Borussia Dortmund and Bayern Munich meet as the Bundesliga race hots up
After midweek results, suddenly Saturday's contest between Borussia Dortmund and Bayern Munich has Bundesliga title implications, with Pep Guardiola's Bayern holding a five-point lead over Thomas Tuchel's men.
Stefan Buczko (Borussia Dortmund) and Mark Lovell (Bayern Munich) preview Saturday's fixture at the Westfalenstadion.
How important is this match in the context of your season?
Stefan Buczko: It could not be more important. Although the Europa League has appeared to be the Dortmund priority, victory on Saturday would see them go two points behind the league leaders and the title race would be wide open again. Winning the Bundesliga against such a strong Bavarian outfit would go down as one of the greatest successes in club history.
However, even if a win for Dortmund against Bayern would be great for obvious reasons, it also will bear the risk that they lose their grip in Europe as a result and come away empty-handed by the end of the season.
Which all means that, if BVB were to draw or lose there is at least solace in the fact that they can draw their attention to Thursday matches. The gap of 15 points to third place in the league means they can rest easy on that front.
Mark Lovell: Saturday's "Klassiker" in Dortmund has clearly gained in significance following Bayern's shock home defeat to Mainz in midweek. Apparently we now have a title race as the champions' advantage has dwindled to a mere five points ahead of the game against their nearest challengers.
Looking at the bigger picture, it would be far from a disaster if Bayern lose to resurgent BVB in the way that would be defeat to Juventus in the Champions League Round of 16 second leg.
That said, Bayern can virtually seal the Bundesliga title with a win and, no doubt, ex-BVB favourites Robert Lewandowski and the much-maligned Mario Gotze will be keen to put one over their former club and silence the "Yellow Wall".
Which players, if any, would you take from the opposition?
Buczko: I would start with Jerome Boateng, because he is the best centre-back in the world as far as I can see it. Lining him up with Mats Hummels would make the best centre-back pairing in the world.
Marcel Schmelzer is one of the best left-backs in the league but David Alaba is just in a class of his own. He would surely add another dimension to Dortmund's game, as would Robert Lewandowski, even though Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang has been superb this season.
I could have also mentioned Manuel Neuer, but having a Schalke die-hard fan between the sticks would just be a little too much!
Lovell: Ilkay Gundogan's silky skills would grace any midfield in Europe. It's not just me; Guardiola has been strongly linked to the diminutive German international at his next club Manchester City. After all, the Catalan is rather fond of this type of (Thiago, Xavi et al) ball-playing midfielder.
A classy central defender in the Bobby Moore mould, Mats Hummels would form a World Cup-winning defensive partnership at the heart of the Bayern defence alongside the rock Jerome Boateng.
Meanwhile, Roman Weidenfeller would be a reliable benchwarmer and back-up for goalkeeper Manuel Neuer.
How will the game compare to the 5-1 earlier this season?
Buczko: For starters, the injured Boateng won't be there to tickle Dortmund's backline with precise long balls, while die Schwarzgelben won't have to compete with a makeshift backline. Tuchel will have the entire squad to choose from barring centre-back Sokratis Papastathopoulos.
With Dortmund's gained defensive stability -- seven clean sheets in the last 10 matches -- the hope is that they will not be as easily found out as in the first game, but Bayern can be ruthless on their day, even if Guardiola is known to seek a more conservative approach in high profile matches away from home.
Lovell: After the 5-1 mauling in Munich, Tuchel admitted that "no team can match Bayern," but, lo and behold, here BVB are within striking distance. Respect. We can expect a much tighter affair this time, with BVB trying to utilise the extreme pace of Aubameyang and expose Bayern on the counterattack, as Mainz did on Wednesday.
Philipp Lahm and Xabi Alonso were given a breather for that game, but will probably both return to provide more defensive stability. The Bavarians will definitely see much less of the ball in Dortmund, but the same old adage applies: you have to convert your chances when they come. Not facing a Dortmund goalkeeper in inspired form would also help Bayern's chances.
Name a crucial battle
Buczko: Ilkay Gundogan vs. Xabi Alonso
Whoever manages best to evade the opposition's pressing will gain his side a massive advantage. But obviously this game will be way too complex to come down to a single battle, hence the real showdown will take place on the sideline as Tuchel and Guardiola fight it out.
Lovell: Robert Lewandowski vs. Mats Hummels
The lethal Polish striker is a former Dortmund goal machine, while Hummels left Bayern under a cloud. Lewandowski is the league's top scorer with 23 goals and has scored four in his previous three league meetings against his former employer, including the winner here last April.
Buczko: Dortmund 1-1 Bayern
"It's not a wish concert" as Jurgen Klopp so eloquently put it, but a Dortmund win would do the whole Bundesliga a world of good (not to mention prestige for BVB). Who doesn't want to have a title race?
Lovell: Dortmund 0-1 Bayern -- Bayern will complete the double over Dortmund, restoring a cosy eight-point advantage at the top and prematurely ending the supposed title race after 72 hours. To add insult to injury, a certain Mr Lewandowski will score the winner.