The first six weeks of the new year have been very kind to both Borussia Dortmund and the Bundesliga as a whole. We’ve gone from despairing at BVB’s lackluster first half of the season to daring to dream of a title race (if not necessarily an actual title). It’s amazing what a 100% record to kick of 2023 can do to lift spirits.
However, Borussia Dortmund are not the only team near the top of the table currently enjoying a hot-streak and a perfect start to the year. Union Berlin have had an absolutely incredible season so far, even sitting in first in the Bundesliga for a decent chunk of the Hinrunde, but as the winter break approached it started to look like Union would come crashing back down to earth. Well six wins from six (five in the Bundesliga and one in the DFB-Pokal) have helped close the gap between Union Berlin and Bayern Munich to just one point. There’s some life left in this brilliant story yet!
Here’s how Matchday 20 shaped up in the Bundesliga:
Schalke 0-0 Wolfsburg
Bayern Munich 3-0 VfL Bochum
Mainz 3-1 Augsburg
Freiburg 2-1 VfB Stuttgart
Hoffenheim 1-3 Bayer Leverkusen
Werder Bremen 0-2 Borussia Dortmund
RB Leipzig 1-2 Union Berlin
Hertha Berlin 4-1 Borussia Monchengladbach
FC Köln 3-0 Eintracht Frankfurt
How Far Can Union Berlin Go?
We have spent plenty of time discussing the amazing journey Union Berlin have been on this season, and we’ve even debated what this means and how far they can actually go on multiple occasions, but I think there’s merit in revisiting this question again.
I have been pretty vocal in my skepticism that Union can keep this incredible run of form up and make a real push for a Bundesliga title. I’m not sure my position on this has changed in any meaningful way, but I think their performances in 2023 have shown that they are the real deal, and they are great value for a top four spot come the end of the season. It’s not just that they have gone on a winning streak in the Bundesliga, it’s who they’ve beaten and how they’ve done it. Since the winter break they’ve claimed wins against Hoffenheim, Werder Bremen, Hertha Berlin, and Mainz (plus a cup win against Wolfsburg). Outside of Hertha Berlin, who are horrid, all of those teams are pretty solid, and Union Berlin were deserved winners against all of them.
Over the weekend they went one better and (deservedly) beat RB Leipzig, away from home, becoming the first team to win against Leipzig since September, right at the beginning of Marco Rose’s reign.
It was a great game with a couple screamers and tons of drama, but it was also a really good demonstration of the step that Union Berlin seem to have taken in 2023. They are no longer significantly overperforming their underlying metrics week-in, week-out.
I don’t think xG was capturing everything that Union Berlin were doing so well before, but it was really hard to make a case that they were doing something so unique that they were that much better than xG believed they should be. But they have been on a tear in the early stages of the Rückrunde, to the point that they are climbing the xGD/90 table pretty quickly and their underlying metrics are starting to catch up with their actual numbers.
They’ve certainly benefited from a couple penalties since the new year to boost their numbers a little bit, but I really think the way Union have been playing in 2023 is a big step; and it is likely see them secure a place in the Champions League next season. If Union Berlin find themselves among Europe’s elite next term that would be an incredible achievement given the lack of resources backing the team, the foundations on which the club is built, and where they were just a few years ago. What an amazing story.
What do you make of Union Berlin’s form in 2023? Do you think they can make a real push for the Bundesliga title?