Wednesday, 20 March 2013

The chase for 3rd place

Win a game at home and Union find themselves in the media glare as play-off contenders. Lose a match away and their mental strength is questioned when away from the Alte Försterei. The players know their away form has not been good enough. Why else moot paying for travel to loyal supporters for the forthcoming long-distance away games?

A wise man told me you can prove anything with stats. Union are therefore the 5th best team in the league.

A blog I read recently highlighted the fact the players are not machines - very true. At only the very highest level can players perform consistently.  I'd argue that the truth about Union's season lies not in home or away form, nor in their defensive frailties but in their squad size. Union are a team punching beyond individual weight. Collectively Union - players, manager, scouts, backroom staff, fans, stadium - form a colossus that no team in the league can rival. Union's 'us against them' mentality turns what should be guaranteed losses into points. They've taken 4 points from Kaiserslautern. The retort - we'll buy one of your best players. They've traded 3 points a piece with Köln, who are genuine play-off contenders after a slow start this term. They went to rivals Hertha and were unlucky not to take all 3 points back to East Berlin.  

The Union squad has been assembled, not on a shoe string budget, but on a thread, dangling from the coat tails of the clubs that have paid them handsomely for the likes of Ede, and to a much lesser extent in terms of revenue, Markus Karl. Every club below FC Hollywood is a selling club in Germany. It's just to what extent they are a selling club. Union, mindful of not sliding into financial ruin once more, are speedy to sell and must pontificate before making a signing. Many of these involving no transfer fee. 

What do Union look for in a new signing?  In the youthful Nemec they looked for raw talent and a player that would strive to reach the 'next level' whether that be with Union or another club. He's slowly found form this season. Time, good coaching and now goals have put him on the brink of the Slovakian international squad. Judging by his early displays for Union, few would have predicted such a rise. Whilst the rise has not been meteoric, he's grown in strength and his positional play has improved. He also looks confident. Whether from 25 yards out against Braunschweig or 6 yards out against Pauli. His header at the Olympiastadion perhaps the pick of the bunch. Exquisite positioning, brute strength and fillip of good fortune at Mattuschka's beautifully angled cross. He's a signifier of Union's intentions and the club's potential. If they can cling on to such players whilst balancing the books then they can be expected to start strongly next season. They'll move from rank outsider to a bookies favourite for a top 3 finish. Coping with the expectation will be a new experience.

I've dreamed of Union putting a late run together and finishing third. I've also studied the run-in for the teams in and around Union. However, it's Kaiserslautern who the chasing pack must catch. The match against Köln will go a long way to deciding who gets the chance to play for a place in the top flight. After that game Kaiserslautern have a relatively easy run of games. Conversely, Union face tricky away games and only three more home games. The weight of those last eight fixtures precludes Union from entering the race for third - this year. Five away games and three at home would suggest making up the 6 point gap is a bridge too far.  

A stronger start to next season, a couple of extra signings, key men staying free from injury and the club have a solid platform to challenge next year. As ever, football is about momentum, hard work and that element that nobody can predict, luck. I've always thought you make your own luck. Union have the necessary ingredients. Let's hope it's a promotion cake we're all scoffing in 2014! 

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