The feeling for Taiwo Awoniyi after Florian Badstubner’s final whistle at Stuttgart must have been bittersweet.
Even though he netted his seventh league goal of the campaign, Union Berlin were denied their first-ever victory at the Mercedes-Benz Arena due to Wahid Faghir’s deflected stoppage-time equaliser.
In addition to that disappointment for the Nigeria international, the late leveller denied Union a fourth Bundesliga win on the trot—which would have set a new club record for a side still finding their feet in Germany’s top flight.
Nine games in, and Urs Fischer’s men sit in fifth spot — one point and a place outside the Champions League spots — with their so-far decisive summer arrival at the forefront of an unanticipated start, despite last season’s seventh-place finish.
Awoniyi’s form since switching to Union permanently was unforeseen. Granted, he desired to put down roots somewhere and Berlin was a sensible destination after leaving Liverpool in the summer.
However, no one foresaw this amazing run that has seen him flourish and hit the ground running.
Seven goals in the opening nine games is already higher than his tally from the entirety of last season.
His early-season Bundesliga haul strikingly betters his return from the last two seasons combined. Whether this is a purple patch or otherwise is up for debate, but anyone contributing to more than half of his team’s goals is worthy of acclaim.
Awoniyi has netted seven of Union’s 13 Bundesliga goals, with another two of the Berlin outfit’s five coming in their maiden European campaign in the Europa Conference League.
This has seen him rewarded with a Nigeria call-up, despite Gernot Rohr’s previous reluctance.
“We can only bring three centre forwards, we have already [Victor] Osimhen, we have Paul Onuachu, we have [Terem] Moffi who is doing well in Lorient and we even have Kelechi [Iheanacho],” the Super Eagles boss stated in early September.
“So, which one do you want me to bring out to put in Awoniyi?”
While the frontman’s eventual debut didn’t go according to plan — he missed Nigeria’s best opportunity in their defeat by the Central African Republic — his stock has continued to rise since October’s international break.
The 24-year-old has netted in successive games in the league since returning from Super Eagles duty (four games on the trot in all competitions), scoring the winner against Wolfsburg & technically securing his team a point last time out at Stuttgart, even if he’d have desired helping them claim the available three.
Throw in both strikes in the Iron Ones’ turnaround at Mainz before the recent hiatus & the forward’s inclination to come up trumps is further highlighted.
Incredibly, all of Awoniyi’s seven league strikes have either seen him win maximum points for Union or secure a draw. The upshot of this means he’s had a hand in nine of the Berlin club’s 16 points; awesome, to say the least.
He passes the eye test and the underlying numbers add another layer to the ongoing brilliance.
The 24-year-old's seven goals have come from expected goals of 4.0, an over-performance that outranks everyone in the German top flight—including Erling Haaland & Robert Lewandowski, who he squares up to on Saturday.
The Bayern Munich superstar may lead the way for goals in Germany’s top division, but the former Liverpool player's superior shot conversion makes him the campaign’s deadliest finisher heading into gameweek 10.
Union will have to be wary of their wounded opponents, aggrieved after suffering an unexpected 5-0 thrashing by Borussia Monchengladbach in Wednesday’s cup elimination.
Die Eisernen ’s 21-game unbeaten run at Stadion An der Alten Forsterei is the current longest in the Bundesliga, and it faces its greatest challenge on Saturday.
However, last season demonstrated they have what it takes to stop FC Hollywood, playing out draws in both games and, in turn, being the only side Hansi Flick failed to defeat in his final season in charge of the giants.
If Awoniyi comes up trumps against a side with the might of Bayern, even more observers will notice the frontman who could become Union’s top scorer in Bundesliga history with his next strike.
While one Super Eagle is thriving in Germany, Moffi, one of last season’s revelations in Ligue 1, hasn’t had the rub of the green in his second year at Lorient.
Last week’s blank was the forward’s fifth on the trot without finding the back of the net since netting a late winner against last year’s champions Lille in September.
Despite the ongoing run without a goal, this isn’t the forward’s longest run without finding the back of the net, as last season showed a streaky disposition. There was a nine-game run without finding the back of the net after a debut strike while a seven-match drought ensued in the second half of the season.
Notwithstanding, Moffi scored 14 times in his Ligue 1 debut campaign and there was a belief he’d push on in 2021/22. Of course, his feast or famine nature means a bucketload of goals may be around the corner, yet his underlying numbers are somewhat worrying.
Statistics show the Lorient man is taking fewer shots per 90 this term and there’s been a significant drop in how often his reduced attempts are on target.
43.6 percent of the 22-year-old’s efforts were within the width of the posts last term but this season shows a drop off to 17.6 percent. A decline in his conversion rate — 25 percent in 20/21 to 11 percent this term — magnifies his struggles in front of goal, despite averaging similar touches in the attacking third and opposition’s penalty area.
Rohr had failed to consider Awoniyi due to the form of Onuachu — currently on a dry spell with Genk — and Moffi — whose shooting boots have seemingly deserted him as well.
Indeed, the settled Union marksman now seems higher in the pecking order with the Africa Cup of Nations imminent but even he knows he’s got to work hard to stay there to avoid being on the outside looking in.