Union Berlin are looking to cement their place in the top four, whilst in-form Bayer Leverkusen are seeking to break into the Champions League berths with a late season surge. A potential cracker is on the menu on Saturday as die Eisernen and die Werkself go head-to-head on matchday 30.
Union won in typical Union style last weekend with a 1-0 win at Borussia Mönchengladbach which saw a mean defensive performance capped with a well taken goal from Sheraldo Becker. They will need all that defensive solidity to stop a Leverkusen side that contains plenty of pace and guile.
The miracle at the Alten Försterei continues and after finishing the Hinrunde before the winter break in fifth, Union have remarkably maintained their form and contrary to many who thought they would fall by the wayside, they still remain on course for a Champions League berth next season.
They will be fully aware of the teams breathing down their necks (Leverkusen amongst them) and Urs Fischer will have his side fired up for the final five games. They will also be looking to avenge the reverse fixture which saw a very boring first half at the Bay Arena followed by a five-goal rout by the home side in the second.
Leverkusen came off the back of making the Europa League semis to beat Leipzig last weekend extending their unbeaten run to thirteen games across all competitions. Attention must remain on the Bundesliga for now with their semi-final away trip to the Italian capital taking place the week after next.
It will be interesting to see how Xabi Alonso tries to negate Union’s strengths with his tactics while still playing to his strengths. The fact that with five games left we are even talking about Europe and Leverkusen in the same breath is remarkable with the club 17th in the Bundesliga table when Spaniard Alonso took over earlier in the season.
His appointment has been a 100% success, but he won’t be fully satisfied unless the Werkself get a reward at the end of the season- be that the Europa League or a European place via their league position.
Kevin Behrens is suspended after picking up a fifth yellow card. Cristopher Trimmel should be rotated in for Juranovic, while Sven Michel could be an alternative in the front two for Jordan. Aside from Behrens and Timo Baumgartl, Urs Fischer has a full squad to choose from.
Possible line-up: Rönnow – Doekhi, Knoche, Diogo Leite – Juranovic, R. Khedira, Roussillon – Thorsby, Haberer – Becker, Jordan
Exequiel Palacios sits this one injured while Nadiem Amiri is out through suspension after his scoring feat last week. Patrik Schick is still not ready to be risked as he continues his gradual return to the first-team. Otherwise Xabi Alonso has a fit squad for the trip to the capital.
Possible line-up: Hradecky – Tapsoba, Tah, Hincapie – Frimpong, Andrich, Demirbay, Bakker – Diaby, Wirtz, Adli
What they’re saying:
Urs Fischer: “Bayer Leverkusen are a team in very good form, if not the best team in the league at the moment and their series of 13 games without defeat, and the few goals conceded speak for themselves.
“As a team they are stable and very disciplined. They have many players who can make the difference as well as enormous speed going forwards. All in all, it will be a very demanding task for us and we will have to be very concentrated.”
Xabi Alonso: “The fans will push both teams to the limit. The Stadion An der Alten Försterei is a beautiful venue. Union are very hard to beat there, we know that and we’re well prepared. We’re expecting an intense, hard and very physical game.
“Union coach Urs Fischer has a good connection with the players. They have a good mentality in the team. I’ve never played there myself, but you can tell that the relationship between the fans and the team is very special.
“We’re fully focused. There are still five games to go before the end of this Bundesliga season. May is the most important phase of the season. Union Berlin is third in the table, they deserve it and are a real top opponent. We can expect a tough game but of course we hope for a positive outcome.”
23/04/23 Borussia Mönchengladbach (a) 0-1 W (Bundesliga)
16/04/23 VfL Bochum (h) 1-1 D (Bundesliga)
08/04/23 Borussia Dortmund (a) 2-1 L (Bundesliga)
04/04/23 Eintracht Frankfurt (a) 3-0 L (DFB Pokal)
01/04/23 VfB Stuttgart (h) 3-0 W (Bundesliga)
23/04/23 RB Leipzig (h) 2-0 W (Bundesliga)
20/04/23 Union St-Gilloise (a) 1-4 W (Europa League)
16/04/23 VfL Wolfsburg (a) 0-0 D (Bundesliga)
13/04/23 Union St-Gilloise (h) 1-1 D (Europa League)
08/04/23 Eintracht Frankfurt (h) 3-1 W (Bundesliga)
The reverse fixture back on matchday 13 was a curious affair and a game of two completely contrasting halves. The first period was pretty dire with neither side looking capable of scoring and dull 45 minutes beckoned for the second half.
However, something switched for Leverkusen and they went on a scoring rampage that Union just couldn’t counter. Five second half goals saw them blitz their high-flying opponents with Robert Andrich opening the scoring, Moussa Diaby grabbing two. Adam Hlozek and Mitchell Bakker completed the rout.
Players to watch:
Sheraldo Becker was on fire in the first half of the season, but has had a somewhat quieter Rückrunde for Union. He was back on the goal trail last week against Gladbach with a great finish and his goals in the final push could make the vital difference between Champions League and Europa League football next season.
Ex-Unioner Robert Andrich has become a key member of Xabi Alonso’s tactical plans at Leverkusen be that in the centre of midfield or in a more defensive role as part of a back three. He scored in the reverse fixture and will be relishing his return to Köpenick this weekend.
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