Spieltag Saturday & Sunday
Bundesliga leaders battle; English Premier League & La Liga's usual suspects; European play starts this week
Match of the Week: Union Berlin v. Bayern
Yesterday, FC Bayern Munich travelled to the Stadion An der Alten Försterei (the stadium at the old forester’s house) in Köpenick, Berlin to face the second-ranked team in the Bundesliga, 1. FC Union Berlin. Despite odds that heavily favored a Bayern win, the match ended in a 1-1 draw after a scoreless second half.
Union forward Sheraldo Becker is proving himself to be one of the most dangerous players in Germany’s top league, scoring in just the 12th minute of the match. His goal against Bayern was masterful, sending a volley off of a Christopher Trimmel assist into the heart of Bayern’s goal. With 5 goals in 5 matches, Becker leads the Bundesliga in scoring (Bayern’s Sadio Mané is tied for fourth place with 3 goals).
Becker awakened the beast. Bayern didn’t wait to come back for the equalizer. Just three minutes later, midfielder Joshua Kimmich made an improbable shot that navigated a forest of legs to find the back of the net on the “Waldseite” of the stadium. The champions dominated the rest of the half, requiring heroics from Union goalkeeper Frederik Rønnow to keep the score level.
In the second half, Union manager Urs Fischer replaced Becker with Jamie Leweling, much to Becker’s consternation. The Union star had two goals against Schalke last week, but a brace against Bayern was clearly a more valuable prize. Bayern continued to dominate possession, but Union almost found the go-ahead goal in the 75th minute when Leweling forced a spectacular one-handed save from Bayern keeper Manuel Neuer. On the bench, Becker was certainly wondering whether he would have made the shot.
However, the man of the match was undoubtedly Rønnow, who held off the Bayern attack even into stoppage time as former Golden Boot winner Sadio Mané launched an impressive header on target towards the Union net. With a one-handed save of his own, Rønnow sent the ball right above the crossbar. Soon after, the whistle blew.
Due to the draw, the two undefeated teams are now in 3rd (Bayern) and 4th (Berlin) place respectively. In Bundesliga play, Union Berlin faces the undefeated (albeit with fewer wins) 1. FC Köln in the city English speakers know as Cologne. Bayern will host VfB Stuttgart, which is yet to win a match this season - a welcome reprieve for the Bavarians after two hard-fought draws.
However, both teams will play their next matches in European competition. Bayern heads to Milan to play Inter on Wednesday in UEFA Champions League play, while the Eisern Union hosts Belgian team Royale Union Saint-Gilloise for Berlin’s first-ever Europa League match on Thursday.
European group play begins this week
The carbon footprint of the top European football clubs will increase dramatically as European group stage play begins this week. On Tuesday, the UEFA Champions League kicks off in Croatia as Dinamo Zagreb hosts Chelsea. The top four finishers from each of last year’s English Premier League, German Bundesliga, Italian Serie A, and Spanish La Liga campaigns will join top teams from across European football to determine the European champion. On Thursday, the Europa League and Europa Conference league begin group play.
The group stages of the three tournaments involve six round robin matches per side, so each club can play all three opponents at home and away. For teams that are still playing in their national cup tournaments, this part of the season becomes an exercise in juggling national league, national cup, and European league tournaments all at once. Just like in the World Cup, the top two teams in each group advance to a knockout tournament.
One of the most interesting matchups in the European tournaments is in Champions League Group C, where FC Barcelona faces Bayern after the legendary Robert Lewandowski moved to Barcelona over the summer. Italian team Inter Milan is capable enough to play spoiler and knock one of the teams out in the group stage, but the attention will be on the Lewandowski derby.
In Europa League Play, Group B will be exciting to watch as Dynamo Kyiv, a club that has faced incredible adversity this year due to Vladimir Putin’s illegal war of aggression against Ukraine, will play in the Europa League after barely missing out on qualifying for the Champions League group stage.
La Liga and Premier League: Business as Usual?
Arsenal is atop the Premier League (even if they lose to Manchester United today), with Manchester City in second and Chelsea and Liverpool back in the top seven. Meanwhile, Leicester City is suffering a 5 match losing streak, and newly-promoted Nottingham Forest has dropped the last three; both teams now sit at the bottom of the table.
Real Madrid is leading La Liga with Barcelona close behind in second. Rayo Vallecano, which kicked off the season by drawing Barcelona, is still fuming at the referees after VAR reversed a call that would have given them a penalty to equalize their match against Osasuna. After a scoreless first half, Osasuna’s Aimar Oroz scored in the 54th minute. Soon after, it looked as if Rayo midfielder Álvaro García Rivera was fouled in the penalty box, but on review the referee said Álvaro didn’t do enough to avoid contact, then booked him for protesting. Rayo Vallecano found the equalizer in the 75th minute, but gave up a goal in the final minute of the match to give Osasuna the win - and 4th place in the table.
Next week’s match of the week: Manchester City v. Tottenham Hotspur
The second- and third-ranked teams in the Premier League will meet in Manchester on Saturday. Oddsmakers aren’t being kind to Tottenham, but Manchester will have to travel to Spain during the week for their first Champions League match against Sevilla FC, while Tottenham hosts Marseille at home for their first group stage fixture. After Tottenham came away with 7 points in their past three matches, with 4 of those points away, I wouldn’t count them out.
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