Union Berlin have achieved an unparalleled rise over the course of the last five years. Second division, Bundesliga, Conference League, Europa League, Champions League – and their first-ever game in the premier continental club competition was at the Santiago Bernabeu, the home venue of the most successful team in the world. The travelling fans from Berlin made their voices heard and the black-clad Union players earned themselves respect at the legendary stadium. Urs Fischer's team also showed the values on which the meteoric rise of the Berlin outfit has been based in Spain's capital. Royals vs. Irons: the outsider role filled Union with pride and set the tone for the game. Last season's fourth-placed team fought bravely and resolutely to survive a spell of pressure from the hosts, went in at the break with the score 0-0 and also produced a brilliant team performance after the interval. The game away to Real Madrid shall forever hold a place in the club's history. The bitter 1-0 defeat they suffered through Jude Bellingham's goal in the fourth minute of injury time does not change that.
In Madrid, too, it was visible throughout: Fischer has given Union an identity which fits perfectly with the club's own self-image – and which has taken them to the top echelons of the Bundesliga. They meticulously adapt to their opponents, set-pieces are fastidiously rehearsed and, in addition to team unity, Union now have a high degree of tactical flexibility and individual quality. In the summer, Union strengthened by signing the likes of international Robin Gosens (Inter Milan), midfielder Lucas Tousart and former international Kevin Volland (AS Monaco) – and also brought Italian World Cup winner Leonardo Bonucci to Berlin from Juventus, who made an impressive debut in Madrid against former TSG striker Joselu and the rest of Madrid's attacking talent.
But the established players are also proving reliable in the early stages of the season. The top scorer this term is Kevin Behrens (four competitive goals), who moved to the capital from Sandhausen two years ago. The top provider (three) is Tunisian Aïssa Laïdouni, who joined from Ferencváros in January and pulls the strings in midfield. And Frederik Rönnow has been class in goal – not only in Madrid.
Despite their strong squad and successful start to the season with 4-1 wins at home to Mainz and in Darmstadt, Union have recently suffered some unfamiliar setbacks. Leipzig comfortably won 3-0 at the Stadion an der Alten Försterei, with a second loss of the season coming in Wolfsburg (2-1). That puts the team eighth in the Bundesliga table after four rounds, three places and points behind Hoffenheim.
For TSG, whose squad includes former Union players Grischa Prömel and Marius Bülter, it will be a matter of keeping the capital club at bay at the Alte Försterei on Saturday (15:30 CET / Live Ticker at tsg-hoffenheim.de). Pellegrino Matarazzo's team knows how to do that: TSG won their most recent meeting on Matchday 33 4-2 thanks to a thrilling performance – and stayed up in the process.