Union Berlin enjoying unfamiliar view at top of Bundesliga

·3 min read

BERLIN (AP) — Union Berlin is reveling in the view from the top of the Bundesliga for the first time this week.

“Other times will come but let us enjoy the moment,” the club wrote on Twitter after Sunday’s 1-0 win in Cologne lifted the team to the top of the German league after six matches.

Perhaps mindful that it may not last, Union supporters celebrated long and hard after the final whistle, singing “league leaders, league leaders” and “only FCU will be German champion” after an early own-goal from Cologne defender Timo Hübers was enough for the modest club’s fourth win of the season.

The players reciprocated by joining the party from the field, even if they knew not to get carried away by the supporters singing about a league win.

“We’ve heard it in the last few weeks, but we know how to handle it,” Union midfielder Rani Khedira said. “That was a huge amount of work that we had here in Cologne, so it’s a nice feeling.”

Cologne was previously unbeaten. Union held 10-time defending champion Bayern Munich to a draw in its previous game, while it previously scored eight goals over two wins against Schalke and Leipzig. Union started the league with a 3-1 victory over city rival Hertha Berlin.

The victory over Cologne stretched Union’s unbeaten run in the Bundesliga to 13 games, including last season. With four goals conceded, Union has the best defense in the league.

But Urs Fischer, the level-headed Union coach, is not looking at his team’s position in the table.

“The fans can celebrate accordingly. I look at the whole thing a bit differently. When I look at the table, I’m particularly happy about the 14 points,” Fischer said. “They help us. Difficult weeks with mid-week games are still ahead of us. There will also certainly be times that don’t go so well. When it comes to the table, it’s still just a snapshot.”

The fans don’t mind.

They have to stretch their memories back to 1970 to remember when Union was on top after the first matchday of the DDR-Oberliga — the East German league. Union was only ever first in the Oberliga once before, after the seventh round of the 1967-68 season.

The Köpenick-based club is the only one currently playing in the Bundesliga to have played in the old East German league. City rival Hertha Berlin was based in West Berlin and played in the West German Bundesliga, while Leipzig was only founded in 2009, long after then current German soccer federation incorporated the East German divisions in 1990 following the country’s reunification.

Union was only promoted to the Bundesliga in 2019, when many expected the club to struggle in Germany’s top division. The team started with a 4-0 loss at home to Leipzig in its league debut.

But Union has grown to meet the challenges and went on to finish 11th in its first season, then seventh, and the club finished fifth last season to qualify for the Europa League.

Despite the successes, Fischer and team captain Christopher Trimmel still say the aim this season is to avoid relegation.

“We’re on a run but we know there are many things that are not going so well,” Trimmel said in Cologne. “There were phases today where we did very well. Our defensive work is a strength, but we need to do better playing with the ball.”

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Ciarán Fahey, The Associated Press