Before Schalke and Borussia Dortmund do Revierderby battle for the 98th time in the Bundesliga this weekend, let us ponder who - of the likes of Matthew Hoppe, Shkodran Mustafi, Erling Haaland and Jadon Sancho - will lead their side to derby day spoils.
Hoppe and Glory vs. Heavyweight Haaland
Hoppe has been a breath of fresh air since the New Year bells chimed, scoring five times in eight league starts since; including a hat-trick in the 4-0 win over Hoffenheim - Schalke's sole victory in 2021 that ended the club's 30-game winless run.
The 19-year-old American fired blanks in his last three Bundesliga outings, but there's no denying he's added a newfound vibrancy to the Schalke attack. His output could have been even greater, too. Hoppe's five strikes have come from just 15 shots on goal, meaning the Californian, on average, finds the back of the net with every three efforts.
Watch: Matthew Hoppe hits hat-trick in Schalke victory over Hoffenheim
In comparison, Haaland - who has 15 goals from 16 Bundesliga appearances this season and 28 from 31 in total - scores with every 3.6 shots this term and 3.1 overall. Hoppe has also converted 75 per cent of his four big chances in front of goal, to Haaland's 55.6 per cent in 2020/21. That, though, is where the American's edge ends.
Only Robert Lewandowski (25) and Andre Silva (18) have more league goals than Dortmund's Norwegian hitman, who took his career UEFA Champions League record to 18 goals in 13 games with a brace in the 3-2 win at Sevilla. And while Hoppe prepares for his Revierderby bow, Haaland has scored in each of his two previous derbies, which ended in convincing 4-0 and 3-0 wins.
Watch: All of Erling Haaland's Bundesliga goals so far
Regal Royal Blue vs. Swiss role sharing
Since returning to the club from his loan-spell in England last season, and Alexander Nübel's departure in the summer, Ralf Fährmann has safely established himself as Schalke's No.1. And were it not for the 32-year-old, Schalke's current predicament at the bottom of the table may have been far worse. It's true that Roman Bürki (four) and deputy Marwin Hitz (two), in turn, better and equal Fährmann's pair of clean sheets. Fährmann also concedes every 34.7 minutes in the league from his 14 games, while Bürki (16 appearances) ships a goal every 55.4 and Hitz (five matches) concedes just one every 90 minutes.
But while Bürki has struggled this season and Hitz is yet to convincingly take the gloves full-time, Schalke don't have the same issues between the sticks and their defensive problems certainly don’t lie at their goalkeeper's door. Fährmann has faced 99 shots compared to Bürki's 74 and Hitz’s 15, saving more than the pair combined with 64 stops to the Dortmund pair's 58.
Not only that, Fährmann has saved 32.1 per cent of the 28 big chances presented to Schalke's opponents. It's an extraordinary figure, especially when you hold up against it Bürki's five per cent success that is returned from facing just eight fewer major opportunities (20).
A case for the defence
The Royal Blues were active in the January transfer market and clearly wanted to provide Fährmann with greater protection as they first brought Saed Kolasinac back to the club and almost immediately reunited him with fellow Arsenal departee, Mustafi. Kolasinac was instantly handed the captain's armband and Schalke have since claimed their only two clean sheets of the campaign, that includes the 0-0 draw at Union Berlin last time out that was just Mustafi’s second appearance for the club.
Their rivals have been similarly porous and, since the turn of the year, Dortmund have kept a single clean sheet in eight Bundesliga matches. In fact, having shut out their opponents in five of their first six matchdays of 2020/21, Die Schwarzgelben’s 2-0 win over Wolfsburg on Matchday 14 is their solitary to-nil result from 15 subsequent league games.
They will look to Mats Hummels - who could again skipper Dortmund if Marco Reus is among the substitutes this weekend - to help arrest that defensive wane and the experience of all three players could prove decisive with so much at stake on Saturday.
The supporting cast
Schalke's supporting cast operating behind Hoppe may not want to take too long a look at this section, with goals at the business end of the pitch a rare commodity for both the league's worst attack (scored 15) and worst defence (conceded 52).
Those numbers won't hold up favourably against most teams in the division, let alone Dortmund who - despite their issues at the back - remain potent going forward. Sancho, for instance, has been directly involved in as many goals (four goals, seven assists) as the Schalke trio put together (11) and that's before you've even considered the efforts of the likes of Reus and Gio Reyna alongside the Londoner.
In February alone Sancho has scored twice and laid on one more assist from four games in all competitions and Schalke will have some task ahead of them to stop the 20-year-old from having a major impact on Saturday’s game.
Christian Gross' recent reintegration of Nabil Bentaleb could very well prove a masterstroke come the end of the season, should the 26-year-old go on to help Schalke stay up. Having been frozen out of things since November, the Algerian slotted into Gross midfield alongside Benjamin Stambouli and Suat Serdar in the capital last Saturday. It's never been Bentaleb's ability that has been questioned and he could provide the kind of quality in the final third that Schalke so desperately crave. After all, this is a man that has converted nine out of 10 big chances across his Bundesliga career, while half of his 12 goals in the top-flight have put his side ahead.
Watch: Christian Gross explains the recalling of Nabil Bentaleb
In the visitors' ranks, they are missing the industry and talismanic qualities of Axel Witsel and the onus has fallen on the young shoulders of 17-year-old Jude Bellingham to do a lot of heavy lifting in the Dortmund engine room.
Emre Can, Mahmoud Dahoud and Thomas Delaney are options to ease the burden on Bellingham, while Julian Brandt can play in a deeper role to add some craft to the midfield but that does somewhat limit the kind of potency the Germany international provides in more advanced areas. If Bentaleb can add artistry to the bite and work-rate of Stambouli and Serdar then Schalke may just edge things in the centre of midfield.