Last weekend saw Bayern Munich reaffirm their dominance of German football by claiming their ninth successful Bundesliga title. However, there won’t be a third successive double for the Bavarians, with RB Leipzig facing Borussia Dortmund in the DFB Pokal Final on Thursday night. For Leipzig and Dortmund, the Final represents a chance to claim a much-needed piece of silverware for coaches Julian Nagelsmann and Edin Terzic.
Nagelsmann arrived in Leipzig from Hoffenheim in 2019 with a burgeoning reputation and took over in the hope of guiding Leipzig to their first major trophy. He took them to their first Champions League semifinal at the end of his first season. This term has steered Leipzig into second place in the Bundesliga. The progress of Nagelsmann has seen him land the Bayern job in place of Hansi Flick next season, but he won’t want to end his stint as a double runner-up.
Over in Dortmund, interim boss Terzic has done a steady job since taking over from the sacked Lucien Favre in December, taking Dortmund to the last eight of the Champions League. Terzic was never likely to be the long-term answer for a club still looking for a figurehead to replace the departed Jurgen Klopp, with the promising Marco Rose taking over this summer. However, Terzic still has work to do to ensure Dortmund return to the Champions League and win their first trophy since Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang bagged the cup final winner in 2017.
Leipzig’s Last Step
The meteoric rise of Leipzig has angered plenty in Germany, given their lip service to the 50+1 ownership rules of the Bundesliga. Nobody can deny the result, however, from their formation in 2009, as it took Leipzig just five seasons to rise through the regional divisions to the Bundesliga. Last season, they were top of the table at the halfway point of the season, but were ultimately overtaken by Bayern’s turbo-charged 2020.
This season has seen Leipzig firmly entrenched in second place in the Bundesliga and qualify for the knockout phase of the Champions League at the expense of Manchester United. However, they’ve never quite managed to seriously menace Bayern’s stranglehold on the title, while their European adventure ended in the last 16. Second place is almost assured and would represent Leipzig’s best league finish, but the cup remains in Leipzig’s sight.
Silver Linings in Dortmund?
It’s been a season to forget for Dortmund, who were expected to be the biggest challengers to Bayern. However, despite major investment in the squad the Lucien Favre era ended in December with the club struggling and out of title contention. Terzic inherited a team that leaked goals and lacked consistency. The hope was things would improve after the winter break but Dortmund lost successive games to Monchengladbach and Leverkusen to leave their league ambitions firmly fixed on making the top four. The league results remained erratic but the Cup and Champions League runs provided some cheer.
Injuries have been a factor in Dortmund’s struggles with key midfielder Axel Witsel missing much of the season whilst star men Erling Haaland and Jadon Sancho suffered short term injuries at critical moments, Haaland limping off in a 2-4 defeat to Bayern and Sancho missing the Champions League tie with Manchester City.
Dortmund have found a late season surge in form, unsurprisingly coincided with having Haaland, Sancho and Marco Reus all available in attack. Back to back wins over Wolfsburg and Leipzig have pushed Dortmund back into the top four with two games to play.
The Road to Berlin
The story of the this season’s DFB Pokal took a stunning turn in the second round. Bayern were looking comfortable against Bundesliga 2 outfit Holstein Kiel, until defender Hauke Wehl grabbed a 95th minute equaliser to send the tie into extra time. The game ended in penalties and it was Bayern who blinked, going down 6-5 in the shootout.
Bayern’s elimination opened the draw and Leipzig cruised into the quarter finals. Dortmund’s last 16 tie proved very different, with second tier Paderborn pulling them back to 2-2 with a another dramatic injury equaliser. Just as it seemed Dortmund were about to go the way of Bayern, Haaland grabbed an extra time winner and sent Dortmund through.
Leipzig and Dortmund then both came through tense quarter-finals against Wolfsburg and Borussia Monchengladbach to book their places in the last four. Dortmund drew Bayern’s conquerors Holstein Kiel, but this time there would be no fairytale with Dortmund powering home 5-0 with all their goals coming in the first half. Leipzig had it tougher against Werder Bremen who held Leipzig to a 0-0. In extra time the shackles came off and Hwang Hee-chan put Leipzig ahead only to be hauled back by Leonardo Bittencourt’s strike on the stroke of halftime of extra time. Leipzig pushed but the tie appeared to be going to penalties until Emil Forsberg broke Bremen hearts in injury time.
A Blockbuster Final
If the league game between these two on Saturday was anything to go by, this final will be a thriller. Dortmund were without the injured Haaland but Reus gave them the early lead and a fine strike from Sancho doubled their advantage. Leipzig fought back whilst Dortmund lost goalkeeper Marwin Hitz to injury, Leipzig struck back through Lukas Klosterman’s header and appeared to have got the draw when Dani Olmo tapped home. A draw would have pushed Dortmund out of the Champions League places. However Sancho wasn’t finished and his neat one-two opened up Leipzig’s defence as he slotted home an 87th minute winner. The earlier match between these two also ended in a comfortable 3-1 win for Dortmund with Sancho and Haaland grabbing the goals.
The big question ahead of the final is will Haaland play? The striking sensation may have missed the weekend clash but his paramount importance to Dortmund was again underlined by his brace a week earlier against Wolfsburg. Terzic has however confirmed that Hitz will miss the remainder of the season, meaning Roman Burkhi is recalled having previously been dropped by Terzic. One positive piece of team news for Dortmund will be the return from suspension of teenage sensation Jude Bellingham.
Nagelsmann must ponder if to change a side that was beaten by Dortmund despite the absence of Haaland, Bellingham and the change of goalkeeper. He could opt to restore Alexander Sorloth or Yussuf Poulsen in attack, however the bigger concern remains the usually rock solid defence. Leipzig have the best defensive record in Germany, conceding just 28 league goals, but were sliced open by Reus and Sancho. Leipzig did look dangerous going forward with Marcel Sabitzer in a particular thorn in Dortmund’s side.
This should be a great Cup Final, pitting a great attacking side against a top defensive outfit. The availability of Haaland remains an open question, but Dortmund’s late season revival and Sancho’s sensational form appear to be tipping the scales in Dortmund’s favour. Prediction Borussia Dortmund 2-1 RB Leipzig