Dutch courage

1. FC Union are on a roll. Having beaten Karlsruhe on Saturday, despite a myriad of injury worries, they currently a comfortable seventh in the table and it seems that talk of a top 10 finish might not have been so far-fetched after all.

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As Hertha’s best friends it is pointless to start a review of Karlsruhe SC’s match against 1. FC Union by pointing out that there is little love lost between the teams. After all, what is football for really, if we can’t drag a little phoney war into proceedings, but this, however, is where I intend to start.

The cries of “Stadtmeister, Stadtmeister, Berlin’s Nummer Eins” would slip sweetly off the back of many second division fans’, but sung at KSC it retains a little more bite. The sold out away end was certainly holding more Hertha fans than would normally be seen this far east on a Saturday afternoon, when their own club were playing Bayern Munich immediately following the final whistle.

But “Stadtmeister“ Union remain until either Hertha stumble back down to the second division or Union go up to the top, something that has never happened before. Weirdly, and although the possibility still remains incredibly unlikely, the latter is more likely at the moment.

Union have now won five home games on the bounce, and have defied expectations as much as they have the doctor’s pessimistic predictions for this week’s fixture. Union were crocked, it seemed. They would be without their spine of Mattuschka and Karl, Stuff and Silvio. They would be a gelatinous mass, floating in a sea full of spiny, experienced predators.

But as the team sheet was released before kick-off, it became apparent that it wasn’t the time for panic stations. The only real worry, in fact, was still Christoph Menz slotting into the centre back role. Menz is a classic utility player – a right back last year who was already a converted midfielder.

Stuff was there next to him, and they remained unbreached. It was a patient performance, and one that many were thankful lacked the lapses of concentration that have cost Union dear several times already this year.

The interesting thing was that it looked as if they had worked out a new plan. A bit of Dutch courage is needed before big tests and often during them too. Usually I go for the booze (the Dutchman standing next to me in the garish Den Haag shirt obviously agreed totting out useful shots of Laphroaig to ward off the nerves), but Jan Glinker was taking his cue from a different lowlands technique. He was quick off his line, to advance into play as if he was a sweeper. It allowed his defenders to play a higher line, which in turn, pushed the whole squad forwards.

It is the bedrock of “total football” that Hans van Breukelen made into an art form when playing for Holland. Ajax has also always schooled its ‘keepers to do this. It is effective, giving an extra player on the pitch, but can be dangerous in the extreme, and not to be done as a gamble. However, it worked.

Union, characteristically, flew out of the blocks with Mattuschka allowing more space to rush forward. Michael Parensen was ever present on the left wing, as was Christopher Quiring on the right. It makes things easier when one has defensive worries to have regular full backs performing in the manner that Patrick Kohlmann and Marc Pfertzel are at the moment. They know when to bomb forward and when to hold the line. They switch the ball effectively from wing to wing, and are safe in the knowledge that their wingers will cover them if they do decide the time is right to go.

With a good result at Erzgebirge Aue next weekend Union will go into the already sold out game against St. Pauli flying (it has not been announced how many of these fans have bought tickets for their dogs or cases of Sternburg to be sat next to them).

They just need to keep the sick list down to a minimum and the Dutch courage levels topped up.

Read more at No Dice Magazine.