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Union Berlin: The Surprise Team Of This Year’s Bundesliga


In just their second season in the German top-flight, Union Berlin are currently sitting in the Europa League spots. This season is not an outlier either, as the Berlin side finished in a comfortable eleventh in their debut season. But how are a side so new to the Bundesliga performing handling themselves so well? Read on to find out what secrets the data reveals.

By: Tim Lutz

Looking at the current Bundesliga table, you’d be forgiven for doing a double-take when seeing the team in fifth spot. Union Berlin, who are in just their second season in the Bundesliga are in the first of the league’s Europa League spots on 25 points.

Bundesliga Table As It Stands (Jan 14, 2021):

1FC Bayern München15103246242233
2RB Leipzig1594226121431
3Bayer 04 Leverkusen1585230151529
4Borussia Dortmund1591531191228
51. FC Union Berlin1567231201125
6VfL Wolfsburg156722217525

The Eisernen survived their debut season in the league with minimal fuss, finishing in eleventh place with a comfortable ten-point cushion over the relegation spots.  With that season in their belt, Urs Fischer’s side are now beginning their assault on the top of the table.

But where does this success and this consistency come from? Union Berlin have only suffered two defeats in their opening 15 games, the joint-lowest figure in the league. Manager Urs Fischer can rely on a well-rehearsed, defensively stout team that has not changed much over the years and has formed a strong unit since he took over in summer 2018.

In addition to forming a compact and disciplined side, Fischer’s side certainly know how to play attacking football. Only Bayern Munich have scored more goals (46) than Union (tied with Borussia Dortmund on 31 goals). Union Berlin have scored in each of their 15 games so far this season, an achievement that only champions Bayern can match.

To compete as an underdog against the big teams in the Bundesliga, physicality and nous are of course required. Union unite both. With an average distance run of 120km per game, the Berliners have covered the most ground this season. This is also targeted running, pressing opponents high up the pitch. They’ve scored four goals after from high turnovers, only Dortmund have forced more.

Without a doubt though, the biggest weapon in Union Berlin’s arsenal is set pieces.  They’ve scored twelve goals from set piece situations – only Bayer Leverkusen have scored more.

In order to score a lot of goals from set pieces, you often need a highly-skilled dead ball striker. This is where Union captain and right-back Christopher Trimmel comes into play. We’ve all waxed lyrical about the delivery from Trent Alexander-Arnold or James Ward-Prowse but the 33-year-old Austrian is probably the most underrated crosser in Europe. Since the beginning of last season, Trimmel has assisted eleven goals from dead balls situations, by far the highest number of all players in the top five European leagues.

The biggest beneficiary of Trimmel’s delivery is Marvin Friedrich. The 25-year-old has scored six goals in his Bundesliga career so far, five of them coming from a Trimmel set piece.  Four of those have been headers – no one has scored more aerials this season (Lewandowski, also four).

Union Berlin continue to surprise Bundesliga onlookers with their combination of set piece lethality and physically across the pitch. Despite protestations of the contrary from manager Urs Fischer, the Berliners must surely be setting their sights on European football next year.

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