A day is a long time in politics and sport, three weeks feels like an eternity.
Since Union Berlin’s last appearance in Köpenick, die Eisernen lost their unbeaten home record stretching two seasons against RB Leipzig, lost to Wolfsburg, and lost to Real Madrid in the Champions League.
Union had not lost four games in a row since May 2020. Today, they did just that.
Story of the match
Retaining his favoured 3-5-2 formation, Fischer made two changes to the starting line-up from Wednesday’s defeat to Real Madrid. Janik Haberer came in for the benched Aïssa Laïdouni, whilst Alex Král was injured during the warm-up and replaced by Leeds United loanee, Brendan Aaaronson.
Leonardo Bonucci made his first appearance in Bundesliga for Union as Kevin Vollands was still suspended following his red card in the defeat to RB Leipzig last time out at the Stadion An der Alten Försterei.
In a 3-3-2-2 formation, that left Wout Weghorst and Maximilian Beier leading the line, with Beier looking for his a personal record fourth goal in consecutive matches after proving the difference in last week’s victory over FC Köln.
With the growl of Nina Hagen rousing the ever vocal Waldseite, Union Berlin flew out of the traps.
The first chance fell to Haberer in the 6th minute, but the midfielder snatched at the bouncing ball, hooking the ball wide of Oliver Baumann’s right post.
A few minutes later, Becker wasted a chance when one-on-one with Baumann but a weak effort from the edge of the box rolled into the Hoffenheim stopper’s arms.
In the 19th minute, it was Aaronson’s turn to miss out as his shot from 20 yards sailed over the bar from a central position.
Only two minutes later, Union Berlin were behind.
Bonucci found himself on the wrong side of Andrej Kramarić in the box. A desperate tug brought down the Hoffenheim midfielder and the Referee quickly pointed to the penalty spot.
Kramarić stepped up confidently to score past Frederik Rönnow into the bottom right corner sending the Waldseite into brief silence and half of Hoffenheim’s total population into raptures.
Whilst the locals did their best to reignite die Eisernen, the hosts were struggling without Král marshalling the midfield and in the 38th minute, Hoffenheim doubled their lead.
On the right way, Grischa Prömel played an inch perfect pass across the box which only the tall frame of Beier could reach with an outstretched toe poke that trickled past Rönnow into the bottom left corner.
For the first time in recent memory, Union Berlin looked lost on the pitch and it nearly got worse three minutes later.
Full of confidence, Beier picked up the ball on the left byline and took on Danilho Doekhi. It was a mismatch as Beier sailed past the Union defender before being cynically brought down.
The Referee did not hesitate in pointing to the penalty spot again but this time VAR came to Union’s aid as the foul was committed just outside the box.
With Hoffenheim on top, Union were grateful when the half-time whistle finally arrived a few minutes later.
Fischer mixed things up for the second half, with Chelsea loanee, David Fofana replacing Aaronson and the hosts transitioned to a 4-3-3 formation.
Union Berlin were competitive once more.
Without Král in the middle and Haberer struggling to affect the game, Union played around the middle, bringing the wingers into play and stretching the Hoffenheim midfield.
However, the first chance of the half fell to Hoffenheim substitute, Islas Bebou, on for Beier.
A through ball by fellow substitute, Mergim Berisha, put Bebou beyond the Union defence but his shot was deflected wide of Rönnow’s right post for a corner.
After that, it was all Union.
Union almost averaged a chance a minute in the middle of the half as Behrens went close twice, first with an interception and then a volley from 12 yards that both failed to test Baumann.
Then it was Lucas Tousart’s turn.
First, the Union midfielder had a volley from 20 yards saved by Bauman low to his right, then he fired into the side netting from a tight angle with only the goalkeeper to beat.
Five minutes later, Fofana was leading the action.
With extraordinary trickery, the striker had a half-volley deflected wide after a spell-binding display of kick-ups and then a minute later was dancing through the Hoffenheim defence before Baumann blocked his effort from six yards.
From the resulting corner, Fofana’s header was cleared off the line as Union pressed for a foothold in the game.
In the 80th minute, Josip Juranovic picked up a stray ball on the edge of the box but frantic defending from Hoffenheim saw his effort deflected wide.
Three minutes later and Juranovic’s corner agonisingly evaded Kevin Behrens at the back post.
With time running out, Fofana, fellow substitute, Benedict Hollerbach, and Diogo Leite went close but Baumann was impervious.
Player of the match: Oliver Baumann
Whilst the scoreline may not suggest a close game, it was only thanks to the efforts of Hoffenheim’s goalkeeper, Oliver Baumann.
In the second half, Union were camped in the Hoffenheim box.
With twelve efforts to the visitors two, Union could not find a way past the veteran.
An athletic reaction save from Tousart on the hour mark was a game-changing moment as he got down quickly low to his right to deny the Union midfielder.
Ultimately, Union Berlin missed their conductor in Král and will hope to have him fit and leading the midfield when Union travel to Heidenham next weekend.
For Hoffenheim, the dream continues.
The three points lifts the minnows into the top four, with their fourth consecutive Bundesliga win and they welcome out of sorts Borussia Dortmund looking to spring many more surprises.
On this performance, victory should not be a surprise.