Munich - FC Bayern Munich can put the gloss on what has been a superb first half of the season with victory over traditional rivals Borussia Mönchengladbach in their final Bundesliga assignment of 2012 on Friday night (kick-off 20:30 CET).
Three points would, temporarily at least, see the Bundesliga leaders move 14 points clear of second-placed Bayer 04 Leverkusen and 17 ahead of champions Borussia Dortmund, but it's ex-Foal Dante who will be in the spotlight come kick-off.
"It's definitely a special game for me," said Bayern's ever-present centre-back ahead of the game. "My time at Gladbach opened the door to FC Bayern in the first place." The Brazilian spent three and half years at Borussia, making 93 league appearances before earning a summer move to Bavaria, where he has hit the ground running.
"If Dante is fit and healthy, he plays," declared Bayern head coach Jupp Heynckes recently. Indeed, the 29-year-old joins goalkeeper Manuel Neuer as one of only two players to have completed all 16 of Bayern's Bundesliga outings this season.
"In his time with us he developed into a top performer and leader," asserted Gladbach general manager Max Eberl. Borussia's former bedrock, Dante helped the Foals record 15 clean sheets on their way to a surprise fourth-place finish in 2011/12. "Without doubt it was one of the best years in Borussia's young history. Of course, we want to end the year as it began," added Eberl.
Designs on a winning finale or not, the Gladbach camp couldn't help but marvel at Bayern's world-class talent pool. "They've bought wisely, for example Dante and [Javi] Martinez," explained Gladbach head coach Lucien Favre. Like Dante, Martinez has taken to life at Bayern like a duck to water, completing 91.5 per cent of his attempted passes in seven starting appearances and seven more off the bench in the Bundesliga this season.
"We have to take the game to [Bayern], but we can't just defend. We have to make something happen going forward," affirmed Favre, whose side began 2012 with a resounding 3-1 win at home to Bayern, ensuring a rare double over their illustrious counterparts following a curtain-raising 1-0 success in Munich five months earlier.
So Gladbach are not just up against the league leaders. They will also have to factor in the most watertight of backlines the Bundesliga has to offer, one of Europe’s strongest midfields, not to mention returning striker Mario Gomez - and revenge. Few sides manage a domestic double over Bayern, and lightning rarely strikes twice over the Allianz Arena.
Bayern: Neuer - Lahm, Boateng, Dante, Alaba - Javi Martinez, Schweinsteiger - T. Müller, Kroos, Ribery - Mandzukic (Gomez)
Gladbach: ter Stegen - Jantschke, Stranzl, Brouwers, Wendt - Nordtveit, Marx - Rupp, Arango - Herrmann, de Camargo
Christopher Mayer-Lodge reporting from Munich