A week after the exhilarating end to the Bundesliga season comes the showpiece DFB Pokal final between Eintracht Frankfurt and current holders RB Leipzig.
The Adler are looking for a second piece of silverware in two years after their triumph in the Europa League last season and another night of glory in Berlin would go a long way to make up for what has been a topsy turvy season at the club. Coach Oliver Glasner is leaving regardless of the outcome in the final and a host of key players will also be on their way out of the club in the summer.
Frankfurt were mixing it near the top of the table in the Hinrunde and went into the Winterpause in fourth (two points ahead of Dortmund). However the fourth best team of the first half of the season turned into the 12th best in the second half with only four wins and six defeats. A seventh place finish was far from their season’s aspiration.
The uncertainty over Glasner’s future didn’t help, nor did the constant speculation over potentially departing players (Kamada, Lindström, Kolo Muani, Ndicka). They have however always had their cup run to fall back on and their quarter-final win over Union Berlin was a real confidence booster.
Frankfurt have shown in recent years that they have a cup pedigree with the Europa League last year and two DFB Pokal final appearances in 2017 and 2018. They did however exit at the first round stage last season, so to go on and win it this season would be great turnaround.
All is not well at the club clearly, but nothing takes your mind off your problems like a cup win. Defeat however would just heap more pessimism and recriminations on the club.
After losing in two previous finals RB Leipzig finally got their hands on their first piece of silverware in last season’s final against Freiburg. Having achieved Champions League football for next season, retaining their DFB Pokal would just put the icing on the cake for them this year.
Their achievements would have seemed a far-off prospect back at the start of the season when the club took the decision to fire cup-winning trainer Domenico Tedesco. Two defeats in the first five games (including a 4-0 loss at Frankfurt) as well as disastrous start in the Champions League saw the plug pulled on Tedesco’s tenure.
Leipzig-born Marco Rose was the chosen one to get things back on track and that is exactly what he’s done. Die Roten Bullen were the form team at the end of the season with nine wins racked up in their last ten matches. They beat BVB in the Pokal and achieved their very first win at the Allianz Arena against Bayern Munich.
Like Frankfurt, they have a few key players set to leave in the summer (Nkunku, Szoboszlai, Gvardiol) so they will be keen on departing with a winner’s medal in their case. Josko Gvardiol will be a big miss for them in the final having been sent-off in the semi-final win over Freiburg.
Hrvoje Smolcic is the only long-term absentee, with both Sebastian Rode and Randal Kolo Muani set to be fit for the final. The big question with Frankfurt is whether they employ a back three or a back four. If they go with a three, Makoto Hasebe could be an option or even Almamy Toure. Philipp Max at left-back looks the better option than Christopher Lenz.
Possible line-up: Trapp, Max, Ndicka, Tuta, Buta, Rode, Sow, Lindström, Kamada, Götze, Kolo Muani
Josko Gvardiol’s red card in the semi means he is suspended and Marco Rose will also be without former Frankfurt striker Andre Silva, who has been ruled out with a thigh injury. Mohamed Simakan could be an option in the back four alongside Willi Orban.
Possible line-up: Blaswich, Henrichs, Klostermann, Orban, Halstenberg, Laimer, Haidara, Szoboszlai, Olmo, Werner, Nkunku
What they’re saying:
Oliver Glasner: To follow…
Randal Kolo Muani: “Our preparations are going well. We need to be awake and fully alert. You don’t play a final, you win it. We have great quality in the squad and are strong as a team, too. As a group, winning the cup would be extraordinary. The win over Freiburg on the final day has given us an added boost and self-belief. It did us a lot of good.
“I don’t know whether Didier Deschamps [France’s head coach] will attend the game in person. He should definitely watch it because I think it’s going to be a very good game. Our fans are crazy in a positive sense, and they show us their love. We try to repay them with goals and wins on the pitch.”
Kevin Trapp: “We ended the league campaign well with the win over Freiburg. You’re able to enjoy the following days more if you’ve won. Now we head into the final week and the biggest highlight [of the season] is approaching.
“The whole of Germany is watching this game – we’re really looking forward to it. Reaching two finals in the space of 12 months is extraordinary for the club and the team. It says a lot about our quality and character and makes us proud. We want to bring the cup back to Frankfurt.
“We’ve proven time and again that we’re a team who never give up. We were behind in the league recently against Schalke and Freiburg, we had to beat Sporting in the Champions League and after a poor first half in Stuttgart, we showed we’re capable of fighting back in knockout games too. We also recovered from a goal down in Seville [in the 2022 Europa League final].”
Marco Rose: To follow…
Janis Blaswich: “I’m feeling extremely excited for the final. It’s definitely the biggest game of my career. The DFB-Pokal is a top level competition. Plus, the club have a bit of a knack for this competition.
“It’s a special competition. You only have one game to determine whether you will advance to the next round or, in the final, whether you’ll win the title. The atmosphere will be incredible and I’m really looking forward to it. It’s all down to this one last game, where we can end the season on a high.”
Road to the final:
1st round v FC Magdeburg (a) 0-4 W
2nd round v Stuttgarter Kickers (a) 0-2 W
Round of 16 v Darmstadt (h) 4-2 W
Quarter-final v Union Berlin (h) 2-0 W
Semi-final v VfB Stuttgart (a) 2-3 W
1st round v FC Teutonia Ottensen (a) 0-8 W
2nd round v Hamburger SV (h) 4-0 W
Round of 16 v Hoffenheim (h) 3-1 W
Quarter-final v Borussia Dortmund (h) 2-0 W
Semi-final v Freiburg (a) 1-5 W
The two sides met in the Bundesliga on matchday 23 with RB Leipzig gaining revenge on their defeat earlier in the season with a 2-1 win at the Red Bull Arena. A strong first half from the hosts saw goals from Timo Werner and Emil Forsberg, before and improved Frankfurt pulled one back in the second period via Djibril Sow.
The two teams have met once before in the DFB Pokal back in the 2019-20 season. At the round of 16 stage Frankfurt triumphed 3-1 with Andre Silva (now Leipzig) and Filip Kostic getting the goals.
Players to watch:
It could be the last game in a Frankfurt shirt for striker Randal Kolo Muani and after the season he’s had, crowning it with the DFB Pokal would be the ideal way to go out. With 15 goals this season and 15 assists he has burst onto the scene after his free transfer from Nantes and become the focal point of the Adler’s attack. He only missed out on sharing the leading Bundesliga scorer award by one goal, but does already have six in the cup this season.
Another departing player looks to be Christopher Nkunku with a move to Chelsea expected. He scored 16 Bundesliga goals this season despite missing large parts of the campaign (and the World Cup) through injury. He was the Bundesliga Player of the Season last year and scored in the equaliser in the final last year against Freiburg as well as dispatching the first penalty in the shoot-out.