Friday, September 30, 2022

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SC Freiburg - The Final Streich?

SC Freiburg badge (via Wikipedia)

 

This coming weekend will see the Olympiastadion host the 79th edition of the German cup final. The 2022 DFB-Pokal final is due to be contested by SC Freiburg and RB Leipzig and, whatever happens, this season will see a 1st time winner hoisting that famous goblet-esque trophy above their heads. It will also deliver a 1st major domestic success for either side, so in many ways this match represents a holy grail.

 

 

RB Leipzig embody 'new money' and, since their formation in 2009 they have swaggered their way up through the German league system, with promotion from 2. Bundesliga coming in 2016 under the management of Ralf Rangnick (whatever happened to him?!). Since reaching the top tier, RB Leipzig have gone on to finish as runners-up in the 2017 and 2021 Bundesliga campaigns. They have also been well beaten in two previous DFB-Pokal finals, losing to Bayern Munich in 2019 (3-0, during Rangnick's 2nd spell in charge) and Borussia Dortmund in 2021 (4-1, thanks to the Sancho and Haaland show).

 

Bearing in mind that Leipzig lost their 2020 Champions League semi-final to PSG, and this season were knocked out of the Europa League semis by Rangers, it would be easy to see them as the perennial nearly-men of German football. Then again, when you consider that all of this has been achieved on top of their various promotions through the league, in barely thirteen years, it's quite a feat and The Red Bulls will be desperate to live up to their favourite tags for the 2022 DFB-Pokal.

 

Standing in their way will be the Breisgau Brazilians, a team that have never reached the final before but one that has regularly punched above their weight in recent history. They competed in the Bundesliga for the 1st time back in 1994, and bar a handful of seasons they have mostly maintained their presence at the top table ever since. Refreshingly, this has been achieved off the back of longevity in their managerial set-up, as between 1991 and the present day SC Freiburg have only had four managers, and one of them only lasted six months! Funnily enough that man, Marcus Sorg, has been involved with the German national team set-up since 2013.

 

From 1991 until 2007 Volker Finke established the club in the top flight, even finishing as high as 3rd in the 1995 Bundesliga, and despite relegations in 1997 and 2002 they immediately yo-yoed back up each time. It was only after the 3rd relegation in 2005, and narrowly missing out on promotion in the following two seasons, that Finke called time on his famed tenure. Now SC Freiburg are guided by Christian Streich, who has been in post for almost 11 years himself.

 

Streich had a modest playing career which included a solitary season with SC Freiburg in the late 80's, and after having to retire early he returned to the club in 1995 to take over the under 19s team. He stayed in that position all the way through until 2011, and also became involved as a trainer with the 1st team from 2007, before becoming assistant coach under Sorg. After the sacking of Sorg in late 2011, Streich took on the managerial role having spent the previous sixteen years immersed in the club and having witnessed at close hand the methods of Volker Finke and his successor Robin Dutt. This pathway is a similar one to what was trodden by Liverpool managers from the 1960s to 1990s, and on reflection it must be immeasurably helpful to be so engrossed in the culture and ethos of a football club before you're asked to run the playing side of things.

 

In his decade as the boss, Steich has overseen five top-ten finishes in the Bundesliga, with the best effort being 5th in 2013 and the past three seasons seeing consecutive top-half placings (2022 resulting in 6th spot). There was one relegation, in 2015, but SC Freiburg once more secured an immediate return the next season. And now, Streich and his team are days away from being able to add a DFB-Pokal triumph to their list of achievements, something that would be truly groundbreaking for the nearly 35,000 inhabitants of the city of Freiburg.

 

The challenge will be great, against the wealth and growing might of RB Leipzig, but SC Freiburg can take comfort from knowing that they will be the neutral's favourite, with many purists of German football having long stood against the ownership model and financial structure of The Red Bulls. Besides, based upon this campaign, there is little to separate the two sides. Both their Bundesliga fixtures finished as 1-1 draws, and RB Leipzig only finished six points about SC Freiburg as they crept into 4th place.

 

Vincenzo Grifo will be the main threat for SC Freiburg in the final, the top goalscorer has thirteen to his name (in all competitions) this season, and he scored a penalty in the semi-final triumph over Hamburg. The midfielder/left winger is also known for creating as many goals as he scores, and the feeling is that he will need to be at his best to help guide his team to glory.

 

As for RB Leipzig, they will be led by their own Italian, albeit from the dugout. The manager, Domenico Tedesco, was only appointed last December, taking over from the newly appointed Leeds boss Jesse Marsch, who had only lasted for eleven games before being unceremoniously sacked by his German employers. After guiding Leipzig to a coveted champions league qualifying spot in the Bundesliga, he now has his own opportunity to immortalise himself in the history books of the club. The ace that RB Leipzig have in their pocket is Christopher Nkunku, a forward who was previously with PSG and has just been named as the Bundesliga player of the year.

 

The French international helped himself to twenty goals and thirteen assists in the league alone, and has thirty-four goals across all competitions. He is currently being rumoured to be a transfer target for both Manchester United and Chelsea, and would love to cap off a great season personally with silverware, before possibly riding off into the sunset (aka the Premier League!).

 

Whatever happens in the 2022 DFB-Pokal final it will be a revolutionary moment for the competition, with a new name inscribed on the trophy. And if SC Freiburg manage to pull it off, it will be difficult for the football romantics not to be pleased for Christian Streich after his decades of dedication to the cause.

 

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