Underdogs is one term we can use to describe Urs Fischer’s Union Berlin this season. The German side are currently top of the Bundesliga, having scored the 2nd highest goals and conceding the least. Despite being in the Europa League and this only being their fourth season in the top tier, Union Berlin are tearing it apart in the Bundesliga.
Union Berlin’s success this season is a result of many factors, but perhaps none more than their head coach Urs Fischer, who signed a contract extension during the recent international break. Fischer might have kept the same general tactical approach since being promoted with the club four years ago, but it is nevertheless impressive what the Swiss tactician continues to achieve with this team.
Let us take a deep dive into Urs Fischer, his tactics, playstyle and future at the club.
Urs Fischer and Union Berlin playstyle
Union Berlin have been solid in attack this season. In possession, they typically line up in a 3-5-2 formation with three centre-backs stretched wide, two physically strong wing-backs who cover the wings, three midfielders with a unique mix of directness towards the goal and technical ability, and two strikers who are fast and clinical.
When Union is in possession, it becomes easier for them to progress the ball and attack the space behind the opposition’s defence by playing short passes through their rival’s lines, using their wing-backs to switch sides. This structure, especially at centre-back, allows them to move the ball in a balanced way with their opponents finding it more difficult to press them because of the greater distance between Union players.
This has been essential to Union’s stay in the Bundesliga because the average opponent in the league depends on their press as their first act of defending and, as explained, teams find it harder to do this against Fischer’s structure. Rival teams and coaches then have to choose if they defend higher up and attack Union’s build-up play, which could leave them vulnerable to long balls, or to sit deep and try and win the second-ball situations that are created, again leaving them exposed to Union’s build-up.
🤤 Segus Pass
🤩 Becks' Ballannahme
🥶 Der Abschluss
— 1. FC Union Berlin (@fcunion) September 20, 2022
Urs Fischer tactics at Union Berlin
The main factor in Fischer’s development of Union is their athleticism, specifically their running and physicality. They cover on average 5 kilometres more per game than other teams in the league. This aids their defensive plan as it shuts down their opponent’s passing options and, because they predominantly defend zones rather than mark players (man-marking), it also closes down open spaces.
Fischer’s men are willing to work hard in order to defend as a whole unit which allows them to constantly disrupt their opponent’s build-up play. This increases the possibility of Union winning the ball back and using counterattacks as a second means of offensive play.
With Jordan Siebatcheu and Sheraldo Becker, Union have two strikers who are ready to attack the space behind the defenders or fight in aerial duels in attacking transitions. They are both very efficient in finding open spaces and their clinical finishing is what has helped them accumulate nine goals and five assists between them.
— BUNDESLIGA (@Bundesliga_DE) August 31, 2022
Urs Fischer’s Union Berlin analysis
Union’s work in player recruitment has helped them reach the current level they are at right now and kept them from dropping back into the second division. In nearly every case where they lost a player who played a valuable role in their team, they had a very effective approach to finding a replacement.
When they lost Taiwo Awoniyi, they sold him for a reported €20.5 million and replaced him with Siebatcheu for reportedly just €6 million. When Max Kruse was lost mid-season, they recruited a player with a similar profile in second-division forward Sven Michel. Marvin Friedrich’s departure to Borussia Monchengladbach was handled by the arrival of loanee Diogo Leite.
Most of these replacements are perfect matches for the physical requirements of Fischer’s tactical approach, who given their age range, tend to have fewer problems when needing time to fit in.
Oh. My. Lord. pic.twitter.com/AN9bA5ubKo
— 1. FC Union Berlin (@fcunion_en) September 20, 2022
Urs Fischer’s future at Union Berlin
It is no surprise Union are performing better than most in the league with most teams not playing well and trying to figure out their identities. The consistency of having a long-term stable head coach has laid a tactical and structural foundation for Union Berlin to be a top-six challenger for years to come.
Urs Fischer recently signed a new contract at the club and he is going nowhere. It would be exciting to see where he can lead the team this season. It is very likely they qualify for the UEFA Champions League this season, something which would be very monumental and historic for the club.