Schalke defeated Ruhr Valley rivals MSV Duisburg to win the DFB-Pokal in one of the most one-sided German cup finals in history. Schalke were in control from the word ‘go’, seeing off their soon-to-depart superstar goalkeeper Manuel Neuer in style.
Although this tie pitted a top flight side who had appeared in a Champions League semi-final earlier this month against a lower division outfit who had finished 22 points behind 2. Bundesliga winners Hertha BSC (whose Olympic Stadium ground was used to stage this final), a David against Goliath cliché would have been unfair.
Schalke, on the whole, have been in poor form all season domestically, and after finishing in 14th in the league, Duisburg, technically 12 places below them after an eighth-placed finish in the second tier, were actually closer to Schalke than Ralf Rangnick’s side were to their arch-rivals and top flight winners BVB in the German football ladder. Up against a side seemingly all-but on their holidays, Duisburg had the chance to claim their first piece of silverware since a German Amateur Championships win in 1987, not to mention qualifying for the Europa League in the process.
Milan Šašić’s side had shown they have what it takes to put Bundesliga sides to the sword in this season’s competition too, knocking out Cologne and Kaiserslautern on their way to the final. And their form coming into this game was far superior to Schalke’s – Šašić’s side won four of their last eight 2. Bundesliga games, whereas Rangnick’s side came into this final looking to end a run of six consecutive defeats. The Gelsenkirchen outfit had last appeared in the DFB-Pokal final in 2o05, and won the competition in 1937, 1972, 2001 and 2002. Duisburg, on the other hand, have only ever finished runners-up on three occasions – the last being in 1998, when late goals from Markus Babbel and Mario Basler broke the Zebras hearts and handed Bayern Munich a 2-1 victory.
Save for Ivica Grlić replacing Filip Trojan, Duisburg retained the same starting XI which lost to Bochum last weekend, making do without key on-loan Wolves striker, Stefan Maierhofer. Rangnick, meanwhile, started without key right-back Atsuto Uchida. Nevertheless, both he and Maierhofer were on the bench.
The game started in a scrappy fashion, with throw-ins and possession being exchanged scruffily and hurriedly. That was until 17-year-old Julian Draxler did a keepy-uppy on halfway, spinning Benjamin Kern with his next volleyed touch and attacking the now-vacated space. Alas, Kern committed a tactical foul to stop Draxler, and the game carried on its bitty fashion. Mention here must go to Christoph Metzelder too, who made a number of intelligent interceptions during these opening exchanges, halting Duisburg’s forays forward.
As Schalke looked to impose some form of structure on the game, knocking the ball about among their defenders just in front of the halfway line while the midfielders and forwards bobbed about, Duisburg barely pressed until the ball came into their half, but kept their 4-1-4-1 extremely high, swamping the space deep-lying playmaker José Jurado wanted. Nevertheless, Schalke used these compression tactics to their advantage – Jefferson Farfán darting from right to left, and taking the ball in space on one such slalom with Kern keeping an eye on Draxler, only to waste the opening by overhitting the cross.
This meant Duisburg were now forced into playing on the break. They nearly took the lead from a counter-attack in the tenth minute too, Olcay Sahan burning down the left, briefly stepping inside, before sending an arrowed through-ball between the right-back and right-sided centre-back for Manuel Schäffler – whose run between the centre-backs so nearly allowed him to get on the end of the superb pass, only for Neuer to read it and take action a fraction more quickly.
Despite spending large passages of play without the ball, Duisburg kept Jurado pressed superbly. There was now always one player sprinting after the Spaniard, even when he dropped back as far as his own box to collect the ball. Nevertheless, Duisburg were conceding a lot of needless fouls in their own half, and nearly paid the price for doing so in the 13th minute. A free kick was deceptively floated to the opposite side of the box, where it was headed sideways for Greek defender Kyriakos Papadopoulos to place a powerful header at the top left-hand corner of American international David Yelldell’s goal. Unfortunately for Schalke, the former Blackburn Rovers goalkeeper responded with lightening quick reflexes, parrying the ball out for a corner.
It was a warning sign for the 2. Bundesliga side, who had actually been relatively comfortable until then. Both their midfield widemen tracked back with relish, halting Schalke’s bid to overlap and attack their opponents down the flanks. The furious pressing of the Bundesliga side’s centre of midfield was still furious as the 15-minute mark came and went, although it must be noted that Neuer was basically a spectator.
Alas, Schalke’s domination of possession soon allowed them to open the scoring. Farfán, frustrated by the lack of space on the right, was located near to the left strip of chalk. He shimmied infield, evading two Duisburg players who got too tight. His through-ball to Draxler’s sideways dart across the edge of the box looked to be overhit, but the youngster trapped it with one foot, and in the blink of an eye, smashed a volley towards goal with the other before the ball had time to bounce! 1-0 to Schalke, with 18 minutes played.
In the immediate aftermath of that goal, Schalke made it look like men against boys. They made the pitch as big as possible, and knocked the ball about with confidence and zip. Duisburg were unable to adjust accordingly, stuck in a very narrow system and chasing shadows. Then, in the 21st minute, Farfán collected the ball on the chalk and readied himself to attack. Both Sahan and Olivier Veigneau went out to him, and the Peruvian again left two men in his wake as he zoomed infield with the ball. The through-pass, played with time and space to burn, found Klaas-Jan Huntelaar’s perfectly timed diagonal dart between the centre backs, and he steered the ball in for 2-0 before Yelldell had time to adjust.
Schalke looked like world-beaters at this stage, and Rangnick could not have asked for a more professional performance from his side. They monopolised possession after Duisburg’s third kick-off of the game, making their opponents chase to no avail on what seemed like every blade of grass on the Berlin pitch. When Duisburg finally got on the ball in the 26th minute, Schalke sat back, letting the sheer difficulty of breaking down a side with 11 men behind the ball sink in, before mopping up Duisburg’s eventual weak effort to get it into the box via Sefa Yılmaz. He was nearly on the end of a pass a few moments later, however, sprinting onto a through-ball scooped upfield from deep by Grlić. But not for the first time, Neuer was there ahead of the attacker.
After starting the game in a 4-1-4-1, Duisburg had now switched to a 4-2-3-1-cum-4-4-2 – Ivica Banović, nominally in the support-striker role, and Yılmaz taking it in turns to help Schäffler form a bank of two up front. This was to make life less easy for Schalke when knocking it about at the back, as well as being an attempt to prise the centre-backs apart and create gaps in a seemingly watertight rearguard.
However, it was two moments of Schalke casualness in the 33rd and 35th minute which presented Duisburg with the chance to get back into the game. During the former moment, Farfán needlessly hauled down Sahan as he burned down the wing. Alas, the subsequent free-kick was wasted. Then, two minutes later, some poor dithering and unaware play by Hans Sarpei allowed the persistent Yılmaz to rob the Ghanaian, lay the ball across the box to Sahan, only for the left-sided midfielder to try too hard to unleash a shot off with his right foot, narrowing the angle and ensuring that his effort went sailing over the bar.
There followed a period where Schalke’s foot remained off the gas, and a few through-balls down the wings allowed Duisburg to create chances (all of which were squandered). Just how crucial these misses were was highlighted in the 42nd minute, when Farfán got his third assist of the match. Curling in a right-footed corner from the left, Benedikt Höwedes strolled past his marker, Duisburg defender Branimir Bajić, and guided a header home for 3-0.
The 2. Bundesliga’s eighth-best side started the second half in a positive fashion at least, attacking and pressing with real determination. But two minutes in, and Farfán was back into his groove. Burning down the right, he pulled a squared ball across the box along the ground. It eventually fell to Jurado, who looked to have the simple task of placing it past Yelldell. But the American saved well, and three of his colleagues dived on the loose ball and cleared it to safety before the Spaniard could push it over the line.
Things threatened to boil over in the 49th minute when Sahan needlessly lunged in on Farfán after a calm crossfield pass found the Peruvian – Schalke now knocking the ball about casually in order to stretch their opponents and tire them out. Höwedes briefly continued the attack while his colleague lay stricken, before giving up and turning round to square up to Sahan and let him know what he thought of the challenge on Farfán. A bit of champagne football followed from Schalke as the potential storm died down, with neat little triangles and outrageous long-diagonal passes being attempted. Duisburg, still in their 4-2-3-1, were gradually looking as though they knew the game was over. Schalke, in a 4-1-4-1, seemed to already be focused on winding the clock down.
In spite of looking to play in such a way, they were never going to turn down the offer of another goal should the opportunity present itself. And that it did, in the 54th minute. With that man Farfán again causing havoc down the right, Duisburg’s defenders abandoned their space and swarmed towards him like headless chickens. The former PSV man passed the ball along to Huntelaar just off the D, and he touched it on to Jurado, who jogged through with it to go one on one with Yelldell, showing great composure to make it 4-0. Bayern Munich beat Werder Bremen 4-0 in last year’s final, but with 36 minutes to go, that victory margin looked certain to be bettered. The biggest ever result in a German cup final was actually achieved by Schalke themselves in 1972 when they beat Kaiserslautern 5-0.
Šašić realised he had to give the poor Duisburg fans something to celebrate, so went for an ambitious 3-2-3-1 system, with Goran Šukalo occasionally dropping in at centre-back when required. But the Croatian coach was made to pay for this change in the 70th minute when Šukalo was put under pressure in his own box by a Banović pass. Šukalo dithered, two Schalke players were on him in an instant, and it was Huntelaar who had the simple of task of again placing the ball past the exposed Yelldell, who had done nothing wrong all evening.
Although Trojan gave his side a bit more creativity, very little happened between the fifth goal going in and the 85-minute mark, save for Trojan and Schäffler shanking long-range attempts on goal, and Uchida and Maurice Exslager replacing Peer Kluge and Kern respectively. Poor old Maierhofer, meanwhile, just wasn’t fit enough, and boy had his side missed his Andy Carroll-esque presence up front. The aforementioned Duisburg subs, Exslager and Trojan, did cause Schalke a little bit of hassle in the final five minutes, but not enough to prevent Neuer from keeping a clean sheet in his final game for the club. Schalke won the German cup, and with it, a place in next season’s Europa League.