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German Bundesliga

DFB Pokal Roundup: Favourites through to Final

After 62 games, some sensational upsets and some inspirational cup runs, we finally know who’ll line up at the Olympiastadion in Berlin on the 17th of May for the DFB Pokal final. That’s right, midweek has meant an English Week for four German clubs – a week in which teams play in midweek and at the weekend – as they’ve played off for their shot at some sought-after silverware.

Borussia Dortmund 2-0 VfL Wolfsburg

Tuesday night’s game saw the Borussia Dortmund machine that we all saw in the Champions League last season back to its pulsating best attacking the opposition goal, and while the game was far from straightforward for the hosts, they deserved their place in the final on the night, with a much more convincing performance than the 2-1 victory over the same team a few weeks ago in the Bundesliga, namely VfL Wolfsburg.

An early surge forward by Serbian midfielder Milos Jojic was halted by the ticker tape that had settled on the surface of the Signal Iduna Park’s pitch, having been dispersed before the game in what was essentially a battle from both sets of fans present at the game to have the most picturesque choreo. Jojic was unable to find Lewandowski in the middle, but Dortmund weren’t left to rue that missed chance later on, with Henrikh Mkhitaryan slotting home neatly minutes later on the break.

Wolfsburg controlled the game, keeping the majority of possession and probing the Dortmund defence at times, with Ivica Olic going close with a header. But it was Dortmund’s power and pace on the break that was the more effective of the two sides, Robert Lewandowski collecting the ball in the area from another counter-attack, confusing his man with some neat footwork and somehow slotting it past Grün in the Wolfsburg goal with a left footed finish – his 100th goal for Borussia. Just before half time, Dortmund were cruising into a Pokal final. Wolfsburg were sinking without a trace.

The second half continued much in the same vein, Dortmund however wasting their better chances as the game failed to strike up a third goal. Wolfsburg committed men forward and got their chances – Kevin de Bruyne shooting feebly wide before Malanda forced an excellent double save from Roman Weidenfeller, while getting injured – seemingly rather seriously – in the process.

Ultimately though, the better team of the two on the night pulled through, and no real upset was to come on Tuesday night. But what of Wednesday night, as FC Bayern hosted second tier 1.FC Kaiserslautern?

FC Bayern München 5-1 1.FC Kaiserslautern

There could have been no excuses for Bayern in this match, the record Champions facing off with a 2. Bundesliga side – even if they’re historically a Bundesliga club – for a place in the final. Having won one of their previous five – including losses to Dortmund and Augsburg in the league – Pep Guardiola’s men aren’t necessarily in crisis, but were in need of a confidence boost ahead of their biggest games of the season, the two legged Champions League semi-final with Real Madrid next week. Kaiserslautern, however, have shown they’re no mugs in the competition thus far – beating Champions League contenders Bayer Leverkusen in the previous round for the right to play Bayern. It was interesting to see whether the quality would beat the fairytale at the Allianz.

It wasn’t clear early on. Kaiserslautern started the better, with Kaiserslautern’s attacking play forcing Bayern’s third string goalkeeper, Lukas Raeder – with Neuer and Starke out with injuries – into action, if only with crosses. The guests were unable to find their main attacking outlet in Simon Zoller, and as Bayern grew into the game this became costly. Bastian Schweinsteiger’s run wasn’t picked up from a corner, and as the ball came to him, the midfielder obliged duly with a good header. At 1-0, Kaiserslautern’s game plan was unravelled – they could no longer really afford to sit back and hope to hit the hosts on the break.

This was compounded minutes later as a mazy Arjen Robben run – typically cutting in from the right and feigning to shoot – wasn’t dealt with, and his slipped pass into teammate Toni Kroos was turned into a curled shot that ebbed just past Sippel. Just like on Tuesday night, the hosts, and favourites, went into the break at 2-0 up. Unlike on Tuesday night however, there was more to come.

Robben’s next key involvement of the night came in earning his team a penalty – a relatively soft one, but largely just because it was defended poorly, rather than Robben not actually being fouled – which was converted neatly by Thomas Müller. Müller sent Sippel the wrong way and, to add insult to injury, still managed to find the corner so neatly that it probably wouldn’t have been saved had the goalkeeper gone the right way. Zoller fired Kaiserslautern back into it not long later, but the game was already gone. Late goals by Mandzukic and Götze compiled the misery for Kaiserslautern, who probably played better than the drubbing they received, but won’t be taking place in the final come mid-May.

One important upshot of the final matchup – Dortmund vs FC Bayern – is that a 7th place finish in the Bundesliga will now grant a team entry into the Europa League qualifiers, which will lower the stakes in the European battle somewhat, with Leverkusen, Wolfsburg, Mönchengladbach and Mainz all now almost guaranteed some form of European competition. It will also mean that Klopp and Guardiola will go head to head with no excuses – Dortmund are finally building up some much needed form, while any slightly bitter claims that Bayern didn’t need to play well against BVB on Saturday, and so didn’t, won’t be the same next month.