The fourth round of the DFB Pokal will be played out this Tuesday and Wednesday, which two matches each day. The sixty-four clubs that began the competition have been whittled down to eight survivors in the German Cup tournament that began its current incarnation sixty years ago. One third division team, Kickers Offenbach, and one second division club, VfL Bochum, will be looking for upsets in a round highlighted by the meeting of Bundesliga giants Bayern München and Borussia Dortmund in the last match of the round on Wednesday. With the two Bundesliga heavyweights facing each other this early in the knockout tournament, the remaining six clubs have every reason to hope for a berth in the DFB Pokal finals on June 1 following the semifinal round held April 16-17.
Two of the matches, Kickers-Wolfsburg and Bayern-Dortmund, will be streamed live at 2:30 pm ET on ESPN 3 on Tuesday and Wednesday respectively.
VfB Stuttgart – VfL Bochum
VfB Stuttgart have displayed a great deal of inconsistency this season, yet are the only one of the four Bundesliga clubs to advance out of the first knockout stage of the Europa League. Currently in 11th place in the Bundesliga table on 29 points, the Swabians started 2013 in a woeful fashion, losing their first four league matches after winter break by an aggregate 11-2 scoreline. Things have improved the last weeks, though, with Stuttgart making its way past Racing Genk in the Europa League Thursday while gaining four points in their last two league matches. The Swabians beat FC St. Pauli and FC Köln to reach the Pokal semifinals, and have allowed only two goals in their last four competitive matches.
They face a Bochum side that closed out 2012 on a strong note, recording three shutout wins, over Dynamo Dresden and SC Paderborn 07 in league play and 1860 München in the Pokal’s third round. The New Year hasn’t been as kind, though, with the club winning once and drawing twice in four league matches, as they currently occupy the 13th berth in the 2. Bundesliga table. While Bochum are slightly above average in scoring among Germany’s second division clubs, only promoted clubs SSV Jahn Regensburg and SV Sandhausen have allowed more goals this season.
Kickers Offenbach – VfL Wolfsburg
Kickers Offenbach are currently in 12th place in the 20 team German 3. Liga table, but are hoping for a big upset against the Wolves at their Sparda Bank Hessen Stadion home. Founded in 1901, Kickers Offenbach have played in the third division since their demotion from the second level following the 2007/2008 season. New coach Rico Schmidt, 44, enjoyed a successful Offenbach debut February 16 when Kickers defeated Saarbrucken 2-0, with Kickers’ leading scorer, Mathias Fetsch, supplying both goals. Kickers scheduled match this weekend with Wacker Burghausen was postponed.
If there is a first-division team ripe for an upset, Wolfsburg would seem to fill the bill. The Wolves brought in a new managment team in December, raiding Werder Bremen for Sporting Director Klaus Allofs and Nürnberg for Coach Dieter Hecking, but the new duo have yet to taste consistent success in the Volkswagen City. Wolfsburg are 2-2-2 thus far in 2013, and despite the presence of reborn playmaker Diego and steady goalkeeper Diego Benaglio, linger in 15th place with a 7-6-10 mark, the same spot position they were in before Allofs and Hecking were brought in, with the same -10 goal differential. While Wolfsburg have been fortunate that the three clubs below them in the standings, FC Augsburg, 1899 Hoffenheim and Greuther Fürth have combined for a measly nine wins following MatchDay 23, the Wolves can make their own fortune with an advance to the Pokal semifinals Tuesday with a win over Offenbach and put a shine on an otherwise lackluster season.
1. FSV Mainz 05 – SC Freiburg
Mainz and Freiburg are two very evenly matched clubs. In their two 2012/2013 meetings, they have drawn 1-1 and 0-0, (Mainz took both matchups last season, whereas in 2010/2011 Freiburg won one matchup and drew the other)are separated by two points in the table and are both coming off draws this weekend. Furthermore, with Thomas Tuchel at Mainz and Christian Streich at Freiburg, both are led by two coaches who have found success and notoriety by doing more with less against much bigger clubs.
Mainz have had the tougher path to the Pokal quarterfinals, needing to defeat Schalke to advance from Round 3, while Freiburg defeated 3rd level Karlsruher SC to advance to Wednesday’s matchup. Mainz will have a home-field advantage in this Cup tie, and sport a 6-3-3 record at the Coface Arena, but the Breisgau-Brazilians have done well on the road, fashioning a 4-3-3 away mark in league play, fifth best among Bundesliga clubs. Mainz have scored more goals, but also allowed more, than their Black Forest opponents, with Adam Szalai having scored 12 of the clubs 31 tallies. Max Kruse is Freiburg’s leading scorer with six tallies, but Daniel Caliguiri has chipped in five goals while Jan Rosenthal and Jonathan Schmid have each netted four times. With both teams poised with a realistic chance at European play next season, a win Wednesday would add even more glow to their seasons.
FC Bayern München – Borussia Dortmund
The best comes last in the Pokal’s Fourth Round, matching a Bayern team that leads Germany with 15 Cup titles against a Borussia Dortmund side that did the domestic double last season, defeating Bayern 5-2 last May in the Cup finals in Berlin after claiming its second consecutive league title. Bayern host Dortmund at the Allianz Arena in Wednesday’s clash.
But this season, of course, has been a different story as Bayern have made a joke of the Bundesliga race, leading second-place Dortmund by 17 points with only 11 league matches remaining. While Dortmund have had a successful season thus far, Bayern have been an unbelievable force, yielding only 8 goals in league place while scoring 63 for a jaw-dropping +55 goal differential. Bayern started the campaign with a preseason 2-1 win over Dortmund in the DFB Super Cup back in August and haven’t looked back, although Dortmund was able to earn a 1-1 draw with the Bavarians at the Allianz on MatchDay 15.
Each club will come into the match deeply motivated. Bayern have another good shot at earning the treble following the opportunity last year that slipped through their fingers, leaving them without any trophies. Dortmund have no real chance of winning the league title this season given Bayern’s prolific season, but they have improved in European play, and winning a second consecutive Pokal, especially by eliminating mighty Bayern along the way, would be another feather in their cap against their rival for German footballing supremacy.
With the two favorites to win the Cup meeting in the semifinals, the other six clubs alive in Round 4 must feel a sense of optimism about their chance of getting to the June final.