Borussia Mönchengladbach are enjoying their longest run at the top of the Bundesliga table since they last won the title in 1976/77 and come into their match against Bayern Munich ahead of the record champions in the standings for the first time since 1997.
With goals in abundance to go with watertight defences, it promises to be a pulsating 90 minutes of action. bundesliga.com takes a look at where this classic rivalry could be won and lost…
1) The formations
Marco Rose took over from Dieter Hecking at Gladbach in the summer and has the Foals dreaming of a first title in over 40 years. He has adopted the same 4-3-3 formation that produced back-to-back titles wins with Red Bull Salzburg in Austria. Only twice has he diverged from that tried-and-trusted method this Bundesliga campaign, losing 3-1 at home to RB Leipzig with a 4-2-3-1 and winning 2-1 at Bayer Leverkusen with a rare 3-5-2.
Two contrasting results from the experiment, but two games that possibly suggest Rose opts for changes in supposedly bigger games and could, therefore, throw a curve-ball for the visit of Bayern. However, the 43-year-old looks to have settled on his ways in his first five months in charge. The flat back four is shielded by two hard-running central midfielders, who allow the third man in the middle greater freedom.
Watch: Tifo Football looks at how a small-town club went toe-to-toe with the Munich giants
In 2014 FIFA World Cup winner Christoph Kramer, Denis Zakaria, Florian Neuhaus and Laszlo Benes, Rose has four midfield options who are comfortable on the ball. In the centre of defence, he also has Nico Elvedi, who boasts the best passing accuracy in the league. That youthful core provides the base for the flamboyant forwards.
Marcus Thuram, Breel Embolo, Alassane Plea and stalwart Patrick Herrmann have all chipped in with at least four goals this league campaign. All four rotate positions and it’s never clear which of them will start, with summer signing Thuram the only member of the quartet to play over 80 per cent of minutes in 2019/20.
Bayern’s formation is equally predictable, but again it’s the personnel that keeps opponents guessing. The record champions have been using their 4-2-3-1 formation all the way back to their 2012/13 treble-winning campaign. However, you need to keep an eye on the movements of those players between the back four and Robert Lewandowski in attack.
With Joshua Kimmich now anchoring the midfield, that nominal 4-2-3-1 very quickly becomes a fluid 4-1-4-1 with Leon Goretzka or Corentin Tolisso given licence to provide an extra body in the final third. There, they join an unpredictable trio consisting of the likes of Philippe Coutinho, Thomas Müller, Serge Gnabry, Kingsley Coman or Ivan Perisic.
Watch: How Flick’s tactics led to Klassiker victory over Borussia Dortmund
It's a nightmare for defenders to keep track of where three of those players are at any time, let alone four with the midfield reinforcements. And it’s that fluidity that makes Bayern so dangerous in attack. It’s no longer the case that the wingers hug the touchline. Instead they drift inside, often switch flanks or even positions with the No.10 in the middle. Gnabry, for example, has an excellent understanding with Lewandowski, which means that when one comes short, the other goes long, drawing out defenders.
Under interim boss Hansi Flick, it’s been the Bayern defence that’s often been in the spotlight – for the right reason. Injuries to first-choice centre-backs Niklas Süle and Lucas Hernandez meant he immediately had to throw together a makeshift backline with Benjamin Pavard and Alphonso Davies in the full-back areas, as well as Javi Martinez and David Alaba in the centre. Perhaps none are in their preferred positions, but it has worked so far with just two goals conceded in five games.
2) Goalscorers galore
The third and second-best attacks in the league respectively, Gladbach and Bayern have without doubt provided plenty of entertainment in front of goal this season.
When it comes to Bundesliga goalscorers, Lewandowski is always the first name on the list. Finding the back of the net on average every 71 minutes, his 16 goals after 13 matchdays is second only to the great Gerd Müller in the league’s 56-year history. After setting a new Bundesliga record by scoring on each of the first 11 matchdays, the Poland international is now on a drought that is, by his standards, of biblical proportions. Two league games without a goal is normally as bad as it gets, though, with Lewy only experiencing one three-match lean spell in the Bundesliga since December 2016.
Watch: All of Lewandowski's Bundesliga goals so far in 2019/20
No player in the league has had more attempts on goal than Lewandowski, proving he is incredibly difficult to tie down. Even though Leverkusen managed to keep him quiet in the first half of their 2-1 win at the Allianz Arena, the 31-year-old still got four efforts away. Would the champions also be four points behind Gladbach if they hadn’t hit the woodwork 11 times this season? No other team has been denied by the frame of the goal as often, higlighting that it isn’t just a case of beating the goalkeeper.
While Lewandowski has the same amount of goals as Gladbach’s top three scorers combined, Bayern’s next best goalscorer is Gnabry with just four. Borussia’s next best is Plea, again with four, meaning the Foals’ have the same amount of goals spread among twice as many players. So while taking Lewandowski out of the game reduces Bayern’s threat substantially, Gladbach always have extra scorers in reserve when one doesn’t fire.
Although Bayern have scored six more goals as a team, both sides possess similar shooting stats over the course of the first 13 games. The champions’ league-high 230 shots have resulted in 34 goals, which means find they back of the net with every 6.8 attempts. As for Gladbach, they have 28 goals from 191 shots. How quick’s your maths? Because that’s also 6.8 shots per goal.
Watch: Rose’s Gladbach under the tactical microscope
3) The goalkeepers
If a goalkeeper remains out of the headlines then it’s usually a sign that they’re doing things right. Both Yann Sommer and Manuel Neuer have quietly been going about their business in goal this season, playing their part in their respective team’s title charge.
Switzerland No.1 Sommer is perhaps in the prime of his career at 30 and has been a key part of the Foals defensive line for six seasons now, during which he’s missed just six Bundesliga games. The club’s skipper in the absence of Lars Stindl, he has led from the front (or actually the back) with his actions in net.
No other first-choice goalkeeper has saved a greater proportion of shots this season than Sommer (76.2 per cent), and that’s despite having made the second-most stops of all keepers in the league (49). While Bayern have taken a league-high 155 shots from inside the box, Gladbach will be quietly confident of recording a third shut-out this term, if they manage to keep the Munich club away from their 18-yard box. The Foals are the only team yet to concede from outside the area in open play.
Watch: Goalkeeping legend Oliver Kahn analyses Neuer and Sommer
Bayern’s own captain and No.1 has been relatively busy himself in goal, facing almost 10 shots per game in the Bundesliga this season. Yet he has saved over two third of those to lead the standings for clean sheets alongside Leverkusen’s Lukas Hradecky with four apiece.
Germany’s first choice has also stood behind one of the tightest defences imaginable in recent weeks, despite the relative patchwork job necessary due to injury. Since Flick took over from Niko Kovac following the 5-1 loss at Eintracht Frankfurt, Bayern have faced just nine shots on target in five competitive matches – seven of which came last week against Leverkusen. So with just two attempts to deal with in four games, Neuer didn’t even have a chance to test his 67 per cent save rate.
4) Through the middle or out wide?
Boasting the highest average possession count in the league this season, it’s no surprise that Bayern can score their goals from all angles. While they are known for their slick passing and have completed a league-high 89 per cent of them this term, the champions have also shown a willingness to simply get the ball into the box however possible – and you hardly blame them with Lewandowski lurking.
Only Frankfurt have delivered more crosses from open play than Bayern (13 per game) this season, helped by attacking full-backs in Kimmich, Pavard, Alaba and Davies. The latter in particularly has demonstrated his blistering pace to get up and down the left flank, being clocked at 21.4 mph against Leverkusen. And the record champions will feel they can get at Gladbach with their crosses as the Foals have conceded six headed goals, including one on Sunday against Freiburg. They may boast the league’s second-best defence with just 15 conceded, but those six headers equate to 40 per cent of those let in, which is the greatest quota in the division.
Gladbach, though, have attacking full-backs of their own who will keep their Bavarian counterparts honest. Right-back Stefan Lainer has covered more ground than any other Borussia player this campaign, chipping in with a goal and two assists, while left-backs Oscar Wendt and Ramy Bensebaini have shown surprising proficiency in front of the opposition goal. The Swede has two Bundesliga goals, as well as an assist in both the UEFA Europa League and DFB Cup, and the Algerian summer signing recently opened his Bundesliga account and has set one up in Europe.
Yet it’s through the middle where the Foals seem at their most potent. They’re among the lowest-ranked teams in the league for crosses from open play, instead looking to exploit space centrally with their pace, particularly on the counter-attack. Only Leipzig (seven) can top Gladbach (six) this season for goals scored on the break, and that is an area where they can hurt Bayern, who have conceded five of their 18 goals this season on the counter. Equating to 28 per cent of all goals they’ve let in, it’s the highest rate in the league and was exploited twice by Leon Bailey in Leverkusen’s win.
5) Fortress Borussia-Park
A key to Gladbach’s table-topping form this campaign has been their home form. The Foals have been galloping around Borussia-Park like they own the place this season, winning a league-best 16 points from a possible 21 on home soil in 2019/20.
Watch: Thuram, Embolo and Herrmann all scored in last week’s win over Freiburg
Turning your home ground into a fortress appears to be of a Rose speciality. In two seasons in charge of Salzburg he didn’t lose a single one of his 52 home games in any competition. Although that run ended in his second match at Borussia-Park against Leipzig, it is without doubt a strength he instils into his teams.
Goalscoring has also proven little problem for the Foals at home. Since netting just three in their first three league games in Mönchengladbach, Borussia have smashed 16 in their last four and are now only second to Bayern in terms of goals scored on their own patch this season.
The record champions also generally don’t enjoy their visits to the far northwest of Germany. Their 20 Bundesliga defeats away at Gladbach is more than at any other club in the division, while they average just 1.1 points per game there, which is their worst return against any team they’ve visited at least five times. However, Bayern did win 5-1 at Borussia-Park last season to avenge their 3-0 loss at the Allianz Arena, with Lewandowski scoring a brace – just his third and fourth goals against Gladbach in 15 Bundesliga meetings.
Watch: Bayern won 5-1 on their last visit to Borussia-Park
This season the champions rank fifth for away form with three wins, two draws and a loss from their six games. They will need to improve that if they’re to defend their title, and Flick’s side know that conquering the Borussia fortress would send out a statement.