Bundesliga Matchday 26 (yes, incredibly yes) Preview: Union against Bayern
Perhaps the final game to conclude the first matchday after the restart will be representative of the many problems that the clubs and the DFL are expecting for the restart. On the one side, there are the mighty record champions, who lead the league by four points at the top of the table. On the opposite side, there is Union Berlin, who seem to be free from any relegation worries with an eight point cushion to the relegation play off place.
However, the game will be a meeting of two teams whose quality lies at opposite ends of the spectrum. The match could thus show early on how justified the concerns about a potentially distorted competition due to coronavirus are.
A tactical preview of this game is impossible. During a regular Bundesliga season, teams can be observed, studied and, to a certain extent, it is also possible to predict how they will perform. All that can be predicted about Bayern and Union now is that at least they will try to do their best.
Bayern’s football is characterised by high pressure and a lot of ball possession. Union are known for their highly organized pressing as well, especially at home. Early in the season, they proved in their match against Dortmund that they did not come to the Bundesliga just to make up the numbers. Instead, they hold their own with an intense pressing game where they like to push up aggressively and disrupt their opponents’ build-up play early.
Beyond such broad strokes, however, predictions are more complicated. What is the level of fitness of both teams? Then there is the mental aspect, which is particularly complex. The lack of an audience will in all likelihood significantly influence the course of the game. The question will only be how much so and to whose advantage. On the one hand, Bayern will probably not suffer from playing in a training pitch atmosphere in one of the most unpleasant away games in the season calendar. Dortmund and Gladbach already failed at the “Alte Försterei” earlier this season. Both got to feel first hand how strong the oft quoted twelfth man can be in Berlin-Köpenick.
On the other hand, the lack of home support could make it hard for Union to release the last few percentage points of their potential, something which they would urgently need against an already stronger opponent. Unfortunately, it is to be expected that high-quality teams with a lot of individual talent and strength in depth will now be even more superior to those who, without their fans, will find it difficult to go beyond their limits.
Of course, the sport itself as a practice will be more in focus than before, which means that the fundamental quality of the teams will be even more crucial as the influence of external factors will be less important or even eliminated. So perhaps the lack of pressure from playing in front of extatic crowds will lead to fewer individual mistakes by the players. They can also coach and organize themselves better on the pitch. They will not be affected by whistling, booing, chanting and other external factors as much as usual. We may even see a cleaner and better football.
However, the current conditions cannot really be desirable for either team. Union’s coach Urs Fischer left his team during the week for private reasons. It is still unclear whether he will rejoin his team before Sunday. This could prove an additional complication for the newly promoted team.
It is above all a contest of uncertainty. Even though there is every indication that FC Bayern can emerge from this special situation as one of the main profiteers, it is completely unclear, especially at the beginning, how different the starting positions of all clubs are. Has the tactical organization suffered? How much have the fitness levels dropped? What about match rhythm and coordination on the pitch?
That the DFL on Thursday decided to adopt the UEFA’s proposal to allow five substitutions per game will certainly help to avoid overextending the players. And yet many experts expect more injuries still.
The football that will be on display this weekend will be different from what everyone is used to. It is not yet possible to say exactly how much so. However, Bayern’s away match at Union Berlin should give us a first idea of how much exactly the balance of the competition will be warped by the current circumstances. Most likely, we will see it tilting towards the top clubs the longer the Bundesliga can continue without interruption. Even if teams like Dortmund have to do without their yellow wall and the home advantage it brings, their footballing quality simply is so far above that of teams like Union or Freiburg that they will be able to absorb this loss. Perhaps this will ultimately rekindle the debate as to whether teams really should be relegated from the Bundesliga this year and thus be punished for the exceptional situation they will be subjected to in the coming weeks.