1. FC Union Berlin lost 3-0 on Saturday afternoon to Eintracht Frankfurt at the Alte Försterei, unable to fight their way back from from two early goals scored by Omar Marmoush. But they played superbly in places, and fought til the bitter end, just missing a little fortune in front of goal and a lot of the run of the green.
1. FC Union Berlin: Rönnow – Trimmel (83. Volland), Bonucci (83. Aaronson), Knoche, Leite, Gosens – Král (73. Haberer), Laïdouni – Hollerbach (56. Behrens), Fofana, Becker (83. Tousart)
Eintracht Frankfurt: Trapp – Tuta (46. Smolčić), Koch, Pacho, Max – Skhiri, Larsson – Dina Embimbe (85. P. Aaronson), Chaïbi (74. Götze), Knauff (64. Ulineia Buta) – Marmoush (74. Nacho Ferri)Goals:
Goals: 0:1 Marmoush (2.), 0:2 Marmoush (14.), 0:3 Nacho Ferri (82.)
Urs Fischer had spoken during his press conference of the positives that could be taken from his side’s hard-fought loss to Stuttgart in the cup in midweek, one of which being a solidity verging on belligerence in midfield, certainly at least until Rani Khedira’s sending off. So it was that he would take part of that line-up and bolt it onto another, playing with both Alex Kral and Aissa Laidouni – whose gorgeous strike was a crossbar’s width away from being the opener away – at the heart of the pitch.
And though he had played four at the back, on Saturday afternoon at home against Eintracht he reverted to three, or five, depending on the lie of the land and the movement of the ball here, with Diogo Leite, Robin Knoche and the returning Leonardo Bonucci, flanked by Robin Gosens on the left and Christopher Trimmel on the right.
Ahead of them he played an attacking trident of Sheraldo Becker and Bendict Hollerbach supporting David Datro Fofana, himself returning to the squad following his suspension.
Marmoush lands the first blows, Union stunned by Eintracht’s fast start
Dino Topmöller said his side had to be wary of Union, that they were like a “battered boxer”, and that he knew Union would fly into the first tackles, setting the stage. He was prepared, of course, but as Mike Tyson once said, "everyone has a plan until they get smacked in the mouth.”
Well, it was the guests who landed the first blow. Robin Knoche conceded a free kick out on Eintracht’s right. Two stood over it, they stuttered, one stepped, then stepped back, and Fares Chaibi hit the ball into Union’s box. It was cleared but only as far as Omar Marmoush who swept it in first time, too far out of Rönnow’s reach to his right. He would get one more chance, and he took them both.
Both Trimmel and Gosens said after the final whistle that they couldn’t understand what was happening, but Gosens was unflinchingly blunt when he said, "You have to be honest with yourself. If you're so hyped up in the run-up to the game and then find yourself 2-0 down after 15 minutes, it can't all be good.”
Union had been smacked in the mouth alright, now they had to pick themselves up off the floor.
Becker was the first to react, haring at Pacho down the right, winning a corner. Hollerbach and Laidouni interchanged passes on the other side. But there were incongruities in the home side’s ideas at first. Hollerbach – guilty, possibly, of trying too hard, such as when he beat Tuta for pace, but couldn’t get a cross in - and Gosens went for the same ball, shortly after Hollerbach and Laidouni had a similar moment of confusion, further up the field.
But things would get worse before even quarter of an hour had been played. Hugo Larsson beat Leite down the right wing, he squared to where Marmoush only had to sidefoot home from inside the six-yard box. It was all too easy, and in the greatest contrast, when Fofana broke at the other end, he couldn’t beat Kevin Trapp when trying to slide his shot inside the back post.
Union were not without their moments, even as they struggled to wrest back control of the game. A beautiful piece of play from Laidouni to Trimmel saw the skipper’s cross land perfectly on Fofana’s head, but he was denied only by the underside of the bar, the ball bouncing away agonisingly after almost 20 minutes.
The Unioner packing the stands wouldn’t let their side down, and the players reacted. They were giving everything. Leite tackled Chaibi, timing his slide beautifully; Rönnow dropped his shoulder, turning Marmoush inside out, outside of the box after Bonucci’s flicked header backwards. Fofana was brought down by Koch on the right, and Trimmel’s free kick was punched away from in a crowd by Trapp. Bonucci’s diagonal ball from the right just evaded Becker as he raced into the box.
While Junior Dina-Ebimbe lay in a heap, Gosens spoke to Hollerbach, gesticulating, showing him where his runs needed to be. Things were slowly coming together. After half an hour Union had their best phase of the game as Bonucci and Leite constantly stepped up. Laidouni was everywhere, superb in his relentless tackling and running, always wanting the ball, ever trying to make something happen. A karate kick clearance from him when inside right was a picture of studied aggression and fight.
Becker was proving to be a menace on the right-hand side, too. He drove over the bar from 30 yards with five minutes to play of the half. Rönnow was ten yards out of his box at times, setting the tempo. Becker chased Ansgar Knauff back from inside the Eintracht half into Union’s box when he got the better of Knoche in a sprint towards goal.
Fofana skipped inside of Eliyes Skhiri, turning him, the ball on his toe and drawing the foul from behind, while Leite’s endless pressing caused Larsson hit the ball out of play uncharacteristically. Trimmel shot superbly from outside the box, drawing a fine, diving stop from Trapp to his right, fingertipping the ball out for a corner.
But it wasn’t enough yet to turn the tide in their favour.
Despite all Union’s pressure, Eintracht hold on, then make it three
Again, union wouldn’t give their guests a moment’s rest. Becker skipped past Robin Koch, running onto Gosens’ clever ball, winning a corner. Then Union got another as a shroud of smoke drifted over the pitch from the away end, buffeted by the winds and bright white in the floodlights’ glare. Pacho had to hold back Fofana as Union again threw everything they had at Eintracht.
Kral was a whirlwind of action, constantly on the move, but he misplaced a pass to Knauff a couple of minutes into the half, having to chase down Marmoush to make up for it as danger loomed. Hollerbach and Philipp Max caught each other in spectacular fifty-fifty challenge, no quarters being given, the crowd roaring their side on as ever before.
Laidouni found Gosens who hit a dangerous ball in from the right that had to be flicked away to safety. Union were unrelenting.
Fischer brought on Behrens for Hollerbach with ten minutes played, and the big man was immediately in the thick of things up top, running onto a dinked ball that dropped over his shoulder, then side-footing wide from Becker’s cross, both within a couple of minutes of his entrance onto the pitch. Pacho did well top somehow rob Fofana in full dancing mode as he searched for a way through, near the edge of the box.
Fofana then had a beautiful shot tipped just wide by Trapp when it seemed certain to be heading inside the back post. It was a fantastic stop and the striker could only rage and rail at his misfortune. Becker hit the next of a string of balls in from the left wing, claimed by the keeper as Trimmel loomed in front of him.
At the other end, Leite did well to hook the ball away as the dangerous Marmoush threatened from inside the box. He did better on the same man, this time with elegant timing with 20 minutes to play.
Fischer brought on Janik Haberer for the tireless Kral, and Union did all but score. Their focus and drive unremitting, but they just couldn’t get the ball in the net. Behrens flicked a header wide at the near post following the excellent Laidouni’s bent in cross. Laidouni was then brought down by Buta in the box and the Unioner screamed for a penalty, but the referee merely shrugged their pleas off, pointing to the corner flag instead. Fofana played a beautiful ball to Becker. Gosens threw himself at a header in the box. Fofana found Trimmel whose lovely backheel just evaded Haberer.
But then with under ten minutes left, Ferri Julia appeared suddenly in front of Union’s goal as Mario Götze’s pass dropped perfectly to him. The away fans, in front of him, bayed, and he stabbed home past a sprawling Rönnow.
Yet still Union fought on, with Brenden Aaronson, Kevin Volland and Lucas Tousart coming on for Becker, Trimmel and Bonucci. And even when Fofana finally had the ball in the net following Tousart’s cross it was called off by the referee, he was adjudged to have handled in the build-up, and a free kick was given for the guests.
Before the final whistle came, Laidouni rounded things off with another effort, hit with all the force and will and conviction he’d shown all day – he was superb - but the ball flew past the upright, as if to lay a final blow after so many others.
Fischer said that it was those early mistakes that cost his team in the end, but talked of the determination within his side to right their momentum. "Of course it's incredibly difficult at the moment, but we've decided to walk this rocky, arduous path together," he said.
Marvellous Marvin Haggler once defined the traits needed to succeed thus. “A champion shows who he is by what he does when he’s tested. When a person gets up and says ‘I can still do it’.
Well, by that measure, Union could stand tall after this defeat. They’ll play far worse than this one day and win.