Leverkusen - The most highly anticipated match of the weekend doesn't involve league leaders FC Bayern Munich, but rather their closest pursuers Bayer 04 Leverkusen and Borussia Dortmund, who go head-to-head on Sunday (kick-off 17:30 CET).
In a battle between the league's second and third placed teams, Matchday 20's final encounter offers both sides an opportunity to lay down a marker for the rest of the campaign.
As the only side not to lose at home this season, Leverkusen will be looking to give further evidence that Germany's top flight is fiercely competitve. "It's irrelevant whether we finish second or third," declared midfielder Stefan Reinartz. "A lot of people are talking of a head-to-head between Bayern and Dortmund, so I would find it really cool if we were able to finish above one of those two clubs."
Leverkusen are the only side to have beaten Bayern this season, but having suffered a 3-0 loss in Dortmund, die Werkself will be hoping to maintain their form at the BayArena on Sunday. "We didn't play well at their place earlier in the season but it was important for us to show character and move on," explained head coach Sami Hyypiä. "We're ready to give everything we've got on Sunday to preserve our home record. We'll be playing to win."
Dortmund meanwhile are hoping for a repeat of their performance from earlier this season. "If we play the way we did last time then we're guaranteed to take the points," said BVB striker Robert Lewandowski, who will be facing off against Stefan Kießling with both front men looking to climb above Mario Mandzukic in the goalscoring charts.
The second place showdown also pits the Bender twins against one another, although Sven could be forced to settle for a place on the Dortmund bench once again with Lars guaranteed to start as part of Leverkusen's three-man midfield alongside Reinartz and Simon Rolfes. "They will not defend high up the pitch," believes Dortmund head coach Jürgen Klopp, who is not about to underestimate Bayer's impressive ability to break in transition. "This is going to be a really tough challenge for us, but we’re ready for it."
Klopp will undoubtedly be looking to his talented midfield to help unlock Leverkusen's resilient backline, with Ilkay Gündogan tasked with playing Marco Reus and Mario Götze into dangerous areas in the final third. However, Bayer's young right-back Dani Carvajal believes there’s no difference in facing the likes of Dortmund’s dynamic duo. "There's no specific tactic, it's just a question of trying to do the best you can," explained the 21-year-old in an exclusive interview with bundesliga.com.
Dortmund are expected to be unchanged from their win over Nuremberg and, though they've scored eight and conceded none, collecting two wins in the process, the reigning champions are aware Sunday's encounter will be their biggest test since the winter break. "It's our goal to overtake Leverkusen, we've got to catch them," stated Klopp. "This is a real top match not because of the league positions, but because of the incredible amount of quality that both teams boast."
Bayer 04 Leverkusen: Leno - Carvajal, Wollscheid, Toprak, Boenisch - L. Bender, Reinartz, Rolfes - Castro, Kießling, Schürrle
Borussia Dortmund: Weidenfeller - Piszczek, Felipe Santana, Hummels, Schmelzer - Gündogan, Kehl - Blaszczykowski, Götze, Reus - Lewandowski