Borussia Dortmund slayers Union Berlin are determined to retain their top-flight status in their debut Bundesliga season. - © Getty Images
Borussia Dortmund slayers Union Berlin are determined to retain their top-flight status in their debut Bundesliga season. - © Getty Images

Five reasons why Union Berlin can beat the drop

After blowing away Borussia Dortmund to move onto four points from their first three matches in the Bundesliga, Union Berlin are going about their top-flight business in exactly the right way. outlines five reasons why Union can avoid an immediate return to the second tier...

1) World-class supporters

The Bundesliga is home to some of the best fans in world football and Union’s can make a strong case for being the most dedicated. "I bleed red and white" and "It’s in my blood" are phrases heard when the club's supporters are asked how deep their convictions run.

And they are quite literally prepared to bleed for the cause, with countless Köpenick faithful donating money raised from giving blood to save their club from bankruptcy in 2004. Four years later, when Union were at risk of losing their league license, the fans poured their blood, sweat and tears into renovating a terrace in the Stadion an der Alten Försterei, clocking up over 140,000 hours of voluntary manual labour.

Through the highlights and hardships, the club have managed to foster a unique sense of community, which has filtered onto the pitch and is intrinsically linked to the success they’ve been building towards for over a decade.

A club that puts football first, the matchday experience at the Stadion an der Alten Försterei is enough to send any football romantic's heart a flutter.

Just take a look at their debut Bundesliga match. Union lost 4-0 to RB Leipzig, but the occasion was about so much more than the result.

Union supporters held up placards of deceased loved ones with the inscription "Endlich dabei" (Finally there) prior to the contest.

The tribute was organised by a collection of fan groups, while the costs of their tickets were even paid for by supporters with the deceased counted in the official attendance.

2) Smart signings

A question asked of every newly promoted side is whether their squad is ready to make the step up in the Bundesliga. Union were short on top-flight experience, but they seized on opportunities and wasted little time in addressing the issue.

Manuel Schmiedebach and Marvin Friedrich’s loan moves from Hannover and Augsburg respectively have been turned into permanent deals. Meanwhile, Keven Schlotterbeck’s one-year loan from Freiburg gives the 22-year-old the chance to build on the momentum generated by his nine appearances in the second half of last season.

The signings of Neven Subotic, Christian Gentner and Anthony Ujah bring with them the combined experience of almost 700 Bundesliga appearances, four Bundesliga titles and two DFB Cup wins.

More importantly, all three are familiar with battling the drop in Germany’s top flight and their influence both on and off the pitch could prove invaluable as the club look to strike the balance between ambition and acceptance in their role as underdogs.

"We’ve got a good mix of experienced players and young bucks who have quality and have proven that they can work their way up to the top tier," said Subotic.

Christian Gentner (l.) and Neven Subotic (r.) add much-needed Bundesliga experience to the top-flight debutants' ranks. - imago images / Bernd König

3) 'Punk Rock' football

Union encapsulate some of the best qualities that German football has to offer. They are a club that take pride in their tradition, living off of raw emotions and exuding unbridled passion.

The post-match celebrations in Berlin back in May showed just what promotion meant to a vibrant and eclectic set of fans. They and the non-mainstream club culture they’ve created are integral to their identity, but so too is the style of play. If Jürgen Klopp's Dortmund were all about "heavy metal" football, Union are the less mainstream punk-rock alternative.

A team who embrace the grind and make their presence felt throughout the 90 minutes, Die Eisernen started the 2018/19 Bundesliga 2 campaign with a 17-game unbeaten streak and suffered just five losses en route to securing promotion.

"The expectation of us is to give absolutely everything from the first matchday to secure survival," said summer signing Gentner, who experienced first-hand what Union’s one-for-all and all-for-one mentality can achieve as captain of the VfB Stuttgart side relegated at their hands in the play-offs.

"There are seven or eight sides who will be fighting to stay up and targeting survival. For Union, there can be no other target."

Just because Union wear the colour of London buses doesn't mean Urs Fischer's men like to park the proverbial. - imago images / Matthias Koch

4) Solid defence - just ask Dortmund!

Conceding just 33 goals and keeping 14 clean sheets, Union were notoriously difficult to beat last season - and not much has changed since.

Sharpening up following their chastening 4-0 loss to Leipzig, Union held Augsburg to a 1-1 draw on Matchday 2 before shackling Jadon Sancho and Co. when Dortmund came to town prior to the September international break.

Union's defence was breached once - by Paco Alcacer - but the banks of red otherwise kept the the 2018/19 Bundesliga campaign's second-highest scorers at bay, frustrating their visitors for long periods on their way to an unforgettable 3-1 win.

Then again, Union have a habit of putting the frighteners up Dortmund. In 2016/17, they took BVB to penalties in the DFB Cup round of 16, while it took a 121st-minute Marco Reus spot-kick to knock them out last term after they had twice come from behind in 90 minutes.

In both performances Union left it all out on the pitch, just as they did on Matchday 3. The key now is maintaining that over the course of the remaining 31 Bundesliga fixtures.

Watch: Neven Subotic reflects on Union's 3-1 win against former club Dortmund

5) History on their side

Considering 18 of the 25 newly promoted teams have survived their first season since the reintroduction of the relegation/promotion play-off in the 2008/09 campaign, there’s precedent for Union beating the drop.

Union aren’t just newly promoted though; they’re debutants, the eighth such side since Klopp guided Mainz to the club’s first ever promotion in 2004. Greuther Fürth and Paderborn dropped straight back down to the second tier in 2013 and 2015 respectively, while Ingolstadt suffered from second-season syndrome at the end of the 2016/17 campaign.

The remaining four, Mainz, Hoffenheim, Augsburg and Leipzig have all gone on to establish themselves as permanent fixtures in the Bundesliga, racking up a combined 23 seasons. Not only that, all four have featured in European competition since making their bows.

That is likely a step too far for Union in their first top-flight campaign, perhaps, but longevity is the ultimate goal. It’s the examples of Augsburg and Mainz that Die Eiserner should follow.

"It’s clear: we can only cause a surprise. Relegation would be the norm," CEO Oliver Ruhnert admitted to BILD. "We need freedom, tempo and at the same time, stability. We’re convinced that we can finish in at least 15th with that mix."