Union Berlin: a meteoric rise

The development of 1. FC Union Berlin in recent years has been remarkable, and as we approach the end of the current season, the club based in Köpenick, Berlin, are on the brink of qualification for the UEFA Champions League. The team are following the clear gameplan laid out by head coach Urs Fischer, who has made his team one of the most efficient in Europe. In the match against TSG Hoffenheim on Saturday (15:30 CET, live updates on, the side from Berlin can cap off their excellent season.

Since Urs Fischer became head coach of Union Berlin, the club have only been heading in one direction: upwards. Having guided his side to promotion in his first year, Fischer's Berlin finished 11th in their debut season in the Bundesliga, followed by seventh and fifth-placed finishes. Now, Union are battling RB Leipzig for third place, and are on the verge of qualification for the Champions League. With a three-point lead over fifth-placed SC Freiburg and a significantly better goal difference (+14 compared with +6), one win from their remaining two games will probably be enough for the side from the capital to qualify for the Champions League. After competing in the Europa Conference League and the Europa League, qualification for Europe's premier competition for the first time would be the next major milestone in the club's history.

In recent years, it has been almost irrelevant that the team's most important players have left the club time and again. Last summer, they lost their top-scorer Taiwo Awoniyi and current TSG midfield engine Grischa Prömel. The previous season, they had waved goodbye to three important players in Robert Andrich, Marvin Friedrich and Max Kruse. Yet Union have gotten better from season to season despite losing key players – because Fischer's tactics work regardless of the individuals involved.

"Union deserve to be up there. It's neither a coincidence nor a surprise," said Prömel.  "There's so much work and energy behind it that it's only logical." Berlin might not play the most attractive football in the league, but they certainly have one of the most successful styles. Union have created the fewest big chances in the league, but have the best conversion rate. In addition, Union (together with Bayern) have the best defence in the Bundesliga, with only 34 goals conceded.

The team rely on counter-attacking football. No team in the league has scored more goals from rapid counter-attacks (seven). Their style of football also means that they don't need the ball too often either – only city rivals Hertha Berlin have had less possession of the ball. Union are also in the bottom third of teams when it comes to their passing accuracy (13th) and duels won (16th). The side from Köpenick show that statistics don't always tell the whole story when it comes to performances.

Union will be able to secure a spot in the Champions League on Saturday in the PreZero Arena, while TSG will be battling for important points in the fight for Bundesliga survival.

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