Germany: Bundesliga
2 - 2
(1 - 1)
Union Berlin
P. Schick (38), J. Tah (84)
G. Prömel (45), G. Prömel (50)
By Peter Weis@PeterVicey

15.30 Kickoffs: Leverkusen and Union can't be separated, big wins for Leipzig and Hoffenheim

The 2021/22 German Bundesliga returned to a plethora of close contests in the first set of 15:30 kickoffs of the campaign's Rück-runde.

Three fixtures entered their final ten minutes with one side leading 2-1. Union Berlin and SC Freiburg were unable to maintain their leads, drawing with Leverkusen and Bielefeld, respectively. Hoffenheim were actually able to increase their advantage and beat Augsburg 3-1. 

Hoffenheim's win pulls them up to third place in the table. Domenico Tedesco's Leipzig were also able to pull themselves to 8th place with a 4-1 win over ten-man Mainz. 
Plenty of entertainment on hand as the German Bundesliga's first league round of 2022 kicked off on Saturday afternoon. Entering the set of simultaneous kickoffs, Leverkusen stood in the final Champions' League spot on 28 points. Union Berlin may have been back in 7th place, but they were right behind die Werkself with 27 points of their own. After an excellent footballing contest at the Bay Arena, the two teams each claimed a point from a 2-2 draw.

Each side had to deal with COVID absentees. Gerardo Seoane lost Nadiem Amiri on short notice. The Werkself trainer was already without central midfielders Charles Aranguiz and Julian Baumgartliner due to injuries. Central defenders Odilon Koussounou and Edmond Tapsoba were away at the Africa Cup of Nations. The return of Piero Hincapie at least enabled Seoane to build his back-four. Kerem Demirbay paired with Robert Andrich in the double-six set-up. Florian Wirtz, Moussa Diaby, and Paulinho worked the second attacking axis behind Patrik Schick in a clear 4-2-3-1.

This squared up against a 3-3-2-2 from Urs Fischer, who also had to do without prolific attackers Sheraldo Becker (COVID) and Taiwo Awoniyi (on AFCON duty for Nigeria). The sometimes flashy Kevin Behrens got the start at lead striker, buttressed directly by Max Kruse in a pocket service role. Grischa Prömel and Genki Haraguchi occupied the axis behind the offensive tandem. Niko Gießelmann and Christoper worked behind them as wingbacks.

The Westphalian hosts got off to by far the more motivated start. Most of the Bayer attacks, as expected, revolved around servicing Schick. The Czech Super Striker nevertheless showed some signs of winter break rust and was unable to find his finishing touch early. Union keeper Andreas Luthe also had to be on his toes to save a brilliant early distance effort from Wirtz. Unfortunately for the capital city guests, Gießelmann succumbed to a thigh injury early.

For a time die Eisernen were shorthanded whilst Fischer attempted to get Bastian Oczipka warm and into the match. Seoane's men utilized the opportunity to build up some confidence. After a dominant stretch lasting approximately 15 minutes, Schick finally put the hosts head with an easy finish off a Diaby rebound in the 38th. Demirbay initially made the play happen with a quick free kick.

One minute before it was time to head into the tunnel, the Köpenick guests unexpectedly restored parity. This time Prömel got a bit lucky to receive a rebound in space after a spectacular double save from Lukas Hradecky. Union could certainly count themselves lucky to have grabbed the equalizer. Fischer made a double change at the half--Andreas Voglsammer and Levin Öztunali relieved Haraguchi and Behrens.

Four minutes after the restart, a much more determined Union side took the lead. Kruse saw a fine free-kick cross returned to him in the 49th. The team talisman then held the ball up before setting up Prömel again. The guests were up 2-1 courtesy of (of all things) a Grischa Prömel brace. For a time this looked to be the knockout blow for Leverkusen, who looked shaken and demoralized by the twist of fate.

Gradually, however, Germany's red company team played their way back into the match. The chances began coming again shortly after the hour mark. Luthe again had to be on-point with strong parry in the 69th. Both side stepped it up down the stretch. Kruse unfortunately missed the chance to close the game out with a strike of the post in the 78th.

Die Werkself seized the initiative and were able to get the equalizer five minutes later. Substitute Karim Bellarabi crossed in for a Jonathan Tah finish, but it was actually Schick who orchestrated the play with a deft header back across to Bellarabi. Union continued to push hard in search of the winner, coming very close to snatching all three points with a flurry of attacks toward the end. Oczipka hit the post at 90+3.

Elsewhere in the Bundesliga's 15:30 kickoffs, a wild one in Saxony saw FSV Mainz hang tough against Leipzig despite being reduced to ten men 20 minutes in. Alexander Hack's handball in the box enabled Leipzig to take a 1-0 lead, but the visiting Pfälzer maintained the scoreline for quite some time and even scored a shorthanded goal. In the end, however, Domenico Tedesco's Red Bulls got their act together and took the match 4-1. André Silva finished with a brace. Christopher Nkunku came off the bench to supply two assists.

SC Freiburg and DSC Arminia Bielefeld also couldn't be separated in another 2-2 match. In this case Christian Streich's Breisgauer will have been sorely disappointed to blow a 2-0 lead. Enabling Bielefeld to ride the comeback trail, Bryan Lasme and Masaya Okugawa each grabbed a tally in the final half hour. Hoffenheim-Augsburg might have finished 2-2 as well, but Sebastian Hoeneß' Kraichgauer were able to fend off the Fuggerstädter attempts to draw level after a Ihlas Bebou brace. German national team prodigy David Raum then scored in injury to ensure a 3-1 TSG win.

There was a 0-0 draw over at the Sportpark Ronhof in Fürth. Stefan Leitl's Kleeblätter will nevertheless consider the one point earned a major moral victory. Dead-last-placed Greuther Fürth earned points from a match for just the fourth time this season. The team still remains twelve points from safety. Stuttgart, thanks to the Augsburg loss, move off the relegation playoff place with the draw. Pellegrino Matarazzo's Swabians were still alarmingly able to manage very little going forward. Sasa Kalajdzic returned to the XI, but didn't get much coming his way until the very end.

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