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Bayern Munich’s form has opened the door to other teams in the Bundesliga title race
Union Berlin are flying high as the capital club continues to punch above its weight
Bayern Munich will be in for a tough game against one of their fellow contenders
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Bayern Munich have work to do. A 3-2 defeat by Borussia Monchengladbach last weekend might have been only their second loss of the campaign, but it was also the fourth time in their last six outings that Bayern dropped points. As such, Julian Nagelsmann’s occupy the top spot on goal difference alone.
Two teams have drawn level with them on points, Borussia Dortmund and Union Berlin. The best online sportsbooks believe BVB will be Bayern’s closest challengers for the Bundesliga title (although they still have the defending champions down as strong favorites), but Union are refusing to go away.
With Dortmund in action against lowly Hoffenheim on Saturday, Bayern are unlikely to be at the summit of the standings by the time this crunch clash with Union kicks off at the Allianz Arena. As one would expect, questions are increasingly being asked of Julian Nagelsmann.
There is no doubt that the 35-year-old is a talented coach. But this is his first job at a club the size of Bayern, having previously been at the helm of Hoffenheim and RB Leipzig. He has at times struggled with the added pressures and responsibilities that come with a role like this one.
Nagelsmann was criticized last weekend for his excessive focus on the performance of the referee in his team’s defeat by Gladbach.
There have also been reports of the manager failing to impress some of the Bayern players with his communication, which some have labeled immature.
Bayern’s squad is much stronger than that of any other side in the division. Despite their recent wobble, they should go on to win the title. But they are not having everything their own way this season, and Sunday’s showdown with Union will be another tricky encounter for Nagelsmann and co.
Union Berlin continue to scale new heights. In 2019, they won promotion from Bundesliga 2 for the first time in the club’s history.
They survived pretty comfortably in their first campaign in the top tier, before a seventh-place finish in 2020/21. Union went one better by ending last season in the fifth spot, qualifying for the Europa League in the process.
Remarkably, Urs Fischer’s side are on course to do even better again this time around. They could end the weekend in the first place if they win at the Allianz Arena and Borussia Dortmund suffer a surprise loss to Hoffenheim.
Winning the title would be an extraordinary achievement, but Union’s primary objective is finishing in the top four. The top portion of the Bundesliga table is incredibly congested, so that is by no means a given. Eintracht Frankfurt are sixth but they trail Union by just five points, the type of margin that can easily be overturned within a couple of weeks.
Yet followers of German soccer have learned to never write Union off. This, after all, is a club that has made a habit of confounding expectations under the astute management of Fischer, who took charge in 2018 when the capital club were still in the second tier.
Union have one advantage over Bayern and Dortmund: no one expected them to be in this heady position, and few anticipate them being crowned champions of Germany. The pressure is very much off - and that could easily work in Union’s favor.
In some ways this is a clash between an irresistible force and an immovable object. For all their issues, Bayern’s attacking record this season is magnificent.
The champions have scored a league-high 61 goals; Dortmund, second on that particular list, have found the back of the net 44 times. Bayern are averaging 2.9 goals per game, which means they are on course to have notched close to 100 by the end of the campaign.
Bayern have conceded fewer goals than anyone else too, but Union have the second-best defensive record in the division with just 24 goals against. Fischer’s side have kept a total of seven clean sheets, including one in a surprise 0-0 draw with relegation-threatened Schalke last time out.
Union are extremely well organized without the ball. They line up in a compact 3-5-2 formation and do not give their opponents much space in and around the penalty area. Bayern will not find it easy to penetrate their backline.
Given their patchy form in 2023, the Bavarians are by no means guaranteed to emerge victorious this weekend. Given the attractive price available, it is worth backing a draw or an away win in this potentially pivotal fixture.
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Teams: Bayern Munich vs Union Berlin
Location: Allianz Arena, Munich, Germany
Time: Sunday 26 February 2023, 11.30 am EST
How to Watch: ESPN+
Greg Lea is a freelance soccer journalist from London. He is the former editor of The Set Pieces, and has contributed to the Guardian, FourFourTwo, and ESPN. A Crystal Palace fan, he is a long-time subscriber to the belief that it's the taking part that counts. Email: [email protected]More info on Greg Lea
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