90PLUS | Bundesliga | Bayern’s royal solution and the Union’s title potential

Spotlight | The 11th Bundesliga matchday is in the history books. Time to look at the weekend’s hot spots. Among other things with Bayern’s surprising royal solution, the first low point for Steffen Baumgart in Cologne and Union’s statistical anomaly.

FC Bayern won 2-0 on Saturday afternoon at TSG Hoffenheim, thus continuing its positive trend: Munich has been unbeaten since the last international break, dropping only points in the 2-2 match in Dortmund and surely winning the round of 16 in one of the, if not once the toughest Champions League group, and broke their “second round curse” in the DFB Cup during the week after two unsuccessful attempts with 5:2 at Augsburg.

In Sinsheim, the record champions showed exactly the kind of scrappy performance that is needed away from home against teams like TSG in good form. Calm, determined, involves himself to some degree in the opponent’s game. Nevertheless, it always makes clear who the best team is. After the practiced corner, which made Jamal Musiala 0:1, they had the courageous Hoffenheim pressed better and better under control. With 0:2, the hosts could only put a few pinpricks, if at all. The brave opposition were allowed to run up to their own stadium in classic fashion.

A key factor in this is Eric Maxim Choupo Moting. Bayern’s former temporary striker has become a regular in recent games: goal and assist in the 5-0 win against SC Freiburg, excitement and assist in Augsburg, now the decisive goal in the 0-2 in Sinsheim. Choupo-Moting is Bayern’s solution to the nine that they didn’t think could become one at the start of the season.

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This is due, on the one hand, to the fact that he is 1.91 meters tall and can tie up opponents in classic fashion, as just before the 1-0 win against Freiburg, where Choupo-Moting Matthias Ginter cooked, which resulted in Alphonso Davies, Leroy Sané and Serge Gnabry could combine to score. In addition, he is extremely technical and strong for his size. Serge Gnabry called him “the world’s best singles player” a week ago.

All these qualities also apply to Choupo-Moting’s predecessor, who is now in Barcelona. Unlike Robert Lewandowski, he fits much more into the altruistic striker category that Julian Nagelsmann has worked with throughout his career as a professional coach: Ádám Szalai, Sandro Wagner, Andrej Kramarić and Ishak Belfodil at Hoffenheim or Yussuf Poulsen at RB Leipzig. They all have in common that they are part of the system and not the system.

Generally, Nagelsmann’s game is gaining ground these weeks. Structures that were recognizable in his previous positions are now also visible in Munich: Leroy Sané takes over the role of offensive free spirit between the lines that belonged to Dani Olmo in Leipzig, Leon Goretzka is the pressure-resistant box-to-box player – like Konrad Laimer and Joshua Kimmich the variable six, equivalent to Kevin Kampl. Of course, everything is not a 1:1 copy in this case, and of course Nagelsmann in Munich has even more options with Jamal Musiala or Ryan Gravenberch. However, the basic structure is in place and, more importantly for the last few weeks before the World Cup from Bayern’s point of view: it works.

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2. Five games, four defeats: Baumgart’s first low point in Cologne

So far, things have only gone up steeply for 1. FC Köln since Steffen Baumgart took over. It took seven games before fans chanted “Steffen Baumgart becomes chancellor” in a 3-1 win over Greuther Fürth. Although they were almost relegated in 2020/21, Baumgart put the club in a position where at the end of last season there was some dissatisfaction with “only” having qualified for the Europa Conference League.

Baumgart must now tackle his first major dip in results: four defeats from the last five competitive games, the clear 2:5 derby defeat in Mönchengladbach. A 0:5 in Mainz was added on Friday. Both games not only have in common that the team conceded five goals each, but also a sending off. As a result, Effzeh collapsed slightly. Gladbach scored goals two and three respectively in the second minute of added time, seconds after the restart. After the yellow-red card for Luca Kilian, Mainz scored two goals within five minutes. Following a 1:3 or 0:3 deficit with a man down is of course even more difficult.

Bundesliga Mainz 05 1. FC Köln

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When Köln were equal, as in the two games against Partizan Belgrade, they mostly acted uncreatively. A standard situation or an individual dropout was usually enough to defeat 1. FC Köln. These symptoms were also evident in the only win this term, the 3-2 win over FC Augsburg.

The good news, however, is: With 16 points, Köln is still completely on target. There are three of them up to Borussia Dortmund in 5th place, while you have an eight point lead over the relegation zone. Still enough time for Baumgart to get the team back on track.

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3. Union’s statistical anomaly: how much potential is there in the position?

“Only FCU will be German champions!” it sounded through the stadium at the old Försterei in the final minutes of the match against Borussia Dortmund. Koepenickers had a lead of four points before the match against FC Bayern. A snapshot, what else?

You don’t want to be serious…or do you? A look at the stats shows that Union Berlin is producing one of the biggest anomalies in recent Bundesliga history: 23 points from 13.33 xPoints, 18 goals from 9.19 xG, fewest big chances in the league (nine) , but the fifth best crime. Most violations per match (14.7), but fewest yellow cards (14).

In fact, everything screams that this outperformance cannot be sustained in the long term. But if you look at the way they play, it’s remarkable that that outperformance is based on a solid foundation – literally. Unioners can easily let most teams in the Bundesliga bounce off their defense and become dangerous even up front with Jordan Siebatcheu and Sheraldo Becker. Or, if that doesn’t work, use a default. This makes them the kryptonite in the Bundesliga at the moment.

Bundesliga VfL Bochum Union Berlin

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The only way to beat Union is to mirror their style of play. Already in the Europa League, they had an extremely difficult time against Royale Union Saint-Gilloise (0:1) and Sporting Braga (0:1) – just like in Bochum early Sunday afternoon. When they have to play the game themselves, the Köpenicks reach their limits – and also start giving defensive gifts. Bochum’s 1-0 came from a corner kick that Jordi Osei-Tutu got out of it due to a carelessness in the opposite back line. Before 2-0, FCU was countered in the same way as their own house.

In fact, Union are in the title race, although they probably don’t want to know anything about it themselves. Leading the table after eleven match days is no longer a coincidence nor a snapshot. The question is how long their run will last, given that the raging Munich bull snorts at their necks every weekend. Unlike Borussia Dortmund or RB Leipzig, for example, Union do not have the expectations and pressure to give FC Bayern a title run in such a situation shall. Purely in the Bundesliga, this season is – once again – a significant improvement compared to the last, when Union was number 8 with 17 points at the same time.

The World Cup break will also be a factor in this regard: the people from Köpenick do not have many positions. The question is to what extent Urs Fischer will be able to maintain the rhythm and excitement of the training weeks so that Union can continue the season so far against TSG Hoffenheim on January 21. Regardless of whether Union succeed in creating the sensation, they have nevertheless achieved something that many viewers have wanted in recent years: to provide excitement and variety at the top of the table.

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Victor Catalina

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