The first round of the DFB Pokal is always a spectacle. The combo of Bundesliga and certain 2.Bundesliga teams all playing away, Bundesliga teams not playing a competitive game before this round, and the general unpredictability of having fourth and fifth league teams playing teams way “above” them is all a recipe for disaster for some and magic for everyone else.
The first round is still not over, as Bayern Munich and RB Leipzig still need to play their games as the Super Cup pushed their games to the end of September, but for everyone else, the first round has ended. It’s hard to have kept up with every game this past weekend, but let’s go over the key stories.
To add credibility to my ‘unpredictability’ point, it’s worth noting that there’s a bit of an incredible streak going on with first round games currently. There have been multiple Bundesliga teams eliminated in the first round every year since 2009. That’s right, MULTIPLE. You can probably attribute this to every other league other than the Bundesliga having played at least two competitive games before the first round game, so they have a little bit better rhythm than a team that’s still coming out of preseason. However, it’s still not a fantastic way for a Bundesliga team to start the season- losing to a team that in some cases may not have professional players.
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This year’s streak now includes Werder Bremen, Augsburg, Darmstadt, and VfL Bochum. To add further embarrassment, Darmstadt and Augsburg did not even score in their game against their fourth and third division opponents. Werder Bremen were eliminated in a 3-2 game where they had a red card in the 11th minute. Despite playing a man down for a majority of the game, they kept it close but were knocked out with a beautiful open play finish by Viktoria Köln’s Donny Bogićević in the last seconds of stoppage time. Meanwhile Bochum were able to claw back from being down 2-0 in the first half to take their game to penalties against recently relegated 3.Liga team Arminia Bielefeld but two heart wrenching misses to start the penalties sealed their fate and allowed Bielefeld to move to the second round.
Of course, Bayern and Leipzig could join this list, but for now, we already have the most Bundesliga teams eliminated in the first round since 2014/2015.
For a team that went through the summer with a lot of question marks, Gladbach was able to crush their opponent TuS Bersenbrück 7-0 in convincing fashion. Although you could write it off as a performance against a 5th tier team, the story is more how the new signings really took control of the game. Marcus Thuram is hard to replace, but Tomas Cvancara looked menacing all game and put two goals away in two minutes. For me, a huge positive and a player to look forward to was Nathan Ngoumou, who was creating opportunities and driving the ball forward all game. As the question of what this attack will look like lingers, it may be worth keeping an eye on him and how he fares against a better opponent. Lastly, Franck Honorat played a great compliment on the other side to Ngoumou on the right side, putting away two and providing an assist in his 72 minutes played.
The attack looked well put together and were synching fantastically, and they head into Augsburg this upcoming weekend with a little more momentum than Augsburg has got after their elimination. It should be encouraging to Foals fans how only the first 10 minutes looked not under their control, and that the new signings and call ups look up the task in new manager Gerardo Seoane’s system. There’s a lot of “new” around the club going into this season, and we’ll see if they can get back to finishing around the top end of the table.
Another fifth tier thrashing here, however, I don’t think the expectation was for Heidenheim to completely run away with the game by the 20th minute. The newly promoted darlings demolished Rostocker FC, the game being over by the 20th minute with a goal by Adrian Beck, 2. Bundesliga Golden Boot winner Tim Kleindienst provided two goals, and a goal by centre back Lennard Maloney. Their 8-0 win sticks out particularly when you compare the result with their promotion partners, Darmstadt, who did not score against FC Homburg.
Heidenheim has a large mountain to climb this season. There’s not a lot of easily identifiable teams that are easy pickings for relegation, other than Heidenheim themselves. They are coming off an incredible season in the 2.Bundesliga where they ended with a whopping 31 goal difference, and they’re going to need to find a way to stay competitive by bringing their extremely balanced attack and defending form from last year into this year. This game at least showed they didn’t lose too much of a beat going into this next season, although they’ll need to carry that into an extremely tough game against Wolfsburg.
Two teams that people have high on their table predictions for this upcoming season started out the gates with some absolute destruction. Bayer Leverkusen and Eintracht Frankfurt both made huge moves in their summer transfers, and the first glimpse into competition out of preseason turned out fantastic. New Leverkusen signings Victor Boniface and Jonas Hofmann already have a goal to their name and helped Leverkusen avoid the first round exit embarrassment they faced last year to Elversberg. That’s in addition to the world class talent they have with Florian Wirtz and Jeremie Frimpong, while also getting some great help from Amine Adli and a huge two goal and one assist performance from subbed in striker Adam Hlozek.
On the other side of Sunday, Frankfurt’s new signings Omar Marmoush and Jessic Ngankam both opened up their goal accounts, with both scoring as soon as they were subbed in. Their starters also torched Lokomotive Leipzig with the midfield of Buta, Skhiri, and Dina Ebimbe having great displays to ensure Dino Toppmöller became the first manager since Armin Veh to win his Pokal debut. The question of if Kolo Muani will be around the team for the season still hovers, but the performances from relied on mainstays Jesper Lindstrom, Mario Goetze, Makoto Hasebe, and Aurélio Buta are a good building block to go into the season with whoever is up top.
Both sides have very important games to start the season, Leverkusen open up against a RB Leipzig team that played extremely well in the Supercup, and Eintracht Frankfurt playing in a derby which you never want to start the season losing. If these two teams are going to give Bayern something to be scared about, they need to show no mercy in the games that they should win, and both did that this past weekend.
In the game against Hallescher FC, Greuther Fürth striker and former US National Team player Julian Green mentioned that some spectators racially abused him, reportedly calling him a monkey repeatedly during the 1-0 win. Manager Alexander Zorniger also referenced the racial abuse in the postgame news conference, stating frustration that the spectators around those doing the abuse did nothing to point out how wrong it was or confront them.
Hallescher issued an apology via their club spokeswoman, but the racial abuse in this game combined with the racial abuse Bayern striker Mathys Tel faced online after the DFL Super Cup match on Saturday marked a disgusting note on an otherwise fantastic weekend of German soccer. Plenty of support has been shown to both players fortunately, however, it still leaves a sad blemish that continues to show its face across a lot of soccer.
Depending on who you support, it may or may not be a “fun” fact to learn that Köln’s last four Pokal losses have been at the hand of lower league opponents, last year even being a first round exit to Jahn Regensburg on penalties. The bad memories definitely flashed into Köln fans heads as they were taken to extra time against newly promoted into the second league, VfL Osnabrück. Though they went into halftime with a lead due to an absolutely gorgeous strike from Benno Schmitz , the team didn’t seem like they ever could shake Osnabrück’s pressure. The game ended with Osnabrück out shooting, out possessing, and out cornering Köln. The pressure after an Osnabrück penalty never let up, and it looked like Köln might not make it out of the game.
It’s worth noting that under Steffen Baumgart, this is the first time the team wasn’t taken to penalties in the first round, although this time they were able to produce two much needed goals in extra time. A negative that hangs over the win was the need to finish the game with ten men as Mark Uth went off with an injury after only appearing in five games last year and the team was out of subs. For Osnabrück, this was a great show from a team that has not had a lead yet in their two league games so far. For Köln this is a bit of a wake up call to tighten things up as they face a very tough Dortmund team on the road and with a short rest going into Saturday.
I’m a big fan of really specific and really unimportant fun facts, so I’d love to close out this round (for now) with some things I’ve picked out!