Union Berlin lost in Bayern blizzard but Bundesliga title race wide open | Andy Brassell

German football’s newest force ended a historic week by being ‘shaken off like a handful of snow’ by the ‘irritated’ champions

Urs Fischer knew. In a season where everything, anything has been possible for Union Berlin and after in a week in which the bar being raised even higher didn’t feel like a pinch, there was still a frontier too far. And this was it.

“We had no chance,” said Union’s defender Robin Knoche after a 3-0 defeat at Bayern Munich in Sunday’s late game, a loss that will not ruin the Berliners’ phenomenal season but which could have been so, so much worse without the intervention of Frederik Rønnow, whose string of face-saving saves included one literally with his face, late on from Thomas Müller after the captain was set up by Sadio Mané, making a lively return from injury as a substitute. The introduction of one of the world’s best players from the bench, incidentally, was not even one of the moments which most accentuated the gap between two teams who were statistically level at kick-off.

“According to the table it was a duel on equal footing,” wrote Michael Färber in Berliner Morgenpost, but it quickly became clear that it wasn’t. If Union were hard on themselves, with both Fischer and Knoche bemoaning the team’s concession of goals two and three (“we made it too easy for them,” the coach said with some regret), they probably shouldn’t have been. It had been another extraordinary week for Union on every level, as they dumped Ajax out of the Europa League on an absorbing – not to mention physically and emotionally taxing – night at their Stadion An der Alten Försterei. While they were sweating their way to the last 16 and another significant moment in their history, Bayern had an empty calendar, and room to brood.

Bayern were “goaded,” as Färber said, by last week’s defeat at Borussia Mönchengladbach, a familiar pest for them but the way that it went down got under their skin. That was most apparent from the reaction of Julian Nagelsmann (particularly to Dayot Upamecano’s early red card) and didn’t go unnoticed in the Union camp. “Now they’re particularly dangerous,” Fischer had warned before Sunday’s game. “Now they’re irritated. That’s when they’re [most] ready.”

So it proved from the off. Bayern swarmed with intent early on, taking the field with something of a DIY-look to their defence minus the banned Upamecano but it was never going to matter with the champions attacking like they did. Kingsley Coman had been missed in Mönchengladbach and back in the team for the first time since scoring another Champions League winner against Paris Saint-Germain he was irresistible. His cross allowed Eric-Maxim Choupo-Moting’s header to break the dam on the half-hour, and minutes later he sped on to Müller’s pass, skipped around Rønnow and tucked in the second.

Kingsley Coman goes round Frederik Rønnow to score Bayern’s second goal.
Kingsley Coman goes round Frederik Rønnow to score Bayern’s second goal. Photograph: Action Press/REX/Shutterstock

Then it simply became a case of how many as Union were “shaken off like a handful of snow,” as Süddeutsche Zeitung’s Christoph Kneer put it, with several flurries on a cold afternoon adding to the feeling that the visitors were lost in some kind of blizzard. Müller, near his best, underlined their impossible task, setting up Jamal Musiala for a third on the occasion of the prodigy’s 20th birthday. As an 18-year-old, Müller had scored the Bayern second team’s first third-tier goal against Union, back in July 2008 – he played alongside fellow future Champions League winner Holger Badstuber that day. Union have reached unimaginable heights since then. So has Müller.

This is not the end of the Bundesliga title race, even if Bayern returned to the top on goal difference. They are always at their best when the best is demanded of them, and when they are provoked. That may not happen every week and who knows if Champions League life will take over? What this reminded us is that to wrest the title from them will take a Herculean effort from Borussia Dortmund, from Union, from Leipzig, from anyone. This flexing of the muscles, if anything, only served to underline how incredible Union’s achievements so far have been.

Bayern 3-0 Union Berlin, Freiburg 1-1 Leverkusen, Schalke 2-1 Stuttgart, Cologne 0-2 Wolfsburg, Hertha Berlin 2-0 Augsburg, Hoffenheim 0-1 Dortmund, Leipzig 2-1 Eintracht Frankfurt, Werder Bremen 3-0 Bochum, Mainz 4-0 Borussia Mönchengladbach

Talking points

• Dortmund had been the overnight leaders, courtesy of a single (and very unusual) goal at Hoffenheim that went in off the back of Julian Brandt, keeping up their 100% record in all competitions in 2023. It felt indicative of at least a partial sea change, with Brandt fessing up that his team had been “a little bit lucky” – but recognising that this was exactly the sort of result they’d have thrown away in the recent past. In keeping with that, senior players including Emre Can and Gregor Kobel spoke afterwards of the title being a genuine target.

Julian Brandt improvises to score off his back and keep rampant Dortmund on Bayern’s tail.
Julian Brandt improvises to score off his back and keep rampant Dortmund on Bayern’s tail. Photograph: Ronald Wittek/EPA

• Things are taking shape for BVB off the field too, with sporting director, Sebastian Kehl, saying on Das aktuelle Sportstudio that in the coming weeks he hoped to make “useful decisions” on the futures of Marco Reus and Mats Hummels, both out of contract at the end of the season. With incoming free transfers on the cards in Ramy Bensabaini and – perhaps – Eintracht Frankfurt’s Daichi Kamada optimism is high, and Kehl even admitted his ambition to keep Jude Bellingham for a further year, to applause from the audience.

• Leipzig remain fourth, only four points from the Bayern-BVB shared summit after a hard-fought victory over Eintracht Frankfurt, notable for an intense attacking effort in the first half and increasingly dogged defending in the latter stages. Timo Werner shone with a goal and an assist (“that’s why we went and got him,” Marco Rose underlined) though key midfielder Konrad Laimer picked up a fifth booking of the season which will keep him out of Friday’s huge clash in Dortmund. With Laimer expected to move to Bayern this summer, Nicolas Seiwald’s forthcoming arrival from Salzburg – as a potential replacement – was announced on Sunday.

• BVB’s perennial local rivals Schalke might be moving in a different sphere at present but it was a positive weekend for the bottom side too as they beat Stuttgart 2-1, a first win since November and a first goal since January putting them back in touch with the relegation . They have been tougher to beat recently but this was a breakthrough, with Tom Krauss admitting there were emotional scenes in the dressing room afterwards. “Ralle (goalkeeper Ralf Fährmann, whose fumble of Borna Sosa’s shot let the visitors back into the game in the second half) and some of the others even shed a tear or two,” he said.

• They face another local (and current) rival next week in Bochum, who were all over the place in a 3-0 defeat at Werder Bremen, their third in a row and fifth in seven games this year. “It didn’t take a great work of art from Werder to beat us,” admitted their sporting director, Patrick Fabian.

• Bochum go into that game in the bottom two after Hertha’s frolic in the snow against Augsburg, winning 2-0 in Sandro Schwarz’s 100th match as a Bundesliga coach. A second successive home win confirmed their upward curve on the pitch, and it was much needed after a week in which news broke of the projected €100 million investment of 777 Partners being in doubt and of their sacked heads of sports, Fredi Bobic, suing the club.

Pos Team P GD Pts
1 Bayern Munich 22 43 46
2 Borussia Dortmund 22 18 46
3 Union Berlin 22 8 43
4 RB Leipzig 22 18 42
5 Freiburg 22 3 41
6 Eintracht Frankfurt 22 12 38
7 Wolfsburg 22 11 33
8 Mainz 22 3 32
9 Werder Bremen 22 -7 30
10 Borussia M'gladbach 22 -1 29
11 Bayer Leverkusen 22 0 28
12 Cologne 22 -4 26
13 Augsburg 22 -12 24
14 Hertha Berlin 22 -13 20
15 Stuttgart 22 -11 19
16 Hoffenheim 22 -12 19
17 VfL Bochum 22 -30 19
18 Schalke 04 22 -26 16


Andy Brassell

The GuardianTramp

Related Content

Article image
Union Berlin 0-2 Bayern Munich: Bundesliga – as it happened
The champions returned to action with a comfortable win thanks to Robert Lewandowski’s 40th goal of the season and a header from Benjamin Pavard

Rob Smyth

17, May, 2020 @5:59 PM

Article image
Bayern cogs turn ominously but new faces breathe life into Bundesliga | Andy Brassell
Bayern Munich might win their 11th title in a row, but between now and then we can enjoy another fascinating season

Andy Brassell

08, Aug, 2022 @2:00 PM

Article image
Lewandowski gets Bayern going and league leaders ease past Union Berlin
Business as usual in a comfortable victory for Bayern Munich, even if the low-key, low-volume return of the Bundesliga is still a highly unusual sight to behold.

John Brewin

17, May, 2020 @6:17 PM

Article image
European roundup: Union Berlin back on top of Bundesliga after late drama
Union Berlin scored a stoppage-time winner through Danilho Doekhi to snatch a dramatic 2-1 comeback win over visiting Borussia Mönchengladbach to go back to the top of the Bundesliga

Guardian sport and Reuters

30, Oct, 2022 @10:14 PM

Article image
Union boss the Berlin derby again and Hertha’s Bobic pays the price
Hertha were motivated and applied themselves well against city rivals Union. The problem was the result

Andy Brassell

30, Jan, 2023 @12:47 PM

Article image
European roundup: Barcelona held at Getafe, Union Berlin title dream fades
Barcelona were held to a second straight 0-0 draw while Sevilla warmed up for Manchester United’s visit with a win at Valencia

Reuters and Guardian sport

16, Apr, 2023 @9:53 PM

Article image
Bayern Munich feel the heat on two counts as PSG loom after Union blow | Andy Brassell
Hansi Flick brought in new faces with Tuesday in mind but dropped points gave hope to RB Leipzig below

Andy Brassell

12, Apr, 2021 @9:22 AM

Article image
Bayern Munich changes on and off pitch offer hope to Bundesliga rivals | Andy Brassell
Managerial merry-go-round has taken Julian Nagelsmann to the champions while Dortmund will rely on Erling Haaland

Andy Brassell

12, Aug, 2021 @7:00 AM

Article image
Hertha Berlin 4-0 Union Berlin: Bundesliga – as it happened
The 35-year-old Vedad Ibisevic inspired a thumping win for Hertha in the Berlin derby, with all four goals coming in the second half

Rob Smyth

22, May, 2020 @8:22 PM

Article image
From the Revierderby to Kai Havertz: a guide to the Bundesliga return | Andy Brassell
As the German top flight becomes the first of Europe’s major leagues to resume on Saturday, here is the lowdown on all nine games

Andy Brassell

15, May, 2020 @9:03 AM