After an emotional week for Borussia Dortmund and its fans, the team travel to Berlin to face Hertha in the DFB-Pokal semifinals. It is one of very few Dortmund games that has any significant meaning to it, now that the domestic and European dreams are crushed.
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Dortmund haven’t had too difficult of a path to the semifinals, defeating Chemnitz, Paderborn, Augsburg, and Stuttgart by a combined score of 14:2. Hertha’s path has been even easier, as Dortmund will be the first club from the top flight they’ve faced in the cup this season. They have defeated Arminia Bielefeld, FSV Frankfurt, Nürnberg, and Heidenheim to get to the semifinals.
After an impressive season thus far, Hertha have come back down to earth a bit in the month of April. They’ve yet to win this month, losing two and drawing one, including a 5-0 drubbing at Gladbach. Dortmund might be catching them at a good time, but beating this Hertha team on the road will still be a tough task.
Dortmund traveled to the Olympiastadion earlier in the Rückrunde, only coming away with a 0-0 draw, which credits Hertha’s defensive strength. They’re one of few German teams with two strong full-backs in Mitchell Weiser and Marvin Plattenhardt. You can read more about the tactical side of Hertha here in Tom Payne’s piece for Spielverlagerung.
With Hertha’s strong positional rotation, and some shrewd signings, Pal Dardai has built a team on the brink of Champions League qualification. Their goals have been coming through proven goalscorers Salomon Kalou and Vedad Ibisevic, while Vladimir Darida and Per Skjelbred form the base of a solid midfield. Advancing to the semifinals of the DFB-Pokal is already a strong achievement for Dardai’s side, but playing in the finale in their own stadium would be one of Hertha’s biggest achievements as a club.
On the Dortmund side of things, this cup is the Europa League of Europa League’s, as per our own Stefan Buczko. Even winning this tournament wouldn’t do much to boost the morale of supporters after the collapse in Liverpool. This is maybe the only match left in the season that has some importance to it, which means we’ll likely see Thomas Tuchel go all out for the only trophy attainable at this point in the season.
After seeing some fringe players and youngsters start at the weekend, Tuchel will reintroduce the likes of Henrikh Mkhitaryan, and Marco Reus to the starting XI. There’s no reason not to play his strongest team in this one, considering he has literally every other game left in the season to give the starters a break and some other players a chance.
As discussed in the upcoming podcast (to be published later today), the season should still be regarded as a successful one even if we lose to Hertha or in the finale. In perspective, Tuchel took over a team that was in a relegation battle for the larger part of last season, and to make such drastic improvements, even without a trophy, is an incredible accomplishment. Sure, it would certainly leave a sour taste in the mouths of supporters once again, but this team is on a world-class level now thanks to the genius of Thomas Tuchel.
Should Dortmund win, they’ll almost certainly face Pep Guardiola and Bayern Munich, barring an incredible Werder Bremen upset. Bayern’s status in the Champions League will dictate how important the finale will be to them, but Pep Guardiola will want to go out on the highest note possible.
Even though there’s still a trophy to play for, it’s hard to get too excited for the rest of the Dortmund season. Despite being one of the few games left that holds any significance, things can’t get much more depressing for the majority of Dortmund fans. Advancing to the DFB Pokalfinale is usually expected of Borussia Dortmund, given their recent successes in the tournament, so falling short of this goal will end this incredible season on a low note.