1.FC Union Berlin: Rönnow – Gießelmann, Leite, Knoche, Doekhi, Ryerson – Haberer, Khedira, Thorsby (Pantovic) – Becker (Behrens), Siebatcheu (Michel)
Schalke 04: Schwolow – Ouwejan, Thiaw, Yoshida, Brunner – Krauss (Flick), Kral (Latze) – Bülter, Zalazar (Mollett), Drexler (Larsson) – Terodde (Polter)
Attendance: 62,271 (Sold out)
Goals: 0-1 Thorsby (6), 1-1 Bülter (31), 1-2 Becker (37), 1-3 Haberer (45+2), 1-4 Becker (46’), 1-5 Michel (87), 1-6 Michel (90)
A first half of goals and hands and the occasional twist of fortune
Before the game Urs Fischer refused to talk about going top of the league, it’s not his style. He is a centre-half at heart, a pragmatic man who, publically at least, isn’t inclined to indulge in fantasy. He says in every press conference that each game starts at nil.
He’ll say that next week when Union face Bayern in a top-of-the-table clash, too. Which, when read out loud still sounds somehow ludicrous. But it’s true because Union decimated Schalke.
But he’d also talked of the need for rotation, of the need to integrate his new players. Of course, with the many-headed-hydra-like challenges of an assault on the Bundesliga and on the Europa League, he knows the need for every player in his squad to be able to hit the ground running.
So Danilho Doekhi and Morton Thorsby made their Bundesliga debuts in a sold out Veltins Arena. Who’d have thought they’d make such an impact.
Union had flown out of the blocks, and took the lead after only six minutes. Doekhi getting onto a long ball in the 6 yard box from Niko Gießelmann. He leaped, heading back across to find Thorsby who had all too much space to head home from inside the box.
It was a shock of blonde, the shushing of a rippling net, and a roar of jubilation from the Unioner way over in the corner. There can’t have been more impressive and instantly effective debuts from a two-piece since maybe Mos Def and Talib Kweli released their hip-hop masterpiece, Black Star, 25 years ago.
Of course there was still another partnership on show, one that was already flourishing. But that would take a little longer to develop. For Schalke wouldn’t let their heads drop.
The superb Frederic Rönnow saved from Simon Terodde, set up by Marius Bülter, when you’d think he’d usually score. But it was a lovely save. He made another from the head of Malick Thiaw a minute later.
After only ten minutes it was end-to-end stuff.
Union were pushing Schalke back on the flanks, especially on the right where Becker was a menace, only having to look up, to flash his eyes and raise his hand, to send a flash of terror through Thomas Ouwejan; just needing the feel of the ball at his toe to send a bolt of electricity through Schalke’s back four. He knew that Jordan was marauding into the box, that he had Ryerson backing him up, ready for the overlap, Rani Khedira advancing, like he did after 20 minutes, hitting a wicked shot just over the bar.
Schalke’s players were then livid after 25 minutes when the referee, Robert Hartmann, waved their claims for a handball by Khedira, when struck in the box after Yoshida’s downward header. Terodde was tearing his hair out, pulled away in the end. It was certainly a close thing, penalties have been given for less, but Urs Fischer would happily tell you that one doesn’t get to the top of the Bundesliga without a bit of luck as well.
It’s all part of the same weird puzzle, what they call the vicissitudes of the game.
Five minutes later though Robin Knoche lept in the box and this one was unequivocal, he punched the ball away. Khedira defended his man, imploring the referee to see it as the consequence of a leaping challenge, but it was to no joy.
Marius Bülter put the penalty away, sending Rönnow the wrong way.
Schalke now had a spring in their step, the stadium behind them. But it wouldn’t last. It couldn’t, somehow.
Niko Gießelmann hit a cross, laid off simply for Becker by Jordan, his back to goal. Becker’s shot was deflected off the boot of Thiaw, and flew in, the keeper, Schwolow’s momentum already taking him the other way.
But the scene was immediately soured as Becker’s face betrayed the fact that Matze Koch, the journalist and photographer, had fallen backwards, down the cavernous drop behind the pitch. He’s at every press conference, has written two books about Union. Becker knows him, his panicked eyes betrayed the fact.
It was just a moment, and Koch would be okay, but it was a bad moment.
With two added minutes of the half already played, Yannick Haberer seized on a loose ball on the edge of the 18 yard box as the final seconds of the second half ticked away, hitting it brutally, with pace and a bit of bend, hard and low into the crowd in the box. Maybe it took the slightest of touches, maybe it just moved in the air, but Union were 3-1 up going into the break.
Second half a lightning start. A resounding finish.
They’d barely re-started.
Jordan ran onto a high, headed ball from Doekhi in the box. He was bundled down, but Sheraldo was there to finish with a flourish with his right. Jordan’s input shouldn’t be underestimated, it was his run that opened the gap, his movement that created the panic, the confusion, the space for Becker -who is not of a mind at the moment to pass up such an opportunity.
The pair would come off together after 70 minutes, still wanting more. But nobody in the Bundesliga will fancy playing them when they are on this form. They compliment each other, they are the icing on the cake. They look like they’ve played together for years.
It was only 17 seconds after the re-start. 17 seconds to give Union a three goal advantage.
17 seconds to put 1. FC Union Berlin, for the time being at least, at the top of the Bundesliga.
Thorsby hit the bar with his right, scooping the ball up with his left, having controlled it neatly and precisely - and very prettily with his right - under pressure all the time. But by now Union were in complete control of the game, knocking the ball around with ease, Ryerson chipping a ball into Pantovic who headed over.
Sven Michel would add the final touches. The glorious, ultimate, table-topping touches. First Julian Ryerson hit a long ball, bewildering Yoshida whose touch was loose and unbalanced. Michel ran onto it, took a touch, readied himself, and finished. Then he’d add another, a glorious finish on the volley, rising above the keeper, the ball dipping behind him like the sun over the South Sea, a comet about to explode on the horizon.
The Unioner lost their minds in the stands because they’ve never seen anything like this. Few have. And Fischer can say all he likes about every game starting at nil.
For when they end with six he’ll be forgiven for every platitude he wants.