Heading into Matchday 24, Union Berlin were sitting in the prized third place position with an opportunity of making the playoffs if they could hold on. Urs Fischer has turned Union Berlin from a disappointment into a defensive juggernaut and have a real chance of going up. However, standing in their way of extending the gap in third was Holstein Kiel. Die Störche are having a great season under first-year manager Tim Walter who is close to replicating the heroics of last year.
Both teams are coming off the back of respectable results from the previous matchday. Holstein Kiel put Bochum to the sword with a blistering performance which saw three goals in the space of 11 minutes. Union Berlin, on the other hand, were held by a much improved Arminia Bielefeld at home.
Urs Fischer’s side have struggled away from home with only two wins heading into this fixture. For Union to be considered a legitimate challenger, beating one of the best home sides, Holstein Kiel, was paramount.
A fixture that could really change the complexion of the season for both sides turned into a really good match. Both sides had their chances to assert their authority on the game with Union Berlin taking a crucial three points.
This match analysis will take you through how Union Berlin got it done in Kiel.
Tim Walter retained the same lineup that dominated against Bochum on the previous matchday. Masaya Okugawa produced an impressive performance alongside Janni-Luca Serra in the two-man forward pairing. On loan from RB Salzburg, Okugawa has struggled at times this season but with the injury to Kingsley Schindler an opportunity to impress as opened up.
Unlike Walter, Urs Fischer swung the axe after their sides draw with Arminia Bielefeld. Looking for more stability in midfield, Felix Kroos returned to the starting XI in place of the more attacking minded Robert Zulj. Both wide players going forward were replaced as well with Joshua Mees and Marcel Hartel benched for Carlos Mané and Akaki Gogia. Ken Reichel was left out of the squad with the highly rated Christopher Lenz getting the chance to play against the club he was on loan at last season.
Under Tim Walter, Kiel have showcased this season how important quick movements through build-up play can lead to opportunities on goal. One thing Urs Fischer would’ve emphasised in this game is building a strong defensive strategy, ensuring that Kiel can’t break them down. What we saw throughout this contest was an impressive display of team defending which kept Kiel in check.
Here we see Kiel looking to move the play along quickly, Alexander Mühling with possession just on half way. Christopher Trimmel meets him which forces Mühling to find a teammate. The issue with passing back is it allows Union to press up from the back and slows Kiel’s build up play. Instead, he plays centrally to Lee Jae-sung.
When Lee gains possession, Union are already dropping back with numbers. Akaki Gogia who normally plays an attacking role has dropped deep into midfield to offer support alongside Felix Kroos. With little options presenting, Lee is forced to play possession to Dominick Schmidt.
The centre back plays a pivotal role in the build up and acts as a primary ball carrier in Walter’s system. However, when Schmidt crossed into Kiel’s attacking half, he had very few options at his disposal. Such is the tactical nuance of slowing Kiel down; Union have all their players inside their own half. Manuel Schmiederbach also presses Schmidt forcing him to make a decision.
Schmidt’s ball is unfavourable for Jannik Dehm who is immediately challenged by two Union defenders. The key defensively for Union was to keep Kiel in check, slow down the tempo and once the error is forced, go on the counter. By conceding the possession battle, Union were able to limit Kiel as an attacking force and it was detrimental to the outcome of the match.
Holstein Kiel caught cold
For the opening 20-25 minutes, Union Berlin had been by far the dominant side creating multiple chances but had failed to break the deadlock. But midway through the first half, it would take some magic and a high quality finish to break the deadlock.
The play begins a few seconds prior to the image above, a free kick from Jannik Dehm inside Kiel’s half. The free kick is hoofed towards the edge of the area with Union controlling possession. Carlos Mané is facing his own goal and will look to play towards Christopher Trimmel. A key thing to look at is the number of Kiel players up for this set piece. If Union can control possession they would be able to quickly launch a counter attack.
As Mané plays the ball back to Trimmel, Kiel seem content to try and pin Union back in their final third. Johannes van den Bergh is pressing quite high and a long ball over the top will put him out of position. Okugawa is applying pressure to Trimmel who has no option but to go long.
Shown in the first picture and circled in red is Grishca Prömel, he who started the move by playing the ball to Mané has made continued forward. Without his run forward Trimmel is more or less clearing, but with Prömel making himself an option and leaving Jonas Meffert behind. Union Berlin now have a chance of creating an opportunity on goal. At the edge of the area, Union have created an even man rush. All things being equal, Hauke Wahl would be man-marking Felix Kroos. However, Wahl is caught ball watching and keeps his defensive line with Dominick Schmidt. Kroos assesses the situation well and peels off.
By falling off, Prömel can cut the ball back to Kroos who has an abundance of space to make the correct decision. He could take a touch and take aim or hit it first time. Kroos opts for the latter and it ends with a brilliant goal leaving Kenneth Kronholm no chance.
Turning up the tempo
With Holstein Kiel chasing the game, Tim Walter’s side looked to push the pace against a difficult Union Berlin defence. Their best opportunity came just after half time with a combination of short passes, an intelligent run and through ball leading to a shot on goal.
A quick throw-in from van den Bergh finds Lee Jae-Sung. The South Korean who is facing his own defence has a variety of options at his disposal. He could play the ball back to van den Bergh who would most likely pass backwards towards Schmidt or Wahl. But with Union protecting the 1-0 lead and not applying a high press, it would be a low percentage play. Lee could’ve played the ball to Alexander Mühling who has plenty of space in the middle. However, it seems Lee doesn’t see Mühling and he keeps possession.
Union look to shut down the middle as Lee makes his way towards Mühling. By keeping possession, the South Korean has opened up the pitch and if Jannik Dehm makes a run towards the corner flag. There is potential for a ball into the area. However, Dehm holds his position. Lee plays the ball short to Mühling who immediately passes the ball to Atakan Karazor.
Karazor quickly turns and with the Union defence bearing down on him, the midfielder must play the ball. Masaya Okugawa slips behind Trimmel who isn’t goal side on the Kiel attacker and thus creating an option.
Okugawa takes aim but a good save by Rafal Gikiewicz keeps Union ahead. Quick play, short passes and dynamic movement led to this opportunity. But with Union playing such a deep line defensively, Kiel had their work cut out after going behind.
Andersson call’s game
As time was running out for Holstein Kiel, Union Berlin were presented an opportunity to exploit the spaces in and behind the defence. The result led to a tired Kiel conceding a soft goal and Union putting the final nail in the coffin.
From the goal kick, the ball is immediately headed back into Union’s attacking half. A fatigued van den Bergh allows the ball to bounce over his head where Marcel Hartel picks up possession.
Hauke Wahl is draped all over Hartel but the substitute is too nimble for the defender who is left embarrassed on the turf. Hartel is then greeted by Schmidt and with Robert Zulj making a run into the space vacated by Wahl, the midfielder sends the ball in.
Zulj tries to be a bit fancy with his effort on goal, instead of perhaps using his left he opts for the outside of the right boot. For something more audacious, Zulj could’ve chipped Kronholm who is well and truly off his line.
With Kronholm making the save, Sebastian Andersson was left unmarked as Dehm tried to influence Zulj’s initial shot. The ball heads straight towards Andersson who puts the result beyond doubt. It was an important goal for Andersson who has had to shoulder the load thanks to the injury to Sebastian Polter. Nine goals this season so far has been a more than respectable return for the Swede.
Whilst the statistics will look flattering it’s really difficult to argue that Union Berlin didn’t deserve to win. They looked very dangerous when going forward and they defended particularly well in their own third. Despite having 61% of possession and a much better second half, Holstein Kiel just lacked the quality to cause one of the best defensive teams a lot of issues.
Unfortunately for Kiel, the defeat really hurts as they now sit four points adrift of Union Berlin and St. Pauli who also won. A slip up and some luck along the way would help Kiel get back in the hunt. From a Union perspective, they are very much in the and if we assume Köln and Hamburg are going up it’s a two horse race for third.
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