Preview: DFB Pokal semi-final against Borussia Dortmund

For the tenth time, FC Bayern Munich and Borussia Dortmund will clash in the DFB Pokal. In seven of the last nine finals, at least one of these two teams was present, and on six of those occasions the trophy went to Munich or Dortmund. This time they meet in the semi-final. Author: Justin • Translator: Sam

The omens for the tie are, however, rather negative on both sides, if on completely different levels. While the men from Munich are having a bit of a hangover from the Champions League exit, the circumstances at BVB are of a different nature.

Match preview

Dortmund’s players have to process an attack on their lives and so are performing remarkably. It’s hard to evaluate the rest of the season for Tuchel’s side, since you won’t be able to say whether individual mistakes in games would have happened under normal circumstances.

So it’s all the more impressive what willpower BVB showed not just against Monaco but also against Borussia Mönchengladbach. More, however, will be needed at Bayern to ensure a happy ending to a difficult season.

In recent times, Thomas Tuchel has regularly set his team up very defensively against Bayern. They would only attack from the half-way line and then they would look to be dangerous on the counter. However, that only worked rarely because they were always too far from goal to do so.

Dortmund’s best games against Bayern have come when they have put pressure on them high up the pitch. Obviously they’d need to keep a solid unit for that and to press compactly, but that’s mostly how Dortmund have best protected their vulnerable defence.

In addition, Bayern have often looked bad this season against well-organised pressing. It’s a cup game in which BVB will be playing for their last chance for a trophy. Tuchel is seen as a tactically-flexible coach, who can identify and exploit the weaknesses of his opponents. Yet in battles with Guardiola and in the second game against Ancelotti he has mostly seemed either helpless or timid.

With Marco Reus’ return, the 43-year-old has all the cards he needs to put Bayern under systematic pressure in their own stadium. Added to that is the offensive power of Aubameyang, Dembélé and Kagawa, who has looked in good shape over the last few weeks. It’s just frustrating for Dortmund not to have Nuri Sahin available, given that lately he has, surprisingly, been the player able to energise their game.

For Bayern it’ll come down to preventing long balls. Weigl will try to get in between the Rekordmeister’s lines of midfield and defence with his passes, while the guests’ attackers will lie in wait in precisely those zones.

The home defenders, then, would be well-advised to try to restrict both the supplier of the pass and the runs of Dortmund’s rapid attackers. A few weeks ago Bayern showed in the Bundesliga how to play against BVB. Even so, that match-up shouldn’t be given too much importance.

Tuchel had to go without important performers and sent out his team with an extremely passive set-up. It should absolutely be expected that the line-up and the aggression will be different.

The men from Munich, meanwhile, will base their game on the axis of the last six months. That consists of Hummels, Thiago and Lewandowski. The former is having a superb season and is Bayern’s constant in their build-up play. He didn’t show just how important he is for Ancelotti in the recent meetings with Real Madrid, in which he was injured on one occasion and outstanding in the other.

Mats Hummels has been one of the best performers of the season.
(Photo: Matthias Hangst / Bongarts / Getty Images)

Bayern got everything right with the return of the German international. He takes responsibility on and off the pitch, consistently performs and increases the danger at offensive set pieces, even if that hasn’t been reflected in end product just yet.

Thiago, meanwhile, will have to do what he wasn’t able to in the Champions League: run the game. At a high level we saw that it is indeed possible to isolate the Spaniard and heavily limit the German champions by doing so. On a good day, Dortmund are capable of doing something similar.

So the question will be how well Bayern can support their playmaker. Here Lewandowski, who will drop back, will be important, as will Ribéry who will drift inside, but above all the two other midfielders will be vital. Ancelotti will have to choose between Müller and Vidal for one of these roles, provided Alonso can play. Thiago has practically carried and structured the Bayern midfield on his own through the whole season. It’d be nice if this burden were not solely on his shoulders on Wednesday. It’s probable, however, that a lot will be up to him again.

Of course, in the same breath we should mention Robert Lewandowski, Arjen Robben and Franck Ribéry, who with goals and assists will take on the most important tasks in the final third. Efficiency in front of goal has also become important, since Bayern have been a little more porous defensively.

One coach has the better players and relies on them bringing that onto the pitch too, while the other tries to make up that gulf with tactical and team unity. At the end of the day, anything could happen in this tie: from a comfortable Bayern victory to throwing away the next trophy.

The very last, and so far only, battle between Bayern Munich and Borussia Dortmund in a cup semi-final had a strange end. Then, Bayern quite literally slipped out of the cup. So maybe Philipp Lahm might also prefer to avoid penalties.

All in the head?

The omens tell us that we won’t see either team reach the levels that we saw in the previous campaigns. That was visible in both of the Bundesliga matches already.

But then, however, come a few circumstances that look to complicate matters. For one team it will be the last big game of the season. While Bayern have to cope with narrowly falling short of their biggest goal of the season, BVB will try to summon their last remaining strength which are left after the awful attack on the team bus.

But above all, what unites these two clubs is that their appraisal of the season could change substantially based on this game. For the visitors from Dortmund it’d be a positive turning point after a mixed season, and for FC Bayern it’s practically the bare minimum to reach the cup final. Should they not manage that, the tone regarding squad politics and the coach might become harsher still.

The question will be who eventually clears their head more. For Bayern this may be an easier task, since for them it’s only been about sporting issues. We can however be even more intrigued by what kind of football match awaits Germany when this weekend two fantastic teams meet, simultaneously trying to make a truly good season from a tricky one.

Five bold predictions

  1. FC Bayern will get through to the final
  2. Bayern will score at least twice within normal time
  3. Lewandowski will score at least once
  4. Müller will not start
  5. Dortmund will score at least once

From the Leverkusen preview, three predictions were right, while two were correct from the Real Madrid second leg. Total: 104/195.



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