April 23, 2017

Die Köpenick Chronik: Set pieces suffocating Union’s season

Union Berlin’s frailty at set pieces returned on Friday night as the Die Eisernen went down 5-0 to promotion hopefuls SV Darmstadt 98 in an embarrassing capitulation.

After a promising defensive display the previous week against 1. FC Nürnberg, the performance was a complete turnaround, with Darmstadt becoming the latest side to expose Union’s weakness to devastating effect.

Five goals conceded. Five goals resulting from either a corner, free kick, throw-in, or the penalty spot. The capital club has conceded 42 goals in just 25 games, the second worst defensive record in the league. But more worrying than that is the prevalence of set-piece goals.

No fewer than 17 goals have been scored against Union from dead ball situations, easily the worst in 2. Bundesliga. The club has dropped back to 13th, and only the woeful records of FC Erzgebirge Aue, St Pauli, and VfR Aalen keep them seven points above the bottom three.

On Friday, Union were never in the match. Captain Damir Kreilach was left at home due to suspension, and manager Norbert Düwel bizarrely picked centre back Toni Leistner as his replacement to fill one of the double six roles alongside Michael Parensen.

The first goal from Darmstadt came after 34 minutes, Milan Ivana swinging in a free kick and Leon Balogun out-jumping a ground-ridden Parensen to easily fire home. It was a sight Union fans have seen far too often this season.

Next, centre back Fabian Schönheim, much better suited to a wing back position, played a weak pass back to goalkeeper Mohamed Amsif, who had little choice but to bring Marco Sailer down in the box.

Not only a penalty, but a red card to Amsif, and from there it was a case of damage limitation for Düwel’s side. Romain Bregerie converted from the spot, with replacement keeper Daniel Haas diving the wrong way.

After the break, it just got worse. A long throw was torpedoed in the box, Darmstadt managing to win two headers in competition with static Union defenders, before Ivana collected the ball at the far post and slotted past Haas for his brace.

With the game over, Darmstadt slowed down their relentless attacking, enough for Sebastian Polter to miss two decent chances for Union, though the goals would have been mere consolations, for there was yet more set-piece drama for the travelling Union fans to witness.

First was when a corner was poorly cleared not once, but twice – the second from an unconvincing Haas punch –  which Aytac Sulu capitalised on to head home via a deflection.

The final blow was dealt just minutes later, proving Union defenders had failed once again to learn a lesson. Sulu was again the benefactor, the ball arriving on the penalty spot and the central defender not even needing to leave the ground to head in Darmstadt’s fifth. It was comical defending, as evident throughout the 90 minutes, and no one in the Union side escaped from this match with any credit.

While Darmstadt leaped into second, Union’s season has taken another turn, and a few more performances like this could see them descend back into a relegation scrap. The positive news is that mistakes from set pieces should be easy enough for Düwel to solve, though he has failed to do so thus far.

Seventeen goals from dead ball situations is just unacceptable, and Union have to start switching on if they value their second division status. Three of their next four matches come against teams below them in the table, so any more slip-ups could prove devastating.

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