Bayern Munich vs. Union Berlin: How do the two unlikely title rivals stack up?


Goal difference is all that separates Bayern Munich and Union Berlin ahead of their top-of-the-table clash at the Allianz Arena on Matchday 22. bundesliga.com has the lowdown on the unlikely title rivals...

Season so far

Starting with the hosts, Bayern are pretty much where you would expect them to be after 21 rounds of matches – looking down on the rest of the Bundesliga and in pole position to land an 11th-successive Meisterschale. But they are being pushed all the way by the chasing pack, with Borussia Dortmund and Union also on 43 points following Bayern's 3-2 loss to Borussia Mönchengladbach.

It's the ninth time this season Bayern have dropped points in the Bundesliga. Augsburg are the only other team to have beaten them - and the only one to have stopped them from scoring in over three years - while they have recorded just three wins from six league matches since the turn of the year. Union and Dortmund are among the teams to have taken points off the record champions, who have still served up a handful of customary shellackings against the likes of Eintracht Frankfurt, Mainz, Werder Bremen and Bochum.

In cup competition, Bayern have been dominant. Nagelsmann's outfit began the campaign by beating RB Leipzig to the Supercup and have safely negotiated three rounds of the DFB Cup to reach the quarter-final stage, while their UEFA Champions League form has taken in a further seven wins out of seven matches, including a first-leg victory over Paris Saint-Germain in the round of 16. Overall, their perfect record in cup competitions this term has taken in 11 victories and they are still very much on course to complete a clean sweep of trophies.

As for the visitors, Union continue to defy expectations and have emerged as a genuine threat to Bayern's crown. Urs Fischer's side have improved with every passing year in the Bundesliga - ending up 11th in their first campaign before backing that up with seventh and fifth-placed finishes in each of their last two seasons. Now, they are on course to go even better and they have Germany's record reigning champions in their sights.

Watch: The Union Berlin fairy tale

Their seven-game unbeaten run at the beginning of the campaign (W5, D2) - which included the 1-1 draw with Bayern in the reverse fixture - was a sign of things to come, while victories over Dortmund and Leipzig (twice) are proof, if needed, that they are serious about their title tilt. A six-match unbeaten start to 2023 (W5, D1) makes them one of the most in-form teams on the continent and they, like their illustrious Matchday 22 rivals, are still in both domestic and European cup competitions.


Bayern and Union met for the first time in their history following the latter's debut promotion to the top-flight in 2019. The inaugural fixture resulted in a 2-1 Bayern victory at the Allianz Arena, with Robert Lewandowski and Benjamin Pavard on target for the hosts, before Sebastian Polter pulled one back from the penalty spot late on. Bayern won the reverse fixture 2-0 and have never been beaten by Union in seven meetings to date.

There were a pair of draws in the 2021/22 campaign, before Bayern again did the double last term over the course of two goal-fests - a 5-2 win for the Bavarians in the capital and a 4-0 victory in Munich. This season's Matchday 5 meeting at the An der Alten Försterei ended in a 1-1 draw, with Union taking a 12th-minute lead through Sheraldo Becker. Joshua Kimmich pulled one back three minutes later and there would be nothing to separate the two sides come the final whistle.

Watch: Union 1-1 Bayern - highlights


Nagelsmann began the campaign with a variation of a 4-4-2, with his attack led by Mane and Serge Gnabry and supported by Thomas Müller and Jamal Musiala. The Bayern tactician then deployed a 4-2-3-1 for the trip to Union, but a combination of injuries and the January loan signing of Joao Cancelo has seen Nagelsmann change tact.

In the last two fixtures, a back three stood in front of goalkeeper Yann Sommer - signed in response to Manuel Neuer's season-ending leg break - with Pavard joined by Matthijs de Ligt and Dayot Upamecano in defence. Kimmich and Leon Goretzka are typically the first-choice central midfield pairing, but starting roles in the wide and forward areas have become less predictable.

Cancelo has been used on the right- and left-hand side, sometimes at the expense of Alphonso Daves, while Leroy Sane, Kingsley Coman, Jamal Musiala, Thomas Müller and Serge Gnabry are the embarassment of attacking riches typically vying for one of the supporting roles behind central striker Eric Maxim Choupo-Moting, who has thrived in the spotlight since Lewandowski's departure.

Watch: The best of Cancelo against Wolfsburg

It's a formation Fischer knows well, and the 57-year-old rarely moves away from his tried-and-trusted 3-5-2 formation. Robin Knoche, Danilho Doekhi and Diogo Leite are the hard-as-nails back line in front of No.1 goalkeeper Frederik Ronnow, with Christopher Trimmel, Josip Juranovic, Niko Gießelmann and Jerome Roussillon competing for wing-back roles.

Janik Haberer has been a revelation since joining the club in the summer and he has formed a solid allegiance with Rani Khedira. Aissa Laidouni is rapidly settling following his January transfer, which has helped, and Becker's pace is frequently used to stretch defences on the counter. Kevin Behrens and/or Jordan provide the target-man muscle alongside Becker and Union are a major threat from set-pieces - scoring 15 times from dead-ball situations already this term.

Sheraldo Becker is enjoying a career-best season in front of goal, but hasn't scoring since Matchday 14. - IMAGO/Michael Taeger/IMAGO/Jan Huebner

Key players

You can take your pick when it comes to Bayern, but Coman and Cancelo have been standouts in recent weeks. The former has been on fire this month and will surely be in contention for Player of the Month honours when they come around. He struck twice in the 4-2 win over Wolfsburg and followed that up with strikes against Bochum and former club PSG to make it four goals in three games in February so far. Tellingly, he missed the Gladbach reverse through injury.

As for Cancelo, he has not only contributed two assists from four games since joining from Manchester City on loan, but also added a new dimension from out wide. He has changed the entire dynamic of the Bayern set-up and breathed new life into the team, who have chalked up four wins out of five with the Portugal full-back in their ranks.

Despite scoring just once in 2023, Musiala remains Bayern's top scorer with 10 Bundesliga goals and is second only to Frankfurt's Randal Kolo Muani for total goal contributions across the division (20/ 17). Gnabry is their next best for goals (nine), followed by Choupo-Moting (eight). Mane, who is back in full team training following surgery and could feature in some capacity against Union, has six goals and three assists to show for his first 14 Bundesliga appearances.

Becker is Union's leading marksman with seven league goals this season, while Trimmel is creator-in-chief with five provisions, but he has shared right-back duties with January addition Juranovic. Doekhi and Haberer have posed the greatest attacking threats in recent weeks, meanwhile, with three and two goals respectively. That said, Union's odds-defying efforts are very much a triumph of the collective.

Goals for, goals against

Until last week's goalless draw with Schalke, Union were one of just three teams in Europe's top five leagues per UEFA coefficient - alongside Dortmund and Barcelona - still with a 100 percent winning record in 2023. They have scored 11 times in that period, with the only surprise being that the league's second-best defence has conceded in four of those victories.

With just 21 concessions (three fewer than Union's 24), Bayern have the best defence in the top-flight, while 61 goals scored is another gold standard. Given their +40 goal difference - Union's is +11 and Dortmund's +17 - any team looking to oust the champions will need to outpoint the current leaders in order to rip the title from their reluctant hands. It is now up to Union to show they are up for the challenge.