Hold your horses, folks! German football hasn’t finished quite yet.
Although the title was all but wrapped up, as a result of Joshua Kimmich’s genius with seven matchdays remaining, the race for Champions League places and relegation dogfight between Fortuna Dusseldorf and Werder Bremen meant the recent conclusion to the 2019/20 Bundesliga campaign was an enthralling one.
And now we’ve got a DFB-Pokal final to enjoy.
Germany’s equivalent of the FA Cup draws to a close on Saturday night as Bayern Munich take on Bayer Leverkusen in Berlin.
The former are going in search of the second piece to a once unthinkable treble following Hansi Flick’s November arrival, while the latter – a club perceived as perennial underachievers or ‘bottlers’, to be blunt – will be vying for their first piece of silverware since 1993.
There’s set to be plenty on the line on Saturday night but first, let’s take a look at how both sides got here in the first place.
Die Roten’s journey began amid the bleak Niko Kovac reign in Bavaria, as the Croat took his title-winners from the previous term to fourth-tier FC Energie Cottbus in the opening round last August.
Goals from Robert Lewandowski (shock), Kingsley Coman (actually a shock) and Leon Goretzka ensured Bayern waltzed past a potential banana skin in a 3-1 victory.
However, by the time the second round came about, the cracks in Kovac’s pragmatic regime were starting to evolve into chasms.
In the weeks leading up to the trip to 2. Bundesliga outfit VfL Bochum, Bayern had been beaten at home to Hoffenheim, drawn at Augsburg and snuck past the newly-promoted Union Berlin at the Allianz. Thus, it wasn’t too surprising to see Kovac’s side trailing to Die Unabsteigbaren with ten minutes remaining following Alphonso Davies’ comical first half own goal.
The visitors, however, struck late either side of Armel Bella Kotchap’s dismissal through Serge Gnabry and Thomas Muller to avoid humiliation.
Now into the last 16, Bayern’s Hansi Flick ascension was well underway as they hosted Hoffenheim in early February.
And after a Robert Hubner own goal preceded strikes from Muller and Lewandowski to spare the blushes of Jerome Boateng – who’d turned the ball into his own net for the game’s opener – Bayern appeared to be well on their way to another emphatic victory.
Lewandowski would even score another with ten minutes to go but then the visitors’ resurgence entered the fray. Munas Dubbar bagged a late double for Die Kraichgauer to set up a tense finale in Bavaria, but Flick’s men held on in a seven-goal thriller.
Kimmich’s wonderfully taken half-volley was enough to past Schalke in the quarter-finals, before Bayern faced their trickiest test against Adi Hutter’s Eintracht Frankfurt in the semis.
Die Roten’s early superiority was rewarded with Ivan Perisic’s opener but Eintracht’s impressive display saw them earn a second-half equaliser through Danny da Costa. Lewandowski would soon score to winner to secure their progression into the final, but boy were they made to work hard for it.
Like Bayern, Bayer’s journey started against lowly opposition. Kai Havertz’s former youth team and semi-pro outfit Alemannia Aachen were first on the agenda for Peter Bosz’s side and following strikes from Kevin Volland, Leon Bailey and Havertz, the visitors progressed into the second round via a 4-1 scoreline.
An uncharacteristically sound defensive display then saw Die Werkself squeeze past SC Paderborn – who finished bottom in the Bundesliga this term but often sprung a surprise or two – through Lucas Alario’s first-half strike. The Argentine was the beneficiary of VAR’s absence as replays showed the forward was marginally offside before crashing home.
The lengthy break between rounds meant that a rejuvenated Bayer outfit came out to play for their round of 16 clash at home to Stuttgart.
The second-tier unit made life tough for the confident hosts, mind, and it took an own goal from Stuttgart shot-stopper Fabian Bredlow to break the deadlock with just 20 minutes remaining. That man Alario later doubled the hosts’ advantage but Silas Wamangituka’s immediate reply meant Bayer were forced to hold on to a 2-1 victory.
Die Werkself then booked place in the last four after coming from behind to beat Union at the BayArena in early March. Marcus Invargtsen gave the visitors the lead just before the break, but Bayer were ruthless after Christopher Lenz’s second yellow card gifted them a numerical advantage.
Havertz set-up Karim Bellarabi to level, before Charles Aranguiz powered home from Kerem Demirbay’s corner and the superb Moussa Diaby rounded off a fine individual showing in stoppage time, finishing off a typically slick counter.
Fourth-tier FC Saarbrucken were the miracle of the 19/20 Pokal and Leverkusen’s surprise opponents in the semis. They had knocked out Bundesliga opposition in the form of Cologne and Fortuna to set-up a clash with Leverkusen but after Diaby and Alario had thrust the visitors into a quick 2-0 lead, Saarbrucken’s fairy tale looked poised to come to an end behind closed doors.
The hosts may have feared a thrashing but Leverkusen only scored once more, as Bellarabi blasted the ball into the roof of the net to hand Bosz’s side a 3-0 victory and a place in their first DFB-Pokal final since 2009.
Bayern have been nothing short of imperious since Flick’s appointment and have rarely altered in style. Flick’s side have been all about spellbinding fluidity, pure speed, half-space penetration, a high defensive line and a suffocating intensity out of possession.
Bosz has a monumental task on his hands if he wants to slow down this ruthlessly-oiled machine but he did have some success in their recent 4-2 defeat to Die Roten without Kai Havertz.
Bayer’s press in a 3-4-3 shape disrupted Bayern’s build-up in the opening stages, while they were also able to bypass Flick’s press as the game wore on following a switch to a 4-2-3-1. The key for Bayer is to make the most of the likely rare moments they’ll have against Bayern in transition. They can certainly be got at with their ridiculously high defensive line and are particularly vulnerable down the right-hand side.
Creating overloads against the double pivot of Kimmich and Goretzka will be crucial in ball progression and this is where the superb space exploiter Havertz comes to the party. However, Bosz will have to be wary about his own high defensive line – they were woefully disorganised in the 4-2 defeat and were rightly exposed by an efficient Die Roten attack.
It’s safe to say it’ll come as just a bit of surprise if Leon Bailey lines up as a left wing-back in this one.
Overall, although Bayern are big favourites, there’s no doubting Bayer have the tools to pull off the upset on Saturday night – especially with Havertz at Bosz’s disposal this time around. Either way, this one’s set-up to be a corker.