball, was too heavy. He fronted up afterwards, taking the blame, but Jesper Lindstrom had sprung upon the sudden opportunity. He cut inside, leaving both a desperate Jaeckel and Baumgartl on the floor, scoring inside the near post with a simple clip of the ball past Rönnow.
It had been a bruising experience all round for Union in more ways than one. Poor Jaeckel was floored by an elbow from Kolo Mouani a moment later, a blackened right eye already starting to bulge out as he rose unsteadily to his feet.
Union given a golden opportunity, but its left unused
Eintracht started the second half as they’d finished the first. Confident, fast and pulling Union apart all too easily. Pellegrini robbed Trimmel on the left, but shot wide when he could, and probably should have passed.
Then Union suddenly found a chance. Jordan’s strength, holding the ball up, nudging it to Thorsby, who found Haberer who shot over. Sebastian Rode fouled Haberer halfway inside his own half earning a yellow card. And Fischer brought on Andras Schäfer, fresh from his internationals with Hungary. He fears nothing, Schäfer, but his permanent cheeky grin had been swapped for a look of fierce determination as he took to the pitch. And he caused trouble in the opposition box almost immediately, his dynamism helping to earn Union a corner after just over an hour.
But Schäfer's influence would be even greater as he went down soon after under a kick from Kolo Mouani in Union’s box. The referee didn’t waste any time in showing the best player on the pitch his second yellow card of the day. Where he’d been unplayable, now he just wasn’t playing. And this with still 20 minutes to go. The otherwise excellent Götze had also just before left the pitch with a knock to the ankle.
The scores came in from Köln where Dortmund were losing. Union were still top, and even here they had been given the slightest chance, a sliver of hope, but Eintracht were fighting, and they struggled to make their numerical advantage count, their passing lacked sharpness, they were short on real creative ideas.
Fischer threw his subs on. Sven Michel and Paul Seguin, followed by Tim Skarke and Kevin Behrens. Skarke hit a vicious shot from distance that Trapp fisted away with 10 minutes left. Trimmel hit another through a crowd in the box with less elegance a few minutes later.
Fischer was on his feet, his arms folded, his eyes flitting from left to right, from left to right. Catching sight of the not unjustifiably, massed ranks of Eintracht players in their own half, and of his players struggling to create an opening, and of the clock ticking away.
There was still time though for Jaeckel to make a vital, last gasp stop from Borre and, at the death, Trapp to make another superb stop from Skarke but had Union somehow scored it would have been harsh on the hosts.
They face a trip to Sweden on Tuesday where they start, as the coach is fond of saying, at nil again. He praised Eintracht after the final whistle, saying they were "snappier, uglier and sharper" than his side. But he could have added, as a wise man once said,
"No-one ever said this was gonna be easy".