Last season, the DFB Pokal was easily the most surprising event in German football. In fact, it might have been one of the most surprising events in all of European soccer. Bayern Munich were in the midst of yet another dominant season in the Bundesliga and were widely expected to win yet another German Cup. Had the Bavarians won the DFB Pokal, it would have been their third trophy in a row in the event, and their 18th overall.
Borussia Dortmund, meanwhile, were in the midst of one of their worst seasons ever-a campaign that saw the venerated club drop from second place in the Bundesliga to seventh, and one that pushed the widely respected Jurgen Klopp to resign his post as BVB's manager. In 2013/14, Dortmund had lost to Bayern Munich in the DFB Pokal, falling behind 0-2 in extra time. When the two clubs were drawn against one another for a semi-final match, the writing seemed to be on the wall that Dortmund's last shot at redemption in the 2014/15 season was about to be dashed.
But then something unexpected happened. Borussia Dortmund fought so hard that they pushed Bayern Munich into extra time and then into a penalty shootout. And as the usually sharp-footed Bayern squad missed four penalty kicks in a row, the BVB side needed just two on-target shots to eliminate the defending champions from the German Cup.
Ultimately, Klopp was denied one last trophy when his Black and Yellows lost to Wolfsburg in the final. But the win against Bayern Munich was definitely the peak of Dortmund's 2014/15 campaign and set the football club up well for a new era under the management of Thomas Tuchel.
The 2015/16 DFB Pokal: The Current State of Things
If Bayern Munich and Borussia Dortmund meet again for a DFB Pokal rematch this season, it won't happen until the championship match. The two soccer teams are drawn on opposite sides of the bracket for this year's tournament, with most pundits predicting an explosive battle between them for the final.
One guarantee is that, for the second year running, the reigning DFB Pokal champion will not have an opportunity to defend their title in the championship game. Wolfsburg bowed out of the tournament all the way back in October, losing to Bayern Munich in just the second round of the competition.
The Bavarians beat Wolfsburg 3-1 and have been sailing smoothly through the bracket ever since. Easy draws for the round of 16 (Darmstadt 98) and the quarterfinals (VfL Bochum) have allowed Munich to coast into the semis with little difficulty.
Dortmund have also had a fairly easy run in the DFB Pokal this season. They notched one of the biggest victories of the tournament so far in the second round, beating SC Paderborn 7-1 in a game that saw goals from six different Dortmund players. Since then, the Black and Yellows have topped FC Augsburg (2-0) and VfB Stuttgart (3-1) to earn a spot in the semis.
The Semi-Final Fixtures
Of the two football clubs, Borussia Dortmund have the tougher draw for the semi-finals. BVB's side of the bracket has the likely Bundesliga runners-up facing off against Hertha BSC. Hertha Berlin, of course, have enjoyed a solid season in the domestic league and have a solid shot at finishing the campaign in third place. Bayern Munich, meanwhile, should have another easy match on the way for their semi-final fixture. Their opponents, Werder Bremen, are facing relegation in the Bundesliga.
If there's one thing we learned from last year's DFB Pokal, though, it's that upsets and surprises do happen-particularly in the high-stakes semi-final round. Could Werder Bremen or Hertha BSC break up the suspected championship pairing of Bayern Munich and Borussia Dortmund? Or will the final match be exactly what most soccer pundits expect it to be?
Hertha BSC certainly have an outside chance of reaching the finals. They lost their first match against Borussia Dortmund this season (an August 30th fixture that ended 3-0 in favor of the Black and Yellows) but forced a draw in the second (a February 6th match that closed out in a scoreless stalemate). When Hertha Berlin had the home field advantage in the second game, they performed significantly better than when they were playing in hostile territory. Playing in Berlin once more for the April 20th German Cup semi-final, Hertha BSC will likely at least give Dortmund a tough fight.
Werder Bremen, on the other hand, have distinctly lower chances of making it to the final round of the 2015/16 German Cup. Despite their mostly dismal run in the Bundesliga this year, the River Islanders have been surprisingly solid in the DFB Pokal-and against tough competition, no less. Indeed, while Bayern Munich and Borussia Dortmund have enjoyed fairly easy match-ups throughout this year's tournament, Werder Bremen have taken out most of the other top contenders-including Borussia Monchengladbach and Bayer Leverkusen.
Monchengladbach and Leverkusen are both top-five teams in the 2015/16 Bundesliga, so it's tough to discount how hard Werder Bremen have had to work to reach this point in the DFB Pokal. Both of those games were solid displays of football too, with the former bringing a 4-3 victory for the River Islanders and the latter a 3-1 win. In both matches, Werder Bremen came back from a 0-1 deficit to win in triumphant fashion.
Still, beating Bayern Munich on April 19th-in a game at Bayern's Allianz Arena, no less-is an entirely different kind of challenge. The Bavarians beat Werder Bremen 1-0 in October, controlling 72% of the possession. Look back even further, and the River Islanders have lost their last 11 games against Munich.
The last time Werder Bremen escaped a match against the Bavarians unscathed was September 2010 when the two soccer teams drew 0-0. The last time Bremen beat Munich, on the other hand, was at a September 20th, 2008 Bundesliga match, where the River Islanders crushed the Bavarians 5-2. Bayern Munich still went on to finish that season in second place on the Bundesliga, eight slots ahead of Werder Bremen.
A Treble for Pep Guardiola
So what's our prediction for the DFB Pokal semi-finals? Werder Bremen's Cinderella story will come to an end at the hands of Germany's best football club. Borussia Dortmund will edge out Hertha Berlin to advance to their third German Cup final in a row. Ultimately, though, the tournament is Bayern's to lose-thanks largely to the fact that players want to send manager Pep Guardiola on his way with a season for the ages.
Since Guardiola took over as Bayern Munich's head coach in 2013, the soccer club has won two Bundesliga titles, one DFB Pokal, one UEFA Super Cup, and one FIFA Club World Cup. In his first season, Guardiola won two-thirds of the treble, clinching the domestic league and the domestic cup, but bowing out of the UEFA Champions League in the semi-finals.
The best-case scenario for Guardiola's final Bayern Munich season is that his team will finally clinch a treble. He won a treble in his first season at FC Barcelona (2008/09), and a second treble-with a different team and in a different country, no less-would certainly put him in the "greatest football coach of all time" conversation.
Right now, a third straight Bundesliga title seems like a foregone conclusion. Barring an upset, the DFB Pokal title is a high likelihood as well. The Champions League title, of course, will be more difficult as it's one of the only titles Guardiola hasn't won while in Germany (with the other being the German Super Cup). But with sharp talents like Robert Lewandowski and Thomas Muller, and with the "end of an era" narrative on his side, could Guardiola finally win another UCL trophy this year?
What are your bets for the remainder of the 2015/16 soccer season? Will Bayern Munich win the DFB Pokal and then the Champions League, en route to a treble? Will Borussia Dortmund deny the Bavarians the German Cup for the second year in a row? Or will Werder Bremen or Hertha Berlin surprise everyone?
We will learn more on April 19th and 20th, respectively. Before then, though, you can root for your favorite club by stopping by Soccer Box and picking up a new 2015/16 Bayern Munich home shirt or Borussia Dortmund jersey.