1.FC Union Berlin: Frederik Rönnow – Niko Gießelmann, Diogo Leite, Robin Knoche, Timo Baumgartl (Paul Jaeckel), Christopher Trimmel – Yanik Haberer (Morton Thorsby) , Rani Khedira, Andras Schäfer (Paul Seguin)– Jordan Siebatcheu (Kevin Behrens), Sheraldo Becker (Sven Michel)
VfL Wolfsburg: Koen Casteels – Rosa Silva Paulo Otavio (Yannick Gerhard), Micky Van de Ven, Maxence LaCroix, Ridle Baku – Maximillian Arnold- Josip Brekalo, Mattias Svanburg (Omar Khaled Marmoush) Bartol Franjic (Kevin Paredes) – Lukas Nmecha , Gian-Luca Waldschmidt (Omar Khaled Marmoush).
Goals: 1-0 (Jordan, 50). 2-0 (Becker, 77)
Attendance: 22,012 (Sold out)
Union dominant with the ball, but first half remains goalless
All too often we are guilty of conflating football with bigger issues, we use the metaphors of war, of life and death struggles. But, as Arrigo Sacchi once wisely said. “Football is the most important of the unimportant things.” Sometimes, it pales into the void. Sometimes it really isn’t everything.
But today as he took to the pitch at the Alte Försterei for the first time after 154 long, impossibly and for many of us, incomprehensibly difficult days, Timo Baumgartl would have also known that it does matter - even though it doesn’t. He knows better than most that in the hardest of times we are also often driven by unimportant things.
That he has had to recover from testicular cancer, that he walked that long road, to take in the astonishing roar he was greeted with by so many of those who don’t know him, but love him with all their hearts, it was impossible not to feel the hairs go up on the back of your neck. It was impossible not to be impressed by his humility, his humanity and his determination.
But he also couldn’t allow himself to be caught in the occasion, he knew he had to play. Urs Fischer had brought him in for Paul Jaeckel who’d been superb all season, with Niko Gießelmann returning on the right and, ahead of him, Janik Haberer.
Trimmel found Haberer immediately with one of those deep, swinging, right-footed crosses he can deliver in his sleep. Haberer caught it clean with his left but his volley went straight at the keeper, Koen Casteels. Only a minute had gone. Then Trimmel beat Baku on the outside with a burst, the right-back rescuing himself with a long sliding tackle, but he took too much of the man with the bit of the ball he got.
The free kick was played shot to the edge of the box where Sheraldo Becker shot over. But it was nicely worked, intricately conceived. Like his goal against Bayern proved Union are masters at this stuff. They would run through their full repertoire of party pieces, corners both hit short and chipped to the 18 yard box, corners hit long and deep.
Becker and Jordan showed their constant danger, Becker knocking a lofted ball down to his partner with his studs to turn onto, but Maxence LaCroix was alert to it.
Union had started strongly. But Urs Fischer had warned that they needed to be more clinical in the final third. They hadn’t, so far, heeded his advice.
It was often blood curdling stuff. Leite got a talking to on 15 minutes for a crunching challenge through the back of Lucas Nmecha that his former team-mate, and idol, Pepe, would have been proud of. Maximilian Arnold then went through Janik Haberer on the edge of the box, to the left. Trimmel and Gießelmann stood over the ball, the captain whipping it towards the head of Leite who couldn’t get his header down and on target. Becker then ran onto a cushioned header from Khedira, choosing to hit it first time. Wolfsburg hadn’t had a sniff.
But still it remained goalless.
Schäfer beat Bartol Franjic after 27 minutes, chipping a ball to Becker. It went out for another corner. This one, played short to Becker, then hit into the box from the left towards Baumgartl, but his header was easily claimed by Koen Casteels.
Union were pinging the ball between them, the prettiest of pretty triangles involving Khedira and Haberer and Gießelmann, Leite switching the play, not afraid to be on the ball all the time. Trimmel always offering an outlet on the right. But they still went in at half-time at 0-0
Jordan and Becker provide the finishing touches superbly
The second half began much as the first had, Jordan, first, squeezing off a shot from Gießelmann’s ball as he turned cleverly, and then another, just wide, from Becker’s layoff.
Then came a brief warning as Arnold squeezed one just wide of Rönnow’s left hand post from distance.
But after 50 minutes Union got the goal that been coming for some time already. Haberer’s clever, switched ball as he turned like a spinning top, found Sheraldo who beat Paulo Otavio on the left. He crossed where Jordan was bursting into the six yard box to finish with a superb flying, glancing header that left Casteels no chance. It had been a devastating break, and once again showed the combination of the two strikers at their best.
The Alte Försterei roared. Union were back on top of the Bundlesliga. Sha-la-la-la they sang as one, their scarves in the air. Sha-la-la. Heyyyy, Union.
Baumgartl went off shortly after that, and rarely will a substitution be greeted with such an outpouring of emotion here again. He spoke afterwards of the light at the end of the tunnel, and the fans clapped until their hands were raw.
Becker soon left Gerhard on the floor, cutting back inside where he found Khedira, whose shot was shanked out for a throw in. Well, he’s not there for his finishing. But Gießelmann did better from all of thirty yards with 20 minutes to go with a drive that flew just past a desperate dive from Casteels and over the bar by an inch. Then Thorsby flashed a shot wide of the other side from inside the box. Schäfer tricked and turned, Jordan showed his strength against Yannick Gerhard.
Becker made it two with a quarter of an hour to go. He brought Paul Seguin’s ball down from the inside right channel with insouciant aplomb, he let it drop as if he was playing in the park, he had all the time in the world. He raced towards goal, lifting it over Casteels with an elegance that showed exactly why he’d been named the Bundesliga’s player of the month. It was all over, the Wolfsburg players weren’t getting back into this. You could see it in the eyes of the Union players, you could hear in the cracking voices of the fans.
The Unioner sung that without Max Kruse, Wolfsburg had no chance, laughing all the way to the final whistle, but the truth is that possibly the most naturally gifted player to ever put on the famous red and white shirt (and what a shame he never got to play in front of a packed house like this) isn’t needed in Köpenick any more, either.
For Union have moved seamlessly on. Never before had they led the German top flight for more than a week. But now they have. They have more than improved. 1. FC Union Berlin are writing history.