Union Berlin rock German football with the scalp of Dortmund

The Guardian-1 year before

That’s not it though – and not just because tables are of limited relevance three games into the season. Saturday night’s events in Köpenick, in the south-east of Berlin, didn’t just rock Union, or football in the capital, but the whole of Germany. In Union’s debut season among the elite, it hasn’t taken them long to make an indelible mark that threatens to change projections not only for their season, but for the Bundesliga’s as a whole.

It wasn’t just that Urs Fischer’s side registered their first top-flight win, when on Saturday morning you’d have been forg...ven for casting your eyes down their forthcoming fixtures and wondering how they might find a way of getting it before autumn set in. It wasn’t even that their victims were Borussia Dortmund, thought by many to be ready for an even sturdier push for the Bundesliga title following last season’s near miss.

WHAT. AN. ATMOSPHERE! 😍

Union Berlin got their first ever Bundesliga win with a brilliant performance vs Borussia Dortmund...

Party time in the German capital! pic.twitter.com/OnRhBJxGrR

pic.twitter.com/OnRhBJxGrR September 1, 2019 It was that this was a win that wasn’t stolen, not feverishly clutched while under siege, but deserved. “The manner of the win pleased me the most,” said Fischer. Before the break – a performance that, interestingly, the coach was underwhelmed by – his team had played with the punch and defiance of a newly-promoted underdog, spritely and dangerous from set-pieces.

Dortmund had been through similar the week before at Köln, caught on the hop by the home side’s lack of deference. In Union’s case, the planning was clear in the execution, with Christopher Trimmel’s pulled-back corner swept in by Marius Bülter, Darren Anderton to Teddy Sheringham-style, to give the hosts the lead.

Last Friday Dortmund had toughed it out, and eventually ground down and outclassed an exhausted Köln. Although Paco Alcácer’s equaliser had suggested they would do the same and prevail at the Alte Försterei, Union simply wouldn’t have it. There was only one team in it after the interval. Bülter gave them the lead back with another wonderfully crafted finish before Sebastian Andersson, who had scored the team’s first-ever Bundesliga goal at Augsburg last week, doubled up with a smart, side-footed finish from Sheraldo Becker’s cross. The visitors rarely looked like getting back into it.

This wasn’t totally without precedent. Union had been the better side for swathes of last week’s match at Augsburg, before Keven Schlotterbeck’s late red card made them change tack and settle for a point. Still, few would have predicted that the green shoots in Bavaria would bloom so quickly.

Saturday was, to all intents and purposes, Union’s first proper stab hosting a grown-up Bundesliga dinner party. The opening day against Leipzig had represented a torrent of feelings from so many different directions, from fans brandishing images of late friends and relatives who couldn’t be there to the protest against the visitors and what they are perceived to stand for during the game’s first 15 minutes. They were extraordinary, arresting sights and coupled with playing elite opposition in a huge step up, it was just too much. The match – and its context - was “emotionally overloaded”, as Färber put it.

This time, they were ready. Union kept 14 clean sheets in the Bundesliga 2 last season and while the level is a different one, the grit in the team’s DNA is clear. Not that Fischer should be described as purely a defensive coach. This is a man who spent his last job before coming to Germany winning championships with Basel and if Lucien Favre picked a top-heavy line-up committed to taking to the points from Köpenick, Fischer showed his guts by pairing Andersson with Anthony Ujah. Two up top against one of the favourites for the Bundesliga? “Nehmt euer herz in beide hände!” (take your heart in both hands), the buzzphrase for the promotion/relegation play-off with Stuttgart had said, and it was present on fans’ T-shirts dotted around on Saturday, which were given away pre-kick-off. Their players and staff appeared keen to honour the motto.

Union’s Sebastian Andersson celebrates with his teammates after making it 3-1. Facebook Twitter Pinterest Ujah, Christian Gentner and Neven Subotić promise to be key figures for Union this season, a sizeable pinch of top-flight experience added to the mix of first-timers; goalscorer Bülter was playing in the fourth tier for Rödinghausen little more than a year ago. None was more important against Dortmund than Subotić on what was an emotional day for him, facing the club he went through so much with during a decade at Westfalen; titles, a Champions League final (famously alongside Mats Hummels, who he faced here) and a serious knee injury that severely compromised his best level.

After 18 months at Saint-Étienne, the 30-year-old is looking more like his old self in slightly more modest surroundings. It’s early but the signs are good. Since Subotić has been installed in the starting XI – he was an unused sub on the opening day against Leipzig – Union have looked tough to break down. Fischer and the team will hope his renaissance continues.

🎙️ @NSubotic4 sums it up nicely 😊 #FCUBVB 3-1 pic.twitter.com/rXKO8id1Bm

@NSubotic4 #FCUBVB pic.twitter.com/rXKO8id1Bm August 31, 2019 As a clearly touched Subotić received a warm reception from both sets of fans at the game’s conclusion, it was hard to think of anywhere he’d rather be, and the same might be said for many neutrals, drinking in such a rich atmosphere. “It’s what makes both clubs special,” Subotić told Deutsche Welle. “For the fans it’s not a hobby. It’s part of their life and identity.” We already knew, from a few early impressions, what Union were adding to the Bundesliga. Now they’ve shown us that there’s a football team beyond the ideology.

While Dortmund struggled without the guiding hand of the injured Axel Witsel, Bayern took a week off leaning solely on Robert Lewandowski. They trailed for half-an-hour at home to Mainz, but still ended up 6-1 winners, with players other than the Pole getting on the scoresheet for the first time this season in the Bundesliga. Niko Kovač’s hand in proceedings was also clear – Joshua Kimmich and Niklas Süle both said the coach’s pep talk during a first-half water break had provided the kick into gear that Bayern needed, in a week when Uli Hoeness and Karl-Heinz Rummenigge’s forthcoming exits were made official.

David Alaba finds the postage stamp with a sublime free-kick 😍

Perfect placement, perfect timing for Bayern! pic.twitter.com/YaMjbaHiQz

pic.twitter.com/YaMjbaHiQz August 31, 2019 Leipzig are now the only team left with a 100% record after Timo Werner’s sensational hat-trick secured a Friday night win at Mönchengladbach. They’re serious.

One wondered how Schalke would score. Then Hertha donated two own goals to help them towards David Wagner’s first win. Elsewhere, the indomitable Bas Dost scored 11 minutes into his Bundesliga return to help Eintracht Frankfurt towards victory over Fortuna Düsseldorf.

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