Union Berlin moved back into the top half of the 2. Bundesliga table after a hard-working and clinical performance against Ingolstadt saw them come from behind to win comfortably. Ingolstadt lacked invention in the final-third until it was too late, and the quality of their crosses left a lot to be desired throughout. But while not necessarily inventive, Union had several players capable of making incisions in their Bavarian opponents’ rearguard, and notched up their third victory in the space of an international football-interruped month.
Union started the game with confidence, waiting for the right moment to send Patrick Kohlmann down the channel, before the former Irish U21 international used the good holding technique of Colombian striker John Jairo Mosquera to collect a return pass and feed Silvio. The Brazilian showed strength to retain possession in the box, and teed up Mosquera for a – wayward – shot. Ingolstadt were focused on sitting off from their urgent and occasionally direct hosts in a compact 4-4-1-1 (Buddle dropping deeper than Moritz Hartmann). They only pressed in their own half, and as a result, managed to limit the waves of Union attacks to scant consolation prizes such as the odd final-third throw-in or scuffed long-range efforts wide of the target.
Silvio was the key man for the Berlin side, as the Brazilian looked to bob between the Ingolstadt defence and midfield banks to collect passes, as well as occasionally making last-shoulder runs while standing on a centre-back. But, as the game wore on, right-sided midfielder Christopher Quiring was becoming just as pivotal to Neuhaus’ attacking cause – the youngster’s jinxes, enthusiasm and incision proving too much for Ingolstadt left-back Tobias Fink to handle. Berlin were also playing something of a 4-4-2, but where it differed from Benno Möhlmann and Ingolstadt’s was the fact that the full-backs and one of the centre-midfielders (Torsten Mattuschka) were given far more freedom to get forward.
However, for all their hold on possession and territory, Berlin soon shot themselves in the foot. In the 13th minute, José-Alex Ikeng held the ball up down the right wing, luring red-shirted players across as they attempted to dispossess him. Alas, it was all in vain, and Ikeng slipped a pass through to the from-out-of-nowhere, infield-going overlap of Moise Bambara. The right-back then squared across the box for Moritz Hartmann, standing all alone near the back post with the Berlin defenders either ball-watching or lured out to help left-back Kohlmann. The striker had the simple task of volleying in a goal that illustrated how effective a surprise burst from the back can be, and Ingolstadt had a 1-0 lead totally against the run of play!
The Bavarian side actually made a substitution straight after the goal, with Buddle, who had pulled up in the second minute of the match, being replaced by Fabian Gerber (a like for like change). And, eight minutes after coming on, the striker’s efforts in tracking back allowed Berlin to – deservedly – draw level. It was Gerber’s foul on Michael Parensen in the final-third on the left wing which allowed Mattuschka to curl in a wicked right-footed free-kick which centre-back and first-man Christian Stuff loop-headed on the swivel into the back of Sascha Kirschstein’s net for 1-1!
With both teams now on the scoresheet, the game suddenly sprung into life as an open contest. There were now driving forces all over the pitch, but the final balls from players on either side left a lot to be desired. Nevertheless, through the trickery of Quiring and the energy of Silvio, Union were creating chances, and the former hit the post in the 25th minute when sliding in at the back post on a cross that evaded everyone else in a packed box.
The hosts’ relentless pressure reaped a reward on the half-hour mark, though, with the most spectacular of goals handing Berlin the lead. With a corner-kick cleared only as far as halfway-hovering left-back Kohlmann, the defender scooped out an inch-perfect long diagonal to Mattuschka on the right wing. The midfielder didn’t wait for or require time to trap or let the ball bounce, and instead volley-crossed towards the six-yard box. There, Mosquera and Silvio lurked – played onside by an Ingolstadt defence not sure whether to rush out or stay put, and in the end, doing neither (nor marking). Mattuschka’s cross reached Silvio first, and the Brazilian continued the first-time football by scoring with an overhead kick!
Despite Ikeng doing a good job in getting on the ball and then playing in others, what Ingolstadt lacked was a bit of invention or magic in both the second-third and final-third areas of the pitch. 2-1 up and their guests seeing more of the ball, Union began to sit back in their own half in a 4-1-3-2; the only pressing coming from Silvio and Mosquera when the man on the ball got near halfway. In a bid to prevent Ingolstadt from gaining momentum, the hosts were also committing far more fouls, and it looked as though they were content to try and hold onto their 2-1 lead and take that advantage in at half time.
Ingolstadt were doing things far more urgently in possession (they preferred to go short from restarts), although they continued to press just over from or in their own half only. Möhlmann was now playing more of a midfield diamond, with Maurice Hartmann holding, and Ikeng bobbing centrally behind the strikers. However, despite some strong Ingolstadt pressure through crosses, runs and passes in the final-third during the half’s final few minutes, Union still looked better in attack simply because their full-backs were more integrated into what was a collective foray forward.
Neither side elected to make personnel changes for the second half, although it was clear that Ingolstadt’s pressing policy had been amended, as the two strikers in white began doing it at greater pace higher up the pitch. But four minutes into the half, Berlin had added to their advantage. Some neat one-two football from Silvio and Mattuschka just inside the box saw the latter released to round the ‘keeper and make it 3-1!
With Ingolstadt now spreading out and coming forward more, Quiring was once again proving to be an especially useful asset – giving the hosts’ width and pace. His midfield and defensive colleagues continued to fly into challenges in a bid to stop the likes of Ikeng getting Ingolstadt ticking, and Markus Karl received a yellow card for his efforts in the 52nd minute. But, as much as they tried to string together some one-two or triangular moves of their own, Ingolstadt’s players just weren’t operating on the same wavelength. At the other end of the pitch, the gangly Mosquera was running himself into the ground, and constantly drawing defenders out – either into the channels, or when he dropped deep for high balls – and creating space for his Union team-mates.
On the hour, Andreas Buchner zoomed forward and managed to instigate a decent passing move that ended up with Bambara being fed on the overlap, but the right-back’s cross was woeful, meaning yet another away side move went to waste thanks to a poor final ball. Nevertheless, Ingolstadt were determined to make the left wing the focus point of their attacks, and one minute later, Tobias Fink won a free-kick (the foul coming from Kohlmann, who got a yellow card). Stefan Leitl floated the right-footed set-piece towards the back post, and Union managed to clear for a corner – which they then also stifled.
In a bid to cork this new left wing threat posed by Ingolstadt, Neuhaus replaced right-back Marc Pfertzel in a like for like change: on in the 30-year-old Frenchman’s place came 22-year-old Christoph Menz. Moments later, Möhlmann opted to make a change down this channel too, replacing Buchner with Collin Quaner. This was the side of the pitch where the action had been, and nothing changed after the substitutions, with Quiring still a real threat for the home side too.
Generally, though, Union were trying to take the sting out of the game, as Ingolstadt began to stand higher and spray the ball about more urgently and intelligently. The away side players’ movement on and off the ball had improved considerably, although Möhlmann obviously decided that things could get better still, and replaced Ikeng with former Bayern Munich and Inter midfielder Christoph Knasmüllner in the 73rd minute. The 19-year-old Austrian immediately showed his comfort and class on the ball via the ease with which he spread it about from a position behind the strikers.
With quarter-hour still to play, Mosquera was given a well-earned breather by Neuhaus (Cologne loanee Simon Terodde taking his place). At this stage of the game, it was a backs-to-the-wall job for those in red, and with Knasmüllner capable of splicing Union apart (his agility when receiving the ball allowing him to spin his man and penetratingly switch the channel down which Ingolstadt attacked), Neuhaus needed a fresh pair of lungs up front to take the burden off the defence. His back four were doing a very good job, however, although Ingolstadt were offering very little. Although the right-footed Knasmüllner was providing both vision and execution, others such as right-footer-on-the-left Quaner looked ill-at-ease, and were part of the reason that Jan Glinker was remaining relatively untroubled in the Union goal.
With seven minutes left to play, Quiring was also given a well-earned rest, and replaced by the equally pacy Patrick Zoundi – a wonderfully timed substitution by Neuhaus, and one that ensured his side remained in the ascendancy. And, two minutes after the Burkina Faso international’s introduction, it was 4-1. However, it was another substitute who did the groundwork; Terodde holding up the ball and slipping through a well-timed, vision-laden and inch-perfect pass for Silvio to slot in on his right foot! Their more illustrious neighbours Hertha might take all the headlines tomorrow after a fantastic win against Borussia Dortmund, but Union deserve more than a paragraph or two in the capital’s dailies after this tip-top performance.