The Bundesliga table doesn’t make for comfortable reading if you’re a Union Berlin fan. The Iron Men are sitting 13th and just 2 points above VfL Bochum in the relegation places.
Urs Fischer’s team had enjoyed a meteoric rise and were just a couple of minutes away from securing a 0-0 draw against Real Madrid in their first Champions League appearance. A Jude Bellingham goal spoiled the party for Union Berlin fans but the team were still rapturously applauded from the stands of the Stadion An der Alten Försterei.
Unfortunately, the season has spiraled out of control and Union find themselves threatened with relegation having lost seven straight games in all competitions, including five straight defeats in the Bundesliga, including a disappointing 2-1 defeat in Wolfsburg and a 1-0 defeat to Heidenheim.
For Fischer, this is unchartered territory. After securing promotion to the Bundesliga, Union finished 11th, 7th, 5th and then 4th last year, resulting in Champions League football. That continuous improvement had to come to an end at some point, but nobody expected Union to struggle quite as much as they have this season.
Some blame it on the congested fixture list with the demands of Champions League football taking its toll. Union Berlin was drawn into a difficult group alongside perennial powerhouse Real Madrid, Italian champions Napoli and Portuguese side Braga. But counting out Union at this early stage would be to avoid the context of these defeats.
Defensive reinforcements en route for Urs Fischer, Union Berlin
Part of Union’s identity is based on its defensive identity, with the Iron Men conceding just 38 goals in 34 Bundesliga games last season. That defensive record equalled Bayern Munich for the best record in the top flight of German football.
This season, a number of individual errors and a lack of defensive identity have been evident with Union keeping just one clean sheet all season. That clean sheet came against FC Astoria Walldorf in the DFB-Pokal, a team that currently resides in the Regionalliga Südwest or 4th tier of German football.
But despite the addition of Italian legend Leonardo Bonucci, Union have been without two players who have been above all else defensive lynchpins for the side.
Both Rani Khedira and Robin Knoche have been absent for some time. Khedira picked up a knock against Astoria Walldorf and is yet to appear in any Bundesliga contest for Berlin. Knoche has been absent for the last five matches.
But some good news is on the horizon. Both are very close to returning and may start team training this week against of Union’s home game against Stuttgart at the weekend.