"After the game is before the game" - true to the motto of coaching legend Sepp Herberger, time has been short for the players of 1. FC Union Berlin to prepare for the next task following their draw with SCC Napoli in the UEFA Champions League. As such, head coach Urs Fischer's team face Bayer 04 Leverkusen tomorrow, Sunday. Kick off at the BayArena is at 15:30.
The Werkself are currently the team to look up to in German top flight football. Head coach Xabi Alonso's team have improved both in terms of results and play compared to last season and are inspiring confidence among their club management, fans and media alike. At the start of the matchday weekend, Leverkusen were sat in first place in the table, having recorded nine wins and have 28 points to their name. Both are club records and have only been surpassed once in the history of the league. The record is held by a club featuring their Coach Alonso when his FC Bayern side won their first ten games in 2015/16.
The current run of victories is made possible in particular by a brilliantly balanced attack, in which Florian Wirtz and the two summer signings Jonas Hofmann and Victor Boniface in particular play key roles. With seven, ten and twelve scorer points respectively, the attacking trio are implementing coach Alonso's game plan almost perfectly; but the team as a whole also boasts some of the top statistics in the league. Bayer have the best passing percentages at just under 90%, and are also among the top three in terms of possession with an average of 57%.
Both figures and the results also show that they know how to conceal their own weakness in the air: only 114 headers won are by far the fewest in the Bundesliga. Also half of their goals conceded have been from high balls (five out of 10). That, in turn, should give Union hope, as Fischer's team are one of the strongest teams when it comes to crosses and headers.
Union will face a former colleague and companion in Robert Andrich on Sunday, as there will also be a player in their own ranks who could line up against their former club. Offensive powerhouse Kevin Volland played for Bayer for four years before his transfer to Monaco, scoring 50 times and providing a further 32 assists in 148 appearances.
The head to head
The last time the sides met, at the BayArena took, place almost exactly a year ago under completely different circumstances. As the Bundesliga leaders, Union travelled to the 16th-placed team in the table on 6 November 2022. This time the tables have been turned.
Of the eleven meetings in the German top flight to date, Union have won one, while the club from the Rhineland have won six. There have been four draws.
Danilho Doekhi, Alexander Schwolow and András Schäfer will not be available on Sunday. Rani Khedira is suspended due to his red card from the game against Werder Bremen.
The coaches views ahead of the game
"Leverkusen are currently the best team in the league," said Fischer during his press conference on Saturday afternoon. "They look very well-drilled, confident and stable and are always looking for playful solutions. They have a lot of individual quality in attack, but they're also very solid in defence. For us, it's about picking up where we left off in Naples. That means remaining compact and being courageous when going forwards with the ball."
"We're not the absolute favourites," said his opposite number, Alonso, meanwhile. "Union have only lost a few games and are a very, very strong team. We expect a tough game and we have to play with high quality, energy and intensity."
Around 1,300 Union fans will accompany the team to Leverkusen, and tickets for the guest block will also be available on the gate on Sunday. Further information for all away fans can be found here (German).
The match will be broadcast live on DAZN and there will also be an audio stream on rbb24 Inforadio and rbb24. As usual, Union will also provide information about the match in the club's own live ticker, as well as in English and Spanish on twitter.