1. FC Union Berlin’s opening match of the Bundesliga season against Bayer Leverkusen ended in a 1-1 draw at the Stadion An der Alten Försterei.
Taiwo Awoniyi scored his first goal since completing a permanent move to Köpenick after just seven minutes. But Leverkusen equalised about five minutes later through Moussa Diaby’s individual finish from close range.
1. FC Union Berlin: Luthe; Friedrich, Baumgartl, Knoche, Trimmel (Ryerson 80), Gießelmann; Khedira, Haraguchi (Behrens 80), Ingvartsen (Öztunali 63); Kruse (Teuchert 71), Awoniyi (Voglsammer 63)
Bayer Leverkusen: Hradecky, Tah, Bekker, Kossounou, Demirbay, Amiri (Paulinho 76), Schick (Pohjanpalo 89), Diaby, Aranguiz, Palacious (Baumgartlinger 89), Frimpong
Urs Fischer’s first Bundesliga starting line-up featured three new faces: Timo Baumgartl, Genki Haraguchi and Rani Khedira. On the first week of Union’s previous Bundesliga seasons, the Köpenick club went down in convincing fashion to Leipzig and Augsburg. In front of an electric home support, 11,000 of them, Union hit the ground running with an excellent performance. A mishap in the backline allowed Czech international striker Patrick Schick to charge through on goal but Andreas Luthe was up to the task, making the save. If Schick was Leverkusen’s goal hope at one end, Union’s at the other end started the Bundesliga season on fire. After scoring five times for Union on loan last season, Taiwo Awoniyi’s transfer from Liverpool was made a permanent move this summer. The 24-year-old took on a difficult situation in the seventh minute, two-against-one in favour of the Leverkusen defence. But the Nigerian held his nerve, protected the ball then touched right to give him the yard to blast the ball past Lukas Hradecky. Union’s pressing was upsetting the Leverkusen rhythm under new coach Gerardo Seaone who arrives in German football with three titles in the bag in Switzerland. As his compatriot Fischer pointed out in the pre-match press conference, Leverkusen are blessed with truckloads of talent in forward areas. One of those forward, Moussa Diaby, took it upon himself to dribble in from the left and bend the ball into the corner on 12 minutes. The match, which had been played at a ferocious tempo up to that point, was starting to cool under the heat of the Berlin sky. Leverkusen asserted themselves as the team mostly in possession of the ball but Union’s back door remained firmly closed. Schick nearly put Leverkusen ahead with 10 minutes of the half to go, heading wide from a good position in the penalty box. Referee Tobias Reichel was on top of most things, handing out his solitary yellow card for Diaby for a late foul after Leverkusen committed a succession of offences as a team.
Awoniyi went down with some cramp on the hour and was replaced shortly by Andreas Voglsammer, while Levin Öztunali took the place of Marcus Ingvartsen. Union found another gear in the last 25 minutes and were convincingly the stronger team. Genki Haraguchi sparked an immediate attack on the Leverkusen box, shooting wide from range. Max Kruse then picked out substitute Öztunali in space in the box, the new signing showed great feet but couldn’t get the ball ready for a shot at the vital moment. A minute later, a looping cross from Christopher Trimmel almost landed in the net with Voglsammer applying strong pressure in the area. What was a looming threat to the Köpenick side was the pace on the counter in white: both Diaby and Schick passed up huge chances on 77 minutes to score. Union fans welcomed back Cedric Teuchert from the Olympic Games as he replaced Max Kruse, his fellow Olympian. Teuchert, who scored to beat Leverkusen last year, was almost a game changer as he fired low into Hradecky from a good shooting position. The resulting corner was whipped in by Niko Gießelmann but Marvin Friedrich’s header was blocked. A potential winning goal moment was carved out on the right with Öztunali’s audacious backheel which played in Julian Ryerson but the Norwegian was caught up by Mitchell Bakker. That was about as close as either side came to a winner in the final minutes, including three extra for stoppage time, but Union will be thrilled with the performance and a point on the board.