Union Communications Team | December 2019
December, the month of Glühwein, hot soup, fireworks and Christmas. For Union, the month in which 28.000 people come to the stadium to sing Christmas carols. But before this festive tradition, the team had to play four matches, two of which against relegation battle rivals.
Before facing relegation rivals, Union faced high-flying 1. FC Köln, who were in fourth before this match. However, the difference with Union was only seven points, so the game was definitely not to be an exercise in futility. Urs Fischer made one forced change to his team, with centre-back Keven Schlotterbeck slotting in at left-back as both Reichel (suspended) and Lenz (injured) were unavailable for the match.
After only seven minutes, Köln took the lead through a penalty that was caused by a light push on a Jhon Córdoba after a corner. A few minutes later, it was Colombian striker Córdoba himself who doubled Köln’s lead. This 2-0 lead was not even against the run of play: Union were simply outclassed by Gisdol’s team from the west. Just before half-time, Bülter seemed to score the Anschlusstor
for FCU, but the linesman correctly identified that the left-winger scored from an offside position.
A second half where Union took more risks followed, but this only lead to Köln taking more control over the match, with Dutch right-back Kingsley Ehizibue scoring the away side’s third of the match. A few minutes later, substitute Sebastian Andersson did something back for Union, but it was too little too late. Especially when Schlotterbeck then scored an own goal to give Köln a 4-1 lead at An der alten Försterei. His goal proved to be the last in a horrendous afternoon for Union.
Exactly seven days later, Union had the chance to redeem themselves, in a very important match against SC Paderborn: a team with as many points as Union, and thus a rival in the battle to avoid relegation. Ken Reichel returned from suspension, which meant that Union could field a natural left-back again.
A loss here could really see Union get themselves in trouble, so this was potentially a crucial match in the club’s maiden Bundesliga season. Yet, this message did not seem to have reached the players loud and clear, as they allowed Streli Mamba to give Paderborn the lead within two minutes. An awful start for Union, and murmurs of discontent came from the usually loyal away fans.
Luckily, these murmurs quickly turned into positive chanting, which spurred Union on in their quest to draw level. Ujah did exactly that after 25 minutes of football. However, Paderborn took the lead again only 10 minutes later. The second half then saw Union push for a second equalising goal, but failing to beat Paderborn’s Zingerle. The match ended in 2-1, and Union had now won only two of their last 10 games.
What was supposed to be a month where Union showed – against mediocre teams – they had the ability to stay up, had quickly turned into one where pundits and fans alike started criticising and doubting this very ability. Players simply seemed unable to cope with protecting a lead, and on the other hand seemed unable to mount comebacks. Against the struggling Hoffenheim – who were in 12th – the players had the chance to prove these critics wrong.
Despite, or perhaps because, the high stakes of this match, Union were unable to impress. It was Hoffenheim that dominated from early on at An der alten Försterei. Still, Union had enough chances to score a goal and take advantage of Hoffenheim’s ineffectiveness in front of goal. However, Union were practically as wasteful with their chances as Hoffenheim.
It seemed the match would end in 0-0. Not great, but also not awful against a direct opponent. But in extra time, it was Hoffenheim who managed to secure the three points through a goal by Israeli striker Munus Dabbur. Another loss for Union, who were now only five points above the feared sixteenth place – occupied by Hertha BSC. Union players fell to the ground after the loss, and some boos could be heard from the stands. However, these boos were then quickly overshadowed by loud applause of the fans, who showed loyalty does not stop when results are bad.
A week later Union played their last match of 2019, away against Fortuna Düsseldorf. An opportunity to send fans into the winter break with at least some confidence. Urs Fischer started this match with one change: young attacking midfielder Julius Kade replaced the experienced Yunus Malli.
Union quickly found themselves 1-0 behind, as talented Polish striker Dawid Kownacki scored after a series of mistakes by Union’s defenders and goalkeeper. About 15 minutes after that, Kade equalised for FCU by scoring a beautiful goal from distance: 1-1. After this, Union started getting some more chances and it seemed they would take the lead sooner rather than later.
However, after half time, it was Düsseldorf who quickly restored their lead through a second goal by Kownacki. Union did not manage to score another equaliser after that, and lost their sixth match in a row: 2-1. As Hertha BSC managed to win their match, the gap between numbers fifteen Union and numbers sixteen Hertha was now only two points. Serious relegation issues for Fischer’s men.
What promised to be a good month, turned into an awful month. Will Union manage to turn it around in the second half of the season, or are they simply not good enough for the Bundesliga?