A tired and battered Union fell to a huge 5-0 loss in Leverkusen, despite a solid first half performance that saw the sides go into the break scoreless.
1. FC Union Berlin: Lennart Grill - Julian Ryerson, Diogo Leite, Robin Knoche, Timo Baumgartl, Christopher Trimmel – Janik Haberer (Tim Skarke), Rani Khedira (Milos Pantovic), Morton Thorsby (Paul Seguin) – Jordan Siebatcheu (Kevin Behrens) , Sheraldo Becker (Sven Michel)
Bayer 04 Leverkusen: Lukas Hradecky – Mitchel Bakker, Piero Hincapie, Edmond Tapsoba (Jonathan Tah), Odilon Jossounou, Jeremie Frimpong – Kerem Demirbay (Exequiel Palacios), Robert Andrich, Nadiem Amiri – Adam Hlozek (Calum Hudson-Odoi), Moussa Diaby
Goals: 1-0 Andrich (46), 2-0 Diaby (56), 3-0 Diaby (58), 4-0 Hlozek (68), 5-0 Bakker (76)
One of the many astonishing things about Union’s season so far has been the marked lack of injuries, the fact that Urs Fischer has never once had to make the torturous choice of finding square pegs to fit in round holes. He has intentionally kept the squad large enough for this, but finally the grind, the pitiless, unremitting schedule had taken two lynchpins down. Frederik Rönnow limped off at half time against Royale Union Saint-Gilloise, as did Andras Schäfer at full time. Both are out for an unspecified amount of time; Schäfer’s foot needs to be operated on, and Rönnow’s spot for Denmark at the forthcoming World Cup is questionable at best.
So in came Morton Thorsby for the Hungarian, and Lennart Grill who, after an unsteady first couple of minutes grew into the game in Belgium to make a couple of fine stops when Union were under pressure towards the end. They were joined by Timo Baumgartl who stepped in on the right of Union’s familiar back three for a Danilho Doekhi given a weekend off.
A workman-like and largely chanceless first half yields no goals for either side
And though the Union players’ bodies were still moving after that endless parade of games, their legs looked heavy from the start. Against a Bayer Leverkusen side third from bottom of the table, who were solid and stolid and also largely bereft of imagination, Union struggled to create much of anything in the first half. But then, nor did Leverkusen.
Grill got an early touch as Union moved the ball across the back with their usual composure and competence and patience. He got another, claiming Moussa Diaby’s low cross from the right with ease, then Mitchel bakker’s high one from the left. Leverkusen had started with five at the back, it was a cagey start, Urs Fischer out of his seat early to call out instructions.
Thorsby covered well to nick the ball off Kerem Demirbay when Diaby’s run had threatened to put him through into space. But the game struggled to burst into life, the pace was slow, the movements cautious.
Khedira was booked after 23 minutes for a foul on Diaby, chasing back. Jordan got one for catching Piero Hincapie on the other side after 26 Christopher Trimmel launched a free kick into the box after half an hour but it was far too close to Lukas Hradecky in the 04 goal.
Nadiem Amiri curled an effort over with his left from outside the box and at the other end anpother long, deep Trimmel freekick was headed over by Diogo Leite. But chances were few and far between, both sides largely cancelling each other out, risking little, creating less. A long pass out from Grill bounced in front of Jordan and went straight to Hradecky, it was a little imprecise, a touch too rudimentary, and probably the defining image of the half.
But the real energy came from the terraces where the Unioner never stopped, they sung and they cheered and they roared their team on without pause, they were indefatiguable and unquestioning in their support.
Union’s wheels come off in the second half
Leverkusen started the second half with more sense of purpose about them, and it was Robert Andrich, who had been so instrumental to Union’s recent success, who would break their hearts only a minute into the second half. He managed to slip behind Rani Khedira as a corner flew into the box and dropped towards him, it passed a couple of heads, it sailed over bodies, and met the left sidefoot of the big midfielder who didn’t hit it perfectly, but he got enough.
Grill saved well from Amiri to his left soon after. Bayer were stepping up as Union tried to rouse themselves. Ryerson tried in vain to get around Jeremie Frimpong on the left, Becker tried to magic up something in the middle, but all to no avail. It was only ten minutes into the half that Union won their first corner. It was headed away.
Then in the space of only a few minutes the wheels came off. Union had a corner which ended up with Khedira passing back to Grill. But the keeper’s touch was uncertain. Fischer later called it "a gift”. He was chased down by Frimpong, the ball only squirming its way to Diaby. The French international bore down on goal, he took a touch and despite the attentions of Timo Baumgartl, chasing back, he finished easily into an empty goal.
Grill bit into his shirt, disconsolate. He’s only on loan at Union from Leverkusen themselves. He didn’t want to come back like this.
But things would get worse. Within two minutes Bakker was away down the left with Diaby in acres of space to his right. The break had been devastating, and, fittingly, the finish was unerring. Suddenly it was 3-0 and Union’s heads were spinning.
Fischer made three changes immediately, Becker, Jordan and Thorsby replaced by Sven Michel, Kevin Behrens and Paul Seguin. But it made little difference. Leverkusen broke again down the left, again through Bakker. This time he took the ball on, heading towards the byline, when he crossed low and hard across the six yard box, where …Hlozek would add a gorgeous little backheel, a flourish of a finish, to flick it inside the back post.
Tempers would fray a little. Ryerson got involved in a spat with Frimpong that referee had to break up. But that was nothing. Indeed it was the closest Union came to disturbing their hosts on an otherwise largely miserable Sunday for the team. With 15 minutes to play Bakker made it five after another superb break and combination down the left hand side.
Union were stunned, they were devastated. It was their joint worst loss since Fischer took charge in the 2. Liga. Not that fans ever stopped.
Christopher Trimmel gave Leverkusen credit after the final whistle. He said the first two goals had been mistakes, but then they just got hammered on the break thereafter. But he knows enough, he’s been around long enough to know that it wasn’t the end of the world. There is plenty for Union to be proud of this year, and a single spanking doesn’t change that.
“We’ve played a grandiose season so far, we’re in the cup, we’re in Europe. It can happen,” he said. "It" did. And how right he was.