Awoniyi's on fire, but will Hertha's defence be terrified? bundesliga.com runs the rule over Union and their capital city rivals, ahead of the fifth Berlin derby of the Bundesliga era...
The season so far
Union resume their third top-flight campaign in eighth place, four points better off than 13th-in-the-table Hertha. Die Eisernen have only lost twice, and until their Matchday 10 defeat to record champions Bayern Munich, were unbeaten on home soil in 22 Bundesliga matches, dating back to September 2020. Urs Fischer's steely troupe are also involved in continental competition for the second time in their history, having finished seventh last term and qualified for the innagural UEFA Europa Conference League.
At the opposite end of the spectrum, only two points separated Pal Dardai's Hertha from the bottom three on the final day of 2020/21. Alarm bells were ringing once more following a three-match losing start to the new season, but 13 points from a possible 24 since have steadied the ship. They are among the division's bottom four for goals scored, though, while 5-0 and 6-0 defeats to Bayern and RB Leipzig respectively have contributed to an unsightly tally of 24 goals against. Only bottom side Greuther Fürth have shipped more (29).
Union's impressive start owes much to the goals of Taiwo Awoniyi. The former Liverpool and Mainz striker has produced a team-leading seven Bundesliga strikes across six of his 11 appearances, ably assisted by a diverse supporting cast. Max Kruse remains as influential ever in the No.10 role, even if his overall numbers are down on the previous season. Operating more and more as a pass-before-the-final-pass kind of player, it's no coincidence Kruse's three-match absence through injury has tied in with Union's longest winless run of the campaign.
That's not to say Fischer doesn't have viable alternatives. Sheraldo Becker has developed a telepathic understanding with Awoniyi, while summer signings Kevin Behrens, Genki Haraguchi and Andreas Voglsammer have had a direct hand in 10 goals between them. Even the loss of midfield workhorse Robert Andrich to Bayer Leverkusen has been compensated for with the arrival of Rani Khedira, Union's numero uno for challenges won. And for Fantasy Managers out there, Niko Gießelmann has served up three goals and two assists from left-back. He also sits third league-wide for distance covered.
Watch: Taiwo Awoniyi scored his first Bundesliga brace on Matchday 7
Hertha's own recruitment drive promised much, but the results have been mixed. Stevan Jovetic marked his Bundesliga debut by becoming the second player in history to score a league goal in Germany, England, Spain, Italy and France, only for injury to restrict him to a handful of starts since. Cancelling out Andrich's opener for Leverkusen last time out, the Montenegrin has already been ruled out of the derby, putting the goal-scoring onus on winger Marco Richter (two goals, one assist) and Krzysztof Piatek, who's netted once in five games after recovering from a fractured ankle.
The fact young midfielder Jürgen Ekkelenkamp co-leads the scoring club charts, despite accumulating just 203 minutes of Bundesliga football, underlines Hertha's struggles in front of goal. Fellow new face Suat Serdar is the other one of four Hertha players on two league goals for the campaign, though both his strikes fell against promoted Bochum on Matchday 4. Myziane Maolida opened his account in that game, but has featured in just three games since. And while hometown hero Kevin-Prince Boateng's role has been more bit-part than expected, a city derby could be exactly what's needed to light the blue-and-white touch paper.
The coaches and their systems
Not that that Hertha teamsheet will force a change in tack on Fischer's part. The Union tactician is a proponent of a 3-4-2-1 formation, with Gießelmann and Christopher Trimmel or, more recently, Julian Ryerson in the wing-back roles. Khedira and Grischa Prömel usually protect a defence comprising captain Marvin Friedrich, Timo Baumgartl, Robin Knoche and goalkeeper Andreas Luthe, while Awoniyi spearheads the attack. If Kruse is unable to shake off a thigh niggle, Haraguchi and Becker can be expected to man the supply line, as they did in the 2-2 draw with Cologne prior to the November international break.
Dardai has experimented with a three-man backline of his own during his second stint at the Hertha helm, but appears to have settled on a four-man defence in recent games. In practice, that means experienced heads Peter Pekarik and Marvin Plattenhardt flanking captain Niklas Stark and son Marton Dardai, with Alexander Schwolow between the posts, and Serdar and Santiago Ascacibar the midfield double pivot. Ekkelenkamp and Lucas Tousart have a case to replace the waylaid Vladimir Darida in the middle of the park, while Richter and Maximilian Mittelstädt are the preferred wide men. Piatek, Davie Selke and Ishak Belfodil will vie for Jovetic's position as the lone striker.
Watch: Tactical analysis of Fischer's Union
Hertha could use all the help they can get at the fortress Försterei. Although they've triumphed over Union twice on home soil in the Bundesliga, the Old Lady are winless in two across town, losing 1-0 in 2019/20 and drawing 1-1 last term. They're not alone in that regard, either. A meagre total of seven different teams have taken maximum points away to Union, who are unbeaten in 32 of 40 Bundesliga matches in front of their own fans. And to add an extra pinch of spice to proceedings, Hertha have never finished above Union in the Bundesliga.
Watch: Berlin derby explainer
Will Hertha make all the right moves to redress the balance on Matchday 12, or will tough-nut-to-crack Union extend the home derby hoodoo? bundesliga.com is the place to find out...