BERLIN (AP) — No Isco, no problem.
Union Berlin moved back to the top of the Bundesliga on Saturday after beating Mainz 2-1, days after its bold move to sign former Real Madrid star Isco Alarcón fell apart.
American forward Jordan Pefok scored late to fire Union two points clear of Bayern Munich and Borussia Dortmund.
Union supporters and the team jumped up and down as the fans chanted “Take Bayern’s lederhosen off,” and sung about leading the league.
Union, which is playing only its fourth season in Germany’s top-flight, led the Bundesliga for seven weeks earlier this season.
Few expected the club to reclaim first place – even if it is only for one night – once Bayern took over in the 13th round. But Bayern has drawn its last three league games since the winter break while Union keeps winning.
“Four or five years ago we were in the second division, middle of the table, and now we’re at the very top of the first division. Crazy,” Union fan Ben Schulz told The Associated Press.
Pefok came on as a substitute for opening goal-scorer Kevin Behrens in the 79th minute. Five minutes later he scored his first goal since September to end his 14-match scoreless streak and set off wild celebrations around Stadion An der Alten Försterei.
Dortmund routed 10-man Freiburg 5-1 to move to third behind Bayern on goal difference after its fourth straight win in 2023.
Bayern visits Wolfsburg on Sunday when the 10-time defending champion can reclaim first place.
Union has racked up five wins across all competitions in 2023, including its German Cup win over Wolfsburg on Tuesday.
That came hours after the move to sign Isco broke down – a disagreement that seemed to linger for Mainz’s visit as the game became mired in midfield with few highlights. It was arguably crying out for a creative player like Isco.
Union emerged with more intent after the break.
Mainz was given a lifeline when Paul Seguin was penalized through VAR for handball. Former Union forward Marcus Ingvartsen equalized from the spot in the 78th.
Pefok and Morten Thorsby came on a minute later and combined to lift Union to the top.
HALLER’S TIMELY GOAL
Forward Sébastien Haller scored his first goal for Dortmund in his fourth appearance since returning from treatment for testicular cancer.
“Much too late,” Dortmund coach Edin Terzić said. ”We would have liked for him to score in July or August, that’s what we all wanted when we signed him in the summer.”
Haller needed two operations and chemotherapy following his diagnosis in July, two weeks after he joined from Ajax. He made his first appearance for Dortmund on Jan. 22.
Dortmund was helped on Saturday by the early dismissal of Freiburg’s Kiliann Sildillia, sent off for his second yellow card after just 16 minutes.
Nico Schlotterbeck scored against his former team from a narrow angle after a corner in the 26th.
But Dortmund missed further chances and Lucas Höler equalized with Freiburg’s first real attack just before the break.
Karim Adeyemi restored Dortmund’s lead after the break, then Haller’s moment came when Raphaël Guerreiro crossed for his first Dortmund goal.
Julian Brandt added another on a counterattack, and Gio Reyna wrapped it up by scoring in his third straight match.
Freiburg coach Christian Streich was sent off in the 77th for complaining about the referee’s decisions.
Also, Eintracht Frankfurt defeated Hertha Berlin 3-0, Cologne drew with Leipzig 0-0, Bochum defeated Hoffenheim 5-2, and Borussia Mönchengladbach drew with last-placed Schalke 0-0.
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