Borussia Dortmund will face Hertha BSC in the round of 16 of the DFB-Pokal on Wednesday evening in front of their own fans. The Black and Yellows haven’t lost a home match in the cup since 2009 and are coming off one of their strongest performances of the season on the weekend, a 1-0 win over RB Leipzig that easily could’ve been a blowout.
Hertha wrested a point from Dortmund in the Bundesliga meeting at the Westfalenstadion in October, when Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang’s late equaliser rang in a hectic final phase of the match that saw two players — Emre Mor and Hertha’s Valentin Stocker — sent off and Dortmund miss a huge opportunity to turn the game around completely.
However, that match came at the height of an injury crisis for the Black and Yellows, who are in good health entering Wednesday’s cup meeting. Apart from Sven Bender, Sebastian Rode and Nuri Sahin, there are no injuries to report. Mario Götze suffers from muscle issues that could cost him an appearance, but that’s about it.
That means both Ousmane Dembele and Marcel Schmelzer are ready to go after having to be taken off the pitch against Leipzig, while Gonzalo Castro returns to the fold after getting a break on the weekend due to what head coach Thomas Tuchel described as “a feeling of being at less than 100 per cent.”
The 43-year-old also confirmed in Tuesday’s press conference that Roman Bürki will be between the sticks and not usual cup ‘keeper Roman Weidenfeller. Tuchel cited a need for rhythm in Bürki’s performances after the Switzerland international missed almost three months with a broken hand, while also acknowledging that it was a difficult decision to disappoint veteran Weidenfeller. Per Tuchel, the 36-year-old took it with understanding, saying he would need rhythm after a long break as well if he were the No. 1 goalkeeper.
With Hertha’s defensive approach being almost a polar opposite to Leipzig’s, according to Tuchel, it is widely expected Dortmund will not play with a back five again. Unlike RB’s pressing-heavy tactics, Hertha sit a bit deeper and commit more men to defend their own defensive third, which means the Black and Yellows are unlikely to be able to rely on counter-attacks and quick transitions as much as they did on Saturday.
Noting that Hertha concede very few clear-cut scoring chances per game, Tuchel indicated this could be a match that will require patience and diligence. Dortmund can expect to have the vast majority of possession and will need to find solutions through combinations rather than attacking the visitors with a hit-and-run style.
In that regard, it could be a good idea to play Dembele in a central role, much like he did towards the end of the first half of the season, as he excels in tight areas thanks to his superb control and agility.
Hertha, meanwhile, rarely change their system or approach and can be expected to play a run-of-the-mill 4-2-3-1 with Vedad Ibisevic the focal point of the attack. The 32-year-old Bosnian is awkward to play against because he knows every trick in the book to be a nuisance to defenders, and it wouldn’t be surprising to see sparks flying when he and Sokratis Papastathopoulos clash in duels. Ibisevic hasn’t scored against Dortmund since his time at VfB Stuttgart, when he got one back for the Swabians in the ridiculous 4-4 draw at the Westfalenstadion in March 2012, but provided an outrageous back-heel assist in the league meeting in October.
Dortmund, of course, met Hertha in the semi-final last season, blowing them out of their home 3-0 in what was a pathetic performance by the hosts who were dreaming of making it to the final in Berlin’s Olympiastadion for the first time in club history.
With the Black and Yellows strong home record under Tuchel, who has lost only two matches in Westfalenstadion since taking over from Jürgen Klopp in 2015 (in the UEFA Europa League against PAOK and the DFL-Supercup against Bayern Munich last August) and their strong form in the DFB-Pokal in mind, anything other than a quarter-final appearance for Dortmund would be a massive disappointment.
One wrinkle to note: From this round on, teams are allowed a fourth substitution in case the match goes to extra time. Should it come to that, Dortmund’s superior depth could make a huge difference.
Predicted Starting XI: Bürki; Piszczek, Sokratis, Bartra, Schmelzer; Weigl; Schürrle, Dembele, Guerreiro, Reus; Aubameyang.