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Union Draw in Frankfurt

A Fantastic Point From a Battling performance

Sat, 30. March 2024
Union Draw in Frankfurt

1. FC Union Berlin came away from their tricky match away against Eintracht Frankfurt with a big point from their goalless draw on Saturday afternoon. It was a superb team performance, but Frederik Rönnow played a big role with a couple of huge saves, while Danilho Doekhi was on hand to hoick the ball away when Farès Chaïbi seemed certain to have scored.

1. FC Union Berlin: Rönnow – Trimmel (82. Juranović), Doekhi, Vogt, Leite, Gosens (89. Roussillon) – Tousart, Khedira, Aaronson (65. Laïdounï) – Kaufmann (65. Hollerbach), Vertessen (65. Volland) 
Eintracht Frankfurt: Trapp – Tuta, Koch, Pacho – Dina Ebimbe (90. Chandler), Skhiri, Götze, Nkounkou (46. Max) – Marmoush, Ekitiké (71. Chaïbi), Knauff (78. Bahoya) 

The starting XI

Nenad Bjelica had said how satisfied he was in the wake of Union’s win over Bremen before the international break, as he was happy for all his players who managed some minutes on the pitch for their respective countries. But he was also delighted that they had all come back safe and sound. After all, he was going to send out the same side that started last time out.

Frederik Rönnow was in goal, behind his first choice back three of Diogo Leite, Kevin Vogt and Danilho Doekhi, flanked by the wing-backs Robin Gosens and Christopher Trimmel. The midfield was anchored by Rani Khedira and Lucas Tousart, while Brenden Aaronson was given the freedom to join Yorbe Vertessen and Philip Kaufmann in attack.

Attendance:  57.100

Moments of bravery, moments of fortune. A superb, rearguard action brings Union another point

With six minutes added on and the Eintracht players pouring onto them, and the partisan home crowd by now a seething frenzy of noise, Kevin Vogt saw another header of his go out for a corner. He tensed his muscles, he turned to Rönnow, he turned to both teams, by now fully packed into Union’s box and he roared something unintelligible. The corner found its way to Mario Götze. His drive was true and strong, but Rönnow held it surely, two handed above his head. They’d both been superb – all of Union’s backline had been - the bedrock of a superb, battling Union performance. And that moment or two summed them all up.

Vogt, speaking after the final whistle, said it was "overall, a good, cohesive performance," and that they "can be satisfied with a point if we look at the course of the game." 

But maybe we should have seen this battling, rearguard performance coming. Maybe Union’s plans had been betrayed much, much earlier on. There had been so much talk of the state of the former Waldstadion’s pitch, that it was with a certain sad inevitability that huge clumps of it were seen flying up as Trimmel and Ansgar Knauff came together in the first minute on Union’s right-hand side.

So Rönnow took it entirely out of the equation after only a couple of minutes played. Having held an outswinging Mario Götze corner he looked up and saw Vertessen on the charge, hitting the ball three quarters the length of the pitch to pick out his run. The Belgian was suddenly free, but he shot wide as the angle to goal tightened ever more as he bore down upon it.

That was that for the action during the opening minutes, short of the elbow that Robin Koch left on Mikkel Kaufmann. It was absorbing enough, but lacking fireworks, partly because of the superb, robust nature of Union’s defence. They were letting nothing through, Trimmel’s intuitive block on Knauff, Gosen’s brilliant slide on Lucas Tuta as he hit the byline, or Vogt’s wonderfully timed tackle on Omar Marmoush allb being excellent cases in point.

The pitch would continue to cause problems. Marmoush slipped while taking a 30-yard free kick, he held a divot in his hand and stared it down mierably, but both sides had to play on it.

And, indeed, it would be the guests who would have the next chance ten minutes later, as another long, looping ball, from Vogt this time, was cleared but only as far as Aaronson, who dragged his first-time half-volley wide of Kevin Trapp’s right-hand post. He had time to pick his spot but snatched at it.

Rönnow was quick to fly out of his box after 20 minutes as Hugo Ekitiké flew towards him, taking the ball on his chest. Though offside, there were a few Union hearts a-flutter as Rönnow caught him. The game was suddenly alive, another chance coming for the hosts as they flooded towards the Union box, before Vertessen was found by a clever Aaronson ball as Union broke back.

Shortly after after, having burst from inside his own half, the American international, freshly returned from his successful CONCACAF Nations league campaign, slightly under-hit his ball out to Vertessen, overlapping on the right, and leaning back as he looked to bend the returned pass into the top corner. Aaronson kicked himself, he knew it was a big chance. But it was also a continuation of the electric form and style that lit up the Bremen game. He glided past Junior Ebimbe with almost 40 minutes played with the greatest of ease, a delicate pullback enough to leave the midfielder standing. He’ll have made Bjelica’s job a hard one when Andras Schäfer returns from suspension next week.

Frankfurt, however, improved as the half went on, demanding more of Union’s defence as the half wore on. Niels Nkounkou thought he had a good shout for a handball when his backheel struck Doekhi. But, honestly, the move was so cleverly conceived, the Dutchman knew nothing about it at all until it was far too late.

Eintracht, having made a change, Philipp Max for Nkounkou, started the second half sharpest as the dangerous Ekitiké saw his pulled back cross from the right have to be diverted by a sprawling Rönnow almost straight away.

But Union’s best opportunity soon followed, as if out of nowhere. Elyes Skhiri misjudged a backpass, laying it on a platter for Vertessen, as he ran between two unprepared defenders towards Trapp's goal, and possibly should have done better than putting it over.

If Trapp was counting his blessings, soon enough he feared he would be out of the game in the worst of circumstances, clattered by Kaufmann as they both threw themselves at Gosens’ cross and colliding, sickeningly. The stricken keeper lay prone in his box for an age, before coming back to his feet and shaking it off, a rueful smile on his face. He could carry on.

Aaronson then found Kaufmann with a lovely little ball after Vertessen’s good work on the right - the three of them showing ever more signs of their partnership starting to bloom like the blossoms on the trees flanking the former Waldstadion, but it was at the other end where Aaronson’s action was possibly of greater importance, when he robbed Tuta as Eintracht piled the pressure on, throwing everyone forwards with the hour drawing.

It wasn’t Marmoush’s day. He drew a good near post stop from Rönnow but had made things harder for himself with a heavy first touch. He then drove towards the back post - if it was a shot it was dragged wide, if it was a pass it was just too heavy for the lunge of Ekitiké. Ebimbe then saw his shot get bogged down in the crowd in the box.

Every time Eintracht came at them and didn’t score, Union were ready to break at pace. The pressure was telling, however, and after an hour Bjelica reacted, making three changes, all in the middle; Kevin Volland for Kaufmann, Aïssa Laïdouni for Aaronson and Benedict Hollerbach for Vertessen.

Still Eintracht came, and still they could not break through, Ebimbe had to watch in agonising disbelief as his shot squirmed past Rönnow’s stop, but rolling with enough backspin along the line to be desperately cleared by Doekhi. None of the seeming hordes of Frankfurt players there in the box could get the single touch the ball needed to nudge it over the line.

Union were giving everything they had to protect their goal. Doekhi threw himself at another Marmoush drive from distance; Rönnow got in the way of Götze’s clever ball to Marmoush, not long after he had gladly held Phillip Max’s swinging cross for a moment before dropping the ball and taking a breath before launching it again.

Finally, Union won a corner, Trimmel tookhis time before finding Doekhi, whose header was flicked wide by Max. Trimmel came across to the other side and took the next and just for a moment it seemed as though it had fallen right for Khedira, but Trapp was there to stop his side-footed attempt. The vice-skipper, it turned out, had been offside anyway.

This was the exception though. Union were hanging on by their fingernails. The excellent substitute Farès Chaïbi  crossed for Max who put his header over, and Götze chose to square when he should have shot. Chaïbi shot just over the bar, and Doekhi headed Max’s cross away. Still the ball kept coming back.

Suddenly, Hollerbach broke, he chose to try to square it for Volland, his ball was just cut out at the last, but soon would come Vogt's moment, and Götze’s saved shot and the next of dozens of heroic tackles and lunges as Union defended their point and their goal with their very lives.

They knew if they couldn’t escape the Eintracht pressure, they would certainly bloody resist it.

Vogt would be needed again, as would Doekhi and Leite, and the substitute Josip Juranović who brought the ball cleverly out of the relentless cauldron that was Union’s box, skipping two tackles and winning a throw-in and with it a blessed moment's release.

But as Marco Fritz put his whistle to his lip for the last time, Bjelica balled his hands into fists, and Vogt did just the same. "I'm happy with the team's performance today," said the coach. "I'm pleased that we were able to keep a clean sheet at the back and defended consistently for 90 minutes."

They were almost as wounded as the pitch, but as opposed to that benighted piece of turf, they would be celebrated into the night by the Unioner. They had held on brilliantly.