The third and final part contains a look back at the cup final of 2014 as well as the semi-final of 2015. Furthermore, we’ll turn our attention at the end to this year’s cup final.
2014: Robben becomes terror of Dortmund
Once celebrated by the Dortmund fans as a twelfth man, Arjen Robben developed into the biggest terror of Borussia after the horror season of 2011/12. Besides some goals against BVB in the Bundesliga, the Dutchman was also able to score the decisive goal both in the DFB cup quarter-final and in the Champions League final of 2013. Robben was set to continue this run in the cup final of 2014, though it didn’t quite come to that.
Before the final game in Berlin, Pep Guardiola had serious problems. On the one hand he had declared the Bundesliga finished after the inevitable title, and so lost a few games in the run-in – among others 0-3 against Borussia Dortmund. On the other hand he had hardly covered himself in glory in the Champions League. Against Real Madrid, Bayern were knocked out almost miserably in the semi-final.
In the run-up, then, a lot could be said in favour of Borussia, because Guardiola didn’t just have to go without the already missing Alaba and Schweinsteigerbecause of injury, but also voluntarily without Mandžukić, who would not play again for Bayern after that. While Klopp barely sprung any surprises, Guardiola offered up a tactical orientation that is probably among the best performances of his time at Bayern to date. First of all, the Catalan went for a back-three with Javi Martínez as the central member. Boateng and Dante supported him in the wide central-defensive positions, while Højbjerg (right) and Rafinha (left) occupied the wing-back positions.
This set-up enabled great flexibility. When the two wing-backs pushed up, three centre-backs would cover. In defence, Bayern regularly functioned with five at the back, which made it incredibly difficult for the Dortmunders to create chances. Javi Martínez was, however, always able to roam freely, and so found himself constantly in the defensive-midfield zone. The Spaniard was a central figure of this final and won a lot of important duels. Dortmund’s gegenpressing was only rarely effective, because Bayern were always able to position themselves well due to the flexible formation.
Toni Kroos and Philipp Lahm played centrally in front of the back-line, behind a three-pronged attack consisting of Mario Götze (inside-left), Thomas Müller (inside-right) and Arjen Robben (centre forward). Guardiola went without genuine wide players, and focussed on the centre. In spite of all expectations, Bayern managed to dominate and control the game for almost the entire 90 minutes in this formation. The performance seems all the more impressive when you consider that Guardiola had to replace his captain Philipp Lahm after just 32 minutes.
He was replaced by Franck Ribéry, who took Götze’s role as the inside-left. He then moved into Lahm’s central position, which meant that Bayern deployed two players there who were hardly strong in the challenge. In spite of this, Bayern retained their control and barely let up.
Only in the 65th minute was there a big chance for BVB from a set-piece. Mats Hummels powered a header over the line, and Dante cleared too late. The referee Florian Meyer, however, waved play on. A bad decision. From then on the game became more open, but no goals were scored, and so it went into extra-time. Ultimately it was the will that was decisive here again. After a mistake by Weidenfeller and a cross from Boateng, it was of all people Arjen Robben who once again struck a decisive goal against BVB. Nothing demonstrated how much Bayern wanted this cup as much as the second goal by Thomas Müller. Completely drained and without any speed at all, he marched up to Roman Weidenfeller’s goal, rounded him and forced the ball over the line with his last ounce of strength. Bayern were cup champions, and deservedly so. Thomas Müller, with his impressive performance, snatched the Miasanrot award for Goal of the Year at the last, becoming the first player to win it.
Miasanrot writer Jan described the Müller scene at the time as follows:
When Claudio Pizarro, meanwhile subbed in, played Thomas Müller clean through on goal in the 123rd minute, just past the half-way line, his tiredness was clear to see with every step he took towards the BVB goal in the ensuing sprint. But he rounded the Borussia goalkeeper, rolled home the second for Bayern to make it 2-0, and ended the game with a frenzy of joy for the Reds. Jan in May 2014
Of course, the evening, from the point of view of Borussia Dortmund, ended up unfolding bitterly, because Mats Hummels’ goal would have presumably changed everything. Despite that, Guardiola’s men were at the end of the day the team with the better match plan, the more consistent execution and above all also the team with the strongest will.
2015: FC Bayern slip up
Just a year later, the luck would turn. Although Bayern were clearly the better team for large parts of the game, perhaps the most unfortunate of penalty shoot-outs in the history of the cup eventually decided the game in Borussia Dortmund’s favour. Both Xabi Alonso and Philipp Lahm slipped with their standing leg, and so ensured a quick 2-0 lead for BVB in the battle from the spot.
In the semi-final of the DFB cup, it was all about who would meet VfL Wolfsburg in Berlin. The starting point of the Dortmunders wasn’t quite as good as in the years before. Jürgen Klopp’s team were intermittently threatened with relegation, although they put together a superb run of form to chase down qualification for the Europa League. The battle with FC Bayern was, however, for the time being the last for the Dortmund coach, because it had already been determined that he would finish his era at the end of the season.
Bayern, on the other hand, played out an outstandingly steady season in Guardiola’s second year. The Catalan found himself, however, in strife, because he had to contend with several injuries. Shortly before the Champions League semi-finals against Barcelona, Bayern’s coach had to go without Franck Ribéry, David Alaba and Javi Martínez. In addition, Thiago, Schweinsteiger, Robben and also Lahm had only just returned from injury.
In spite of that, Bayern were the better team from the get-go. Controlling, coping consistently well with Dortmund’s pressing, as well as creating good chances, ensured that Bayern could go 1-0 up through Lewandowski. But after that Bayern didn’t manage to seal the victory. A penalty not given also had an impact. In spite of that, Bayern could only blame themselves for the unnecessary Aubameyang equaliser.
Miasanrot writer Steffen analysed that at the time as follows:
So the plan was a good one and for 60-65 minutes was carried out quite perfectly. That, for a short time after, Bayern lost their composure, allowing Dortmund to highlight their own strengths for 15-20 minutes once more, they could only blame themselves. It had already been noticeable in the minutes before the equaliser that their concentration and their will, maintaining great efforts against the swing towards the Dortmunders, dropped. The introduction of Mkhitaryan and slight Dortmund adjustments complicated matters further. Even Guardiola’s changes in this time only brought further disquiet. The guests won a few easy balls, milked some free-kicks and scored with their first genuine chance of the match to make it 1-1. Steffen in April 2015
Eventually Guardiola’s men lost their grip on the game in exactly this period of the game, and thus put themselves in the situation of a penalty shoot-out lottery. That the nerves fail then can of course happen, although the scenarios that played out were almost absurdly laughable. And so Borussia Dortmund went through to the final – where they lost 1-3 against VfL Wolfsburg.
2016: A preview
Rarely have the conditions going into a game between these two teams been as balanced as they have been this year. On the one hand, the Dortmunders, who want to crown probably their best season since winning the double with a trophy. Should they lose this final, they’ll go down in history as the best losers of all time, but won’t have anything to show for it all the same. On the other hand, we have Bayern, who, make no mistake about it, desperately want to win another trophy after their unfortunate semi-final exit at the hands of Atlético Madrid. What’s more, Pep Guardiola will leave at the end of the season, which could give one or two players more motivation in order to give the coach a fitting send-off.
Both teams, however, will have to do without key players. While Arjen Robben on Bayern’s side will miss out, Ilkay Gündogan has been ruled out for the season as well as the Euros. We’ll see the final duel, for now, between Pep Guardiola and Thomas Tuchel. The fans can once more expect a spectacle in tactical terms. Mats Hummels has ensured that there will be a great narrative around the cup final. There’s no telling what would happen if the current BVB captain were to blunder in the final, and then move to the reigning cup champions from Munich. He’d obviously like to prevent that and celebrate with the fans on the Borsigplatz in Dortmund once more.
For both teams, their evaluations of the season depend a lot on this game. Should FC Bayern grab the double, there’d be almost no room left for criticism. It’d then be a very good season, with just some bad fortune in the Champions League. Should Dortmund, however, win the cup, there’d be once more strong headwinds for Guardiola. The Catalan, indeed, told journalists he’d still look back on his time as Bayern coach happily if they were to lose the final, although that would be unlikely to stop the media coverage.
Even the situation with Borussia Dortmund is somewhat strained. Indeed, even were the season to finish without a title, it wouldn’t be down to the performance of the team. It’d be bitter for BVB if they weren’t rewarded at the end of the season in spite of everything they’ve done. Should they win the cup in Berlin, this superb year would gain extra significance.
Bayern against Dortmund. This game packs a punch and as the last eight games between the two in the DFB cup have already shown: from a straight-forward affair to a bizarre penalty shoot-out – everything is possible. All of German football is looking forward to another gripping encounter between these two teams, who are currently the best that the Bundesliga has to offer.