Dortmund count on Munich experience as benefit against Bayern in DFB Pokal
DORTMUND, Germany -- "When you go down a [black diamond ski trail], the probability is high that you're doing better the second time," said coach Thomas Tuchel at Tuesday's pregame news conference ahead of Borussia Dortmund's trip to the Allianz Arena on Wednesday. It is there where they will once again face Bayern Munich to determine which of the two powerhouses will travel to Berlin for the DFB Pokal final.
Tuchel's skiing analogy was in reference to Dortmund's last trip to Munich at the beginning of April, when a depleted Ruhr side had little chance against a Bayern team that was firing on all cylinders. In the 4-1 Bundesliga loss, the Dortmund coach featured six players who had never played in Munich before -- four of which were in the starting formation.
"One can show the players the spaces they can play into," said Tuchel, "But when you're standing there on the field of the Allianz Arena and have to cope with the stress that Bayern exude and the little time you have on the ball, then things look a little different."
The shared Allianz Arena experience of Ousmane Dembele, Christian Pulisic & Co. was one of many factors the Black and Yellows cited as a reason they can travel to Munich with higher hopes of achieving their "dream" of finally winning the DFB Pokal. It would be their first silverware in general (Super Cups excluded) since 2012.
"Thinking back to BVB's last cup semifinal in Munich [in 2015], it should have been 5-0 to Bayern after 70 minutes and 2-1 for BVB after 90 minutes," said Tuchel. "After 120 minutes, the Bavarians fail to convert a single penalty -- that would also be okay next Wednesday. But that's what I mean when I say that the run of play has to go your way when you want to win in Munich. Even Real Madrid need that sort of luck. We're in a good phase and we're in good spirits. The momentum is with us. I hope this will be visible on Wednesday."
After Bayern Munich crashed out of the Champions League against Real Madrid, a loss of tension was visible in the Bayern team in their 2-2 draw against Mainz at the weekend. Carlo Ancelotti opted to play most of his key footballers despite the looming semifinal, which may as well be Bayern's last meaningful match of the season with the league all but wrapped up. Hence the disappointment at the Isar, as they wanted to go one step further with Ancelotti than they did with Pep Guardiola to lift the European trophy once again.
Dortmund, meanwhile, were lifted -- also to third place in the table -- by their 3-2 come-from-behind victory in Gladbach on Saturday. Tuchel managed to rest Julian Weigl, Lukasz Piszczek, Shinji Kagawa and Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang in the win, although the latter came off the bench for the last half hour to replace Marco Reus.
Reus is obviously a huge factor in improving Dortmund's chances since the 4-1 loss. "He is confident, calm but also shows a lot of resolve," Tuchel said about the attacking midfielder, highlighting that his vice-captain had grown as a personality since missing Euro 2016 due to injury.
The 27-year-old brings a whole new dimension to BVB's pressing and counter-pressing up front, which will make it much likelier that the guests can cohesively bring the game to Bayern. Reus' ability to close down spaces and force turnovers high up the field must be the winning formula with the amount of pace in Dortmund's attack against Mats Hummels and Jerome Boateng, who were both limping after 120 minutes at the Bernabeu and probably won't be in their best physical shape on Wednesday night. And with Sven Ulreich, who is anything but a sweeper-keeper like Manuel Neuer, there should be space in behind Bayern's back line to run into.
Any win at the Allianz Arena, however, pivots on a strong defensive performance -- something Dortmund horribly lacked in their last visit to Bavaria's capital. Arjen Robben alone was allowed to fire eight shots in what can only be described as a field day for the Netherlands star. It'll be on Tuchel to restrict the 33-year-old without leaving more space for the equally dangerous Franck Ribery and Robert Lewandowski. That's tricky enough with a squad at full strength, but Dortmund still have to do without centre-back Marc Bartra, who was injured in the attack on the team's bus two weeks ago. Centre-back Sokratis Papastathopoulos is also doubtful.
So even with Dortmund feeling that they have momentum going into Wednesday's match, the hosts will remain clear favourites. The Westphalians, however, may have the momentum in the midterm as well -- even if they crash out of the cup.
To stay in line with Tuchel's analogies, Dortmund may have done what is being described in auto racing as an "undercut," where a car pits a lap earlier than its competitors in order to have the advantage of fresh tires one lap earlier to gain valuable seconds and positions in the race.
The Black and Yellows rejuvenated their squad, although not voluntarily, last summer and will most likely be a better challenger to their southern rivals -- who have a looming transition period still in front of them. Robben (33) and Ribery (34) are not getting any younger, while Philipp Lahm and Xabi Alonso are retiring at the end of this season.
It'll be on Dortmund to make Ancelotti's team already feel their age on Wednesday. If they do, they will have the best shot at winning the DFB Pokal since 2012, against either Borussia Monchengladbach or Eintracht Frankfurt.
Stefan Buczko covers Borussia Dortmund for ESPN FC. Twitter: @StefanBuczko.