When the DFB Pokal kicks off every August, 64 teams clash over the course of just 6 rounds and 9 months in an effort to be crowned Champions.
Every year the attrition of a season wears down sides forcing them to make compromises with squad selection and tactics that leads to an upset heavy tournament. In the end what starts as a fantastic run of upsets and exciting matches ends up feeling like a has-run as the biggest teams in German football end up squaring off against minnows as the tournament creeps towards its conclusion.
This season has the chance to change all of those expectations as this year the Pokal quarterfinals find themselves with the five best teams in the Bundesliga still in the mix.
VfL Wolfsburg are the darlings of the Bundesliga this season as their high tempo style has graced them with the ability to open up a large lead on third place as they look to keep pace with Bayern Munich at the top of the Bundesliga table. Doing this on the back of an ever increasing wage and transfer budget that has seen die Wölfe drop huge sums of money to bring in Kevin de Bruyne and Andre Schurrle from the Permier League. Opposing them are the epitomy of low budget success in SC Freiburg where Christian Streich has stretched a team with peanuts masquerading as euros to both the Europa League and multiple seasons in the Bundesliga.
Borussia Dortmund undoubtedly have the talent, finances, and quality to be challenging Bayern Munich for the title but find themselves in need of a route to salvation after they finished the first half of the season dead last in the Bundesliga table. They face off against Hoffenheim who rapidly oscillate between challenging for the European places and falling into mid-table; a team on the rise both financially and developmentally who would love nothing better then to cement their place in the Europa League next year with a DFB Pokal win.
The we come to the matter of third-place defensive wizards Borussia Mönchengladbach, who are coming off two strong wins including one against Bayern Munich, squaring up against the lone non-Bundesliga competitor left in Arminia Bielefeld. The leaders of the 3.Liga until just recently found themselves to be the most in-form side in the whole of continental Europe as they rattled off a string of impressive wins including a comprehensive 3-1 win over Werder Bremen in Round 3 of the DFB Pokal.
And that brings us to the final round of the quarterfinals as Bayern Munich squares off against Bayer Leverkusen. Top of the table against fourth: two coaches whose fondness for the high press threatens to turn the game into a high stakes game of chicken. Or into a fruitless slog in a midfield quagmire.
Yet despite all those narrative foci: the battle of money: the redemption tale: the upstart: or the clash of titans: what this year's Pokal brings us more then anything else is a line up to make the two Pokal matchdays that bookend the month of April a chance to see the very best teams and players in Germany square off in what will be most teams only chance at winning a trophy this season. It will be fast, it will be contentious, and it will ultimately be a showcase for the Bundesliga as a league and as a product.
And every match is free-to-stream for an American audience on ESPN3.