Bundesliga Preview | Week 5: Union Berlin meet Bayern Munich in a top-of-the-table clash

Four matchdays down, 30 to go in the Bundesliga! But what will this weekend throw up as the league table starts to take shape? We take you through five things to watch before the action kicks off.

1 | Union Berlin face Bayern Munich in an eye-catching meeting

Saturday’s stand-out fixture is between Union Berlin and Bayern Munich, and it just so happens to be a top-of-the-table clash too! The latter’s presence at the table’s summit is hardly a surprise – they have won the last ten editions of the Bundesliga, after all – but few would have expected the Eisernen also to have ten points after four games as they sit in second place on goal difference.

Every season, Union have risen up the table. An impressive 11th-place finish in their first-ever top-flight campaign was followed by Europa Conference League qualification the following season. Last term, they ended up just one spot outside the top four and will play in the Europa League group stages this season. At the start of every new campaign, there are claims that the Berlin outfit’s bubble will burst, yet they continue to exceed expectations.

The last two results, in particular, have been impressive. A 2-1 victory over RB Leipzig is their third consecutive win over the Roten Bullen at the Stadion An der Alten Försterei, and their clinical edge was clear for all to see in the 6-1 dismantling of Schalke 04. Almost every transfer appears to be bang on the money and, with Union still not having tasted defeat this season in all competitions, there is no guessing how far they will go.

Of course, the visit of Bayern is a different task entirely. The Bavarians have already netted 16 goals in their four league matches so far and, if not for Yann Sommer’s stupendous performance for Borussia Mönchengladbach last week, they would have considerably more. Julian Nagelsmann’s side will go into the game as heavy favourites, a status they have more than earned, and Union will have to be at their very best if they want to get anything out of the game. Urs Fischer, though, has consistently displayed his ability to get the most out of his squad, and there is every confidence he will do so again in front of a home crowd currently riding the crest of a wave.

2 | Stuttgart to begin life without Saša Kalajdžić versus winless Schalke

After moves to Borussia Dortmund and Bayern Munich failed to materialise, it appeared Saša Kalajdžić would remain a VfB Stuttgart player beyond the end of the transfer window. However, as the deadline approached, Wolves swooped to capture the Austrian for a fee of just €18m, which is probably a bargain.

The 25-year-old had a difficult season last year as a series of injuries kept him on the sidelines for the majority, but he still managed six goals in 15 Bundesliga appearances. His absence deeply impacted Stuttgart – after a top-ten finish during the 20/21 season, during which Kalajdžić scored 17 goals in all competitions, they finished 15th last term, only securing their top-flight status with a last-minute winner against Köln on the final day.

Three assists in three matches this season are further examples of the striker’s influence, and he will be sorely missed. Sven Mislintat and Co. moved quickly to sign Serhou Guirassy in his place but, while the Guinea international has plenty of presence up top, his goalscoring record is hardly exciting. He has so far failed to score more than ten goals in a single league campaign and scored only nine in 37 Ligue 1 outings last season, a clear downgrade on Kalajdžić’s best output.

Pellegrino Matarazzo could hand Guirassy his debut against Schalke this weekend. The Königsblauen’s return to the Bundesliga has so far been tough – Frank Kramer’s squad are without a win so far, and that 6-1 defeat to Union last time out will have hurt their confidence. They have had their own striker problems, with the previous season’s top scorer Simon Terodde so far unable to get himself on the scoresheet. With both sides yet to taste victory, this match-up could provide a chance for one of them to kick-start their campaign.

3 | Leaky defences face off in Bochum

Much of Bochum’s success upon their return to the Bundesliga last term relied on a solid backline – eight teams conceded more than them, including Wolfsburg, Borussia Mönchengladbach and Hoffenheim, who all finished above them, while they shipped as many as second-placed Borussia Dortmund. However, this campaign, they are already in danger of losing that sturdy reputation, having conceded 13 in their first four league matches – more than any other club. Seven of those did come against Bayern, but the numbers still do not make for good reading, especially with them yet to pick up a point.

This weekend, they host Werder Bremen, who have enjoyed a more promising first few games. They have five points from their matches and sit relatively comfortably in tenth. Manager Ole Werner, though, will be wary of his own side’s leaky defence, with their net rippled ten times already this term. They needed three goals after the 88th minute to come back from 2-0 down to beat Dortmund 3-2 and conceded four against Eintracht Frankfurt last time out. Following that defeat at the hands of Die Adler, Werner admitted his side must improve going back towards their own goal.

In contrast to Bochum, though, there is plenty to be optimistic about at the other end. Only Bayern and Union Berlin have scored more than their ten goals, with Niklas Füllkrug bagging on four occasions. Against this Saturday’s opponents, who themselves have scored just three, Bremen have the chance to continue their goalscoring form while also settling down at the other end.

4 | Can Kovač solve Wolfsburg’s goalscoring woes?

Niko Kovač’s return to German football has not gone as swimmingly as he would have imagined. His Wolfsburg side have not found themselves on the end of any embarrassing results thus far, but they would have expected to have more than just two points going into matchday five. More worrying than that, though, is their difficulties in front of goal. In five games in all competitions, they have found the back of the net on just three occasions, with one of those a last-minute winner against fourth-division Carl Zeiss Jena in a 1-0 DFB-Pokal first-round win.

Goals were also a problem last season – just 43 came in 34 Bundesliga outings – and the failure to add a consistent goalscorer during the summer transfer window could come back to haunt Kovač and Co. Lukas Nmecha and Max Kruse shone in flashes last term, but they will need to improve drastically if Wolfsburg are to challenge for the European places this campaign, which is the aim of the upper hierarchy.

They will be looking to change their fortunes against Köln, who are still unbeaten in the Bundesliga this season. Three of their four games have been draws, but they have conceded just four times, which will hardly be news to Wolfsburg’s ears. Kovač will be hoping Steffen Baumgart and his squad have one eye on their Europa Conference League trip to French side Nice on Thursday – qualification for continental football was celebrated with plenty of enthusiasm by the Geißböcke supporters last season, and they will be eager to their players to impress in that competition in particular. Whether that will come at a detriment to their league form, starting against the Wölfe, remains to be seen.

5 | Can Daniel Farke’s Borussia Mönchengladbach continue to impress?

Borussia Mönchengladbach remain one of four unbeaten teams in the Bundesliga this season and host Mainz on Sunday afternoon. Yann Sommer’s heroics against Bayern Munich last weekend earned Die Fohlen a point against the Rekordmeister. The Swiss stopper saved 19 shots, a new Bundesliga record. A large part of Gladbach’s success this season is the return to form of Marcus Thuram. Linked with a move away this summer as the Frenchman enters the final year of his contract, Thuram has scored three goals in four games.

Missing out on European football can do no harm to Gladbach this season. Daniel Farke’s side already look a step above Adi Hütter’s. Thuram is scoring, Sommer is arguably the Bundesliga’s best ‘keeper behind Bayern’s Manuel Neuer and the summer arrival of Ko Itakura already looks like excellent business. Sporting director Roland Virkus secured the loan signing of Benfica’s Julian Weigl on deadline day. The former Borussia Dortmund defensive-midfielder an excellent addition, whilst Manu Koné continues to post impressive numbers. The Frenchman is one of the best midfielders across Europe’s top 5 leagues at progressing the ball.

Whilst just one point separates Gladbach and Mainz, Farke’s side have started their campaign incredibly well. Despite going 1-0 down to Hoffenheim on MD1, goals from Ramy Bensebaini, Thuram and Nico Elvedi secured three points. They also led Schalke 2-1 until the 93rd minute, when Marius Bülter scored from the spot before Alassane Plea scored the only goal against Hertha Berlin. Thuram then scored from Gladbach’s only effort vs Gladbach, an excellent defensive performance to earn a point at Bayern. Heading into MD5, Farke’s possession-based football at Borussia Mönchengladbach is impressive on the eye.

Jon Radcliffe

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