One German Cup quarterfinal is offering the biggest match-up in German football: Bayern Munich versus Borussia Dortmund. They met in the final last year and the result was emphatic, but what to expect tonight?
Real Madrid beat Barcelona 3-1 on Tuesday night in a match-up dubbed "el Clasico," as the Spanish domestic cup competition peaked too soon. German football fans feel the pain of neutrals who lamented it being "just" a semifinal - Bayern Munich and Borussia Dortmund meet in the last eight of the German Cup on Wednesday evening.
It's a replay of last year's final, and surely the draw many would have chosen for this year's Berlin climax on June 1.
The back-to-back Bundesliga champions, and cup holders, challenge the runaway league leaders and most successful German club ever. Toni Kroos, Manuel Neuer, Philipp Lahm, Bastian Schweinsteiger and co. face Marco Reus, Mario Götze, Robert Lewandowski, Mats Hummels and friends - no other German teams can compete in terms of star quality.
But if the match's status at the top of the domestic bill is undoubted, its outcome is anything but clear. You can easily make a bulletproof case for either team to win, depending on whether you look at recent form or head-to-head performances.
Obviously, Bayern have it
On the one hand, Bayern lead the Bundesliga by a virtually insurmountable 17 points already. They've conceded only one league goal since a 1-1 draw on December 14, during their 6-1 demolition of Werder Bremen this weekend.
The Bavarian juggernaut has lost just once in the league, a 2-1 home defeat to third-placed Bayer Leverkusen in October that might very easily have gone the other way.
Bayern CEO Karl-Heinz Rummenigge had to reiterate in the press that he felt Wednesday's cup tie would be a "game on a level footing" - an emphatic break from this season's norm at the Allianzarena. Even Dortmund coach Jürgen Klopp showed some hesitation in a television interview.
"So far, I'd say that it's been the perfect season for Bayern," Klopp told reporters without breaking stride at a press conference, before hesitating. "But… yeah…," he added with a chuckle and something between a wink and a wince, "we nonetheless have ambitions for this title, at least in our own minds."
Though Dortmund wanted to "again be a very unpleasant opponent" and progress, the coach conceded that "some of our performances in past weeks have of course dented our hopes of succeeding."
So there you are. Bayern are 17 points ahead of Dortmund, and their staggering league goal difference of +55 is more than twice as good as that of the defending champs - meaning Bayern aren't just winning, they're doing it in style. Case closed.
It can only be Dortmund
And yet the Bavarians have not beaten Dortmund in any of their last six truly competitive attempts - discounting this year's pre-season Supercup. It was February 2010 when Bayern last triumphed over coach Jurgen Klopp's side in the Bundesliga.
Robert Lewandowski - incessantly tipped as Bayern's next big signing - scored three in the 2012 final
Five of those six miserable matches were even defeats - including a 5-2 German Cup final thrashing to round off a second straight season bereft of silverware last June.
"We consider ourselves to be in top form and also know just what Dortmund are capable of, how they have managed to hurt us in the recent past," Bayern and Germany winger Thomas Müller told reporters ahead of the game.
"We want once again to show who's…," he said, before stopping short and smiling, rather like Klopp. "No, I'm not giving you that headline."
Honorary Bayern president and German football "Kaiser" Franz Beckenbauer was more headline-friendly in a chat with Germany's Bild newspaper, saying he was "certain" that "this Bayern side won't be brushed aside by Dortmund like they were in last year's cup final."
Why the discrepancy?
Put simply, Borussia Dortmund are at their best against the best. It wouldn't be fair to call them a counter-attacking team - but they are perhaps at their most lethal breaking out of defense at speed.
Consider how Klopp's side murdered the "Group of Death" in the Champions League this year, brushing Real Madrid, Manchester City and Ajax aside without losing a game.
Bayern captain Philipp Lahm recently said that he was "surprised" at how little homework the English, Spanish and Dutch champions had done on Dortmund - saying they should have known what was in store. The comments had the ring of somebody speaking from personal, painful experience.
The sporting adage-come-cliché "90 percent perspiration, 10 percent inspiration" is perhaps at its least inaccurate when applied to Dortmund's "winning formula" against Bayern in recent times. The secret to Klopp's success lay in a compact, hard-working defensive effort involving nine out of ten outfield players - with a heavy focus on the flanks Bayern so frequently seek to exploit - coupled with the ability to charge straight up the other end before the Bavarians could settle at the back.
Against a Bayern side used to controlling matches and dictating the pace of play, especially in domestic competition, Dortmund was able to simultaneously frustrate and then punish their opponents.
For five consecutive competitive matches, culminating in the cup final last summer, Bayern seemed not to have learned the lesson Lahm was alluding to. Judging by this season's added injection of pace, especially in transition from defense to attack, in the league leaders' own style of attacking football - they have at least learned to mimic it themselves.
This season, in the Bundesliga, Bayern are simply the best team in Germany. But can they beat Dortmund? After more than three years, that question remains unanswered.