One of the biggest surprises this year in the early stages of the Bundesliga is FC Union Berlin, a team that has been doing a fantastic job over the last five years, and is now at the stage of rubbing shoulders with the greats of the German championship.
Led from the bench by Urs Fischer, at the time of writing, the Berliners are sitting at the top of Bundesliga after the first seven matches of the season and are looking to be serious contenders to the throne of Bayern Munich.
FC Union Berlin are an extremely durable and competitive team which tries to close down spaces quickly to prevent their opposition from hurting them on the inside. They always look to recover the ball as quickly as possible and move towards the opposition’s goal line as their first attacking option.
Possession is not one of Union’s strengths, as they tend to prioritise defensive order and security from behind, without taking too many risks. They do this knowing that, at some point in the game, they will have scoring opportunities that they can capitalise on.
There are three aspects of Berlin’s game that should be highlighted:
• Solid defense
• Direct play
They usually line up in a 5-3-2 formation with medium-low positioning, trying to press the ball high. Once they make the recovery, they head straight to goal, reaching their target with as few passes as possible. This makes them a very dangerous team to play against during open play.
In the above pictures, we can see an example of the pressure that Berlin exerts on the area where the opposition hold the ball.
Here’s an example of the recovery and quick transition which takes full advantage of the two forwards to do considerable damage to the opposing defense.
Immediately after recovering the ball, the full-backs push forward, positioning themselves high and wide, giving instant width to transitions. The midfielders try to get into positions where they can threaten the goal.
Berlin’s attacks are usually based on quick transitions and direct play as in this situation. Here, they play the long ball and immediately position themselves to pick up any second chances in case the first feed through to the forwards is unsuccessful.
This is a team which shows a lot of tactical intelligence on the field and usually prevails in the majority of those second chance situations, doing so through good positioning instead of physicality.
By winning the second chance situations, the instructions from the coaching staff, led by Urs Fischer, are clear…get to the opposite goal as quickly as possible and take advantage of the fact that the opposition defense is disorganised.
As we have emphasised during this article, direct play is one of Berlin’s strongest points. Through this game system, they manage to overcome enemy lines and take advantage of the speed of their two forwards, who constantly play to get in behind the opposition defense.
Here, we can see another example of Fischer’s script, trying to reach the opposite area with as many players as possible after recovering the ball in defense. This is a transition in which the wingers move quickly towards the baseline, opening the game on the outside and creating space for their teammates to attack in the middle.
In the defensive phase, the idea is to apply intense pressure to the area where the ball is held, generating superiority and forcing the opposition to commit errors.
In the following image, we can see an example of the pressure they apply in order to win the ball and transition to their usual tactic of direct play in transition.
In terms of structure, the team positions themselves in the mid-low block, with the forwards and midfielders close together, narrowing the space and narrowing the field.
As we have already said, the idea is to narrow the opposition’s space and transition to attack as quickly as possible once regaining the ball. The forwards are always on the lookout for receiving a long pass when the situation arises.
Berlin are team with great discipline and a well defined style of play. They know what they want and how to get it. They take full advantage of the strength of their defense and the speed of their forward line. In conclusion, they know how to handle the game with ease.
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