Union Berlin: on the way up

TSG Hoffenheim travel to 1. FC Union Berlin on Saturday (15:30 CET). Over the past two seasons, the Berlin club have established themselves in the upper-half of the Bundesliga table. However, coach Urs Fischer's team will have to get by without two of their top performers from the first half of the season.

The connection is clear: ever since Swiss coach Urs Fischer took on the top job at Union Berlin, the capital-city club have been on a steadily upward trajectory. In the 2018/19 season, Union celebrated promotion to the Bundesliga. The Berliners then managed to avoid relegation in 2019/20 before achieving surprise qualification for the UEFA Conference League last season. Now, no-one is shocked by Union's involvement in European competition; the team are competing with the very best of the Bundesliga this season and currently find themselves placed seventh in the table with 28 points. 

Although the stated objective remains ''survival'', Fischer has turned the Berlin club into serious candidates for European qualification. A win on Sunday would see Union draw level with TSG on points. Fischer, however, believes that TSG are of a different calibre: ''If you look at the last seven games, Hoffenheim, with 17 points, are the most successful team. They always try to create something with the ball. They're doing a really great job at the moment. We have a tough task ahead of us, but we're going to try to win the game.'' 

Union have been particularly prolific at picking up points at their home ground: Stadion An der Alten Försterei. They've lost just one of their last 25 home games in the Bundesliga. Bayern Munich are the only team who have been able to come away from the Berlin district of Köpenick with three points. ''They're really strong at home, play with a lot of discipline and don't concede many goals,'' praises TSG head coach Sebastian Hoeness. 

Last weekend, however, the team showed that they can get results away from home. In their 2-2 draw away to Bayer 04 Leverkusen, Union were more than the equal of their hosts and were unlucky to concede a late equaliser. 

In terms of personnel, however, Union Berlin will have to make do without two key players from the first half of the season. Taiwo Awoniyi, the Irons' top scorer with nine goals, is currently at the Africa Cup of Nations with Nigeria, while defender Marvin Friedrich completed a move to league rivals Borussia Mönchengladbach earlier this week. This means that new signing Dominique Heintz could make his debut for the club on Saturday. Another regular starter, Niko Gießelmann, is also doubtful for the weekend. The left-back had to come off injured in the first half of the 2-2 draw with Bayer 04 Leverkusen. In addition, attacking player Sheraldo Becker was only able to leave isolation on Wednesday after testing positive for Covid.

In light of these absences, the Berlin club will be pinning even more of their hopes on the shoulders of Max Kruse. The striker has always enjoyed playing against TSG and has notched up 16 goal involvements in all career appearances against the Sinsheim-based club. Hoffenheim will be hoping he doesn't add to this account on Saturday. 

Union assistant coach Markus Hoffmann: ''It's incredible''

What do the opposition have to say ahead of TSG Hoffenheim's trip to 1. FC Union Berlin? In an interview with, Union assistant coach Markus Hoffmann shares his thoughts on Saturday's match (15:30 CET), TSG's run of form and Berlin's season so far.

What kind of game are you expecting on Saturday?

"We're expecting to go up against a very good side that are extremely disciplined with and without the ball."

TSG have been in excellent form recently. How do you rate Hoffenheim?

"If we look at recent matches, they are the best in the Bundesliga. They have picked up 17 points in seven games and will also be able to field eleven of the same players who lined up against us last season. That's a huge plus for a team."

With 28 points, your team are still very much in the race for the European places. What do you make of the season so far?

''It is and it remains incredible. Do we really have any right to aim for European qualification? Our goal is staying in the division.'' 

You will be without two of your top performers from the first half-season in Taiwo Awoniyi and Marvin Friedrich. How will you cope with that? 

"We can only compensate for that by working as a team."

On Saturday, at least a few fans will be able to cheer you on from the stands. How much are you looking forward to the support of the crowd?

''A lot. We're obviously delighted that a few fans can be there to support us.'' 

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