DFB-Pokal talking points: Nightmare starts, dark horses and getting the job done

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Two Bundesliga sides were the victims of DFB-Pokal upsets this weekend with SV Werder Bremen and RB Leipzig suffering embarrassment against lower-league opposition. Hertha Berlin and FC Ingolstadt 04 were moments away from doubling that tally, but came through on penalty kicks. Here are three talking points from the weekend’s DFB-Pokal action.

Nightmare start for Skripnik and Werder Bremen:

Werder Bremen were knocked out of the German Cup first round by lower-league opposition for the fourth time in six seasons on Sunday. Viktor Skripnik’s side lost 2-1 to third division side Sportfreunde Lotte. The match ended with Bremen’s travelling supporters hailing insults and abuse towards the beaten players. If there was a textbook nightmare start to the season, this was it.

Sunday’s defeat is a major setback for the Northern Germans, despite a relatively positive summer. Skripnik and sporting director Frank Baumann had gone about their business impressively this summer, securing a deal to sign Max Kruse from Wolfsburg. The sale of Jannik Vestergaard allowed Baumann to add depth in defence with Lamine Sane, Niklas Moisander and Fallou Diagne.

Their introduction to German football was rough. Bremen’s defence looked shaky at defending set-piece situations and keeper Felix Wiedwald was uncertain between the sticks. Matthias Rahn and Andre Dej scored for Lotte, who advanced to the second round of the German Cup for the first time in their history.

But the inquest will begin at the Weser-Stadion on Monday ahead of Friday’s season-opener at champions FC Bayern München. Skripnik came under serious pressure last season, with his side just avoiding a relegation playoff fixture by two points. After a summer which promised so much, Werder Bremen are already preparing for a backs-to-the-wall start to the Bundesliga season.

Could Freiburg be this season’s dark horse?

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There was nothing sensational about Freiburg’s 4-0 win at Babelsberg on Saturday in the German capital, Berlin. Vincenzo Grifo scored two goals from dead ball situations. Janik Haberer scored a goal on his competitive debut for the club. Florian Niederlechner added some shine to the win. It was as rudimentary as it gets.

This is why Freiburg might well be one of the surprise sides this season. Aleksandar Ignjovski, Caglar Soyuncu, Jonas Meffert and Haberer are a handful of the new additions to Christian Streich’s title-winning team from last year and they all slotted seamlessly into the starting line-up for the German Cup victory.

The latter three, at least, fit the profile for sporting director Jochen Saier – young, cheap and boasting plenty of potential. Freiburg’s scouting network is cast far-and-wide, and if there’s development potential, the club is confident that the systems in place will nurture them into Bundesliga players.

The foundations for a run in the Bundesliga were planted years ago. Streich, a former youth coach at the club, was promoted to the top job with Freiburg bottom of the league – after three wins from 17 matches. The club sold their best player in January and promoted a group of teenagers from the youth team with potential relegation in mind.

And yet, the club survived. Freiburg, who have been up-and-down for more than a decade, didn’t need vindication for their strategy, but it shined a light on an example for the rest of the league. Now back in the Bundesliga after a season out, Freiburg and Streich could be one of the teams to watch out for.

It’s all about getting the job done:

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With Borussia Dortmund and Hamburger SV still to play, 14 Bundesliga teams are safely into the second round of the German Cup. SV Darmstadt 998, TSG 1899 Hoffenheim and 1. FC Köln picked up high-scoring wins, along with Bayern on Friday. But for the most it was a case of getting the job done whatever way it needed to be done.

All top-ranked teams are drawn away from home in the early rounds of Germany’s domestic cup. One reason, of course, is the economic benefits it brings to many lower-league teams – Lotte, for example, recorded a record attendance of 10,000 for their win over Werder Bremen. The second is that home advantage certainly counts, it increases the chance of a potential upset. That means there’s little dilemma for Bundesliga clubs – they must field their strongest teams.

So what can we take out of the weekend? Not much. Five Bundesliga teams were forced to play 120 minutes of football, while Bayer Leverkusen 04, VfL Wolfsburg and VfL Borussia Mönchengladbach won by just a single goal against lower-league opposition. It’s a odd situation when the stronger sides are scraping through, when the league’s weaker teams are romping into the next round with little bother.

Ross Dunbar
@rossdunbar93

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