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Preview: Bayern Munich face in-form Bayer Leverkusen in DFB-Pokal

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Leverkusen have youth and speed, and they are playing arguably as well as Bayern themselves.

LEVERKUSEN, GERMANY - APRIL 14: Julian Brandt #10 of Bayer Leverkusen celebrates with Kevin Volland #31 of Bayer Leverkusen after scoring his teams first goal to make it 1-0 during the Bundesliga match between Bayer 04 Leverkusen and Eintracht Frankfurt at BayArena on April 14, 2018 in Leverkusen, Germany.
Kevin Volland and Julian Brandt practice their secret handshake.
Photo by Maja Hitij/Bongarts/Getty Images

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Start your engines: the race to the DFB-Pokal final in Berlin begins in Leverkusen, and the home team happens to be very young and very fast. Bayern Munich face Bayer Leverkusen at a crucial moment: Leverkusen is peaking in form. They have dispatched their past two Bundesliga opponents—RB Leipzig and Eintracht Frankfurt—with dramatic 4-1 victories. Bayern likewise crushed Gladbach 5-1, despite heavy rotation. The semifinals clash will catches both teams at their best.

Vidal and mini-Vidal unavailable

He was rested for the contest against Gladbach, but in vain: Arturo Vidal seriously injured his knee in training this week and must undergo an operation to remove a “loose body” in it, sidelining him for at least several weeks.

Vidal’s closest emulator, Corentin Tolisso, also will be unavailable, having suffered a serious knock on his foot while replacing Vidal against Gladbach. As Jupp Heynckes said, “Coco has heavy bruising.”

In a sense, the injuries to Vidal and Tolisso make the task choosing Bayern’s midfielders simpler: Javi Martinez will play in his accustomed role ahead of the back four, and Thiago Alcantara can be paired with him as the advanced member of a double-pivot. Here is how Heynckes may line up the team:

I happen to agree with Ineednoname in our predicted lineups thread.

I have laid the team out in a 4-2-3-1, but it can and will shift to a 4-1-4-1 as Thiago advances up the pitch in possession. On offense, I expect Heynckes to make the same difficult decision his did in the crucial first leg of the Champions League quarterfinals against Sevilla FC: Arjen Robben will have to remain on the bench so that Thomas Müller can play wide, allowing James Rodriguez to start as CAM, while Ribery plays out left.

If Robben is in the starting lineup, Heynckes will be forced to sacrifice one of his midfielders. Since James did not start in Gladbach, the decision would presumably be between Thiago and Müller—and I expect Müller to play.

Fast and furious: Leverkusen in form

Leverkusen made short work of Eintracht Frankfurt and Bayern’s future coach Niko Kovac this past Saturday. After an opening goal by Julian Brandt, Kevin Volland scored a hat-trick in the second half. Volland and Bradt also had goals in Leverkusen’s 4-1 victory over Leipzig the week before.

Bayern will have to be on its toes against Leverkusen’s fast attacking quartet: Brandt (21), Jamaican dynamo Leon Bailey (20), play-making prodigy Kai Havertz (18!), and the oldest of the bunch Kevin Volland (25), who has scored four goals in the past two games. Their speed on the counter and general dangerousness in possession leave Bayern’s veteran defenders precious little margin for error.

Here is how Leverkusen are likely to line up:

Behind Leverkusen's four horsemen, they typically feature a midfield of Charles Aránguiz and Julian Baumgartlinger, while Benjamin Henrichs plays as right wing-back. Jonathan Tah is likely to return to Leverkusen's central defense alongside the Bender twins. Panagiotis Retsos is also an option instead of Sven Bender (Lars is Leverkusen's captain).