The pursuit of Bayern Munich at the top of the Bundesliga continues on Matchday 11 with a clash of two of the closest contenders to the Bavarians' crown in recent years, RB Leipzig and Borussia Dortmund.
Both will be expected to push the Bavarians all the way again this season, but only one can take three points this weekend. bundesliga.com gauges how they compare heading into Saturday evening's headline-grabbing encounter…
Tyler Adams vs. Jude Bellingham
It is no secret that Leipzig and Dortmund are two of the league's pass masters, both ranking in the top five for the total numbers of passes attempted and completed. What becomes more interesting is an assessment of how many of those passes have been contributing to the team progressing up the field, and Leipzig and Dortmund rank second and third respectively in this particular classification, behind Bayern.
This forward traction is driven considerably by the midfield and having intelligent players at their core who can dictate the tempo of the game and direct the movement both of the ball and their teammates.
Dortmund's Jude Bellingham likes nothing more than to have the ball at his feet, boasting impressive statistics for dribbling opponents – attempting the sixth most in the league – and featuring highly for the number of touches he gets per game. Considering how comfortable the Englishman is on the ball, it will not come as a surprise to know he is in the top ten of players most frequently sought out by their teammates across the whole of the Bundesliga.
Watch: Jude Bellingham - an old head on young shoulders
With the ball at his feet, Bellingham is a real menace. Since he has won 129 duels this season – the third-most across the Bundesliga – he has consequently been in possession regularly, and he has further developed his natural tendency to take the ball forward by sharpening his own eye for goal, scoring two out of just 11 shots and setting up three goals.
Tyler Adams is equally important to Leipzig, albeit from a much deeper starting position, keeping things clean and tidy just in front of the back three and winning an average of nine duels per game. Compared to Bellingham, the US international does not get into as many advanced positions but he likes to let the ball do the work, playing almost as many passes from his six games as Bellingham in 10 appearances.
Adams is essential for keeping the balance of a Leipzig team which likes to attack in numbers, ensuring they do not get too top heavy, and when Bellingham does get the ball on Saturday, the Brit will first have to find a way past Adams.
Christopher Nkunku vs. Thorgan Hazard
As if scoring four goals and setting up four more in the Bundesliga were not already enough, Christopher Nkunku is the name on everybody's lips on the European football scene for his five goals in four UEFA Champions League games, including a strike against his former club Paris Saint-Germain in midweek.
Those numbers may not draw so much attention for a forward, but Nkunku is not your Robert Lewandowski, Mo Salah or Cristiano Ronaldo, who have struck more Champions League goals this season, or fellow hotshots Erling Haaland and Patrik Schick. The man supplying almost all of the ammunition for Leipzig so far this season is at home in the midfield.
Watch: Christopher Nkunku, made in Paris
Nkunku has exploded since Jesse Marsch nudged him a little further forward in his formation and the 23-year-old has responded with the best form of his still precocious career, scoring and setting up goals left, right and centre. With 130 sprints so far this season, he has been the most active player in the Bundesliga too, racing his way to prominence at home and abroad.
He is not the only player to have benefitted from being pushed forward, though, with Thorgan Hazard re-inventing himself as a centre forward in the absence of Haaland, and delivering the goods like the man he's filling in for,
Dortmund coach Marco Rose took a punt on the Belgian's goalscoring ability in the second round of the DFB Cup, and he responded with both goals in a 2-0 win over Ingolstadt. That earned him a start against Cologne in the Bundesliga last time out, and the ball was duly dispatched into the back of the net in another 2-0 victory for the Westphalians.
With Haaland still sidelined, Hazard is doing his name justice for opposition defences and Leipzig are going to have to keep a close watch Dortmund's new deadly finisher.
Watch: Thorgan Hazard helped Dortmund down Cologne on Matchday 10
Mohamed Simakan vs. Mats Hummels
The man Leipzig will rely upon to deal with Hazard is Mohamed Simakan, whose debut campaign in the Bundesliga has been nothing short of remarkable. The French defender had huge boots to fill, following Dayot Upamecano's summer switch to Bayern, but he has slotted into them smoothly to ensure the same degree of defensive resolve at the heart of the Leipzig defence.
The 21-year-old has played in all of Leipzig's games and won 126 duels on the ground and 41 in the air – a total of 147, which is more than any other defender in the league this season.
His impact on the Bundesliga has been as strong as has been his impact on opposition attackers with the result that only one club – Freiburg – have conceded fewer goals this season than the Red Bulls' ten.
While Simakan is still cutting his teeth in the Bundesliga, the man marshalling the defence at the other end of the field – Mats Hummels – is the most experienced stopper in the league, with 372 Bundesliga appearances under his belt. Only Bayern duo Manuel Neuer and Thomas Müller have played more times, of the players still in action.
Thanks to all of those games, Hummels knows how to read a game like no other; he has the nous and the know-how to outfox forwards, and having trained for many years with Lewandowski, nobody can now strike fear in the experienced German defender.
Leipzig were promoted to the Bundesliga in 2016 and finished their debut campaign in Germany's top-flights as runners-up to Bayern. In the past four years, they have finished third twice and were Bayern's closest challengers again last season.
Dortmund have never finished lower than fourth since Leipzig joined the big time, ending as runners-up to Bayern three times.
Both have been tinkering away at their squads in order to find the formula to end Bayern's dominance, and with the likes of Simakan, Adams and Nkunku, Leipzig are getting closer, with Hummels' experience and Bellingham – one of the most exciting young talents in world football – helping Marco Rose to form a side capable of causing the record champions more than a few problems.
Saturday may provide an indication as to which is best equipped to push the Bavarians all the way this season, so get strapped in and enjoy the show!