Pep Guardiola may not have the Champions League final to look forward to, but he still has the chance to claim one last trophy before leaving Bayern Munich. And it promises to be some occasion, too, when taking on Borussia Dortmund in the German Cup (DFB-Pokal) final in what will be a meeting of the two best teams in Germany by some distance this season.
There is huge motivation there for both sides, not least because of the rivalry that has existed between the two giants in recent years. Between them, Bayern and Dortmund have won the last six Bundesliga titles and the DFB-Pokal in three of the last four seasons. On many of those occasions they have gone head-to-head for the silverware While Dortmund had the upper hand to land the DFB-Pokal in 2012, Bayern Munich came out on top in the final of the same competition two years later, as well as in the Champions League final in 2013.
It was the Champions League final at Wembley that allowed Jupp Heynckes to depart Bavaria by beating Dortmund in a major final. And now his successor will have the chance to do the same.
There was massive disappointment for Guardiola when defeat in the Champions League semifinals to Atletico Madrid meant his three years at Bayern would end without winning the most prized trophy. But Saturday’s contest offers a chance to provide yet more evidence that his time in Bavaria has been far from a failure.
At the weekend, Bayern got their hands on the Bundesliga shield for a fourth successive year, three of them under Guardiola. Victory over Dortmund would now mean Guardiola finishing his time at Bayern with seven trophies. Not too shabby.
He only need to look at his opponents on Saturday, though, to see that mangers don’t always get the ending that fate appeared to have decreed. A year ago, Jurgen Klopp went into the DFB-Pokal final, having beaten Bayern in the semifinals, looking to end his seven years in charge of Borussia Dortmund on an emotional high. Instead, he was left to settle for a runners-up medal as Dortmund lost 3-1 to Wolfsburg.
That loss completed a difficult season for Dortmund, in which they finished only seventh in the Bundesliga. But they have since bounced back in style under new coach Thomas Tuchel.
In contrast to the previous two seasons, when Dortmund offered no challenge to Bayern’s superiority, this time they took the title race to the final two games of the season, even if they did wind up falling 10 points short of their great rivals. Still, having finished 18 points clear of third-placed Bayer Leverkusen, it is clear they are now once again the biggest domestic threats to all-conquering Bayern Munich.
For all that, Dortmund have once again had to acknowledge in the last few weeks just how difficult the challenge is to keep up with their rivals. On May 10, Bayern announced they signed Dortmund captain Mats Hummels, one of the world's best center-backs, on a €38 million transfer fee.
Hummels is far from the first player to tread that path across the divide, with Mario Götze and Robert Lewandowski having already made the same move. Dortmund fans have already made their feelings known by loudly jeering him, a factor that promises to add yet more spice to the occasion on Saturday. Hummels is expected to start at the Olympiastadion in Berlin, in what amounts to a player trying to deny his future club from winning a trophy.
"I am aware that an immense pressure is on me," he told reporters in the buildup to the final. "If I make a mistake, the people will say that I already had my mind in Munich. I will give it my all, 100 percent, and throw everything into it that I have left in me.”
Prediction: The final promises to be an engrossing affair between not just two great rivals, but two of the best teams in Europe this season. Borussia Dortmund certainly have the players, tactical nous and versatility to severely test Bayern Munich. However, the worry for Tuchel’s side is that they have not been at their best in the last two weeks. Moreover, when they had the chance to really open up the title race with a win over Bayern in March, Dortmund appeared to lack the belief and conviction in a goalless draw. Bayern may well be just that bit more ruthless and take the trophy.
Predicted score: Bayern Munich 2-1 Borussia Dortmund
Start time: 2 p.m. EDT