1. FC Union Berlin lost 3-0 to VfL Bochum on Saturday afternoon in their last away game of 2023. Having competed evenly with their hosts, they were floored Takuma Asano's opener with the last kick of the half, which was followed up by Goncalo Paciencia's mis-hit drive and Kevin Stöger's penalty kick.
VfL Bochum: Riemann – Gamboa (86. Passlack), Oermann (64. Loosli), Schlotterbeck, Bernardo – Losilla, Osterhage – Asano (86. Kwarteng), Stöger, Antwi-Adjei (72. Bero) – Paciência (72. Broschinski)
1. FC Union Berlin: Rönnow – Juranović, Knoche, Leite, Roussillon – Haberer (60. Král), Khedira (60. Schäfer) – Volland (75. Aaronson) – Becker (60. Laïdouni), Behrens, Hollerbach (75. Kaufmann)
Goals: 1-0 Asano (45.+5), 2-0 Paciência (54.), 3-0 Stöger (78.)
Nenad Bjelica talks a lot about being adaptable, and this has certainly been seen over his short reign in Köpenick so far. Having departed from Urs Fischer’s beloved 3-5-2, moving to a flat back four, he had reverted back to the three for the heartbreaking - if joyously proud - 3-2 loss in midweek to Real Madrid, before switching back again for their trip to Bochum on Saturday afternoon.
Frederik Rönnow, whose astonishing performance against the Spanish giants was capped by the penalty stop from Luca Modric, but not necessarily defined by it, was in goal, behind the back four of a resurgent Jerome Roussillon, Diogo Leite, Robin Knoche and Josip Juranovic. Rani Khedira and Janik Haberer were in midfield behind the returning Benedict Hollerbach, fresh off his fine performance against Gladbach, Kevin Behrens up top, a flying and goal-hungry Kevin Volland and Sheraldo Becker, in for Robin Gosens, and making his first start under the new boss.
Bochum draw first blood with the last kick of the half
There was an eery silence in the stands at kick off, as the fan scenes on both sides joined in the nationwide boycott on making any noise for the first 12 minutes. It can be hard though, when an attack comes the urge to yell can be overpowering for most football fans. There were occasional cheers, stilted roars and so many hushes and shushes when Hollerbach immediately charged up the middle, laying the ball off to Volland on the overlap, just as when Bochum’s first chance came, Kevin Stöger heading Cristian Gamboa’s cross wide when alone and with time on his hands. Gamboa was a handful in those opening moments, and it took a superb challenge from Leite after five minutes to stop him wriggling into space on the edge of the Union box.
Bochum were proving to be stubborn opponents, and Union’s best moments came through their pace and width on the flanks. Contrary to what many will have thought before kick off, Hollerbach had started on the left, Becker on the right, the latter getting show his devastating pace after ten minutes when he left Patrick Osterhage for dead, the ball, sadly, just running over the touchline before he could get a cross in, or when Hollerbach beat Anthony Losilla and Gamboa on the right.
They’d swap constantly throughout the half, all the better to keep their hosts guessing.
The silence was soon replaced by a roar, and the sudden appearance of hundreds of tennis balls onto the pitch. But as soon as play was underway again Bochum had another good chance, the impressive Takuma Asano throwing himself acrobatically at an attempted bicycle kick that he couldn’t get on target.
The game was largely without drama throughout the half, if it was brimming with intrigue. Losilla almost found Goncalo Paciencia with a searching ball in from the right after 20 minutes, then Kevin Stöger launched another that Rönnow did well to pluck out of the sky whilst leaping over the heads of a least three other bodies in the box.
He did even better after Osterhage shot from outside the box, the ball bouncing around before he had to tip it around the post following Paciencia and Leite’s contested slide. He is a solid keeper anyway, but there are times when his reflexes are things of fast-twitching wonder and this was yet another example. His stop from Asano three minutes later was half as spectacular, but just as important.
Bochum were now largely in the ascendancy, if of a stodgy kind, but their guests would have the next chance, Behrens’ stabbed shot deflected fortunately wide off the leg of Keven Schlotterbeck. Leite then headed over following Juranovic’s free kick and Behrens’ flick-on.
But as the teams went in at half time, it would be they who were happiest. With the final move of the game a corner was whipped in, it looped up off the back of Behrens as Stöger tried to connect with a header, and dropped to Asano who struck his volley hard and rising into the roof of the net, giving even Rönnow no chance at all. Bjelica called the goal, "a real shock", and it was.
The sides had been largely equal til that moment, as Rani Khedira said after the final whistle, "We didn't do anything wrong..." he said. It was the last kick of the half, apart from the one that the Union players were giving themselves in their changing room.
Paciencia, and Stöger from the spot, leave Union gasping, and goalless
Behrens was in action almost immediately after coming back onto the pitch, if not where he’d want to be. He did well to get Stöger’s free kick away, launching himself into his header. Paciencia’s cross was then hoicked away by Knoche, before Becker tried to shake off the attentions of the right-back, Gamboa, winning Union a free kick in the process.
Becker then got in an excellent cross from the left, he was showing in flashes his danger from the touchline, when he gets a bit of chalk on his boots, and it was he who won the corner that led to Behrens overhead kick that went just over.
Bochum would extend their lead before ten minutes had been played of the second half, the lightning move starting with a clever short ball out from keeper, Manuel Riemann, straight up the middle, that wound its way to Christopher Antwi-Adjei. He pulled the ball back for Paciencia who had time, but didn’t connect with his shot properly, the ball squirming off the side of his boot, and sending Rönnow the wrong way.
They tried to turn the screw, taking advantage of their good fortune. Asano was a hair’s breadth from making it 3-0 a couple of minutes later, shooting just wide with his left when he’d been picked out at the back post.
Bjelica immediately changed things up, brining on Alex Kral, Aissa Laidouni and Andras Schäfer for Khedira, Haberer and Kral, but Union couldn’t impose themselves on the game the way he would have wanted. Still, it took a backwards, volleyed backheel from Bernardo to clear Riussillon’s dangerous looking cross from the left.
Bochum were enjoying more of the ball, and were pushing for a third as the half wore on. Rönnow had to rush out to clear ahead of Asano, then Osterhage robbed Roussillon before getting floored by Laidouni, out on the Bochum right, but Stöger didn’t get any height on his free kick. Noah Loosli then tried to jink his way through past Juranovic in the box.
Asano’s next bicycle kick was the pick of the bunch, the contact superb, the contortions perfectly timed, but again it flew just over. It mattered little. Bochum would extend their lead in a far more prosaic matter soon afterwards.
Leite flew into a tackle on Matus Bero in the box with just under 20 minutes to play, and at first the referee, Sven Jablosnki, waved the Bochum player’s pleas away, but soon enough he had called things back and consulted the video assistant. As if Union’s day couldn’t get any worse, he was now pointing to the spot. Stöger put the penalty to Rönnow’s left, doing what Luca Modric couldn’t on Wednesday, and Bochum led 3-0.
Union had the ignominy of seeing Gamboa and Asano pinging the ball between them when back in their own box, every Ole from the stand a kick to the guts of the magnificent Unioner, who hadn’t stopped singing all day, away in their corner of the Ruhrstadion. It wasn't the flicks and tricks that hurt most though, as Bjelica said after the final whistle, "They were more aggressive, quicker and also fought harder."
Tempers started to fray. Roussillon saw yellow for a foul on Asano, Laidouni left another on Osterhage and Brenden Aaronson managed to get Schlotterbeck to knee his own team-mate, Bernardo, in the head when they went in for a 50-50 ball.
There was time for Riemann to save on the line from a Leite header, (though he hadn’t been threatened nearly enough throughout the second half) and for Stöger to drag back the trying Schäfer, but it was largely immaterial by this point, as they whiled away the final few minutes.
Rönnow’s final contribution was another masterpiece, a brilliant left-footed stop at the last from Moritz Broschinski, who threatened to finish off a devastating break.
Khedira was unflinching, he shook his head as he looked back on the game for the TV interviewers. "The second half just wasn't good. We didn't press the ball and had far too much space - we made it far too easy for our opponents. If you don't do the things you're supposed to do, it's difficult to win a game in the Bundesliga." He walked away after that, there was little else he could add.
But it isn't the end of the year yet, and now all Union's focus now will be trained immediately onto Wednesday and Köln. Bochum had been spirited, tough and had taken their chances in front of a loud home crowd, all things Union will need to do in a final game of the year that is lining up to become a fascinating dogfight.