Bayern Munich and Borussia Mönchengladbach have had some epic Bundesliga battles over the years - and this weekend's encounter could be every bit as dramatic. How are the unbeaten top two shaping up for their big Matchday 4 meeting?
Bayern have dominated the headlines again this season, with the addition of Sadio Mane helping them to storm to the top of the table during a record start. The champions have won all three games so far, and with 15 goals and just one conceded they have been in spectacular form.
Gladbach are only two points behind the league leaders, however, having picked up seven to date. Daniel Farke has enjoyed a near-perfect start as head coach, with only an injury-time equaliser from Schalke on Matchday 2 denying the Foals a flawless opening month.
bundesliga.com details the main talking points ahead of Saturday evening's clash in Munich…
Watch: Mane starred against Bochum on Matchday 3
New arrivals: Mane vs. Itakura
Both sides have made shrewd signings over the summer, with Senegal star Mane leading the way for Bayern. The 30-year-old former Liverpool forward has given the champions a new dimension, scoring on his debut in the DFL Supercup win over RB Leipzig and adding three more in the Bundesliga. Mane struck twice in the 7-0 battering of Bochum on Matchday 3, with his Man of the Matchday performance suggesting there will be plenty more to come when the Ballon d'Or nominee fully gets up to speed with the German game.
"He's a top player," Alphonso Davies said of Mane after the 2-0 win over Wolfsburg on Matchday 2. "He's hard-working, he's fast - we try to get the ball to him as much as possible because he's a very quick guy."
Ko Itakura, meanwhile, has been a revelation for Gladbach. The 25-year-old spent last season on loan from Manchester City at Schalke, helping the Royal Blues return to the top flight as Bundesliga 2 champions. Gladbach then signed the Japan international on a permanent deal after watching him make 31 appearances in the second tier last season.
Watch: Gladbach's renaissance under Daniel Farke
Like Mane with Robert Lewandowski, Itakura was brought in to help compensate for the departure of an established, long-serving player in Matthias Ginter. He has made things look easy so far, being named in German sports magazine kicker’s team of the week in both matchdays 2 and 3.
"Ko is a player that is very comfortable on the ball," Farke said early in the season. "He's a strong tackler, reads the game well, he's smart, he's at a good age, and he has everything needed to shine at the highest level."
Germany stars: Kimmich vs. Hofmann
Not surprisingly Saturday's match will feature some of the best German players around - with most of them looking to make an impact in the final third. Joshua Kimmich already has a goal and two assists from his central midfield berth at Bayern, while Jonas Hofmann is something of a talisman for the visitors.
Watch: How Kimmich and Hofmann compare
Kimmich's set-piece deliveries are a real asset for the champions, and 14 of them led to goals last season. He even scored from one himself on Matchday 1 in 2022/23, with his clever free-kick getting Bayern up and running in their 6-1 triumph at Eintracht Frankfurt.
In open play, the 27-year-old is every bit as influential. No one at Bayern has been in possession as often as Kimmich this season, and he is third on the league-wide list for distance covered.
Hofmann's form over the past year has seen him become a regular alongside Kimmich at international level. Playing on the right side of midfield, he got a team-high 12 Bundesliga goals and five assists for Gladbach in 2021/22. In June the 30-year-old also scored against Hungary and England for Germany, and in Gladbach's last away game he notched his first goal of the current campaign in the 2-2 draw at Schalke.
"Jonas has become one of the faces of the team during his six-and-a-half years with us," Gladbach sporting director Roland Virkus commented when the player signed a new contract with the club earlier this month. "He has undergone tremendous development here - first to become a regular starter and a leader for us, and then also cementing himself within the Germany national team."
Bayern's Serge Gnabry (two goals and one assist so far), Thomas Müller (one goal and two assists), Jamal Musiala (three goals) and Leroy Sane (one goal and one assist) - as well as Gladbach's Florian Neuhaus and 2014 FIFA World Cup winner Christoph Kramer - are among the other Germany regulars who should see game time this weekend.
North American full-backs: Davies vs. Scally
Both sides will feature two exciting full-backs from the other side of the Atlantic. Davies is now a key player for Bayern in his fourth season in German football, and he is also looking forward to taking part in the World Cup with Canada later this year.
The 21-year-old left-back is the fastest player in this season's Bundesliga - just ahead of Gladbach's Marcus Thuram - having been clocked at a speed of 22.35 mph (35.97 km/h).
A meeting with Bayern, meanwhile, will conjure up good memories for Joe Scally. The 19-year-old American made his Bundesliga debut against the 10-in-a-row champions - and stood out that night as well. Gladbach held Bayern to a 1-1 draw at home on the opening day of the 2021/22 campaign, after which Scally scored once in a further 29 appearances in the league.
In total Scally made 23 starts across all competitions in his breakthrough year, and he has continued to be a regular this season. Capped by the USA senior team for the first time in June, the right-back has started all three league games so far this term and will relish facing Bayern and going directly up against Canadian rival Davies.
"Bayern are the best team in the league and have been for many years, but we can go there with confidence," Scally said after the 1-0 win over Hertha on Matchday 3. "We won in Munich last season and of course we'll try to do it again - even if we know that we've got a tough game in store."
No fear for Gladbach
Gladbach would be well advised to tighten up early on against Bayern, given that Julian Nagelsmann's team have scored a record 11 first-half goals after three matchdays.
Watch: Gladbach won in Munich last season
The Foals have won four of their last seven games against the home side - including the last two. They went unbeaten against the league leaders last season, drawing at home in August, scoring a stunning 5-0 DFB Cup success in October and winning 2-1 in Munich in January.
They even came from behind in the most recent game, with Neuhaus and Stefan Lainer replying in the first half after Lewandowski had given Bayern the lead.
The statistics, though, suggest that the visitors are capable of being competitive again. Switzerland international Yann Sommer has saved an above-average 73 percent of shots that have come his way this season, while Thuram - with five goals in all competitions - is already more prolific than he was last term. The quick and powerful French player will be joined by compatriot Alassane Plea in attack, meaning Gladbach should travel with cautious optimism.
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