Borussia Dortmund advanced to the final of the DFB-Pokal for a record-setting fourth time in a row on Wednesday evening, beating rivals Bayern Munich at Allianz Arena, 3-2. The Black and Yellows will face Eintracht Frankfurt on May 27 in Berlin’s Olympiastion as they attempt to win the first piece of proper silverware since 2012.
Differing runs of form since the last meeting with Bayern on April 8, a game Dortmund had deservedly lost 4-1, were enough for most to expect a competitive match on Wednesday, even though Bayern remained pretty clear favourites in the eye of the public and on the betting markets.
Dortmund head coach Thomas Tuchel was confident, however, ahead of the game and selected a team that reflected this mindset after going with a rather defensive 5-3-2 set up in that meeting earlier this month.
The 43-year-old opted to go with a back four this time around, with Sokratis Papastathopoulos returning to the starting XI after suffering from muscle problems in his abdomen. In midfield, Julian Weigl and Gonzalo Castro manned the centre, while Raphael Guerreiro and Ousmane Dembele played on the wings. Tuchel clearly identified Bayern’s wingers Arjen Robben and Franck Ribery as the main source of danger for his side and tasked his own widemen to help out their full-backs against the two veterans. Up front, Marco Reus and Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang played off each other and served as first pressing lines, even though Dortmund only situationally applied pressure high up the pitch.
Especially after the first 10 minutes or so, they almost exclusively committed more than one man in pressing situations high up the pitch when Bayern’s back-up goalkeeper Sven Ulreich was on the ball, the former Stuttgart No. 1 looking extremely uncomfortable in possession all game long.
Dortmund’s more positive approach almost paid immediate dividends after just four minutes, when Guerreiro played a fast ball across the face of goal towards Aubameyang, but the Gabonese missed his first great chance of the game, thanks in no small part to a sliding Mats Hummels.
Arturo Vidal whizzed a shot just to the far side of the post after 13 minutes and Bayern started to take more and more control, when Javi Martinez played a pass into the feet of Guerreiro, who had anticipated another backwards pass to Ulreich and wanted to put the ‘keeper under immediate pressure.
Guerreiro’s attempt clanged off the post and, luckily for Dortmund, Reus was the first man to react and poke home, while Bayern’s retiring captain Philipp Lahm almost took out his ankle trying to clear the ball off the line.
The hosts took the hit on the chin and kept putting more and more pressure on Dortmund’s back line without creating anything of substance until the 29th minute. Martinez made up for his earlier mistake following a corner. Bayern cleverly boxed out in the area and so the Spaniard didn’t even have to jump to score with a thumping header.
He wasn’t going to be the only centre-back to score, as team-mate and former BVB captain Hummels added a second for Bayern four minutes from intermission. Martinez shifted play to the left side with a long ball, with Lukasz Piszczek isolated against Ribery. That was a bit of a recurring theme, as Dembele struggled with his defensive responsibilities far more than Guerreiro on the left — Robben was basically a non-factor all game long.
Ribery pulled back for Hummels with the outside of his boot and the Germany international coolly slotted home to give his new side a deserved lead at the time. If anything, Dortmund could consider themselves lucky to be down by one goal only, as Martinez had hit the post after another corner and Sven Bender had made a perfect last-ditch tackle on former team-mate Robert Lewandowski to prevent an earlier second goal. Roman Bürki made one of his most important saves against the Pole in stoppage time of the first period, too.
Dortmund clearly needed to settle themselves at half-time and Tuchel switched things up a bit, going for even more of a counter-attacking approach by introducing the athletic Erik Durm on the right wing and moving Dembele in a more central role at the expense of Castro.
The introduction of a more defensive-minded player on the wing in Durm allowed Piszczek to focus even more on Ribery, with the Frenchman much less of a factor in the second half.
Still, the hosts had the upper hand and it felt a third and presumably decisive goal was merely a matter of time.
The two key situations of the game, though, took place after 61 and 63 minutes, respectively. First, the banged up Hummels left the field with Jerome Boateng coming on. The long-time Dortmund man had been the best player on the pitch with a masterful performance that showed his former fans just what they’re missing out on since he left for Munich.
Two minutes later, Bürki invited Bayern to score with a horrid pass to Weigl under immense pressure from Thiago Alcantara. Lewandowski got on the ball and laid off for Robben, who beat Bürki from the middle of the box. Incredibly, “Iron Manni” Bender managed to deflect the shot onto the bar with a heroic effort. It was the kind of goal-line clearance that fans will talk about for years — think Jürgen Kohler against Manchester United or Neven Subotic against Bayern at Wembley.
Bayern’s wasting of prime opportunities was bound to be punished and, sure enough, Dortmund just that in the 69th minute. Dembele and Aubameyang, who both had more than quiet nights until that point, combined for yet another goal to equalise out of the relative blue for BVB. Dembele’s cross was weighted so perfectly that his striker only needed to nod home gently from less than three yards.
Now Dortmund were suddenly on the up and quickly added what would prove the decisive goal just five minutes later. Guerreiro and Reus forced Lahm into a rare mistake around the halfway line and BVB rolled a three-on-three counter towards Bayern’s goal.
Reus did well to hold play up long enough to find Guerreiro, who immediately returned the ball. Reus almost stumbled and lost the ball but had the presence of mind to find Dembele. The 19-year-old, who had done close to nothing for about 65 minutes but was suddenly threatening with every touch of the ball, sent David Alaba the wrong way with a juke move that opened up a shooting lane for his left foot. The ball kissed the crossbar on its way in and Dortmund had an improbable lead again.
Bayern threw everyone and everything forward in the final 15 minutes (plus no fewer than six of added time) but, apart from a Robben shot saved superbly by Bürki, mustered very little that made Dortmund sweat. In a sign that truly everything was possible for BVB, Xabi Alonso was even booked for simulation after three minutes after Dembele had put them in front.
All in all it’s safe to say that, apart from Bayern fans, the whole football world will agree that if one side deserved the amount of luck they had on Wednesday night, it was Borussia Dortmund after all that’s happened in the month of April, 2017.
Now, Eintracht Frankfurt, who qualified after a penalty shootout following a horrible game of football against Borussia Mönchengladbach on Tuesday, stand in the way of Dortmund’s first real trophy since 2012. It would be the first major trophy for the likes of Reus, Tuchel and, obviously, many of the young players on the team.
First and foremost, though, it would be a deserved prize for the perseverance and character this team has shown over the last few weeks.