Bayern Munich's Serge Gnabry and Borussia Dortmund's Karim Adeyemi (l-r.) could play key roles for their clubs in the Bundesliga title race. - © /
Bayern Munich's Serge Gnabry and Borussia Dortmund's Karim Adeyemi (l-r.) could play key roles for their clubs in the Bundesliga title race. - © /

Serge Gnabry, Karim Adeyemi and the key players in the Bundesliga title race: Bayern Munich vs. Borussia Dortmund


Bayern Munich and Borussia Dortmund are still vying for the right to be named Bundesliga champions as we reach the closing stages of the 2022/23 season - focusses on the men such as Serge Gnabry and Karim Adeyemi who could decide the destination of the German top-flight title.

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Serge Gnabry

With two goals in his last two Bundesliga matches, Gnaby is coming into form just at the right time to help get Bayern over the line first in the title race. Things certainly hadn't been easy for the former Arsenal and Werder Bremen man in recent weeks as he went on a nine-game goalless run.

But he ended his goal drought in the Matchday 30 win over Hertha Berlin before scoring against former club Bremen to take his tally to 11 league goals for the season, the most in the Bayern squad along with Jamal Musiala, to extend Bayern's unbeaten record against Werder to a record 27 games and keep his club ahead of Dortmund in the title race.

"We knew that if we won it would be a good weekend. It was a very happy dressing room, we celebrated," said Gnabry, who is closing in on his Bundesliga career-best of 14 goals in a single top-flight season. "We did our jobs and we've given ourselves a bit of a cushion."

Watch: Serge Gnabry - seven seasons, seven goals

Despite his dip in form, he did not lose the faith of his coach, Thomas Tuchel, who has consistently picked Gnabry as did Julian Nagelsmann before him. The Germany international forward has featured in all of Bayern's 69 Bundesliga games since 24 April 2021, the longest current run of any player in the German top flight.

"He did exactly what he had to do. And really well," said Bayern's sporting director Hasan Salihamidzic of Gnabry after the Bremen win. "It's important for him because he's a player who can score goals. He's done that two games in a row. That's important for him, for his confidence, and also for the squad."

Gnabry's xG of 10.5 and the fact he's hit the woodwork three times this season - only three Bundesliga players have done so more - suggests there is more to come from the 27-year-old, who now boasts 15 Bundesliga goal involvements, a tally bettered only by Musiala in the Bayern squad.

"You also have to praise him when he does something well," said Salihamidzic. "Well done for the goal, and well done for the performance."

Karim Adeyemi

It's been a season of two halves for most players with a first-ever World Cup break in the middle of the campaign. But it's been especially true for Adeyemi. The summer arrival from RB Salzburg had no goal involvements in a frustrating first 11 league games for his new club; since going to Qatar - and not playing a single minute - with Germany, the 21-year-old forward has started to exploit the talent he expressed so fluently in Austria.

"From start to finish, it was an absolutely top performance," said BVB boss Edin Terzic after seeing Adeyemi score twice and set up another in the Matchday 31 6-0 demolition of Wolfsburg in which his young striker missed a penalty that would have seen him end the contest with a first-ever Bundesliga hat-trick instead of just his maiden brace.

"I don't know if Karim had 50 or 100 moves, but 49 or 99 of them were positive. So we can forgive him for missing the penalty."

Watch: Karim Adeyemi, all Bundesliga goals & assists so far

It was a rare faux pas in what has been an otherwise almost flawless post-World Cup period: league-wide, only teammate Raphael Guerreiro has more goal involvements in 2023 than Adeyemi's 11, including six goals he's scored himself, while his blistering top speed makes him quite literally difficult for opponents to catch.

"It's always a weapon to have someone who can run at 36.5km/h (22.7mp/h) on the pitch," said Terzic, whose forward actually clocked a Bundesliga record 36.7km/h (22.8mp/h) in the Matchday 19 win over Freiburg. "It's difficult to defend against that."

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Matthijs de Ligt

Perhaps the key to De Ligt's superb form in recent weeks has been his teammates feeding his sweet tooth? "I'll put a truck of Swiss chocolate in front of his door," said a grateful Yann Sommer after De Ligt's stunning goalline clearance at 0-0 in the Champions League Round of 16 second leg against Paris Saint-Germain that saved the Bayern goalkeeper's blushes following an uncharacteristic blunder.

Sommer has been one of the main beneficiaries of last summer's arrival from Juventus finally finding his feet after an unsteady first few months at Bayern. De Ligt has started 15 of his club's 16 league matches in 2023 - the only one he didn't was the Matchday 21 defeat to Borussia Mönchengladbach - and has refound the stratospheric levels of performance he showed at Ajax and Juventus.

After committing 10 fouls in his first seven league matches for Bayern and picking up two yellow cards in his first eight Bundesliga outings, the Netherlands international centre-back has fouled opponents just nine times in his last 21 top-flight appearances while collecting only two more bookings.

Add to that his team-high 94 per cent pass completion rate, and it's little wonder Bayern president Herbert Hainer said recently the 23-year-old "embodies the Bayern mentality" with De Ligt morphing into a modern-day Franz Beckenbauer.

"You get the feeling no one gets past him," Hainer added of De Ligt, who has also scored three league goals for the club. "That's exactly the attitude we want."

Ajax captain at 17, De Ligt's leadership skills are also an asset, but he'll have to wait before he takes a place — which he surely will do at some stage - in Bayern's 'council' of senior players. "That's not important for me now, I want above all to do well on the pitch," De Ligt explained. "Then we'll see what comes after that. Those are the sorts of things that come up."

Jude Bellingham

"I'd love more than anything at the moment to win the league for this club, after everything it's given me. I'm giving absolutely everything," Bellingham told recently. But has there ever been any doubt the England international was putting in less than a full shift every time he pulled on a black-and-yellow shirt?

The fact the 19-year-old - yes, he is still THAT young - wears the captain's armband when established stars like Marco Reus and Mats Hummels aren't available shows the stature he has earned for himself at the club he joined in 2020.

Watch: All of Jude Bellingham's goals and assists

And he has achieved that status through his performances: this season, he's missed just a single game of the 31 to date - and that was through suspension - and has clocked up the most minutes of any Dortmund player (2603), underlining the central role he plays in Terzic's plans as well as on the pitch.

"Every day, Jude comes in here and gives his all to become Bundesliga champion," explained the Dortmund coach of the teenager, whose boasts a career-best seven Bundesliga goals this season and 73 touches per 90 minutes, the most of any player bar Joshua Kimmich league-wide.

Joshua Kimmich

Every team needs a Joshua Kimmich, but only Bayern have one. The Germany international - now settled in the 'number six' role in front of the defence having previously shuttled between right-back and even centre-back - is the man who makes the current incarnation of the Bundesliga's record champions tick AND tock.

If there is anything Kimmich cannot do, it must be off the pitch, because on it, he's a master of all trades, and probably the most crucial cog in the Bayern machine. He's missed just a single game this season - that was due to suspension following a career-first red card against Wolfsburg on Matchday 19 - and captained the side when Thomas Müller has been out of the starting XI.

He leads by example with 55 per cent of challenges won thanks to his controlled competitive edge: he's committed 19 fouls, but been fouled 47 times by opponents in the frenzied heart of the midfield. But there's creativity too. He's provided six assists - only Müller (7) and Musiala (9) have more for Bayern - while his club's last 25 goals from corners have come from his deadly deliveries.

He also clocks up a team-high 12.3 km (7.64 miles) per 90 minutes - as of Matchday 31, he's tallied a whopping total of 351.6km (218.8 miles), the third-most in the Bundesliga behind Ellyes Skhiri and Lucas Tousart - even if some believe he could be more effective still if he didn't cover quite so much ground.

"If he sometimes ran 750 metres fewer per game and was in the right place because of that, that would be optimal," said former Germany international and 2014 World Cup-winning midfielder Sami Khedira. "But for the team, it's important that he's an anchor. Kimmich plays some fantastic passes, has the best set-pieces, and great timing."

Mats Hummels

"I have the feeling that Mats in particular wants to show everyone again how good and important he can still be," said Hummels' former Dortmund teammate and now the club's sporting director, Sebastian Kehl, last summer.

It promised to be a challenging season for Hummels, who turned 34 in December, with Niklas Süle and Nico Schlotterback arriving at the Signal Iduna Park and providing the stiffest of competition for places in the Dortmund defence.

Kehl though was right, and the centre-back alongside whom he claimed Dortmund's last Bundesliga title back in 2011/12 certainly has proven he is far from finished yet.

Hummels has started 21 of 31 games so far, and made 27 appearances in most of which he has captained the team. His undoubted influence on the squad in the dressing room also translates into an ability to turn games his team's way: with the former Bayern man on the pitch, Dortmund concede a goal every 89 minutes; when he's not played, opponents find the net every 50 minutes.

Mats Hummels has been impressive when he has been on the pitch for Dortmund this season. - IMAGO/Revierfoto/IMAGO/Revierfoto

And when he hasn't played, despite his status as a six-time Bundesliga champion, and as a Champions League and World Cup winner, Hummels' attitude has been exemplary, providing his young teammates with the example to follow.

"He's always supporting the boys and demands they bring their A-game to training every day," said Terzic in early April. "We know that Mats has the quality, but the hunger and the determination is still there, and I have 0.0 per cent doubt that he'll help us a lot in the weeks to come."

That has certainly been the case since Schlotterbeck was replaced by Hummels due to injury during the 4-2 Klassiker defeat on Matchday 26. It has given the veteran the chance to again show his talents remain intact, even scoring for a 15th successive Bundesliga season in the 4-0 defeat of Eintracht Frankfurt on Matchday 29 and join only six other men to have done so.

He has won 64 per cent of his duels, maintaining his career average of at least 60 per cent, and boasts a 90 per cent pass completion ratio that is all the more impressive given he often pings long passes out from the back.

If he were to help Dortmund win the title, he would become only the fourth man after Stefan Reuter, Lars Ricken and Kehl to claim three Meisterschale with Die Schwarzgelben.