I’ll refrain firstly I am far from an expert on tactics or tactical recreations, I’ve enjoyed watching the rise of Union Berlin and have tuned into a lot of Bundesliga matches this season. I wanted to recreate the Counter-Attacking magic of Urs Fischer in Football Manager, so for what it’s worth maybe take this blog as me openly discussing my thoughts about the 5-3-2 system at Union Berlin, your welcome to suggest any tweaks or tactical input as I’ve mostly tried to replicate what I see Union Berlin do consistently in real life. If you would like to follow this save more closely you can keep up with it on here on the FM forums. Let’s get into it!.



In a league primarily known for its open attacking play, Union have risen up the ranks with defense. Operating primarily out of a 3-5-2 formation, Union expands in attack and contract in defense, much like an accordion opens and closes. Instead of pressing heavily, Union focus on preventing progressive passes, leveraging the ball out of dangerous central areas and keeping numbers behind the ball and in attack, they don’t mess around!.

They created the most counter attacking shot opportunities in the league last season and continue to hit teams on the break this season. They don’t create a ton of shots (they were 12th in shots per possession last season), but the shots they do create are typically great as 60% of their shot attempts came from inside the defense’s box, the most in the league.



Union Berlin have maintained a succinct style of play that drastically differs from the other German teams in the Bundesliga. At the top end of the pitch, the team lost their top scorer last season in Taiwo Awoniyi, who’s goals have been replaced by Sheraldo Becker – a man who has already bettered his goal tally from 2021-22. American striker Jordan Siebatcheu has joined from Young Boys to be that Max Kruse-esque bullying figure from the front, and has provided a wonderful partner to bring the best out of Becker’s pace and mobility in behind. The rigidness of the system and ferocity in attack means that Union Berlin have achieved a clear sense of what they strive to accomplish on the pitch, and an over-arching identity of defence first football.


Union Berlin have clearly emphasized the defensive side of the game where they can then explode on the counter attack options Jordan Siebatcheu and Sheraldo BeckerJordan Siebatcheu is a threat in multiple areas of attack, aerially, with his back to goal and has pace to get in behind and become an instant threat.


Union Berlin have clearly emphasized the defensive side of the game where they can then explode on the counter attack options Jordan Siebatcheu and Sheraldo Becker, Siebatcheu is a threat in multiple areas of attack, aerially, with his back to goal and has pace to get in behind and become an instant threat.

Beyond their counter attacking play, Union have achieved much of their potency by the way of their mix of width and verticality. Their attack can quickly become a 3-1-6 in the blink of an eye, with the central midfielders pushing forward in tandem, and the wing-backs stretching the field. Captain Christopher Trimmel has also been one of the best right-wing-backs in the league few seasons running, which is quite some feat for a 35 year old and continues to add pace, width and experience to this compact Union Berlin side. Niko Gießelmann occupies the left wing back role and works up and down the pitch using a combination of deep crosses and crosses from the byline, he will often even use that to his advantage in faking one, cutting inside and then gaining space closer to goal. Julian Ryerson provides a nice contrast as someone who constantly wants to cut inside on his right foot from that left-wing-back slot, pushing his defenders against the run of play.


At times Sheraldo Becker will drift into the wide area creating space and also offering a quick out pass from the keeper or defender creating a one on one against his devastating pace, I’ve selected the ‘Stay Wider‘ to create this with the thinking that Christopher Trimmel as a Wing Back (Support) will offer and a passing option if needed. Once Sheraldo Becker moves into the wider areas it also offers a chance for the midfield to charge forward and creates a scoring opportunity by dragging defenders out of their natural defensive shape. Sheraldo Becker also may consider strikers to swap roles with the other striker at times to confuse the opposition.




While they can be effective in driving the team forward, the central midfielders ahead of Rani Khedira typically remain uninvolved as passes are more likely to be played directly into the strikers or wide to the wing-backs. Union Berlin build out from the back, Goalkeeper Frederik Rønnow remains involved throughout the initial stages of play creating a diamond shape that sees Rani Khedira at the top. As soon Frederik Rønnow comes under pressure, he is not afraid to go long and clear the ball for a striker to run on too, or look for hard-hitting Centre Forward options Jordan Siebatcheu or Target Forward Kevin Behrens to win the header, you can select this option in your tactic in the ‘In Transition’ section and clicking Distribute To Position instead of Distribute to Area.


Keeping hold of the ball has not been the greatest strong suit of Union Berlin, they thrive in the direct approach rather then keeping the ball for long periods of time. The direct and defence first approach has resulted in many unwanted statistics, including the lowest pass completion and the lowest amount of possession, which is very different to the modern day football philosophies of creativity and keeping control in possession.



One word that sums up the ‘Eisern Union’ rigorous defensive system that thrives on not conceding ‘organization‘, just as they do in attack, Union Berlin are quick to regroup and get several men behind the ball. From the front, Jordan Siebatcheu and Sheraldo Becker will take turns pressuring the opposition’s Center Backs as they work the ball around in defence, desperately trying to find a route forward against Union’s rigid system. The other striker then falls back slightly to either cover or screen the opposition’s Defensive Midfielder while patiently waiting for a misguided pass to a Defender making it incredibly difficult for a dangerous player to receive the ball. They won’t follow their man around everywhere they go, instead getting tight whenever an opposition player enters their space. The recognition of when to press the opponent and when to stay put allows Union Berlin have become experts at successfully clearing the ball out of danger and defending passes that somehow find a way into their penalty area.



The core of the defense lies behind the strikers, where the trio of central midfielders shuffle with the play. They will swing their shape from side to side usually with the nearest midfielder pressuring and closing down opposition fullbacks or wide situations in general allowing the back five to hold that narrow shape. The work rate and stamina that this requires is quite demanding but it allows Union Berlin to stay compact and keep their 3-5-2 shape and also creates opportunities for the strikers.



Despite the lowest amount of possession they have the highest number of fouls (89) as they will often swarm dribblers in numbers, and this sometimes causes niggly fouls in non-dangerous areas of the field, I haven’t got ‘Get Stuck In’ permanently selected as I will most likely be switching between Cautious and Defensive mentality and I don’t want players over aggressive, instead I’ve told both midfielders to Trigger the Press more often and Tackle Harder to harass the ball carrier as much as possible in non threatening areas. This is something that will need to be looked at and tweaked after playing a few matches. Playing on lower mentality will naturally invite pressure on the midfield and defence it may be better to use it situationaly.



Not only are Center Backs Diogo Leite, Robin Knoche and Timo Baumgartl strong in the air they’re also mentally intelligent and uncompromising in defence. The three Center backs stand respectively at 6’2, 6’3, and 6’4 and all share strong marking and heading attributes, The job is very simple, but important to the team that they are always aware of danger and can clear the ball by head or by foot. The team must act as one defensive unit, with a strong emphasis on teamwork and concentration. The Defensive line is set to lower so the only way through is via a nicely played through ball as we welcome crosses, Rani Khedira will be the wall shielding the defence in the DM role and although slow has rejuvenated his career at Union Berlin with his ability to read and react to situations.




I hope you enjoyed this tactical write up explaining what makes Union Berlin successful and how they play, of course I am open to suggestions and don’t profess to be a tactical genius by any means. Claiming a place in the Europa Conference League last season was a fantastic achievement by Union Berlin, and hopefully they can push for that top 4 spot this season built on Iron Defense!.

Until next time! ~ MA

Eisern Berlin!.

Thanks to @Matty_AquaFM for sharing this post with us


  • Daniel Gear

    Dan Gear is a vibrant member of the Football Manager (FM) community, renowned for his engaging content and insightful tutorials. He illuminates complex FM concepts on "View From The Touchline" and shares engaging narratives through his unique European Journeyman save reveals. Dan's collaborative spirit shines in partnerships with fellow creators like FM Stag, unraveling new FM features. He's a co-host of the engaging "Grass N Gear" podcast, making the FM experience more enjoyable for many. With a blend of humor, expertise, and a knack for community engagement, Dan Gear's contributions significantly enrich the Football Manager community, making him a cherished figure among enthusiasts.

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