Borussia Dortmund and Bayern Munich boast some of the best players in the world in their positions, from strikers Erling Haaland and Robert Lewandowski to wing-backs Achraf Hakimi and Alphonso Davies, but which side is stronger on balance?
Bayern currently top of table with a four-point cushion on second-placed Dortmund but there is precious little else to choose between the sides. bundesliga.com trains its lens on the players who could decide Tuesday's Klassiker…
Lewandowski was the undisputed king of Bundesliga goalscorers, and perhaps beyond, before Haaland rocked up at Dortmund. Just one goal behind the Pole in the UEFA Champions League scoring charts - with 10 to Lewy's 11 - Haaland has been making quick inroads into the Pole's domestic record too.
Lewandowski is roaring towards a fourth Torjägerkanone in five years with his 27 strikes, but Haaland has bagged his 10 league goals for Dortmund at a rate of one inside every 69 minutes he has played following his winter arrival from Red Bull Salzburg.
Watch: Lewandowski vs. Haaland in Der Klassiker
The Norwegian is something of a genetic anomaly. Standing at 6'4", the left-footer boasts a top speed of 21.1 mph and attempts an average of 30 sprints per match, compared to Lewy's 20.
Still just 19, the idea that Haaland isn't even enjoying his physical peak yet is a harrowing one indeed for opposition defenders. He has also converted just shy of 100 per cent of his big chances in Black and Yellow.
"This combination of robustness, quality of finishing, good technique and his speed makes Erling special," explained sporting director Michael Zorc - the owner of 131 goals in 463 games for Dortmund in the 1980s and 90s - when BVB acquired Haaland. Special indeed.
But is he the best? Lewandowski has still managed a goal every 82 minutes he has played - better than a goal per game - and has had the whole season for those averages to get watered down. At 31, there is no slowing the player himself, though.
Lewandowski was the first player in the world this season to reach 40 goals in all competitions for club and country, outpacing Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo. The era-defining Argentine and Portuguese - considered by some to be the best two players in history - had company when that milestone was reached too; Lewy also becoming the third player to score 40+ goals in five consecutive seasons in the 21st century.
He is also involved in more build-up play than Haaland. He may not be 6'4" but the fittest man in world football was not nicknamed Robert the Body at Dortmund for nothing. Lewandowski has won more than half of his challenges this season - Haaland has won 37 per cent - and found a teammate with nearly 15 percent more of his passes.
Lewandowski has also scored 16 career goals for Bayern against his former employers. Haaland may be on a startling trajectory, but the crown rests easy on Lewandowski's head yet.
Watch: Haaland under the tactical microscope
No man is an island, however, so what about the players laying on chances for Haaland and Lewandowski? As with the goal fiends above, Dortmund and Bayern enjoy two of the game's best when it comes to assists.
Sancho's numbers need to be seen to be believed. The young Englishman may have been slow to get going after the restart - he started on the bench against Schalke and Wolfsburg - but still bagged his 16th assist of the season in a 25-minute cameo against the Wolves.
More likely to dribble past his marker than Raumdeuter Müller - Sancho wins nearly 2.4 one-on-ones per game this way against Müller's 1.5 - Sancho is also ruthlessly efficient in front of goal himself. With only two fewer goals scored (14) as assisted, Sancho's decision-making in the final third belies his tender 20 years. He also only needs a league third-best 3.3 shots per goal scored.
Müller does lead the assists leader board, however, with one more goal laid on than the budding Sancho. He is also enjoying a second wind under new Bayern coach Hansi Flick. Of his 17 assists, 13 have come since the former Germany assistant manager succeeded Niko Kovac in the Allianz Arena dugout last November (as have all seven of his goals).
Müller remains the top scoring player at FIFA World Cups among active players with 10 to his name, but the last of those came nearly six years ago, in Germany's 7-1 destruction of hosts Brazil on the way to sealing a European record fourth global title, with Flick watching on alongside Joachim Löw.
Müller deserves high praise for rediscovering his previous form under Flick, but Sancho is enjoying his richest vein of scoring in the here and now to go along with the assists. Only Lewandowski has had a hand in as many goals (30). The Dortmund man gets the nod by an inch.
In addition to Haaland and Sancho, another hugely influential prong in Dortmund’s attacking armoury this season is Hakimi. The Morocco international is the only BVB player to have featured in all 27 of the team’s Bundesliga games in 2019/20, starting 24 times, thanks in part to his versatility at being able to operate in defence and midfield, on both the right and left flanks.
With a top speed of 36.5 k/h (22.6 mph) clocked against Union Berlin on Matchday 20, he is not only the fastest player in this Bundesliga season, he is also the fastest since detailed data collection began in 2011.
Yet Hakimi also has plenty of substance to go with his speed and flexibility. A tireless blur of activity on the wing, he has contributed four goals and 10 assists in the Bundesliga this term, making him not only the league’s best attack-minded defender, but one of its best attackers full stop.
However, the same was true when Dortmund faced Bayern on Matchday 11 it what was expected to be an acid test for Davies, making just his third league start of the season in Flick’s first Bundesliga match as head coach. The Canada international passed with flying colours – and then some –as Bayern outmuscled their rivals to the tune of a 4-0 victory.
“He’s developed incredibly well,” said Flick of Davies afterwards. “He’s very quick. It’s not easy to play against Hakimi or Sancho, but he had them both under control. Neither of them got away from him. And what really impressed me is that he’s so strong in the tackle. He defended his side of the pitch completely.”
The 19-year-old has not been out of the side since, even with the return to fitness of Lucas Hernandez, making him the youngest first-team regular in the Bundesliga. It is all the more astonishing considering he was still playing for Bayern’s reserve side in the third division at the start of the campaign.
While Davies may not have been directly involved in as many goals as Hakimi – although two goals and five assists is nevertheless still hugely respectable from left-back – he has created almost as many shooting chances (31 to 39) in 453 fewer minutes on the pitch. Defensively he wins more tackles (54.9 per cent to 49.6 per cent), intercepts more opposition passes (223 to 138), misplaces fewer passes (12.6 per cent to 15.0 per cent) and is more accurate with long balls (64.5 per cent to 57.4) than his opposite number at Dortmund.
In short, Davies is the real deal, combining physical prowess, tactical awareness, defensive solidity and an attacking threat. He beats Hakimi by a whisker.
Watch: Davies key to Bayern's defensive improvement under Flick
If goals win games and defence wins championships, both Dortmund and Bayern would be worthy winners of the Meisterschale this season thanks to their veteran centre-backs. Former partners at Bayern and 2014 FIFA World Cup winners with Germany, they may both be 31 now but they still know how to marshal a backline as part of the footballing elite.
In his first season back at Dortmund following three years in Munich, Hummels has slotted effortlessly into the team and started 25 of BVB’s league games so far. That is hardly surprising seeing as he has won an average of 65.4 per cent of all his duels this term, making him the strongest tackler in Lucien Favre’s squad. That figure that rises to 71 per cent in the air, putting him among the league’s very best players in that particular discipline.
Hummels can do far more than break down opposition attacks, however. Very much a quarterback in that he can ping passes from deep into the run of teammate, 57.6 per cent of his long balls have found their target. That eye for an opening is why he also has three assists and a goal in the Bundesliga in 2019/20.
Watch: Hummels: Soccer's best quarterback
Boateng is similarly able to play raking passes out from the back, completing 56 per cent of all long passes, and while he wins fewer challenges on average than Hummels (60.9 per cent), his aerial game is even better (72.7 per cent).
Arguably his greatest asset this season has been a rather less tangible one, though. Having started 2019/20 behind Niklas Süle, Lucas Hernandez and Javi Martinez in the centre-back pecking order at Bayern, Boateng has knuckled down and made the most of long-term injuries to the former pair to establish himself at the heart of Bayern’s defence alongside David Alaba, starting 17 times.
The fact he took on extra fitness sessions during the three-week winter break and returned to training four kilograms (8.8 pounds) lighter highlights his battling mentality. "Jerome has fought his way into the first team,” said Flick recently. “He’s showing consistency in his performances again.”
It's another mighty close call with very little to choose between the two, but Hummels just edges it.