The fixture planners have reserved a particular treat to bring the curtain down on Matchday 21 in the Bundesliga, with first facing second as defending champions Bayern Munich host title challengers RB Leipzig.
While the fixture list is actually drawn using a random process, it does occasionally throw up games which, in the context of the current league table, could not create more excitement if it tried. This cracker really adds the gravy to the Sunday roast.
Granted, by the time Bayern and Leipzig take to the field at the Allianz Arena on Sunday evening, they may no longer be clinging onto the top two rungs on the Bundesliga ladder. As the anticipation mounts with the weekend approaching, though, there can be no mistaking that this is a top-of-the-table clash that could have significant consequences.
bundesliga.com analyses how the champions and challengers compare coming into this mesmerising match.
Goals, goals, goals
With 111 goals in their 40 games combined this season, Bayern and Leipzig are certainly not shy in front of goal. The record champions edge that particular statistic with 58 – the joint-best return of all time at this juncture after Werder Bremen in 1985/86 – but Leipzig's 53, at an average of 2.65 per game, is a figure they too can be proud of. With Robert Lewandowski and Timo Werner in the ranks, posting such figures is understandable. Those 111 goals, however, have been spread across the shoulders of 26 different players – 13 in each squad – emphasising how the entire teams have played their part in an unprecedented flurry of success.
Bayern have struck 12 times since the winter break, and got the same amount in December. Leipzig, meanwhile, harvested most of their goals in the first few months of the campaign: nine in August, eight in a single game against Mainz at the start of November, and back-to-back four-goal hauls heading towards December. The goalscoring momentum appears, therefore, to be on Bayern's side, but then they had put six past Mainz before being blunted by a 1-1 draw in Leipzig back in September.
Lewandowski vs. Werner
And here we come to the meat of the matter: who has the best striker? Lewandowski's battle with Werner for the Torjägerkanone this season promises to be as exciting as their respective clubs' tussle for the title. It's currently advantage Lewandowski, since the Pole has 22 goals from 20 games. Former Bayern forward Gerd Müller – in 1972/73 – is the only other player in Bundesliga history to reach as many goals after 20 matchdays, so Werner can be quite happy with his own return of 20. He reached that mark on Matchday 18 with a brace against Union Berlin.
In a battle which mirrors the two clubs' respective statuses in German football – the established giant meeting an up-and-coming force with its own sights on long-term domination – Lewandowski has the edge not only in terms of his current figures. His collection of records may never be matched, although the same has been said of the great Müller and practically the last one he still owns – 40 goals in a single season – is under threat this year. Werner, however, has time on his side. With 83 Bundesliga goals and still a month until his 24th birthday, he already has a headstart on Lewandowski. The former Borussia Dortmund striker was 22 when he scored his first Bundesliga goal, and had reached just 30 strikes by the age Werner is at now.
Flick vs Nagelsmann
When Hans-Dieter Flick sat on the bench as head coach of Hoffenheim for the first time, Julian Nagelsmann was still crunching his Coco Pops. Okay, that may be an exaggeration, but Nagelsmann was just 13 when Flick oversaw a 3-0 Baden-Württemberg Oberliga win over VfL Kirchheim. Hoffenheim would grow beyond recognition before Nagelsmann had outgrown his cereals to become the Bundesliga's youngest ever head coach at the age of just 28. In terms of experience, then, it would sound oxymoronic to state that Nagelsmann actually has more experience than Flick – yet it is true.
Since saving Hoffenheim from almost certain relegation, the Baby Mourinho has overseen 162 competitive fixtures, winning over half of them (83) and losing just over a quarter (42). Flick, meanwhile, has sat on the bench for Bayern just 13 times, winning 11 and losing two. Why such a discrepancy, given the 15-year headstart? Well, Flick's career followed a different path. After 11 games as assistant coach to Giovanni Trapattoni at Red Bull Salzburg, Flick joined Joachim Löw's coaching team for 111 games – including the victorious 2014 FIFA World Cup final. After that, he branched out into sporting director duties, first with Germany and then with Hoffenheim, where he had an office within earshot of Nagelsmann. He will be back within earshot of Nagelsmann on Sunday, hoping his inferior touchline experience is not reflected in the final outcome.
The trophy cabinets
It may be the ultimate of Bundesliga dichotomies, with the record champions boasting 72 domestic and continental titles facing a club who – aside from winning the Regionalliga Nordost and raising the Saxony Cup – have yet to lift a single item of significant silverware. Promotion to the Bundesliga did not come hand-in-hand with a Bundesliga 2 winners' medal either, as Freiburg beat them to top spot in 2015/16. Even Bundesliga debutants Union Berlin previously won the East Germany Cup and took the Third Division title, so – together with Paderborn – no other Bundesliga club has enjoyed as little success in terms of titles as the very hungry Red Bulls.
The closest they came was the 2018/19 DFB Cup final, where they were beaten 3-0 by Bayern with a first piece of silverware gleaming at them from the touchline of Berlin's Olympiastadion. Close, but no cigar. Leipzig have only existed as a club for a decade, however, and to be so close to such prestigious prizes is only a mark of how far they have come in such a short period of time, and what level of ambition has fuelled that rise. The current Bundesliga season ends on May 16. Just three days later, Leipzig celebrate their 11th birthday, and who knows whether they may be serving up their cake with 11 candles on a shining, silver Meisterschale platter?
The truth is out there
We will only know whether Germany's most successful club emerge victorious against a side seeking to topple them from their throne after a pulsating 90 minutes – plus interest – on Sunday. A lot is likely to happen between the first and final whistle in Munich, but it would be a surprise to see Bayern line up in anything other than a 4-2-3-1 formation. Leipzig have shown greater variation this term, with Nagelsmann shifting between a three- and four-man defence.
Indeed, even without the injured Ivan Perisic, Flick should stick to his tried and trusted tactics, with Serge Gnabry set to step in and provide support to Lewandowski together with the back-in-form Thomas Müller and Leon Goretzka. As an alternative, Flick can also rely on Philippe Coutinho fulfilling the role his No.10 jersey was tailored for.
Nagelsmann, on the other hand, has mixed things regularly and is sure to do so again after resting several stars for the 3-1 DFB Cup defeat at Eintracht Frankfurt in midweek. Werner has been afforded the freedom to cover all bases across the front this season, while Yussuf Poulsen and Patrik Schick were both given chances to lead the line. Christopher Nkunku's position has also oscillated, and this unpredictability could leave not just Flick second-guessing until the ball gets rolling on what promises to be a spectacular tussle for the throne between its king and its pretender.