On Saturday comes the match fans of Bundesliga football have anticipated for months, the clash between perennial league favorites Bayern Munich and runners-up Borussia Dortmund, also known as "Der Klassiker."
Bayern currently hold a sizable, five-point lead atop the table and will retain control of the league's top spot regardless of Saturday's result at Signal Iduna Park. The clash is a tricky one for the visitors, though, and could make the Bundesliga title race a bit more of a nail-biter heading into the home stretch of the 2015-16 campaign. On the other hand, it could effectively wrap up a fourth consecutive title for the Bavarian giants.
Recent history suggests a big advantage for Bayern, who won the home leg by a comprehensive 5-1 margin. Yet at Signal Iduna Park and following a few more months of development for BVB under Thomas Tuchel, the Ruhr side will favor their chances of making it a contest. They've won their last seven fixtures in all competitions and are in bullish form.
After his side's win against Darmstadt on Wednesday, Tuchel admitted (via Goal): "Five points is a big lead, but the ball is with us!"
Pep Guardiola was cautious, telling reporters on Wednesday (via Deutsche Welle Sports): "This is a different Dortmund team to the one we've seen in previous years. We'll have to fight until the final second."
Bayern realistically only need a draw to remain almost certain champions. And a win would put them head and shoulders above the rest. But if BVB manage to upset the Bavarians as Mainz did in midweek, the title race could be blown wide open.
Date: Saturday, March 5
Time: 5:30 p.m. GMT/12:30 p.m. ET/6:30 p.m. local time
Venue: Signal Iduna Park, Dortmund
TV Info: Fox Soccer 2 (U.S. only), BT Sport Europe (UK only)
Live Stream: Fox Soccer 2Go (U.S. only), BT Sport (UK only)
|Darmstadt: Win||Mainz: Loss|
|Hoffenheim: Win||Wolfsburg: Win|
|Porto: Win||Juventus: Draw|
|Leverkusen: Win||Darmstadt: Win|
|Porto: Win||Augsburg: Win|
Tuchel will have to do without center-back Sokratis Papastathopoulos, while Roman Burki's fitness is in question as he recovers from illness.
BVB rested several players for the Darmstadt match and will certainly welcome back Marco Reus, although the midfield and defensive positions are anything but set in stone.
Possible Dortmund starting XI: Burki; Piszczek, Bender, Hummels, Schmelzer; Gundogan, Weigl, Kagawa; Mkhitaryan, Aubameyang, Reus.
Guardiola's side will be without Holger Badstuber, Jerome Boateng and Javi Martinez for Saturday's match.
Medhi Benatia may start in defense, but Guardiola could restore Joshua Kimmich to the starting lineup after conceding twice in midweek.
Possible Bayern starting XI: Neuer; Lahm, Kimmich, Alaba, Bernat; Alonso, Thiago; Robben, Muller, Costa; Lewandowski.
Players to Watch
Robert Lewandowski and Mario Gotze are two to watch for Bayern as they take on their former club, Dortmund. It's also a big match for Douglas Costa as he looks to assert himself for the visitors on the big stage.
For Dortmund, Mats Hummels will be worth a look as he faces his youth team, Bayern. Additionally, Reus and Ilkay Gundogan will be aiming to make an appeal to Joachim Low in perhaps the biggest match they will play before UEFA Euro 2016.
Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang vs. Robert Lewandowski
The Bundesliga's top two strikers go head-to-head on Saturday, and the high-stakes match could well be decided by one or the other.
Both were on target when the two sides met last fall, although Lewandowski scored twice and Bayern won in a rout.
Now Aubameyang will be keen to put one over on his rival as Lewandowski will aim to score as a visitor to Signal Iduna Park, where he was once a hero for Dortmund.
Henrikh Mkhitaryan vs. Thomas Muller
The other big battle will be between the support men for their strikers, Henrikh Mkhitaryan and Thomas Muller.
Both sides have other star attackers, but it's the Armenian and the German who have been most reliable and consistent for BVB and FCB, respectively, this season.
Each is equally apt to score or assist, and each could make all the difference as the strikers demand attention.
Odds (courtesy of Odds Shark)