With Bundesliga becoming the first among the European top five leagues to return to action after a two-month break, Union Berlin welcomed Bayern Munich to their Stadion An der Alten Forsterei on Sunday, May 17th, for the last game of the 26 round of the season.
The home team have had a very decent maiden season in the German top flight, and they look set to continue as its member next term as well. With all the other matches already played, they entered this one from the 12th place with 30 points to their name, seven more than Fortuna Dusseldorf in 16th, who seem to be on their way to the relegation play-offs.
The campaign has also been interesting for Bayern, at least more so than several previous ones. This time they seem to have more than one team right on their heels, appearing capable of stealing the champions crown from the Bavarians. Nonetheless, Bayern still topped the table going into the game with 55 points, but both Borussia Dortumund and Borussia Monchengladbach had closed the gap down to one and three points, respectively. Only RB Leipzig missed the chance for the full prize by dropping two points at home against Freiburg.
Attacking midfielder Yunus Malli hadn’t returned to training with Union Berlin after testing positive for Covid-19, and was therefore unavailable for selection. Coach Urs Fischer also couldn’t call upon winger Sheraldo Becker who was out with a thigh injury, as well as the suspended centre-back Marvin Friedrich.
Rafal Gikiewicz was in goal. There was a defensive trio in front of him, consisting of Florian Hubner, Keven Schlotterbeck and Neven Subotic. Robert Andrich and Grischa Promel paired up in the middle of the park, flanked by Christopher Trimmel and Christopher Lenz as wing-backs. Markus Ingvartsen and Marius Bulter supported striker Anthony Ujah upfront.
Bayern coach Hans-Dieter Flick was without the services of midfielders Philippe Coutinho and Corentin Tolisso, who both underwent ankle surgery and won’t be back any time soon. Centre-back Niklas Sule was also out – this game came to soon for him after his knee injury.
Manuel Neuer stood between the posts. David Alaba paired up with Jerome Boateng at the heart of defence, with Alphonso Davies on their left and Benjamin Pavard on the right. Thiago Alcantara and Joshua Kimmich played just in front of the back four. The trio of Leon Goretzka, Serge Gnabry and Thomas Muller played behind Robert Lewandowski in attack.
The First Half
The home side entered the match on equal terms with the defending champions. They controlled Bayern’s usually tricky moves well and suffered no real danger for Gikiewicz’s goal, apart from one rather hopeful long range effort from Lewandowski which went over the bar. They even managed to create two half-chances themselves early on, but the scoreline remained unchanged.
Bayern expectedly saw more of the ball, while Union mostly tried to play as directly as possible, either down the flanks or with long balls from the back towards Ujah.
The Bavarians did put the ball in the net after a corner in the 18th minute though, but the goal was ruled out for offside after Muller was judged to have made his run a split-second too early.
But from that moment on, Bayern managed to bring the game closer to Union’s goal. They were now constantly circling the box and whipping the ball in, and the home team’s efforts to threaten Neuer at the other end became non-existent. In the 22nd minute, Gikiewicz only just managed to tip Davies’ low cross away from Lewandowski who had come a yard from the goal.
Four minutes later, Union had two consecutive set-piece opportunities to send the ball into Neuer’s box and they did so, but Bayern’s defence reacted impeccably.
The visitors changed their approach slightly in the following minutes. They now relaxed their pressure a bit, with the obvious intention of drawing their opponents further away from their goal and then going for pace with passes in behind, but it didn’t work too well. Union’s defenders dealt with those passes without major problems and the team moved to press Bayern players into mistakes. Boateng, Kimmich and Pavard lost the ball in that way in their own half just after the half-hour mark, but fortunately for Flick’s team nothing came of it.
But just as the game entered a calm period, Subotic intercepted Lewandowski’s low cross and tried to clear the box. He swung towards the ball and failed to see Goretzka who had crept up from behind. The Serbian defender consequently clipped the Bayern midfielder on the ankle and referee Bastian Dankert had no doubts as he blew his whistle and pointed to the spot. Lewandowski was ruthless.
Bayern had a chance late in the half to double their advantage as Muller chested down a Davies cross inside the box and went for an attractive volley, but the shot was blocked. There was also time for Ujah to try and head a Trimmel cross towards Neuer, but Pavard had done just enough to thwart him. In the dying seconds of the four-minute stoppage time, Pavard could have scored at the other end but his low drive from range just missed the near post.
The Second Half
The game continued in much the same way after the break with Bayern mostly controlling the proceedings. In the 47th minute, Gnabry caught the Union players napping and stole the ball in their half, but his shot from the edge of the box was blocked.
Two minutes later, Goretzka combined well with Muller and whacked one low towards the far corner, missing the post by an inch.
Not that Union didn’t have chances of their own. In the 52 minute, Boateng misjudged a cross from Trimmel from the left and reacted rather clumsily which could have caused a lot of problems, but fortunately for him, the ball bounced straight into Neuer’s arms.
The home side’s biggest problems going forward seemed to be lack of support for their striker. Ujah was mostly isolated upfront and was forced to fight alone against Boateng and Alaba as best he could. But in the 57th minute, he won the ball against them and managed to bring it down for Trimmel to have a go from just outside the box, but the captain’s shot went wide of the far post.
Bayern were attempting to threaten Gikiewicz far more frequently, though those attempts mostly came down to Lewandowski or Muller trying to be clever with the ball. It simply didn’t work at this point as Union’s back line kept their focus. Most of Bayern’s moves went through the middle, and wide attackers appeared to have vanished from the game apart from a few moments when they too cut inside to get involved. Union defended deep and it was extremely hard to break through their lines.
On the other hand, Ingvartsen and Bulter gradually moved further up for Union, and Fischer’s men were starting to look more hopeful of stealing an equalizer. Long passes from behind and crosses from both sides were being charged at by more than one player now, and Neuer, along with his defenders, needed his wits sharp given that Bayern’s lead was still extremely thin.
With 20 minutes to go, Andrich and Ujah made way for Sebastian Andersson and Christian Gentner for Union, while Kinglsey Coman came on for Goretzka for Bayern.
Five minutes after coming on, Gentner could have grabbed a few headlines as a moment’s lack of focus from the Bayern defence allowed him to shoot unobstructed from the edge of the box, but he scuffed his shot. A few moments of pressure from the home side followed, but then Gnabry took advantage of the situation and broke on the counterattack. He carried the ball far through the middle and eventually chose to employ Coman on the right, but the substitutes’ low drive across the six yards failed to find a teammate of his.
Union continued attacking and Gnabry countered again soon, this time combining well with Davies on the left and almost scoring himself, but his shot from inside the box was blocked.
However, with 10 minutes to go, Bayern finally managed to double their advantage. Kimmich took a corner from the right and Pavard beat Hubner to the ball, slamming his header past Gikiewicz.
Fischer then withdrew the ineffective Ingvertsen and sent on Joshua Mees. A few minutes later, Promel and Bulter made way for Felix Kroos and Julian Ryerson. Flick on the other hand replaced Gnabry with Ivan Perisic.
Even though the game seemed settled at this point, another moment of Bayern’s carelessness in the final minute of the 90 suddenly gave Kroos a great chance, but all he managed to do from around 10 yards was to shoot straight at Neuer and waste arguably the best opportunity his team had throughout the contest.
Flick gave the three minutes of stoppage time to 20-year-old Michael Cuisance who came on for Muller, but there weren’t any notable moments between that and the final whistle.
With every respect to Union Berlin and their players, it was never really likely that they get anything from this game. The old saying that great teams win even when they don’t shine proved true on this occasion, and Bayern did just enough to book another three points and pull away in the title race again.
The gap between them and Dortmund in second place is now four points again, while Union will have to turn elsewhere in search of points necessary to secure survival.
UNION BERLIN: Gikiewicz 7, Schlotterbeck 7′, Hubner 6.5, Subotic 7, Andrich 5 (70′ Gentner 5), Promel 6 (85′ Kroos N/A), Lenz 6.5, Trimmel 7, Ingvartsen 5 (81′ Mees N/A), Bulter 5 (85′ Ryerson), Ujah 6.5 (70′ Andersson 5).
BAYERN MUNICH: Neuer 7, Boateng 7, Pavard 7, Alaba 7, Kimmich 7.5, Thiago 7, Goretzka 5.5 (71′ Coman 6.5), Muller 7 (90′ Cuisance N/A), Gnabry 7.5 (85′ Perisic N/A), Davies 7.5, Lewandowski 7.
GOALS: Lewandowski (P) 40′, Pavard 80′.
YELLOW CARDS: Lenz 12′, Davies 36′, Shlotterbeck 50′.
REFEREE: Bastian Dankert.
DATE & VENUE: May 17th, 2020, Stadion An der Alten Forsterei, Berlin.
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