The promotion of minnows Union Berlin to the Bundesliga following their play-off victory over VfB Stuttgart last summer was seen as a fairy take for the side from Köpenick. The fact that they not only survived but finished 11th just a point behind city rivals Hertha was nothing short of miraculous. The task now is to prove last season was not a flash in the pan success carrying on from their promotion campaign.
Urs Fischer’s side will want to avoid the dreaded ‘Second Season Syndrome’ whereby a newly promoted club shine in their first season up in the big time, only to crash and burn in the following season. Union will want to establish themselves as a Bundesliga outfit much in the way that fellow ‘small clubs’ like Mainz and Augsburg have done in recent years.
The squad that achieved such a respectable finish last season was very much based around the players, who got die Eisernen into the topflight. Last summer did see the arrival of veteran midfielder Christian Gentner and Robert Andrich as well as Neven Subotic, Marcus Ingvartsen and Marius Bülter.
The spine of the side however remained Rafal Gikiewicz in goal, Marvin Friedrich, and Christopher Trimmel in defence, Grisha Prömel in midfield with Sebastian Andersson up front.
This summer has already witnessed a flurry of transfer activity as the club look to get their business done early and done well, so as to add both depth and quality. Aside from the €1.5 million paid to Magdeburg to make Marius Bülter’s loan permanent, all the arrivals thus far have been on frees.
The loss of keeper Rafal Gikiewicz has been compensated with the arrival of Andreas Luthe from Augsburg. Experienced centre back Robin Knoche was a shrewd signing from VfL Wolfsburg and left back Niko Gießelmann has come in from relegated Fortuna Düsseldorf.
The big-name arrival is that of Max Kruse after the former German international cancelled his contract at Fenerbahce and announced his return to the Bundesliga. Cedric Teuchert has come in from Schalke to provide extra cover in attack with Sebastian Andersson widely expected to leave. Japanese winger Keita Endo has signed on an initial loan from Yokohama F Marinos in the J League. Defensive midfielder Sebastian Griesbeck has swapped Heidenheim for Union.
Should Andersson leave, the style and tactics employed would have to be adapted to suit Max Kruse’s playing style moving away from their aerial, direct threat and playing more into the former Werder striker’s feet.
Union start the season at home to FC Augsburg before travelling to Mönchengladbach. There then follow matches with Mainz (home), Schalke (away) and Freiburg (home), so there are definitely points available to die Eisernen at the beginning of their second Bundesliga campaign.
They surprised many people last season and ended up not only safe, but comfortably safe just a point behind Hertha Berlin. With their bigger rivals spending heavily and looking to move up to the elite levels both domestically and on a European level, survival will once again suffice for Union as they try to replicate last season.
Avoiding Second Season Syndrome will be key to that.