How Union Berlin’s wing-back tactics put them in the top four – The Athletic

Last season Union Berlin reached new heights as they qualified for their first European competition in 20 years, just two years after being promoted to the Bundesliga. It was a tremendous feat for a club that doesn’t spend as much as those around it.

This led many – myself included – to doubt Union’s ability to improve. The ripple effects of being in the UEFA Conference League (from which they duly withdrew) was uncharted territory and in recent weeks their top scorer Taiwo Awoniyi has featured in the Africa Cup of Nations with Nigeria.

However, they are fifth in the table and have used one particular skill: how they use their full-backs.

To understand why it is so unique, we need to understand the main structure of Union Berlin.

Without possession, Union use a 5-3-2 formation consisting of either two starting midfielders and a No.10, or a starting midfielder paired with two other central midfielders. Depending on the selective pressure tactic for the game, they change their marking from a deep zonal defensive style to a high, man-focused press.

The two ideas pursue different goals. Sitting deeper is intended to win the ball from opponents by intercepting passes. The man-focused option forces opponents to win high balls or long balls, which Urs Fischer’s team can then collect. Both approaches still show the main principles of Union out of possession and how they cleverly use different positions.

What they both have in common is how aggressive Union is in closing open spaces. As soon as the opponent starts to build play, the Berlin forwards put pressure on their rival’s centre-backs, forcing them to play wide.

Comments are closed.