League leaders Borussia Dortmund travel to reigning champions Bayern Munich on Saturday for a match, which some commentators have billed as the defining game of the Bundesliga season.
BVB beat Bayern in October to get their title charge underway
Such is the air of expectation surrounding this clash of the German titans, some observers are even going so far as to suggest the result may determine which city will be celebrating title success in May.
However, given that Dortmund have a 10-point lead over second-placed Bayer Leverkusen and are 13 points ahead of Bayern in third place, it seems unlikely that a defeat in Munich will end BVB's challenge to win their first Bundesliga championship in a decade.
With 11 games to go, it would take a monumental collapse on Dortmund's behalf to throw away such a lead, considering the head of steam they have built up over a campaign which has seen them win 17 games and lose only twice. They are a team which is hardly lacking in confidence either.
"The match brings together the best two teams in Germany," said Dortmund playmaker Nuri Sahin at the club's weekly press conference. "We feel no pressure. Why should we?"
His team mate Kevin Grosskreutz, one of a number of prodigious talents which have inspired BVB this season, went as far as suggesting that Dortmund will not lose a match until the end of the season.
Even if they do lose, a third defeat of the season is unlikely to have a huge impact on Dortmund's charge, but a win over arch-rivals Bayern in their own backyard - the first in nearly 20 years - could galvanize the Ruhrgebiet club's march to the title, while effectively ending the slim hopes Bayern have of catching the runaway league leaders.
Defeat would not spark panic in Dortmund
They believe it. Maybe the players secretly believe it too.
"Dortmund already believe that they can be champions but they are not talking about winning it yet, which is strange given their position, but it's probably the right strategy," Dortmund expert and sometime Sportschau.de correspondent Marcus Bark told Deutsche Welle. "If they beat Bayern then it would be even more stupid to deny it, but I think superstition is playing a role in their caution."
But Bark does not believe that even a defeat in Munich will derail Dortmund's title charge, given that they would still be ten points clear of Bayern and possibly seven clear of Leverkusen if Bayer beat Werder Bremen. But, he says, if they do lose, it will put an added emphasis on next Friday's home game against Cologne.
"If Dortmund lose to Bayern and fail to win against Cologne, with their main rivals winning their matches, we could be seeing the first phase of weakness in Dortmund's season," he said. "However, I see no signs that this will happen."
Despite the confidence Dortmund have in themselves and the overwhelming belief of most pundits that the title is theirs for the taking, Bayern Munich are a different team from the one which lost 2-0 to BVB in October. Back then, Louis van Gaal's side were languishing in 13th place. Since that defeat, Bayern have only lost a further two games and have won eleven to battle back to third.
Resurgent Bayern aiming for high finish
The return of Robben and Ribery has brought dividends
Much of Bayern's return to form has been credited to the return of fitness of Dutch flyer Arjen Robben and French midfield maestro Frank Ribery, along with the rejuvenation of striker Mario Gomez. 'Robbery' have won all three of the games they've played together since returning to the team while Gomez has hit a rich vein of form with 18 goals in the league and another seven in the Champions League.
This offensive trio, accompanied by Thomas Müller, has driven the Bavarian giants up the league table after the most inauspicious of starts. Dortmund should be wary.
"Bayern don't like to admit this but their success stands and falls on the form of Arjen Robben these days," said Bark. "In this respect, BVB's left back Marcel Schmelzer will be a hugely important player on Saturday while Mats Hummels will have to be quicker to help him out when Robben attacks. Kevin Grosskreutz can help by hindering Robben's runs early and higher up the pitch. All the BVB defenders are going to have to be perfect because Bayern have Ribery on the other wing while Mario Gomez and Thomas Müller will lead the attack."
Attack versus attack suggests a breathless spectacle
"Bayern will attack from the first minute and want to have their first goal within ten minutes, as they do in most of the big matches," Bernd Salamon, a Bayern Munich correspondent at Kicker magazine, told Deutsche Welle. "Robben, Ribery and Gomez will be the focus, with Schweinsteiger dictating the play. An early goal against this young Dortmund team may make BVB nervous - and then we'll see."
Dortmund have their own strike force which should be feared
However, Bark believes that Dortmund coach Jürgen Klopp won't abandon the successful tactics he has deployed away from home and will look to attack Bayern at every opportunity.
"Rearranging the system to employ more defensive tactics just for the Bayern game would send the wrong signal to the Dortmund players," he said. "Besides, keeping the onus on attack will be beneficial because Bayern's weakness is in the back four, especially at the heart of the defense and on the left. I'm sure Klopp will look to exploit these weaknesses."
"It's not so much about if Bayern lose but how they lose," Salamon added. "If it's a great match, a close match, it won't matter so much. But if Dortmund win big in Munich, this will send nerves through Bayern and questions will be asked."
Victory over BVB could inspire European glory
As things stand, Bayern's target in the league remains second place and direct qualification for the Champions League. After such an awful start and some inconsistent displays along the way, this would still be quite a feat for a team which has been a shadow of its double-winning self for most of this season.
A win could inspire Bayern to beat Inter and progress further
While some may start believing that Dortmund can be caught if Bayern win on Saturday, it is more likely that a victory will give the German champions nothing more than a massive boost to reach their goal of ending the season as runners-up and added momentum in their pursuit of Champions League glory in Europe.
"Bayern know that the title is beyond them but with this match against Dortmund, they want to show who is number one in Germany," Salamon said. "This will be about a demonstration of power to remind everyone that even if they don't win the league, Bayern are still the best so they'll go for the big win."
"A victory against Dortmund will certainly help in Europe," he added. "Bayern are in good shape in the Champions League and beating Dortmund will keep that rhythm going. It's good to keep the habit of winning, especially at this time of the season when you're playing for trophies."
Author: Nick Amies
Editor: Michael Lawton