For those who do not think the domestic cup has any significance in Germany, the DFB-Pokal scheduled a pretty darn big fixture to prove otherwise. Even a couple seasons ago this fixture was top of the line, and now Fußball fans get their desert early in the competition.
Though Wolfsburg have gotten the better of Bayern in recent clashes, the Rekordmeister have stopped many a DFB-Pokal journey short for Die Wolfe. The latest meeting in the cup between these two saw a Mario Gómez hat trick in six minutes. That historic spectacle reincarnated in the form of Robert Lewandowski in September, the Polish striker smacking five in nine minutes in a 5-1 nightmare for Wolfsburg in Allianz Arena.
Wolfsburg may have more confidence playing in their own confines, for they have won each of the last two matches in Volkswagen Arena against Bayern. Both of those victories involved Kevin de Bruyne though, and Bayern may be taking their most formidable force ever to Wolfsburg.
The rest of the cup campaign will likely get easier for one of these clubs, but the DFB-Pokal can only bestow this privilege to one club. The loser will have their season aspirations cut dramatically short.
The Match (43rd Meeting)
Location: Volkswagen Arena, Wolfsburg, Germany
Head: Knut Kircher
Time converter at worldtimebuddy.com
Television and Streaming:
US: ESPN Deportes, ESPN 3, WatchESPN
UK: BT Sport 1, BT Sport Live Streaming
Germany: Sky Sport 1 & 2 | HD, Sky Go, ARD Das Erste
FC Bayern: WLWWW
Bundesliga: 29 W, 4 D, 4 L
DFB Pokal: 4 W, 0 L
DFL Supercup: 0 W, 1 L
Largest Victory: 6-1 (Bundesliga: March 8, 2014, Wolfsburg; DFB-Pokal: April 16, 2013, Munich)
Largest Defeat: 1-5 (Bundesliga: April 4, 2009, Wolfsburg)
This is a final for Bayern. Pep Guardiola knows it. The players know it. Everyone who knows what football is knows it. Bayern will no doubt have their best player on the field, and anything less than their best may not get the job done.
Fortunately for Bayern, several key players have returned from injury, most notably one Arjen Robben. His agility and acceleration were very refreshing to see at the weekend, and the abilities he injected into the starting XI allowed Bayern to storm past a decently strong Köln defense. Though the balance between Robben and Douglas Costa is unestablished, the flanks have looked as strong as they have ever been.
The man Wolfsburg will try to stop of course is Lewandowski, but the attention he draws may work into Guardiola's hands perfectly. A service-strong approach came up empty against Arsenal to the point Lewandowski had to often leave the penalty area, but the new returned dynamism has restored important dimensions to Bayern's attack. If Lewandowski draws the attention from Naldo and Dante, or even Luiz Gustavo and Joshua Guilavogui, it will be a perfect distraction for Robben, Douglas, and Thomas Müller to get real opportunities to score.
The other important returnee is Javi Martínez, a player who could have come in math the weekend but perhaps did not have the confidence in his knee to. Lest we forget, it was also Martínez who helped Bayern turn a 0-1 deficit to a 5-1 victory, providing a stouter presence in defense. If Martínez is able to go, David Alaba could return to the flanks, where his interchange with Douglas was palpable.
Bayern's last few trips to Volkswagen Arena did not go so well, but their Bundesliga form and returning stars point to a change of fortune.
Projected Lineup (4-2-3-1):
Douglas Costa – Thomas Müller – Arjen Robben
Thiago Alcântara – Xabi Alonso
David Alaba – Jérôme Boateng – Javi Martínez – Philipp Lahm
Bench: Sven Ulreich, Juan Bernat, Rafinha, Joshua Kimmich, Gianluca Gaudino, Arturo Vidal, Kingsley Coman
Out/Suspended: Holger Badstuber (ankle), Medhi Benatia (thigh), Mario Gotze (groin), Franck Ribery (ankle), Sebastian Rode (thigh)
When Bayern last met Wolfsburg, they possessed one of the best defensive records in the Bundesliga. Bayern quickly changed that, and they have slowly leaked goals ever since.
In fact, Wolfsburg's two clean sheets against PSV Eindhoven and SV Darmstadt 98 this past week were their first since the Allianz massacre. Several times their attack has not kept up with their opponents', and this goal blackout has darkened their Bundesliga and Champions League prospects. They still remain in striking distance though, and even though they are De Bruyne-less, they have enough punch to fight their way back as strong contenders.
This is a season-defining match for the defending cup champions though, for a loss will be as devastating as a victory is gratifying. Their strength starts in the air and on the break, for they remain a pretty direct team despite the squad changes. Bas Dost may not be as dynamic a poacher as his Bayern counterpart, but the man surely knows how to finish. The service he has received has not been as good as last season, and Max Kruse's nose for goal has not exactly helped matters either.
Dieter Hacking will probably structure his defense similar to the last time these two teams met, with two banks of four and strong ball-winners in the middle. Marking remains their biggest issue, for Dante and Naldo are often recovering for their own positioning mistakes. That will force Hecking to keep things tight, which may cause some liabilities in other parts of the field.
Wolfsburg look like clear underdogs in this match, but they are still a team that can pull it together when playing in front of their fans.
Projected Lineup (4-4-1-1):
Daniel Caligiuri – Joshua Guilavogui – Luiz Gustavo – Julian Draxler
Ricardo Rodriguez – Dante – Naldo – Christian Träsch
Bench: Koen Casteels, Timm Klose, Sebastian Jung, Marcel Schäfer, Maximilian Arnold, Andre Schürrle, Nikolas Bendtner
Out/Suspended: Felipe (foot), Robin Knoche (knee)
Guardiola emphasized the importance of possession in his press conference, and Hecking will surely give it to him. This may result in another slow first half, but Robben could help give Bayern an early lead once again. Bayern's goal will surely be to stretch Wolfsburg's defense apart by any means necessary, which will likely result in a lot of ball interplay and positional interchange. Wolfsburg's bubble will eventually have to burst, and Bayern will have a great chance to knock the defending DFB-Pokal champions out of the competition.
The Other Action
DFB-Pokal Round of 32
Erzgebirge Aue vs. Eintracht Frankfurt (Tuesday, 1:00 PM ET)
FSV Frankfurt vs. Hertha Berliner SC (Tuesday, 1:00 PM ET)
1. FSV Mainz 05 vs. TSV 1860 München (Tuesday, 1:00 PM ET)
1. FC Nürnberg vs. Fortuna Düsseldorf (Tuesday, 1:00 PM ET)
SpVgg Unterhaching vs. RasenBallsport Leipzig (Tuesday, 2:30 PM ET)
SV Darmstadt 98 vs. Hannover 96 (Tuesday, 2:30 PM ET)
VfL Bochum vs. 1. FC Kaiserslautern (Tuesday, 2:30 PM ET)
Viktoria Köln vs. Bayer 04 Leverkusen (Wednesday, 2:30 PM ET)
SV Sandhausen vs. 1. FC Heidenheim (Wednesday, 2:30 PM ET)
Borussia Dortmund vs. SC Paderborn 07 (Wednesday, 2:30 PM ET)
SC Freiburg vs. FC Augsburg (Wednesday, 2:30 PM ET)
Carl Zeiss Jena vs. VfB Stuttgart (Wednesday, 2:30 PM ET)
Reutlingen vs. Eintracht Braunschweig (Wednesday, 2:30 PM ET)
FC Schalke 04 vs. Borussia Mönchengladbach (Wednesday, 2:30 PM ET)
SV Werder Bremen vs. 1. FC Köln (Wednesday, 2:30 PM ET)