Two of the best No.10s in the business, James Rodriguez and Marco Reus are the men spearheading Bayern Munich and Borussia Dortmund’s respective title bids in a breathtaking campaign.
The Bundesliga’s top two are currently separated by just two points with seven games left to play. When Bayern and Dortmund meet in Munich this coming Saturday, could either of the in-form No.10s prove the deciding factor in the fiercest title race of the last decade?
Both possess elite individual ability capable of scything through the most resilient backlines and spurring on those around them to even greater heights, yet their skills sets remain unique.
James is a hark back to the No.10s of old in the way he shifts both the ball and his body across the pitch. The Colombian is often a silent assassin, pulling the strings of a formidable frontline, but as his first-ever hat-trick against Mainz proved, he’s more than capable of chipping in on the goalscoring front.
Watch: James Rodriguez scored his first Bayern hat-trick on Matchday 26
Having watched Der Klassiker on Matchday 11 from the bench, before being ruled out until the new year due to a torn ligament in his knee three days later, the 27-year-old will be keen to prove himself in Bayern’s biggest game of the season.
Of his 18 appearances this season, 13 have been as a member of Niko Kovac’s starting line-up. He’s cracked the German record titleholders’ first XI in their eight most recent league outings and produced some mouth-watering performances while having a hand in 10 goals.
The three-goal haul against Mainz moved Rodriguez level with Serge Gnabry as Bayern’s second-highest scorer in the Bundesliga on seven goals. Yet his influence stretches far beyond his form in front of goal as his underlying statistics reflect the qualities that have drawn adulation from fans and, at times, neutrals in equal measure.
The 54 goalscoring chances he’s created can be credited to his vision and ability to drift out wide on either flank in search of a killer pass or crossing opportunities. An average of 86 touches per 90 minutes is down to his desire to get on the ball, while his work rate can’t be questioned when he’s covered just 39 fewer metres than Reus in the current campaign.
Where Rodriguez is the patient string-puller covering a lot of ground over a long period of time, Reus is the pocket rocket averaging almost double the amount of sprints compared to his Colombian counterpart.
If James is a hark back, Reus is a hybrid No.10. As comfortable getting chalk on his heels to beat his man to the byline as he is in working an intricate one-two on the edge of the area.
Handed the captain’s armband at the start of the season, the Germany international has become brand ambassador and a driving force behind BVB's next generation looking to shake things up in the silverware department.
Watch: How Marco Reus leads Borussia Dortmund by example
The 27-year-old has been in the form of his career across 22 league starts for Dortmund this season and tops the club charts in terms of shots on goal (59) and the amount of goalscoring chances he’s been involved in (106).
With the exception of four league games, Reus has remained injury free, while he missed the 2-0 win over Wolfsburg to witness the birth of his first child. Dortmund picked up positive results in each of the games their skipper missed (W3, D2), but were admittedly not at the peak of their powers, especially in the 0-0 draw with bottom-of-the-table Nuremberg.
In a season where Axel Witsel has settled instantly, Jadon Sancho has broken numerous records and Paco Alcacer has scored at a clip of a goal every 60 minutes, it would be unfair to suggest that Dortmund are overly reliant on Reus.
It cannot be disputed, though, that the talismanic captain is key not just to the balance of the side, but also to the manner in which they are able to cut through opponents’ backlines. His dynamism alone is a crucial ingredient in what Lucien Favre is cooking up in Dortmund, while his 15 league goals can only be topped by former teammate Robert Lewandowski across the top flight.
Watch: Reus' Klassiker impact on Matchday 11
Reus’ reputation as a player for big moments is only enhanced by the four goals he has scored to break the deadlock and the six which have decided games this season - most recently in the 3-2 win over Hertha Berlin.
Lest we forget he also stole the show when he bagged a brace as Dortmund beat Bayern by the same scoreline on their own patch back in November. Will Dortmund be graced by a repeat performance in April or can James Rodriguez steal the spotlight at the Allianz Arena?
Irrespective of the result, the chance to see the league’s best No.10s go head-to-head for the first time is not to be missed.