Union Berlin is set to play Bayern Munich on Sunday in a monumental clash in terms of the Bundesliga title race; three teams are separated at the top of the Bundesliga by exactly zero points. In fact, the top six are separated by a mere five points with fifth and sixth (RB Leipzig and Eintracht Frankfurt) taking on each other this weekend as well.
On Thursday, Union Berlin took on a team in the UEFA Europa League who are a part of footballing heritage. In fact, in terms of footballing richness, Ajax is that aunt who comes from many generations of previous wealth. Union Berlin are the news boys on the block; and yet, in many ways, their heritage feels just as rich. What Ajax provides in terms of the historical names who wore their shirt, Union Berlin provides in terms of fans and heart. This club is a true working class story.
It was surreal for me today to watch Union Berlin truly play the game against a juggernaut of the game; they did it with less than 30% possession too. They registered one less attempt at goal than Ajax and scored three times, once from the spot. Prior to this game, I expected Union to sit back and absorb pressure — they were really poor against a Schalke side which sits bottom of the Bundesliga only this weekend after all. Schalke asked Union to play football to win rather than sit back, defend and counter. Union failed. And yet, in this symbolic tie of a true working class team up against football heritage, Union produced some beautiful moves and scored three goals.
They won’t be afraid of whoever they face next — that’s for sure.
Union’s fans will surely tell you they have a rich history in the lower divisions of German football. And yet, I cannot help but feel that we are seeing actual history unfolding in front of our eyes. This win against Ajax is monumental in their history but also, just a microcosm of who Union Berlin are — they may have failed against Schalke but they can definitely play the beautiful game and appear easy on the eye.
They have a real chance (I don’t believe anyone who says otherwise because the statistics so far simply don’t back up the fact that they don’t) to win the Bundesliga this season. They are still involved in the DFB Pokal and in the Europa League as we know. This season might end in heartbreak for them. They might not win a trophy this season.
And yet, if Union pull off an upset on Sunday and edge their way to the top, it won’t be surprising to me. They have already shown they can beat juggernauts of the past. They might just be able to pull it off against those of the present day as well. That goal that Max Kruse scored a few seasons ago to take them to the UEFA Europa Conference League seems eons ago now.
Eisern Union have earned my respect. This story has given the beautiful game an extra edge. Union Berlin have reminded everyone that you can be a working class team without a rich benefactor and somehow, keep beating the odds.