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DFB-Pokal Special: Who will take home the “cup with the green jewels?”

The title holders, Bayern München, are out of the Pokal. Can Leipzig, Dortmund, Wolfsburg or Borussia Mönchengladbach capitalize?

Jahn Regensburg - 1. FC Köln
Regensburg downed Köln in the Round of 16
Photo by Armin Weigel/picture alliance via Getty Images

This season’s Pokal will have a new winner and a new finalist; both Bayern München and Bayer Leverkusen, last season’s finalists, were knocked out by lower division sides in rather unceremonious fashion. We assess the remaining sides’ chances to win the competition.

Borussia Dortmund

Why They Will Win: Among the sides remaining, Dortmund might be considered to be the favorites; they have the most firepower of all the remaining teams, especially up front with the man who brought them to this round, Erling Haaland. They have plenty of difference makers in the team around Haaland such as Giovanni Reyna, Marco Reus and off the bench, Youssoufa Moukoko. They can call on a marauding full-back in Raphael Guerrero as well if need be. In addition, Jadon Sancho seems to have rediscovered his form. They are capable of tearing teams apart on their day (just ask Hertha Berlin and RB Leipzig) and when Dortmund is ticking, very few teams are capable of stopping them in their tracks.

Why They Won’t Win: Plenty of others might disagree with me but I thought Haaland’s goal in the Round of 16 against Paderborn should not have stood. Haaland was offside; however, the pass to him was deemed to have hit a Paderborn player on its way. The replays of the incident felt inconclusive to me. Even before that goal in extra time, Dortmund surrendered a two-goal lead to a mid-table 2.Bundesliga side; they have lost the most games among any teams in the top half of the Bundesliga table. Their inconsistencies (they look like world-beaters one day and listless relegation battlers the next) means that on a bad day, any opponent, including fourth tier Essen, will have a chance against them.

Werder Bremen

Why They Will Win: Bremen seemed to be fighting relegation at certain points in the season but is slowly making their way up to the top half of the table. They are a workmanlike outfit which gives every team a hard time. Only four teams have beaten Bremen by more than a one-goal margin in their seven defeats to date: Hertha, Leipzig, Wolfsburg and Union. They have avoided trouble against lower league sides to date in the Pokal as well. They have difference makers in the side in the form of Kevin Möhwald and Milot Rashica. Also, they have a real fighter in the form of Davie Selke.

Why They Won’t Win: Every Bundesliga side left in the competition is better than Bremen. In addition, they have looked somewhat toothless up front and have already lost this season to all the Bundesliga teams remaining in the competition. Bremen will hope the draw is kind to them; even then, the lower division sides have beaten better teams than Bremen (aside from Regensburg perhaps) to get to this point and won’t fear Bremen. Putting it another way, if the lower league sides were to choose a Bundesliga side they would like to be drawn against from the remaining teams, they would all most likely pick Werder.

RB Leipzig

Why They Will Win: They’re the closest model of consistency to Bayern in the league as displayed by the Bundesliga standings. Julian Nagelsmann is very flexible when it comes to his team selections; when he gets it right, his team usually win. Coming out a tough group containing Manchester United, Paris Saint-Germain and Istanbul Basaksehir in the Champions League can only have added to Leipzig’s confidence. In the form of Emil Forsberg as well as Marcel Sabitzer, Leipzig have two visionaries in midfield. Angelino is always a valuable resource for goals. Their defense remains the strongest in the Bundesliga thanks to the likes of Dayot Upamecano and Nordi Mukiele.

Why They Won’t Win: Unlike Leverkusen who have seemingly replaced Kai Havertz with Florian Wirtz, Leipzig was not able to do the same with Timo Werner; they changed the way they play to adjust to his absence but they are missing a lethal forward who can score twenty goals per season or at least, vital goals, although you can argue that new signing Alexander Sorloth scored a season defining winner against Istanbul that kept their Champions League campaign alive on Matchday 5. Perhaps Dominik Szoboszlai, although he is not an out and out striker, can solve this dilemma. He should be available for the next round.


Why They Will Win: Wolfsburg is a fascinating side this season; they have suffered only two defeats to date (narrow losses to Bayern Munich and Dortmund) and have shown the Bundesliga how to be a compact side which can defend a lead. However, they are much more than just a solid outfit; there is talent flowing through this team. Up front is the reliable Wout Weghorst, scoring nearly every game this season; their keeper, Koan Casteels, is perhaps only second to Manuel Neuer in the league and their back four contains two gems in Maxence Lacroix and Kevin Mbabu. Maxi Arnold, in midfield, has been a model of consistency for years in the Bundesliga, providing brilliant forward passes and is now joined by Xaver Schlager. In addition, young German Ridle Baku has been a revelation this season.

Why They Won’t Win: I can see Wolfsburg quietly earn a Pokal win this season; no team has really been able to take them apart this season. Perhaps, Dortmund is a more talented side; however, individual moments of brilliance, such as those from Robert Lewandowski and Jadon Sancho might be required to break down this team.

Borussia Mönchengladbach

Why They Will Win: Gladbach is perhaps the prettiest side to watch in the Bundesliga when they get going. Lars Stindl seems to be an artist as opposed to a footballer; his passes and his goals are all aesthetically glorious. However, he does not do it all alone. Jonas Hofmann was the chief architect of Bayern’s downfall in their 3-2 victory against Bayern aided by the fleet-footed Florian Neuhaus. They have a strong defensive midfielder in Christoph Kramer; Denis Zakaria has been coming back to form recently as well after a long injury layoff, although he had to be substituted early on today due to an injury. Breel Embolo, Marcus Thuram and Alassane Plea are talented forwards, particularly the latter two. At the back, Matthias Ginter is an absolute rock; Nico Elvedi hasn’t been too shabby either.

Why They Won’t Win: The beautiful triangles are rare; Gladbach’s game has lost its charm as the season has worn on. There are far too many performances such as the toothless one against Union Berlin last week and today’s defeat to local rivals, Köln. There are far too many mistakes at the back such as Stefan Lainer’s error which led to Elvis Rexbecaj’s goal in the Rhein derby. In addition, Marco Rose’s future is not certain and whether he will be coach of Gladbach next season or not is not determined yet, causing uncertainty in the Gladbach camp. Perhaps, that is a cause for the poor performances, although today’s loss was the first of 2021 for them. Furthermore, when those like Hofmann, Stindl or Bensebaini are given a rest, the team seems to be unable to produce eye-catching football. For me at least, reliable personnel such as Hannes Wolf and Patrick Hermann should be more than just passengers on this side when they are given the chance to play.

Holstein Kiel, Jahn Regensburg, Rot Weiss Essen

Why They Will Win: I, unfortunately, am not an expert on the aforementioned sides. However, Kiel in particular might take it home. They beat the best side in the competition and repeated the feat on penalties against 2.Bundesliga side, SV Darmstadt 09, in the following round. They are third in the 2.Bundesliga and might even win promotion automatically (if they win their fixture this round, they will be tied on points with second placed VfL Bochum).

Regensburg was slightly fortunate to have beaten Köln; a third Köln goal, which should have stood perhaps, was disallowed by the referee when the score was 2-1 to the Bundesliga side. However, they took their slight fortune and managed to get back on level terms, to eventually win. They showed the grit needed to win a tough game.

Another one of Köln’s local rivals, Leverkusen, lost to a fourth-tier side in Rot Weiss Essen. Essen will take plenty of confidence from the fact that they scored two goals in extra time after falling behind to a Leon Bailey goal. Leverkusen is no easy side to beat and hence, Essen has shown they have what it takes to win this.

Why They Won’t Win: On paper, the Bundesliga sides are much stronger. They have better squads and they have played in more high-stakes games than the teams in the lower tiers. However, in a single game against a Bundesliga side having a bad day gives each of these sides a chance to advance. Kiel has beaten the champions and Essen the finalists from last season; who is to say they can’t go all the way this season? In 1992, Hannover 96 from the 2.Bundesliga beat Gladbach in the final; in 2011, MSV Duisburg made it all the way to the final; it could all happen again.


Who do you think will win this competition and why? Let us know your thoughts in the comments below and, as always, thank you for reading!

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