German Cup still not mean a happy summer for Dortmund, Tuchel
"I really want that trophy," said Christian Pulisic in an interview with the Guardian. "I want it bad and I think the whole team really does." The trophy in question is the DFB Pokal, which Borussia Dortmund and Eintracht Frankfurt will play for at the Olympiastadion in Berlin on Saturday night (live on WatchESPN, 1.55 p.m. ET, U.S. only).
It's the fourth consecutive DFB Pokal final for the Black and Yellows and their sixth consecutive with a tournament final, including the 2012-13 UEFA Champions League. Dortmund, however, could only win the first final in that six-year stretch, beating Bayern Munich 5-2 in 2012 to win the double.
How badly Dortmund want to make sure they don't lose for a fourth consecutive time was already evident as early as January during the team's winter training camp in Marbella, Spain, when captain Marcel Schmelzer changed his team's rhetoric about the German Cup. In previous campaigns, the official wording of BVB's ambition was to "reach the cup final." The 29-year-old, however, said then: "We've reached the final often enough. Now we want to finally win the thing."
Obviously, back then it was far from a foregone conclusion as to whether his side could once again secure a spot in the final but after overcoming the toughest possible cup fixture, beating Bayern Munich 3-2 at the Allianz Arena in April, the Ruhr Side have earned their best chance to win a major trophy for the first time since 2012 as they are touted heavy favourites against Frankfurt on Saturday.
Schmelzer reiterated that notion in Friday's pregame news conference, saying: "We must take the experience of previous finals on the field tomorrow."
Such experience could be the decisive advantage for Dortmund on Saturday, as most of their players are accustomed to such high-pressure situations. Eintracht Frankfurt, on the other hand, might cramp up viewing this game as a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. Their last win of a major trophy dates back to 1988.
"It would be the biggest achievement of my career," said Eintracht's 34-year-old forward Alexander Meier on Friday. Meier has been at the club since 2004 and was been part of the team that finished runners-up to Bayern Munich in the German Cup final in 2006. Even if, as Eintracht coach Niko Kovac said in a TV interview with Sport 1 on Sunday, that his team has little to lose, it's actually the contrary, especially with direct qualification for the UEFA Europa League on the line for his side.
Borussia Dortmund, who wrapped up direct Champions League qualification by securing a third-place finish in the Bundesliga on the final Matchday, also have a lot to play for.
Even though qualifying for Europe's most illustrious competition for the fifth time in six years has a higher value for the long-term goals of the club, winning on Saturday would get one particular burden off their backs. Having the chance to win silverware has of course been an argument listed by the Westphalians in transfer negotiations next to regular Champions League football and playing in front of 80,000 spectators every home match.
For Dortmund, it's time to reaffirm the title-winning argument: it would be so important for the self-confidence and the identity of the club as nobody at Dortmund wants to end up like Bayer Leverkusen, who trademarked "Vizekusen" ("second-Kusen") after being runners-up a few times too many.
But it's not only about the self-understanding of the club but also about the self-confidence of the players who weren't part of the team in 2010-11 and 2011-12. Especially Marco Reus; he joined the club in 2013 and has since become the face of BVB, but it's almost tragic that he hasn't yet put a major trophy on his CV.
The 27-year-old has yet to win a title also due to several injuries that saw him miss Germany's World Cup win in 2014. This time, however, it feels almost inevitable for the midfielder to finally lift the first trophy in his career when looking at his development throughout this campaign alone.
It started with the Cup final in May 2016, which Dortmund lost to Bayern Munich on penalties. The 120 minutes at the back of a long season were more than his body could take, resulting in another injury that saw him sidelined for the Euros and the first third of BVB's season until November. While Reus maybe did not improve as a footballer in 2017, he has become a much more mature leader.
BVB coach Thomas Tuchel attested that his vice-captain had become a "more influential character in the dressing room" throughout the season. On the field, it's evident: Reus is constantly showing his teammates where to run or position themselves while leading Dortmund's high press with a body language that inspires others to chime in. And his five goals in BVB's last six league matches were crucial in his team's strong finish.
So for Reus & Co., winning the cup would mean a happy ending to a tough season on many levels, due to summer exits of Mats Hummels, Ilkay Gundogan and Henrikh Mkhitaryan as well as the bus attack in April, which makes their turn around at the end of the season all the more impressive.
That said, a happy ending would come with a massive asterisk as it could also mean the beginning of the end for this Dortmund squad, as Tuchel's future at the club is in jeopardy. Despite having amassed the highest average of league points per match of all BVB coaches, the rift between the 43-year-old and the club bosses (also, with his players) seems insurmountable given what journalists around the club have reported in recent weeks.
The uncertainty surrounding the coaching position, as well as the rumours surrounding Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang's future, means that a cup win on Saturday by Dortmund could not only be important but also tarnished, and for reasons that seem entirely avoidable.
Stefan Buczko covers Borussia Dortmund for ESPN FC. Twitter: @StefanBuczko.