1. FC Union Berlin lost 1-0 to FC Bayern München in their rescheduled fixture at the Allianz Arena on Wednesday evening. Union gave a dogged performance, and never gave up against a determined and dominant Bayern side, but couldn’t recover from Raphael Guerreiro’s goal at the start of the second half.
1. FC Union Berlin: Rönnow – Trimmel, Knoche, Vogt, Leite, Gosens (64. Roussillon) – Haberer (78. Bedia), Král (78. Aaronson), Tousart – Volland (26. Behrens), Hollerbach (64. Schäfer)
FC Bayern München: Neuer – Laimer (86. Pavlović), Upamecano (46. Dier), De Ligt, Guerreiro – Kimmich, Goretzka, Coman (76. Tel), Musiala (76. Müller), Sané – Kane
Personal: Mittelfeldspieler Rani Khedira und Außenverteidiger Josip Juranović fehlten verletzungsbedingt. Aïssa Laïdouni ist mit Tunesien beim Afrika-Cup aktiv.
Union’s head coach Nenad Bjelica had a couple of surprises up his sleeve for this game, having had an extra weekend’s planning and training on which to ponder. First on the sheet, of course, was Frederik Rønnow, his remarkable performance against Freiburg in the goalless draw still fresh in most Unioner’s memories, ahead of him the same back three from that valiant rearguard action, Robin Knoche, Diogo Leite and a Kevin Vogt who would take to the pitch of the Allianz Arena as the first man in the history of the league to play on two matches on the same matchday.
Janik Haberer and Lucas Tousart – in for Brenden Aaronson - made up the base of midfield with Christopher Trimmel, replacing the injured Josip Juranović, and Robin Gosens supplying the width as wingbacks, behind a front two of Kevin Volland and Benedict Hollerbach.
He had spoken of the need to be brave, of the need to have every single man on his game tonight. The newest signing of all, Chris Bedia – of whom he’d spoken glowingly, had to take his place on the bench. His time would come.
Bayern seize control of the ball, but Union prove hard to break down
It was always going to be a tough call, and, as if to prove a point, Union snapped into tackles immediately as the game got underway - Hollerbach on Kimmich, Tousart on Kane; Knoche flicked a Kingsley Coman cross away, Vogt snapped into a tackle on Jamal Musiala with superb timing. They seemed determined not to be cowed by their glittering opponents, were concentrated and organised. Especially as Bayern had the grace and width of the pitch, all in the eery, if now familiar stillness of the first 12 minutes of fans’ protest in the stands.
This would prove to be the story of the half.
For though after five minutes Matthijs de Ligt had the first chance, Rønnow was more than equal to his downward header at his near post. He made another good stop, down to his right, from Coman’s shot from distance five minutes later. Konrad Laimer drove wide not long after that.
Bayern were dominant in possession, utterly so in places, but they were often only half chances, snapshots at goal. Leite hit a dangerous ball from Coman from the right over his own bar to safety, landing himself in the arms of a grateful Rønnow, while de Ligt hit another wide when challenged by a strong Knoche following a corner. Meanwhile Bayern, too, weren’t afraid to dish it out. Gosens, Tousart, Leite and Volland all went down under hefty challenges in midfield, the latter, a brutal, horrible blow to the head in a challenge with Dayot Upamecano that needed treatment off the pitch and would ultimately end his game not long after he reappeared.
Hollerbach, often finding himself alone up top, was chasing everything. Even when outnumbered up against the towering likes of de Ligt or Upamecano, he fought gainfully. But after 25 minutes he was to have a new partner up top in Kevin Behrens after Volland dropped to the turf, unable to carry on.
Still Bayern pushed on but there were signs of frustration growing as the half wore on, the more they were reduced to shooting from outside the box. Hollerbach proving a case in point as he chased halfway across the pitch, his tongue out, his lungs burning, to tackle Coman after he had lost the ball himself in the centre circle.
At the heart of Union’s defiance, Vogt was resolute in the middle, controlling the pace, marshalling his team-mates as Bayern came at them again and again; Knoche always looking to hit balls out to safety on his right, Leite always there to cover to the left. When Leite slipped, Vogt was there. When Vogt had nowhere to go, Knoche gave him an outlet. When Konrad Laimer shot again from outside the box, Leite flicked it away. And when Vogt flicked Musiala’s skimmed effort way up into the night skies with five minutes added of the first half to play - way up towards the full moon hanging above this red megalith - Rønnow plucked it out of the sky like a beachball.
Union’s best move of the half was still to come, with five minutes to play. Hollerbach taunted Upamecano on the right, cutting in and crossing with his left where Gosens chested it down for Haberer, his shot flying over the bar. But Union had shown they had an outlet, and the travelling fans, up in the farthest corner, roared them ever further on.
Again, Bayern came back, but - again - Sane dragged his shot wide, having been forced into a series of alleyways, his teammates doubling back on themselves again and again, outnumbered. Then well into the five minutes added on, it took another moment of Rønnow mastery as Goretzka shot. He spilled it as the ball swerved in the air, but he grabbed it again before Musiala could slide in to knock the ball home.
Union could be happy with that.
Bayern strike early; Bjelica sees red
Sadly, for their magnificent travelling support they wouldn’t be happy for long. Union had barely had a chance to take breath – many of the home fans were still coming back from the bars - when Bayern opened the scoring. Harry Kane, with his first real attempt on goal, smashed a shot off the post, but it dropped into the box where Rafael Guerreiro hit the rebound without breaking stride with the outside of his left foot. Rønnow had no chance.
They’d been stung by their loss against Bremen at the weekend and frustrated by Union for 50 minutes here. They looked like they had revenge on their minds, and they threw everything at Union. Thomas Tuchel spoke of his frustration at the chances they’d not taken. The guests, though, wouldnt fold that easily. They started to show more adventure as things were against them. Gosens found Haberer on the left, Trimmel found Behrens through the middle.
For a terrifying moment it seemed that the dam had broken. Laimer broke down the right-hand side, squaring for Kane who thought he’d scored another goal in his remarkable first Bundesliga season, but as the Bayern players re-spotted the ball the referee called play back, the video assistant having seen an offside from Sane in the build-up.
Kane now seemed to have his tail up, popping up all over the box; he clipped a delicious ball over Rønnow that dropped just wide. Bayern were encamped in the Union half, every clearance coming back within seconds.
Bjelica made two more changes with an hour gone, Gosens and the tiring Hollerbach off for Jérôme Roussillon and András Schäfer. Schäfer nipped onto the ball immediately, and Roussillon found space to run into up the left, but Vogt’s ball was just too heavy for him to catch.
Suddenly Union had a sniff. Behrens ran at Neuer, the ball on his toe, but he was brought down from behind by Laimer as Roussillon hared into space ahead of him. It looked like a penalty, but the referee waved it away. ,
Bjelica thought it should have stood, he’d seen them given “more often than not,” he said. That was the least of the drama. Soon after Bjelica received a red card, having tussled with Leroy Sane in the technical area over the ball. Suddenly all hell broke loose and players from both sides flew in.
Bjelica said contritely that he had been pushed, but "I reacted and I shouldn’t have done. The red card was absolutely deserved.”
On the pitch, too things grew wilder. Within minutes his assistant, Danijel Jumic, signalled for Chris Bedia to come on for his debut in what was now a bearpit.
Bjelica said that the decision to bring on Behrens previously was a “gut decision,” for Bedia had only been in Berlin for three days. His was now to be a trial by fire.
Rønnow made further stops from Goretzka, diving to his left, and Kane, the second one at the last, scrambling on his line to get the ball away from the English striker.Yet Union wouldn’t give up. Brenden Aaronson drove up the middle, Knoche drove into the inside right channel, Schäfer chased and chased, Tousart, too, was relentless in pursuit of the ball.
Kane threw Vogt to the floor; Vogt got straight up and pushed back. The referee gave Vogt a yellow, then Union a free kick. Then he changed his mind. It was chaos. Vogt then went down with 90 minutes long since gone and Union had a final chance, but it wasn’t to be.
Bjelica said that he was “happy with my side’s defensive performance." after the final whistle."We didn’t give too much away...” before going on to praise the hosts for a deserved victory.
The fans in the stands who had come the length of the country - facing a train strike and a cancellation, leading to a Wednesday night on the other side of the country- - sung over the final whistle, just as they had all the way through. Their side had shown enough fight to give them plenty of hope ahead of the crucial game against Darmstadt on Sunday.