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Preview: Bayern Munich face Borussia Dortmund in the DFB Pokal

Both Bayern and Dortmund are trending upward, but only one can advance in the Pokal.

Shinji Kagawa in good spirits after Christian Pulisic scored the game-winner against Hoffenheim, December 16, 2017.
Photo by Alexandre Simoes/Borussia Dortmund/Getty Images

Bayern Munich end 2017 with a final. On Wednesday, they host league-rival Borussia Dortmund in just the third round of the DFB Pokal. Though so early in the competition, the winner will be favored to win it all: Dortmund are the reigning champs, having knocked Bayern out of the semi-finals last season, going on to defeat Eintracht Frankfurt; Bayern defeated Dortmund in the final the year before.

Bayern without Dortmund-slayer Robben

Jupp Heynckes stated unequivocally that Bayern’s anti-Dortmund talisman Arjen Robben would not play. According to Heynckes,

Arjen trained well and is almost pain free, but I’d prefer not to take any risks with him. We’ve spoken about it and Arjen himself said it would be too early.

Here is how Heynckes might line up the team tomorrow without the Dutchman:

Since Franck Ribery sat out Bayern's match against Stuttgart, he can start this match on the left, allowing Kingsley Coman to take Robben's place on the right. James Rodriguez seemed exhausted in the second half of the last game, so he is a good candidate for the bench.

Thomas Müller played only half an hour against Stuttgart as a sub; he thus seems virtually guaranteed to start against Dortmund. He can play centrally behind Lewandowski. If James starts after all, Müller can play on the right, and perhaps Coman will come off the bench for Ribery.

Arturo Vidal and Javi Martinez, also known as “the rock and the hard place,” should be Heynckes's first choice to start this crucial elimination match, although both played the entire 90 minutes on Saturday. Corentin Tolisso and especially Sebastian Rudy are also options. Tolisso played on the right wing for an hour against Stuttgart, whereas Rudy last played against Köln.

Bayern Munich will try to dominate Dortmund's midfielders, especially deep-lying playmaker Julian Weigl, and exploit the weakness of Dortmund's back line, especially Jeremy Toljan and Ömer Toprak. They will have to deprive Christian Pulisic and Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang of service, especially from an in-form Shinji Kagawa.

Dortmund: meet the new boss, better than the old Bosz

Mirroring Bayern's turnaround earlier this season, Dortmund have rebounded since the surprise signing of former Köln coach Peter Stöger. The boys in yellow and black have won their last two Bundesliga matches, ending an eight-game winless streak. Stöger has stabilized their defense and restored some badly needed chemistry to their performances.

Still, beating Bayern at the Allianz Arena remains a tall order. Stöger also has to contend with a much more pressing injury situation. One of the latest casualties: Mario Götze, had finally begun to resemble his brilliant self again after overcoming his metabolic disorder. To top it all off, BVB's dynamic striker, Lewandowski's perennial rival, Aubameyang is dealing with muscular problems and doubtful for the match.

If Aubameyang cannot play, Stöger will have to reconfigure Dortmund's system and all bets are off. On the odd chance that Auba can play, though, here is how Stöger might line up the team:

Dynamic dribbler Pulisic should play out wide on the left, setting up a rematch with Joshua Kimmich. Rafael Guerreiro has filled in in the left midfield spot behind him. Opposite, Pulisic, Andrij Yarmolenko will command the right. Yarmolenko has incredible footwork, but is inconsistent: now scintillating, now frustrating.

The most important player to watch is Shinji Kagawa, who played brilliantly as playmaker in Dortmund's last game, against Hoffenheim. Since Götze has been sidelined, Kagawa is the key creative attacker in Dortmund's midfield.

For more on Dortmund, check out the preview at our sister site Fear the Wall.

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