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Bundesliga title to Berlin?

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It has been 3895 days or ten years, seven months, and 29 days since the Bundesliga saw a champion other than Bayern Munich. The Bavarians have dominated the league in the last decade, winning their 10th consecutive league title last summer. In these years, they have faced challenges from their rivals, but all failed to match their consistency throughout the season. However, for the first time this season, Bayern Munich face not one but two challengers. The first is their long-time rival Borussia Dortmund, and the second is Union Berlin, who are becoming the new powerhouse in Germany. 

Nicknamed Die Eisernen, Union Berlin are currently level on points with Bayern and Dortmund in what looks to be one of the closest title races in the German league recently. The boys from Berlin have already faced the two teams at home. They shared the spoils with Bayern Munich in a 1-1 draw in September before putting Dortmund to the sword a month later in a 2-0 win. 

Their sternest test for Union Berlin comes this weekend when they travel to Allianz Arena to face Bayern. However, despite the results of that match, Union Berlin will still be in the title race and have done a splendid job till now. We look at the stats and the unique style that has helped them challenge the big boys in Germany.

Union Berlin stats and playing style 

Union Berlin’s rise in the Bundesliga is similar to what the impressive Real Sociedad have managed to do in La Liga this season. The pattern is similar to improving your team season by season, which is reflected in the team’s standings in the league. The first stat one notices while analysing Union Berlin is their impressive defence. Die Eisernen have conceded 24 goals, the second-best record in the league after Bayern Munich. This has been the bedrock of their title challenge, as they have only scored the seventh-most goals in the league.

Stats from Soccerment show that the club does not feature among the top teams in most attacking stats except Field Tilt. However, it is a different story in the defence. The team has had one of the best defences, not only in Germany but also in Europe. 

Union Berlin is also the seventh-best team in the top 5 European leagues in Expected Goals. Out of the 222 shots they have conceded so far this season, only 82 were on target, a stat on par with the best in Europe. And the shots that even find their way on target rarely find their way into the goals, with the Union Berlin goalkeeper boasting a 70.7 saving percentage which is better than Bayern Munich. 


These strong defensive tactics come at a cost, as the team conceded the third-most fouls in the league. However, it is a risk that manager Urs Fischer is willing to take, considering that it allows their player to play to their strengths.

In the attack, Union Berlin have far fewer resources than their competitors. In fact, 18 of the 35 goals they scored when the score was tied and seven of their 13 wins were won by one goal difference. 


Union Berlin tactics: Defence heavy and counter attack 

Union Berlin are currently third in the Bundesliga and the knockout Round of the Europa League. It is a massive achievement for a club only in their fourth season in the German top league. And that has come with a specific tactic: relying on defence and then using counter-attacks, especially through the wings and the stats back it up.

According to Soccerment, Union Berlin have completed the most successful crosses in the league with 83, the fifth-most in the top 5 leagues across Europe. In addition, they have also won the most aerial duels across Europe in 478. Among the 82 successful crosses, 28 have been done by their winger Sheraldo Becker, the most in the league and of the 478 aerial duels, 100 have been won by their forward 1.85 metres tall forward Kevin Behrens. Their aerials superiority is why they have scored ten times from set pieces and have a total of 12 goals from headers to their name. 


This shows us a clear understanding of their team’s tactics. Stats from Understat show that eight of their goals have come from fast counter-attacks. At the same time, 80 per cent of their goal have come from inside the box. One of the major reasons they prefer the wings for their attack is because Fischer deploys his team in a 3-5-2 formation which changes to a five-man backline while defending and a three-man backline while attacking.

Another area where the team shine massively is their ability to score late goals. The team has scored ten goals in the last 15 minutes, 28.57 per cent of their total goals. Only Red Bull Leipzig boasts a better record in this regard. 

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Union Berlin: Key Players in Squad 

Union Berlin are a team that are greater than the sum of their parts. They may not have a top goalscorer or midfield wizard in their ranks, but together they become an effective and coherent unit that can go toe-to-toe with the best. 

However, winger Sheraldo Becker would be at the top of the list if one had to pick a player. The Surinamese forward has scored the most goals for the team (7) and the most assists (4). He has been the leading man, especially during the counter-attacks using his pace, trickery and pinpointing crossing accuracy to devastating effect.

Another man who has risen this season is forward Kevin Behrens, who is quickly developing the knack of scoring goals when the team needs them the most. In defence, Robert Knoche has been a calming presence along with Danilho Doekhi. The pair are also influential on the other side of the pitch, having scored six goals between them.


Goalkeeper Frederik Ronnow has also been the perfect number one for the team keeping six clean sheets. However, the Dane has reserved his best for the Europa League, where he has kept five consecutive sheets, the last of which came in the first leg of the Round of 32 matches against Ajax.

The Union Berlin story has been impressive and brings a new change to a league that a single team has dominated for the last ten years. Of course, it is still a big ask for them to pip Bayern and Dortmund to the title, but we have seen what Leicester City did in 2015-16, and Union Berlin does have the talent to add another page of fairytale in the golden pages of football.

Saumy Deepak Tripathi
A Bayern Munich fan who is deeply in love with football statistics. Has a soft spot for goalkeepers! (well only he knows why). You’ll find him vibing on 70’s classic songs and spends an abnormal amount of time cooking.

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