Before a sold-out crowd of 30,000 at Berlin's Olympiastadion, Union Berlin struggled in slick and rainy conditions against UEFA Europa Conference League opponents Feyenoord Rotterdam.
An unfortunate slip from keeper Andreas Luthe ended up gifting the Dutch visitors the game-winning goal. Back-to-back defeats to Rotterdam in the group stages leave Union's hopes for the UECL knockouts on life support.
Matters were a bit more rosy over at the BayArena. Gerardo Seoane's Werkself snapped a five-match-winless run in style with a 4-0 win over Manuel Pellegrini's Real Betis.
Leverkusen look to be on course for the Europa League knockouts.
German European club competition representatives Union Berlin and Bayer 04 Leverkusen attained very different results in a pair of 21:00 kickoffs on German soil on Thursday.
Leverkusen's 4-0 win over Real Betis was somewhat dampened by a late red card for midfielder Kerem Demirbay. Union Berlin, on the other hand, lost two players to reds whilst also losing the match.
Over at Berlin's Olympiastadion, Union head-coach Urs Fischer stuck with his usual 3-5-2 "double stack". Aware of the need to keep some first-choice actors fresh ahead of an important league encounter, Fischer selected Kevin Behrens and Shearldo Becker as his strikers. Levin Öztunali and Genki Haraguchi worked behind them in support. Tymoteusz Puchacz entered the lineup to serve as the left-wingback opposite Christopher Trimmel. Marvin Friedrich also returned to back-three having recovered from his bout with COVID.
Security was very tight at the Olympiastadion following clashes between fan groups of the two clubs in Holland two weeks back. Union provided 800 stewards to oversee proceedings after there were more scuffles in the German capital this week. The start of the match also had to be delayed as the pitch was covered in smoke following pyrotechnic displays from the home ultras.
The two sides traded chances in the opening quarter of an hour. Becker came close for die Eisernen in the 6th. It was nevertheless Luis Sinisterra who gave the Dutch guests the lead in the 15th. The Colombian striker dusted off a Bryan Linssen rebound to put the hosts under still more pressure. Fischer's men did attempt to mount a response, but Feyenoord came off better in the next ten minutes with more organized combination play out of the back.
It took until the final eight minutes of the half for Union to slowly establish their own short-passing game. The FCU were able to generate a flurry of chances from the 37th onward. Trimmel then scored what was a deserved equalizer four minutes before it was time to head into the tunnel. Puchacz capitalized on a defensive error and got the ball over the Union captain. A brilliant finish from 20 meters out leveled the score.
Matters had been quite physical throughout the first half. With neither side showing any signs of relenting after the break, match official Daniel Stefanski started issuing cautions. Both teams couldn't make much out of multiple stoppages in the first twelve minutes after the restart. FCU keeper Andreas Luthe was suddenly called into action in the 57th, preserving the 1-1 scoreline with an acrobatic save.
Fischer called upon streaking striker Taiwo Awoniyi in the 59th to give his side more of an attacking presence. Behrens and the Nigerian did indeed furnish more of a coherent offensive thrust, but the finishes simply weren't there. Feyenoord found their bearings once again around the 70th and the pressure was back on.
Unfortunately, a slip from keeper Luthe on the slick turf enabled Cyriel Dessers to restore his team's lead in the 72nd. The Union net minder lost his footing on a Friedrich back pass and the Rotterdam sub was on hand to clean up. Frustration boiled over for Union during what was an ugly final phase. Luthe recovered to keep his team in the game with another fine save in the 76th.
It mattered not as Union weren't able to muster anything else. Both captain Trimmel (yellow-red) and sub Cedric Teuchert (straight red) were sent off within two minutes of one another in the final three minutes. While last-place in the group Union remain alive on three points, Conference League knockout round prospects appear about as bleak as the final phase of the match.
Elsewhere in the 21:00 European club kickoffs, a severely depleted Leverkusen side managed to snap their five match winless run. Without Patrik Schick and Lucas Alario, B04 head-coach Gerardo Seoane built a 4-4-2 with Amine Adli serving as lead-striker. Florian Wirtz worked closely behind the Frenchman in a service-striker role.
Thanks in large part to great work on the wings from Paulinho and Moussa Diaby, as well as another command performance from Dutch fullback Jeremie Frimpong, the constellation worked. Bayer moved the ball well against visiting Real Betis Sevilla. Paulinho and Wirtz did all the legwork to set-up an Adli finish in the 42nd. A fabulous Diaby solo enabled die Werkself to double their advantage seven minutes after the restart.
Wirtz and Nadiem Amiri added buffer goals in the final four minutes. Leverkusen's 4-0 victory places them at the top of their Europa League group. The two sides entered the contest tied for first place after last round's 1-1 draw in Seville. Germany's red company team remains undefeated through four rounds in the 2021/22 Europa League Group Stages.
Both Union and Leverkusen will play next on Sunday in the league after just two days rest. Seaone's Werkself look to keep up the momentum with their own trip to the Olympiastadion, where they shall face Hertha BSC. Union have another tough task ahead in a trip to Köln.
|28||C. Trimmel (C) ⚽|
|3||P. Jaeckel ↪77|
|26||T. Puchacz ↪83|
|7||L. Öztunali ↪83|
|8||R. Khedira ↪77|
|27||S. Becker ↪59|
|9||A. Voglsammer ↩77|
|14||T. Awoniyi ↩59|
|36||C. Teuchert ↩83|
|23||N. Gießelmann ↩83|
|21||G. Prömel ↩77|
|4||M. Senesi ↪83|
|28||J. Toornstra (C) ↪74|
|11||B. Linssen ↪64|
|7||L. Sinisterra ⚽|
|33||C. Dessers ↩64 ⚽|
|25||R. Hendriks ↩83|
|2||M. Pedersen ↩74|