Marco Reus (r.) and Borussia Dortmund are looking to pull within a point of Yann Sommer and Borussia Mönchengladbach when the teams meet on Saturday. - © 2019 DFL
Marco Reus (r.) and Borussia Dortmund are looking to pull within a point of Yann Sommer and Borussia Mönchengladbach when the teams meet on Saturday. - © 2019 DFL

Borussia Dortmund vs. Borussia Mönchengladbach: How do they stack up?

Surprise Bundesliga leaders Borussia Mönchengladbach and last season's runners-up Borussia Dortmund go head-to-head on Saturday in a heavyweight collision at the Signal Iduna Park. weighs up both contenders and singles out the men who could have their opponents on the ropes in the Matchday 8 encounter.

1) The front threes

Only Bayern Munich and their goalgetter supreme Robert Lewandowski have scored more times than the Borussias this season, and when you look at the front lines of both teams, you can see why.

Jadon Sancho, Paco Alcacer and Marco Reus have already had a Bundesliga season together, and their ability to link up to devastating effect has been upgraded this season, thanks in large part to Alcacer's improved fitness.

Watch: Reus and Sancho combined to devastating effect against Gladbach last season

"He has made a major step forward in that regard," noted ex-BVB captain Sebastian Kehl, who saw the Spain international plunder five goals in his first six Bundesliga outings this season before being sidelined with an Achilles problem.

Dortmund will hope the ex-Barcelona man will have shaken that off by the end of the international break to reprise his formidable trio with Sancho and ex-Gladbach man Reus, who have three and four league goals respectively.

Alcacer enjoyed the sort of sprinting start to his Bundesliga career last season that Marcus Thuram is revelling in this term. The powerful France U21 forward has swelled a strong Francophone selection at Gladbach, and — with compatriot Alassane Plea and fellow new arrival Breel Embolo — has quickly struck up a potent trident that has fired the Foals into pole position at this stage of a top-flight season for the first time since 1976/77.

Watch: Discover why Thuram won the September Rookie of the Month award

"He's a very good player," said Denis Zakaria, one of the French speakers who has helped Thuram settle quickly. "I hope he'll keep going like that because he does us a lot of good."

Thuram's three goals and two assists have come in a purple patch of his last three Bundesliga outings, and if you add Patrick Herrmann to the mix, the four have been involved in all 17 of Gladbach's goals in competitive games this season.

Only Sancho — last season's leading goalmaker in the Bundesliga — has more assists this season than Plea, who has worked his way into the highly competitive France squad as a consequence of adding more than one string to his bow since arriving in Germany just over 12 months ago.

Watch: Gladbach under the tactical microscope

2) Leaders from the back

Only Wolfsburg's miserly defence has conceded fewer times than Gladbach this season with Marco Rose's men allowing opponents just six opportunities to find the back of their net so far this season.

While the forwards have been grabbing headlines for their game-winning goals, their work without the ball — Thuram has won more challenges than any other Gladbach player this season — has meant they have also been the first line of defence for a side that Rose, who arrived after taking Red Bull Salzburg to the Austrian title last season, has rejuvenated.

"It's not that we lacked desire before, but I don’t think we were at it enough," said Zakaria, whose patrolling in front of the back line has helped shore up the rearguard still more.

Matthias Ginter (top) has developed into one of the cornerstones of the Gladbach defence since leaving Dortmund in 2017. - Jörg Schüler/Bongarts/Getty Images

“Now, with this new system, this new playing style, which is based more on pressing, we have to be at it.”

With a superb Nico Elvedi, who boasts a league-leading 98 per cent pass completion, alongside ex-Dortmund man Matthias Ginter and in front of the ever-sure-handed Yann Sommer, Gladbach have conceded on average fewer than one goal a game.

In comparison to his Switzerland teammate who will be at the opposite end of the Signal Iduna Park pitch, Dortmund 'keeper Roman Bürki must have backache having picked the ball out of his net far too many times for comfort already this season with BVB having conceded 11 goals.

Though the evergreen Mats Hummels rates among the league's top three in winning aerial challenges, BVB have been worryingly porous at the back, particularly in the air, a factor that has reduced the impact of their impressive front line, and left the side four points behind the league leaders in eighth place.

Watch: Hummels' career so far

"It's a fact we are conceding too many goals, especially from set-pieces," noted sporting director Michael Zorc, whose side have been undermined by injuries to first-choice full-backs Nico Schulz and Lukasz Piszczek.

"We're lacking the necessary concentration and absolute decisiveness. In those situations, the players have to behave differently."

Piszczek is definitely sidelined after injuring himself in the draw at Freiburg last time out, but Schulz could return to face his former club and allow Achraf Hakimi to slot into his preferred position on the right.

On Matchday 7, it was the on-loan Real Madrid man who scored the 100th goal of Favre's Dortmund reign in the Swiss tactician's 41st league game in charge. That's an average of 2.4 goals scored every 90 minutes of Bundesliga action; now, Favre just needs to get things right at the back.

3) Midfield muscle

"We need to come back stronger," was Axel Witsel's message to his Dortmund teammates when he spoke to after the Freiburg game when Manuel Akanji's last-gasp own-goal handed the hosts an unexpected point.

If the Belgium international, who helped his country clinch qualification for UEFA EURO 2020 during the October break, has anything to do with it, Dortmund will certainly return to league action doubly determined.

He and defensive midfied partner Thomas Delaney have averaged more than six-and-a-half miles per game to sit well within the top 50 in the category Bundesliga-wide, but they are both averaging just over 50 per cent of challenges won, meaning the defence behind them has had more work to do than they would have liked.

Axel Witsel (r.) and Thomas Delaney (l.) double-teamed Thorgan Hazard (c.) when the teams met last season. - imago images / Sven Simon

Delaney can at least claim a psychological edge as his Denmark side dented the UEFA EURO 2020 qualifying ambitions of Zakaria's Switzerland in Copenhagen a week before the pair collide again in Dortmund, but it is the Gladbach man who has had the upper hand in league play this season.

He even netted the earliest goal in Bundesliga history in his club's 5-1 demonstration against Augsburg last time out, but it is the ex-Young Boys' midfielder's industry that has been most timely. Only 30 Bundesliga players average more than the near seven miles a game Zakaria has clocked up this season as he revels in the belief shown in him by Rose.

“It’s always important your coach has faith in you. I’ve played all the games since the start of the season, I’ve been in the team. As a player, that always helps you.” the 24-time Switzerland international explained. “I think he’s a great coach, I learn from him, and I’m really very happy to improve with him.”

Christoph Kramer has dropped out of the international reckoning since helping Germany win the 2014 FIFA World Cup, but the ex-Leverkusen midfielder is recapturing something like his best form while Laszlo Benes is finally getting a first-team run that is showing why Gladbach signed the Slovakia international in 2016.

Marco Rose has been a revelation at Gladbach since taking over in summer 2019. - imago images/Eibner

4) Gladbach past and present in the dugout

"I trust Marco in everything," said Liverpool boss Jürgen Klopp in a video message to Rose last season. "Marco can have any job and could do any job too, he is really the most hyped (coach) of all at the moment, everyone is asking about you."

The UEFA Champions League-winning coach's admiration for the Gladbach boss came when Klopp was Rose's manager for six years at Mainz, and his former protege has proven him right: the switch from Salzburg to Borussia Park has been uncannily smooth.

It is, of course, still early days and Rose may yet wilt under the expectation at Gladbach where the burden of the club's trophy-ridden history weighs heavy on all.

Yet the newcomer looks likely to at least provide the five-time Bundesliga champions' fans with their happiest season since the reign of Favre.

Watch: Dortmund tactics under Favre

Though he had already impressed at Hertha Berlin, the Swiss coach's reputation in Germany was cemented in more than three years in charge of Gladbach where his team, inspired by the up-and-coming Reus, produced some of the most exciting football the Bundesliga has seen in recent seasons.

That was also the case last term, his first in Dortmund, as his BVB team pushed Bayern's title defence to the final matchday, but his squad are not executing his gameplan as well this campaign, despite their boss carefully spelling out his strategy.

"He gives you clear instructions, has a clear style that he wants to play," Schulz explained. "You saw that last season. He has had success at every club he has been at. He is a very, very good coach." Saturday's game will be a great chance for him to prove it once again.