UEFA Champions League debuts don’t come more glamorous than a trip to the Santiago Bernabéu; look ahead to Wednesday’s intriguing duel with our Real Madrid vs Union Berlin prediction and preview.
Real Madrid vs Union Berlin: The Quick Hits
- Union Berlin will be playing their first game ever in the Champions League when they go to Madrid in Group C.
- Carlo Ancelotti’s side are competing in the competition for the 27th season in a row and this will be their 305th match, extending their own record.
- Four teams have previously made their Champions League debuts against Madrid; all four lost.
Before the 2019-20 season, Union Berlin had never been in the Bundesliga; they’ve played fourth-tier football this century and spent much of their existence in the shadow of city rivals Hertha Berlin.
But on Wednesday, they will appear in the Champions League for the first time, and what an occasion it promises to be as they visit the home of European football’s most successful club, Real Madrid.
Union will be Madrid’s 150th different opponent in European competition and the fifth team to make their Champions League bow against them after Inter Milan (1998), Roma (2001), BATE Borisov (2008) and FC Zürich (2009), all of whom lost.
As an unsurprising contrast, Madrid will be playing a record 305th Champions League game and are big favourites to take their wins tally to 183 – their current haul of 182 is already more than any other club in the competition.
It is, of course, a rather daunting prospect for Union, regardless of their undoubted excitement. This will be the 27th successive season Madrid have appeared in Europe’s elite competition, last absent in 1996-97, and they’ve scored at least once in each of their last 68 home Champions League outings.
Further to that, just three of the previous 14 German clubs to feature in the Champions League won their opening match, and only one of those (Wolfsburg in 2009-10) came since the turn of the century.
Nevertheless, Union aren’t complete European novices. They reached the group stage of the UEFA Europa Conference League in 2021-22 and then made it to the Europa League round of 16 last season.
Their squad also includes several players with past European experience such as Robin Gosens, Brenden Aaronson, Kevin Volland, Robin Knoche, Josip Juranović, Lucas Tousart and, above all, Juventus and Italy great Leonardo Bonucci.
They are only expected to be without vice-captain Rani Khedira, whose brother Sami used to play for Real Madrid, and András Schäfer due to injury. The home side will be missing Thibaut Courtois, Éder Militão, Dani Carvajal, Arda Güler and Vinícius Júnior, but Carlo Ancelotti confirmed on Tuesday that Luka Modrić is fit and will start the match in midfield.
Real Madrid have won all of their first five La Liga matches this season, their best winning run of 2023. They’ll not be getting carried away, as they began 2022-23 with six successive victories and ultimately fell short of retaining their league crown, but it does put them in fine form ahead of their Champions League opener.
Two new signings have contributed well, with England midfielder Jude Bellingham thriving under the pressure of playing in the famous white jersey after his big move. He’s scored five goals in as many games from midfield, putting him well on track to surpass the eight he netted in the Bundesliga for Borussia Dortmund last term, that being his best return for a single league campaign.
Striker Joselu has chipped in with a couple of goals as well; the equaliser in the 2-1 win over Getafe before the international break, and the winner against Real Sociedad on Sunday. The 33-year-old’s arrival may have been somewhat unheralded given he joined on loan from Espanyol and would not be regarded by most as anywhere close to the standard of the player he essentially replaced, Karim Benzema, but he’s already showing his worth and will be aiming to score for a third game running on Wednesday.
Union, on the other hand, have hit something of a rocky patch. They started the season with back-to-back 4-1 wins over Mainz and Darmstadt but have since been beaten 3-0 at home by RB Leipzig and 2-1 away to Wolfsburg.
Coach Urs Fischer may feel they were a little unfortunate against Wolfsburg, however, given their chances amounted to 1.15 expected goals, compared to their hosts’ 0.35. Union also saw more of the ball, registering 532 attempted passes, their highest total in a Bundesliga match since the start of last season.
Opta Power Rankings
The Opta Power Rankings are a global team ranking system that assigns an ability score to over 13,000 domestic football teams on a scale between zero and 100, where zero is the worst-ranked team in the world and 100 is the best team in the world.
Ahead of kick-off on Wednesday, here is the Opta Power Ranking for each side:
Real Madrid vs Union Berlin Prediction
This won’t come as a huge surprise given their vastly varying degrees of Champions League pedigree, but the Opta supercomputer has Real Madrid as firm favourites for this encounter.
In 10,000 simulations of this match, Madrid came out victorious on 70.8% of occasions; by the same notion, Union have just a 10.2% likelihood of taking all three points.
The draw comes in at 19%, meaning there’s an overall 29.2% possibility of Union taking at least a point, odds that, in fairness, they’d probably take.
Certainly, there’s no question that an away win would go down as the most significant result in Union’s history, and it’d significantly boost their hopes of getting out of Group C, with their pre-game qualification probability at 26.4%.
Madrid are the most likely to get out of the group, doing so in 84.6% of simulations. The prediction model has them as fourth favourites to win the whole thing (7.1%), behind Manchester City (41.0%), Bayern Munich (9.9%) and Arsenal (7.9%).
Real Madrid vs Union Berlin UCL Squads
Real Madrid: Thibaut Courtois, Andriy Lunin, Kepa Arrizabalaga, Diego Piñeiro, Fran González, Lucas Cañizares, Dani Carvajal, Éder Militão, David Alaba, Nacho, Fran García, Antonio Rüdiger, Ferland Mendy, Rafel Obrador, Alvaro Carrillo, Marvel, Vinicius Tobias, Jude Bellingham, Toni Kroos, Luka Modrić, Eduardo Camavinga, Federico Valverde, Lucas Vázquez, Aurélien Tchouameni, Dani Ceballos, Brahim Díaz, Arda Güler, Mario Martín, Nicolás Paz, Vinícius Júnior, Rodrygo, Joselu, Álvaro Rodríguez, Gonzalo.
Head Coach: Carlo Ancelotti
Union Berlin: Frederik Rønnow, Alexander Schwolow, Yannic Stein, Paul Jaeckel, Diogo Leite, Danilho Doekhi, Robin Gosens, Josip Juranović, Leonardo Bonucci, Jérôme Roussillon, Christopher Trimmel, Robin Knoche, Brenden Aaronson, Rani Khedira, Janik Haberer, Aïssa Laïdouni, Lucas Tousart, Alex Král, Aljoscha Kemlein, Laurenz Dehl, Kevin Volland, David Fofana, Kevin Behrens, Sheraldo Becker.
Head Coach: Urs Fischer