Four Bundesliga teams are set to meet in the quarterfinals of the German Cup. Last season's runners-up, Borussia Dortmund, head to in-form Stuttgart, while Leverkusen host Werder Bremen.
A resurgent Stuttgart take on Borussia Dortmund on Tuesday evening with a place in the German Cup semifinals up for grabs. The final, to be played in Berlin on May 21, is the target for both teams, who have started the second half of the season in form. Stuttgart, with four wins in their last five, are currently Germany's hottest team.
Jürgen Kramny's side have won the German Cup on three occasions - their last final appearance in 2013, a defeat to Bayern Munich, who claimed a historic treble under Jupp Heynckes. Stuttgart's attention has been on securing their Bundesliga status for several years, but Kramny has inspired a run of seven games without defeat - the Swabians have won their last four games, scoring 12 goals in the process.
"We are capable of beating Borussia Dortmund," the Stuttgart coach said. "But Dortmund have exceptional quality and are the slight favorites. But we are in great form and we will have the home crowd behind us."
Filip Kostic netted one of four goals at Frankfurt on Saturday. The Serbian winger is growing in stature and quality week by week. Daniel Didavi and Timo Werner offer extra potency in attack, while Lukas Rupp has been an unsung hero in midfield. Kevin Grosskreutz, a January addition, is to face his former club for the first time since leaving his boyhood heroes last summer.
"It's a very special game for me, but I'll give everything for Stuttgart," Grosskreutz said.
Not only do Stuttgart go into the match full of the kind of confidence that winning four consecutive games in the Bundesliga will give you, but, Kramny said his team, which is expected to have a few changes, was well aware of what was riding on this one.
"Two games to go to Berlin. Do you really think I need to give a motivating speech? I don't," he told the mass-circulation newspaper Bild.
Beaten finalists in the last two seasons, Borussia Dortmund are aiming to go one step further and collect their fourth German Cup win. Last winners in 2012, Dortmund have a proud history in the tournament and a trophy this year would be a sturdy statement of intent in Thomas Tuchel's first season as the club's head coach. "It's a really tough game," Tuchel said. "I have been aware of Stuttgart's potential for two years."
"We have performed well against Hertha," he added after his side's goalless draw in the German capital.
"Stuttgart are now significantly stronger. We should expect a tough challenge there," added defender Mats Hummels.
Bremen out for second big strike
After knocking out Borussia Mönchengladbach in the Round of 16, Werder Bremen face Bayer Leverkusen in the second quarterfinal on Tuesday night - a repeat of the 2009 final, when Mesut Özil's winner claimed Werder's sixth German Cup.
Viktor Skripnik's side are third-bottom in the Bundesliga, but are only two points behind Eintracht Frankfurt and within touching distance of a clutch of sides in mid-table. A Cup run would be a rare success for the northern Germans who have been knocked out by lower-league opposition in each of the last four seasons.
"It's crucial for us to get into the next round, both for financial reasons as well as for the team," sporting director Thomas Eichin said. Bremen's 5-1 defeat at Borussia Mönchengladbach on Friday was the team's second in six games following two impressive comebacks to kickoff the second half of the season.
"We know where the mistakes were. We'll discuss them today. If we give 100%, we can achieve something," said coach Viktor Skripnik, whose side will be supported by more than 4,000 away fans.
Leverkusen, who have won the Cup just once, in 1993, have suffered two final defeats in the last decade. The Werkself have dropped out at the quarterfinal stage in each of the last two seasons, while going down 4-3 to Dynamo Dresden in a famous Cup shock back in 2011.
"We have a great chance to reach the last four," coach Roger Schmidt said after his side's scoreless draw with Bayern Munich on Saturday. "We are facing a really good team, although Bremen lost clearly in Mönchengladbach. But before that, they have shown a really strong spirit morale against big sides like Schalke and Hertha."