The Augsburg Curse Continues

Michel Breaks Hearts as Union Lose 2-0

Fri, 12. April 2024
The Augsburg Curse Continues

A depleted 1. FC Union Berlin lost 2-0 on Friday night away at FC Augsburg, to second half goals from Phillip Tietz and Union’s former striker, Sven Michel.

FC Augsburg: Dahmen – Bauer (79. Kömür), Gouweleeuw, Udokhai, Pedersen – Engels (73. Michel), Breithaupt, Maier – Vargas (62. Biel) – Tietz (73. Pfeiffer), Demirović 

1. FC Union Berlin: Rönnow – Trimmel (66. Haberer), Doekhi, Vogt, Leite, Schäfer – Král, Khedira (75. Laïdouni), Aaronson – Kaufmann (66. Volland), Hollerbach (75. Bedia) 

The starting XI

While his keeper, Frederik Rönnow, and back three remained entirely unchanged from that which performed so creditably against the likely champions last weekend, Nenad Bjelica was forced into radical solutions to unusual positional problems. His choices at full-back had, for example, been decimated with the suspension of Robin Gosens and the injuries to Jérôme Roussillon and Josip Juranović, so while Christopher Trimmel – so impressive in recent weeks – lined up on the right hand side, Andras Schäfer was to fill in on the left.

Alongside Rani Khedira, in place of the also suspended Lucas Tousart were Alex Král and, further forward, Brenden Aaronson, while Mikkel Kaufmann started up front with Benedict Hollerbach coming in for the also injured Yorbe Vertessen.

Attendance: 29.731 

Goals:  0-1 Tietz (47.), 0-2 Michel (81.) 

Union the better side, but the half goes goalless

As Sven Michel turned his palms up, refusing to celebrate his superbly struck goal against his former club, he knew all too well that not only would it hurt the Unioner, but that they’d also see it as an almost inevitability. Football fans are often a superstitious bunch at best, but for them the wonder must be if the WWK Arena is built on damned ground. Again they left here cursing their luck, shaking their fists at the benevolent spirits that Michel had somehow invoked.

For Union had never won in Augsburg, and once again the Schwabian / Bavarian hoodoo seemed to come over them. 

But, honestly, there were other, more mundane things at play here than the potents of doom. If he'd spoken of his side's need to take their chances in  midweek, Nenad Bjelica said at the final whistle that the bigger problem was that they "gave out too many gifts today. And that's why we lost in the end.”

Union were very good in the first half, their plan of being compact and aggressive in the middle, while always looking to counter at pace seemed to be paying off, making amends for all those past transgressions. Aaronson got early onto a clever high ball from Vogt before Schäfer tricked his way down the same side past Jeffrey Gouwelleeuw.

But the problem wasn’t so much in taking their chances, as carving them out in the first place. The first half saw neither side have a real shot on goal, though not through a lack of trying, and certainly not because they were shutting up shop. Indeed, the final ball just never seemed to get through.

Schäfer, excelling in his new role, particularly, was to prove a handful getting up and down that left-hand side, he looked comfortable in the uncomfortable position; quick and tricky, yet always making sure to get back to cover. Hollerbach, too, was also always chasing to offer a hand back there when needed. Trimmel, meanwhile, continuing his superb form, found Kaufmann early on, but his header was flicked wide of goal. He put another, harder chance straight at keeper, Finn Dahmen, after quarter of an hour.

The game was open and fast, both sides looking to get on the front foot. Dahmen had come out smartly to stop a flying Hollerbach after ten minutes, timing his lunge well ahead of Union’s striker before he could take a touch. Rönnow then did similarly a moment later at the other end in front of the dangerous Ermedin Demirovic, the man who had scored the opener last time out.

Rani Khedira, who was playing for the other side the last time  - the only time - Union beat Augsburg, back in 2020, was the heartbeat of the midfield, keeping the ball moving, annulling any threats coming through the middle with his typical ease. So the bewilderment on his face when he received a yellow card after almost 40 minutes told a story all of its own. He pleaded with the referee, Tobias Stieler – how could it be? - but to no avail.

If anyone was going to somehow carve the other side open, it seemed certain to be Union, particularly as Kaufmann turned provider this time, finding space down the left to cross towards where Král was centimetres away from turning the ball in as he slid towards an unguarded back post. It was so close he could almost taste it.

But the ball passed him agonisingly in the end before, at the other end, Arne Engels couldn’t quite slip a similar ball across the box towards the looming Phillip Tietz, the superb Vogt getting in between them as he tracked quickly back to boot the danger away.

Vogt was immense in places, and would do better, still, with only five minutes of the half to play when he tackled Demirovic with immaculate precision in the box, just as Augsburg’s top scorer turned to shoot following Ruben Vargas’s misdirected bicycle kick. But he wasn’t the only one.

Trimmel said after the final whistle of how good Union had been at the back, of how things were going to plan. He was right when he said, "there was actually no threat in front of our goal," so they went in at half time rightly confident of turning things around at this benighted place.

Tietz capitalises, Michel doubles

So, the surprise was not that Augsburg scored in the first minute of the second half, but that it came from a horribly misplaced pass back towards Rönnow from Leite. The Portuguese has been irreplaceable at the back since Bjelica came in, and has been in the best form of his career, but turning, 35 yards out, and under little pressure, he succeeded only in playing the ball to Tietz, gobbling up the chance, placing the ball past a helpless Rönnow who got a hand to his right-footed shot, but could do no more.

Leite's heart must have sunk. 

Yet, Union raised the tempo, as their superb fans, packing one corner of the stadium, raised the roof. Hollerbach tore up the middle, Aaronson made a brilliant run up the left that took the full attentions of Mads Pedersen to stop him in his tracks.

But the home side were settled by the opener, and they started to control the ball as the half wore on. Vargas drew a good stop from Rönnow with his cross / shot across the keeper, as he drew an equally good one from Doekhi, diving at his feet, just before. Khedira got in the way of Engels’ shot from outside the box with half an hour to play. Rönnow stopped Gouwleeuw’s near post volley with typical, unflappable ease.

Bjelica rolled his dice with 25 minutes to play, bringing on Kevin Volland for the trying Kaufmann, while Janik Haberer got his first game for more than a month – with full protective head gear – coming in on the right for Trimmel.

Union pressed on. Within moments Schäfer drove just over following Aaronson’s good work on the edge of the box, while Hollerbach strove tirelessly, always looking to get the ball down, searching for the slightest chink in the resolute Augsburg armour to open up.

By now though Augsburg were sitting ever deeper, and Hollerbach’s tight pass through to Volland would be pretty much his last touch of the ball, as he made way for Chris Bedia with 15 minutes to go. But it was the hosts who would have another chance, as Haberer couldn’t find his radar when trying to play out from the right.

This time he would be grateful that the substitute, Michel, couldn’t use the chance, and he could breathe again. Sadly for Union, he wouldn’t miss his next opportunity.

Michel, who had scored one of the most important goals in Union’s recent history, away against Saint Gilles, came again. He played a one-two with Arne Maier before slipping Doekhi and shooting with his left, high and powerfully over Rönnow into the roof of the net. He didn’t celebrate and kept his vigil as the inevitable VAR check went on, but the smile on his face as the goal was finally given told its own story.

It was like an old country song. It's always the ones you love who hurt you the most.

Union pushed back, as Aaronson twisted and turned his way into the box and back; as Laïdouni clipped  a dangerous ball into the box; as even Leite threw himself forward in an effort to make up for his earlier mistake, but by now Augsburg were resolute, their eyes on a European spot of their own.

Trimmel said that Union weren’t looking that far ahead, that their goal hadn’t changed, and that is to stay in the league.

They fought on as Bedia drew a stop, Král a save at the near post, Doekhi headed over, and Tim Breithaupt went through the back of Volland as he threatened to turn, but by this point it was all over bar the shouting.

At the seventh time of asking, Union had still to win a game in Augsburg. The curse had won out again.