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Just how far can this Union Berlin team go following their super start to 2022/23? - © DFL/Getty Images/Boris Streubel
Just how far can this Union Berlin team go following their super start to 2022/23? - © DFL/Getty Images/Boris Streubel
bundesliga

Union Berlin proving the sky is the limit as big Bayern Munich test awaits

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Their rise has been as inspiring as some of their results so far this season and as they prepare to host Bundesliga champions Bayern Munich this weekend, many are already asking where a spectacular start to 2022/23 might lead to for the boys from Union Berlin.

Promotion to the big leagues in 2019 started a party in the German capital district of Köpenick that lasted for days and that still lives fresh in the memories of all who took part. Union had made it to the Bundesliga for the first time in their history and they did so in the most nerve-jangling of ways: via a relegation play-off against Stuttgart.

In the end, the Stadion An der Alten Försterei exploded with joy when a scoreless draw meant Union went up on away goals. The team that had finished that 2018/19 season in third in Bundesliga 2, had made that most unlikely of leaps and won the right to rub shoulders with the German footballing elite.

As these footballing fairytales go, that might have been as good as it got for Die Eisernen, even as spectacular as their promotion feat was. Yet fast forward a few seasons and Union are readying to face world beaters Bayern as near equals in the top-flight standings and with a second season of European football following soon afterwards.

Watch: Union register their biggest-ever Bundesliga win 

With Urs Fischer at the helm and a unique band of avid supporters 100 per cent behind a fully committed group of players, there appear to be few barriers preventing Union from taking the next incredible step and challenging for a top four finish.

Understandably, such lofty talk is brushed aside from within the camp. "Our first goal is [remaining in] the Bundesliga," the team's top scorer and the division's joint-top marksman with four goals this season, Sheraldo Becker, insisted. "We want to show everybody we are a team, we are stable [and that] we're here to stay," the Amsterdam-born, Suriname international said.

Yet it's hard for those outside looking in to remain as pragmatic, particularly when studying Union's upward trajectory since winning promotion. Finishing eleventh in 2019/20 preceded a seventh-place finish the following season. That earned a play-off place, and ultimately group stage representation, in the inaugural UEFA Conference League, Union's first stint in European competition. In only their third season in the top-tier last term, Fischer's men went all the way to the DFB Cup semi-finals and earned a Europa League group stage ticket by finishing fifth in the Bundesliga.

Watch: Union's 2019 promotion joy  

Victories over recent years against Borussia Dortmund [Union's first win in the Bundesliga came against BVB] cross-city rivals Hertha Berlin and RB Leipzig have led to more magical moments at the Alte Försterei. A triumph against the latter on the last day of 2020/21 brought that aforementioned European football first to the team from East Berlin.

And now, boasting their best-ever start to a Bundesliga campaign, that includes a fourth win in a row against Leipzig and a stunning 6-1 victory away at Schalke - their biggest ever top-flight victory - it seems an apt time for Bayern to visit. Union, after all, are searching for their first triumph against the record champions after six attempts.

Watch: USMNT forward Jordan on song against Leipzig

"At the moment, we are very efficient in taking our opportunities," coach Fischer explained. "Playing against the ball [in front of our opponents] is our trump card; we don't allow much [to pass us]," the Swiss tactician - in charge since Union's promotion season - added.

The ability to play in a highly compact way and with a solid defence led by the tireless Robin Knoche frustrates opponents into pushing more men forward. When that happens, Union are able to counter, the likes of Janik Haberer, Christopher Trimmel and Julian Ryerson looking to link up with formidable forwards, Becker and Jordan.

“The team is implementing things well at the moment, as are the two up front," Fischer explained of Union's fantastic opening to the season. "However, the [forwards] couldn’t do anything up front without the eight behind the ball and our keeper," he continued. "When you see what the team did over the 90 minutes [against Schalke], the solidarity they showed, how tirelessly they worked when not in possession, they deserve huge credit,” the 56-year-old concluded.

Watch: Jordan - Union's Star in Stripes

Coming into the side to replace the departing Taiwo Awoniyi, USMNT forward Jordan has proved a revelation and, having developed an immediate understanding with Becker up top, adds to a partnership that must rank as one of the most fearsome counter-attacking units in the game right now. The ex-Young Boys forward has scored two goals and provided a couple of assists in his four games to date, which included a memorable strike in Union's 3-1 opening day win against Hertha.

It's all adding up to a mouth-watering meeting with Bayern on Saturday, a game that - despite falling so early in the season - will test Union's credentials for pushing all the way in the Bundesliga. "We have to try to use all of our strengths [against Bayern]; to get the stadium behind us and use our home power," Knoche said ahead of the weekend test.

The home factor could prove crucial, with Union having lost just two of their last 35 games at the Alten Försterei. The hosts are also eleven games unbeaten as they welcome a Bayern side that have scored an incredible 13 goals on the road this term. The Irons' early-season resolve is thus set to be tested as they seek to maintain their well-earned spot among the Bundesliga's top-four teams.