BERLIN — These are strange times in the Bundesliga.
American forward Jordan Pefok and Sheraldo Becker scored again Sunday to fire Union Berlin back to the top of the German league with a 2-0 win over Wolfsburg.
Ten-time defending champion Bayern Munich could only watch after its 1-0 loss at Augsburg the day before as it fell five points off the pace set by a team that was only promoted for the first time in 2019.
Becker set up Pefok to open the scoring in the 55th minute, then the Suriname forward raced clear to seal the win in the 77th, giving Union a two-point lead over Borussia Dortmund after seven rounds.
Union coach Urs Fischer, who led the team to promotion in 2019 and has overseen steady progress year-on-year in the Bundesliga, is refusing to get carried away by his team’s unprecedented position at the top.
“More difficult times will come,” said Fischer, who outlined what he thinks are the secrets to his team’s success.
“I believe that this team-thinking is a great strength, to show solidarity, to act as a collective. And then we have basics that we try to call upon every weekend, a willingness to work tirelessly, to be nasty,” Fischer said. “Of course, we also try to develop and get better when playing with the ball. But first and foremost, it is important to get these basics on the pitch. I think that that sets us apart a bit.”
Bayern, now four league games without a win, is no doubt paying attention.
Union fans warmly welcomed Timo Baumgartl, back in the starting lineup for the first time in five months after he was diagnosed with testicular cancer. The 26-year-old defender’s last league game was against Eintracht Frankfurt in April.
Former Union star Max Kruse was spared the fans’ reception as he has fallen out of favor with Wolfsburg coach Niko Kovac, who said the former Germany forward will never play for the club again.
The home team made the better start but was unable to force a breakthrough. Wolfsburg’s defence recovered enough to stop the ball reaching Union’s speedy Pefok and Becker.
Pefok went narrowly wide after the break. He then scooped the ball over as Fischer’s side again started with intent. Maximilian Arnold went close at the other end.
Then the moment the home fans were waiting for. Becker showed pace against his marker before crossing for Pefok to score with a glancing header. It was his third Bundesliga goal in six appearances since his summer switch from Young Boys.
The French-speaking American, whose full name is Theoson-Jordan Siebatcheu, prefers to be called Pefok, his mother’s maiden name.
Becker sealed it when he took Paul Seguin’s pass with his shoulder after Arnold lost the ball and raced through to coolly finish for his sixth goal of season.
Both Pefok and Becker were given standing ovations when they went off in the 87th.
“It’s going really well,” Fischer said of their partnership. “But we have to keep working on it, these automatic reactions, so they understand each other blind.”
BOCHUM’S MIXED FEELINGS
After starting the league with six defeats, Bochum was heading toward its first win until Linton Maina scored in the 88th minute to earn Cologne a 1-1 draw.
“We’re disappointed for a start after conceding so late,” Bochum interim coach Heiko Butscher said after his debut. “We’ve now got a point and will pick up the guys again. VfL Bochum will never give up, it keeps going.”
Bochum fired Butscher’s predecessor Thomas Reis on Monday.
Hoffenheim and Freiburg fought to a 0-0 draw to close the seventh round. Freiburg is now third and Hoffenheim fourth.
In the second division, American Terrence Boyd scored a pair of tying goals to give Kaiserslautern a 2-2 draw at Heidenheimer. The 31-year-old Boyd has five goals this season.