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Union Lose in Bremen

A Bitter Afternoon in the North

Sat, 28. October 2023
Union Lose in Bremen

1. FC Union Berlin suffered a 2-0 loss away to Werder Bremen on Saturday afternoon, also going a man down following Rani Khedira’s straight red card. The Bremen goals were scored by Marvin Duksch in the 75th minute, which followed a first half Robin Knoche own goal.

SV Werder Bremen: Zetterer – Jung, Friedl, Veljkovic – Deman (88. Agu), Stage, Weiser, Bittencourt (77. Lynen), Schmid (88. Njinmah) – Duksch, Borré  
1. FC Union Berlin: Rönnow – Trimmel, Bonucci, Knoche, Leite, Gosens (78. Roussillon) – Aaronson (60. Laïdouni), Khedira, Haberer (65. Král) – Becker (78. Hollerbach), Behrens (78. Kaufmann) 

Goals: 1-0 Knoche (38. o.g.), 2-0 Duksch (75.)  

Attendance; 42,100

The team

Fischer made just two changes from the side that had started so creditably against Napoli on Tuesday evening with Frederik Rönnow in goal behind a back three of Diogo Leite, Robin Knoche and Leonardo Bonucci on the left of the three, replacing the injured Danilho Doekhi. Robin Gosens and Christopher Trimmel were on the left and right respectively, though Fischer will have been reassured by the return of Jerome Roussillon as an understudy.

Rani Khedira was in central midfield alongside Janik Haberer and Brenden Aaronson, starting his second game in succession for only the first time since his sending off against Darmstadt.

Up front, meanwhile, Sheraldo Becker was partnered by Kevin Behrens, coming in for the suspended David Datro Fofana, his memories of the Weserstadion so fresh from his goal on an emotional home-coming, the last time he played here.

Union start strongly, but Knoche’s unfortunate own goal changes the momentum

The Unioner started with a tifo from their packed out corner of the Weserstadion. With a sea of red, white and yellow flags waving uproariously, it read simply, “we want the win,” taken from the song they sing to the tune of John Lennon’s “Give peace a chance”.

It seemed appropriate, and when looking at the recent history between the clubs it didn’t seem too much to ask. Union had beaten their hosts twice last year, including the final game of the season when Rani Khedira scored to ensure Champions League qualification.

But if they started the game with that message, the one after the final whistle of a chastening afternoon in the north when they sung Urs Fischer’s name was just as strident, and even more moving.

Khedira, still upset with himself for his second half red card, was asked if Fischer was still the man for the job. He held the presenter’s gaze for a second, the pause adding to his absolute conviction.

“One. Hundred. Percent,” he said. And he said no more.

The strange thing about this game – amongst so many in the recent month and a half – is that Union didn’t start like a team under pressure. Trimmel fed Becker on the right, he beat a man and hit the byline, setting up Trimmel again who, ultimately, saw his shot saved by Michael Zetterer. Bremen’s understudy keeper did well to hold a high, swirling cross under pressure from Gosens a minute later. Becker was a menace on the right, keen and lightning fast, he mugged Anthony Jung after ten minutes, putting the ball past him one side, sprinting past him on the other.

But after five minutes it was the hosts who came closest to opening the scoring as Borre stretched desperately to get on the end of a Marvin Ducksch cross, slightly overhit, flat across goal. They’d have another chance after Bonucci’s mistake, but it was put into row Z by Leonardo Bittencourt. The Leipzig born midfielder would have a far better attempt fly just wide of Rönnow’s right hand upright after 17 minutes.

It was far from the most dramatic of encounters, both sides were wary of leaving themselves too open, as could be expected with a clash between 14th and 15th in the table, of course, but Bremen improved as the first half drifted towards its middle point, and when Zetterer rushed out of his goal to head a long clearance, there was no-one in union’s midfield to there to try and take advantage of the moment.

Yet up top Union were causing danger with their pace and movement. Aaronson looked keen to retain his place, he was tricky and quick, and linked up with Becker on the right, carving out a couple of opportunities, he was often ahead of Behrens, who was willing to drop deep.

Rönnow saved well from Romano Schmid, diving to his right just after a moment of confusion between Becker and Trimmel had given Bremen the chance to break, though again it was as if they did so somewhat reluctantly.

So, it seemed somehow fitting that the opener would be carved not of a moment of beauty, but a mistake, and that unlikeliest of things, a Robin Knoche own goal. A Ducksch free kick came in from 35 yards out on the left. Knoche, Leite and Knoche all seemed to come for it, but Knoche won, and the ball flew unfortunately in off Union’s talismanic centre-back’s forehead. Leite lay on the ground, stunned. Knoche just looked heartbroken, a thousand yard stare being thrown out through the constant rain on his eyes.

Fischer said that he could see the way it disheartened his players. "You could see that in the team, we were insecure and tense."

The Union players tried to rouse themselves, but it looked a little like they were running uphill all of a sudden, the sodden pitch taking on a new stickiness under their disappointed boots. Bremen broke once before the break, but Ducksch was immediately outnumbered by Union defenders, determined not to let the deficit grow any further before the break.

Khedira’s red and Ducksch’s lovely strike finish things

Fischer said afterwards that they had talked during the break a lot about how to react, and he made no immediate changes for the second half. Indeed, Union tried to drag themselves back into the game, Jens Stage bundled Behrens off the ball, as he did Aaronson too as he cut across the edge of the box with ten minutes played. But again, it was Bremen who had the first real chance of the second half as Ducksch fed Romano Schmid, his powerful shot flying high and wide of Rönnow’s goal. Gosens would then draw a yellow for a late challenge from behind on Stage to stop another counter down Bremen’s right-hand side.

Union were still in the game, though, until with an hour played Khedira went in for a 50-50 ball at waist height with Schmid. He caught the Bremen player in the chest, receiving a red card straight away from referee, Tobias Stieler, just a couple of metres away. He said later he had thought he’d win the ball, but knew it was a fair call in the end. But it hurt, he had only just come back from a six week lay-off. He pulled his shirt over his eyes, as if things couldn’t get any worse. Union were now in a fight for their lives.

Fischer said "it was almost hopeless with one man less," for they would leave gaps at the back every time they tried to push up, and even then nothing fell their way – such as when Aissa Laidouni’s clever long ball to Becker was chased down by Zetterer who timed his chase out of the box perfectly.

Mitchell Weiser tried to trick his way into the box, Bittencourt shot over and Ducksch headed wide when he could have done better from the back post.

Then it came, the further wrath of an angry football God. The impressive Ducksch ran onto a lovely Milos Veljkovic ball that dropped inexorably, as if in slow motion, into a suddenly cavernous gap that appeared on the inside right channel. He beat Gosens to the ball as it bounced and lifted it over Rönnow with his laces. It was as excellent a finish as it was a hammer blow for the Unioner, who had still never stopped singing, despite the rain, despite everything.

Fischer brought on Benedict Hollerbach, Mikkel Kaufmann and Jerome Roussillon, but by that point the momentum had shifted just too far in favour of their hosts. Rönnow saved at the near post from Justin Nijnmah

With seven minutes of added time to play the Bremen back line stroked the ball between themselves. And even when Laidouni tried to free the ball from their grip near his own corner flag - as they killed the time as best they could - he could only come away with a yellow card and a bitter grimace on his face. He shot from Hollerbach’s cross, well into time added on, but it was to come to nothing.

Their focus is now trained entirely onto Tuesday evening's cup game against Stuttgart, and the chance of redemption there.