bundesliga

5 reasons Union Berlin can win the Bundesliga title

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Union Berlin fans were singing - most likely tongue-in-check - about becoming German champions following their recent win over Borussia Dortmund. The home support were clearly enjoying their time at the top of the table, but what's to stop their dream becoming reality?

Here are five reasons why Union could win the Bundesliga title for the first time…

1) A fortress at the Alten Försterei

Dortmund were one of the first Bundesliga teams to find out how hard it can be to face Union in the capital. BVB's 3-1 defeat on Matchday 3 of the 2019/20 season - the Berlin club's first win in the Bundesliga - was a major shock. Now, though, results like Union's 2-0 win over Dortmund on Matchday 10 of the current campaign have become commonplace. "Iron Union" lost once at the Stadion an der Alten Försterei in 2020/21 and - on their way to finishing fifth - just twice in 2021/22. This year they are unbeaten so far in their famous 22,000-capacity ground by the forest in the southeastern suburb of Köpenick. Hertha Berlin, RB Leipzig, Wolfsburg, and Dortmund have all left empty handed, while even defending champions Bayern Munich fell behind before earning a 1-1 draw. Union have the best home record in the Bundesliga this season, and have only lost two of their last 38 Bundesliga games in Berlin.

With Bayern and Dortmund the only teams to win there in recent years, it's clear that opposing teams must dread a trip to one of the most atmospheric grounds in Europe. Some Union fans donated blood in a fundraising drive in tougher times and thousands volunteered to help with the redevelopment of the stadium in 2009. Many visit the stadium each year to sing Christmas carols. With that kind of connection between the supporters and the club, is it any wonder it's become such a treacherous trip for visiting teams? And with such passionate backing, could their strong home record keep them top of the pile?

2) A steely defence

The "Iron Union" nickname is a nod to the club's working-class roots, while the rhythmic, back-and-forth chant of “Iron! Union!” that their fans engage in must seem like a call to the players to keep up their workrate. Under Swiss coach Urs Fischer - who led Union to promotion via a play-off win over VfB Stuttgart in May 2019 - they have rarely been found wanting in that regard.

Watch: See how Union beat Dortmund on Matchday 10 

The passionate backing Union Berlin get from their loyal supporters is a big reason for their success. - IMAGO/Tilo Wiedensohler/IMAGO/camera4+

"They throw themselves into every challenge and are very, very aggressive," Dortmund coach Edin Terzic said after his side's recent defeat in Berlin. "They help each other, support each other, never leave a teammate alone… you're generally hit by two or three challenges within a few seconds."

The statistics also back up what's plain to see for anyone who watches Union in action, with the players covering a season-high 124.8 kilometres against Dortmund. They are the hardest-running team in the Bundesliga this season, eating up an average of 118.8 kilometres per game.

After the Dortmund encounter, Fischer suggested he was in awe of what his players had achieved, but also pointed out that it was a case of hard graft paying off.

"With this kind of physical commitment, you give yourself a chance of beating any team," the 56-year-old said.

Watch: Sheraldo Becker and Jordan are a deadly duo 

Union have allowed the fewest number of big chances in the league (five) and goalkeeper Frederik Ronnow has kept out a league-high 81 percent of the shots that he has faced. They have the best defence in the Bundesliga, with only six goals conceded after 10 games. You have to go back to the 2016/17 campaign for when ten-in-a-row champions Bayern last managed such a feat.

3) Ice-cold in attack

It's not just in defence that Union are ruthless. They are also the most efficient team in the league when it comes to hitting the net. So far this season the capital club have scored 6.6 more goals than they would have been expected to based on the difficulty of the chances they were presented with. Sheraldo Becker - the Bundesliga Player of the Month for August - is a particular standout. The pacy attacker has six goals and three assists so far and - based on Expected Goals (xG) data - he is the most effective forward in the top flight. According to the statistics, the Suriname international has got 4.2 more goals than he was expected to score.

Union lead the way in other categories too. Three of their 18 goals have come from counterattacks - another league-high - while only Werder Bremen have scored as many headed goals (five).

Union Berlin's dependable centre-back Robin Knoche (l.) and midfield lynchpin Rani Khedira (r.) have had plenty of cause for celebration this season. - IMAGO/O.Behrendt/IMAGO/Contrast

4) The statistics are encouraging

There's a long way to go, but almost a third of the way through the season Union have a healthy four-point cushion at the top. They climbed to the summit for the first time in club history on Matchday 6 and have been there ever since. Fischer has stressed that the table now is just "a snapshot" but the last team apart from Bayern to lead the way for five straight matches was RB Leipzig in 2019/20 (Matchdays 15-19).

Leipzig weren't crowned champions that year but history suggests that Union fans can live in hope. The leaders after Matchday 10 have ended up as Bundesliga winners 56 percent of the time. Of the teams that had at least 23 points after 10 matchdays - Union's current tally - every second team were crowned champions come the end of the campaign. Teams that conceded six goals or fewer at this stage of the season won the title 52 percent of the time.

However, the team with the best defence does not necessarily win the championship. Only 37 percent of teams with the best defence at this stage have gone on to lift the Meisterschale, while the team with the best defensive record at the end of the season has claimed the title only 61 percent of the time.

5) The World Cup break

Union have already shown that they can cope with the extra demands their recent success has brought them. Many teams not used to being involved in European competition drop points in the league directly after a UEFA Champions League, Europa League or Europa Conference League game in midweek. Not so with Fischer's men, who have won all four Bundesliga matches they have played this season after a Europa League game group-stage game on a Thursday.

Union could also have an ace up their sleeve that not many people will have considered. The surprise league leaders have seven more games in all competitions between Matchday 11 and the break for the World Cup in mid-November. It's a packed schedule, but most of the squad know they will get a welcome chance to put their feet up after that.

The Berliners are unlikely to see many of their players travel to the World Cup in Qatar, which will take place from 20 November to 18 December. Unlike many of their rivals for their title, then, Union's players will be well rested and can prepare for the second half of the season almost undisturbed.

Union will need to get their preparations right, since there will be plenty of work to do in 2023. They are guaranteed to have at least two more European fixtures early next year, either in the Europa League or in the Europa Conference League. They will also play at least one more game in the DFB Cup, having qualified for the last 16 by beating second-tier Heidenheim 2-0 in the second round. Last but by no means least, there is the battle for one of the top spots in the Bundesliga.

Unlike defending champions Bayern - who will have a host of star players representing their countries in Qatar - Union should be fully recharged when they begin the challenge of fighting on three fronts next year.

Fischer - who signed a new contract in September - is a key part of their success. He has created a family atmosphere at the club, and in his typical low-key fashion he has regularly tried to shield his players from any hype. After the Dortmund game he said they shouldn't be dreaming about a Bundesliga title because they need to retain their focus. As for the fans? "They can dream," he said.