Freiburg and Union Berlin have been the two standout stories of the season so far, and they do battle in the final game before the World Cup break with second place on the line.
The pair go into their final encounter of 2022 on Sunday level on points and, ahead of the mouth-watering fixture, bundesliga.com looks at how the teams are poised as they battle to end their incredible years on a high...
The season so far
Any Freiburg fans pinching themselves after the club finished sixth last season have found themselves taken further into dreamland. Christian Streich’s men have waltzed their way to a near impeccable start in their first full campaign at their shiny new Europa-Park Stadion. A 3-2 win at Bayer Leverkusen on Matchday 5 put them top of the table, and they have not dropped out of the top three since. They are on an unbeaten run of five home league games and have taken their confidence and efficiency around the continent to stunning effect – finishing runaway winners of their UEFA Europa League group.
Remarkably, Union travel south with the exact same points tally (27) and number of wins as Freiburg (eight). The much-loved side from the capital have also enjoyed an autumn of superlatives. Union topped the Bundesliga for the first time ever after Freiburg made way for them in Matchday 6 after a 1-0 win in Cologne. They set up camp at the summit for six further matchdays and are now second behind Bayern Munich. Urs Fischer’s side also progressed from the Europa League group stages, and can look forward to a tasty encounter with Ajax in the spring.
Keeping things tight at the back has been the key to the two plucky challengers finding their feet in the upper echelons of the table. Both sides have conceded 16 goals – giving them the joint second-best defensive records after leaders Bayern.
Freiburg’s backline have conceded a measly one goal in their past five home games. Germany internationals Christian Günter and Matthias Ginter are unmovable parts of their sturdy back four – both have started all 14 matches this season. Hard graft has been the key component of Union’s defensive steel. Die Eisernen have covered more ground than any other side in the division and won the second-most aerial duels. Five clean sheets have resulted.
Watch: Freiburg went top by beating Bayer Leverkusen on Matchday 5
The feeling of Freiburg being a club stepping up to the next level is not just based on their lofty league position or new stadium. They managed to improve their squad during the summer, too. Having long been regarded as a selling club, Nico Schlotterbeck was their only star name to depart this year for Borussia Dortmund, while a definite sprinkle of attacking stardust arrived via their new signings. Michael Gregoritsch has been the highest-profile new addition, with the Austrian menace of a centre-forward nocking in five goals and providing two assists already. Ritsu Doan and Daniel Kyereh have also chipped in with two goals apiece.
The attacking bite has added an extra layer to Freiburg’s play, which remains grounded in a solid spine. Mark Flekken operates as a dependable goalkeeper behind the composed defence. Vincenzo Grifo’s neat wing play has made him Freiburg’s top goalscorer for the past two Bundesliga seasons, and he tops the internal scoring charts again with six strikes so far this campaign. Grifo and Günter are also reliable set-piece specialists, with Gregoritsch’s big and agile frame providing a great outlet for their deliveries.
Union go into the encounter with two more goals to their name (23) than Freiburg. Jordan has proved to be a canny attacking signing from Young Boys with three strikes so far. Having been dropped to the bench for the 2-2 draw against Augsburg in midweek and left out of the US Men’s National Team squad for the World Cup, the frontman will be determined to seize his last chance to find the net before the winter break.
Watch: Deadly Duo - Jordan and Becker
Sheraldo Becker slotted in a spectacular first in the Augsburg encounter for his seventh goal of the season. He has all the pace and trickery to give the paltry Freiburg defence a real test – having recorded the joint third-highest speed from a Bundesliga player this season. Rani Khedira has continued to be a stable presence in the centre of the field for Union, with the kind of consistency his older brother Sami would be proud of. It remains to be seen how Die Eisernen will fare with him suspended this weekend. Behind him, Robin Knoche has provided a vital foundation in the crucial central position in the back three. Janik Haberer was released from Freiburg on a free transfer in the summer but has settled in seamlessly in Berlin – and might fancy his chances of charging forward from midfield to nick a goal against his former club after hitting three already this season.
Streich has served to further underline his already legendary status at Freiburg with the flying start to the season. The longest-serving coach in the Bundesliga has inspired a real assurance to his side’s play with his clear ideas and plain talking. He has sought to take the pressure off his charges and encourage them to enjoy their unprecedented domestic and European success – stressing that survival from relegation remains the main objective for the humble Black Forest outfit. Whatever the result of the top-four battle this Sunday, expect the faithful fans at the Europa-Park Stadion to make a great show of their affection for Streich in their final home outing of the year.
You will also struggle to find an Union fan with a bad word to say about Fischer. The understated Swiss coach has struck gold this season with a solid 3-5-2 formation and a strategy based on hustling opponents and direct attacking, including a fondness for peppering opposing defences with lofted balls. His side have been happy to cede possession in the knowledge they can still rattle technically stronger opponents. Having guided his side to a run of six away matches unbeaten between April and September, he will relish the challenge of visiting a Freiburg side with the league’s best home defensive record (four conceded).
Watch: How Union denied Freiburg a Champions League debut
As two highly likeable clubs with success founded on loyal and patient fanbases, expect plenty of respect between the sides on Sunday. Freiburg fans could get a reminder of the feeling of what might have been when Union visit, however. They went into the last meeting, in the penultimate match of last season, in fourth place and in pole position to secure their first ever qualification for the UEFA Champions League. A bitter 4-1 defeat at home to Union, despite having 71 percent possession, closed the door on that particular dream and left Freiburg finishing the season one spot behind Sunday’s opponents in sixth.
Freiburg have not won in their last four meetings with Union, and have scored only two goals in those. It is all set up to be an intriguing final chapter in a year to remember for both clubs.
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