The 2018/19 Bundesliga season comes to a head this Saturday as Bayern Munich and Borussia Dortmund finally learn the fate of their enthralling battle for the championship. In their way stand, respectively, Eintracht Frankfurt and Borussia Mönchengladbach; themselves at war over UEFA Champions League football. Who will come out on top? Robert Lewandowski and Thomas Müller or Luka Jovic? Marco Reus and Christian Pulisic or Thorgan Hazard? bundesliga.com looks at the men who could decide the title.
It all comes down to this; 90 minutes of football played out in front of over 130,000 fans across two matches at two hulking stadiums, with millions around the world fixing their gaze on the 44 players - and subs - who will ultimately decide the outcome of this season’s Bundesliga title race.
But where will the Meisterschale end up at the final whistle? Who will shower their club in glory and who will drown their rivals in disappointment?
Watch: The Bundesliga Saisonfinale - Drama to the end
A two-time deliverer of Dortmund titles, Lewandowski has since gift wrapped four for Bayern courtesy of an astonishing goal record of 128 goals in 158 games for the record champions. This year has proven no different, with Lewandowski the league’s leading marksman with 22 goals and the 30-year-old on course to take home a fourth Torjägerkanone trophy.
Lewandowski will be hungry for more in search of denying his former employers once again and sealing a 29th top-flight championship for Bayern. Despite the Bavarians having never confirmed a title win at the Allianz Arena, Lewandowski will be out to change all of that on a ground where his appetite for destruction is most ravenous.
“I want to push my boundaries and win more titles," said Lewandowski when renewing his Bayern contract at the start of the season. He’s clearly a man of his word and having become the league’s record foreign goalscorer this year, while standing on the brink of back-to-back top scorer cannons for the first time, the Pole is clearly still pushing boundaries. Sealing the Meisterschale on the final day, on home soil, would make those comments in the summer truly prophetic.
Watch: Tifo Football analyses Robert Lewandowski
One man who deserves credit for aiding the Pole in fulfilling his prophecy is Müller, the one-club man for the big occasion that knows all too well how to handle the pressure building on Niko Kovac’s men going into the final day. “It’s easier with Thomas next to me,” explained Lewandowski recently. “We always have one player more in the penalty area, I have more space and not always two or three opponents against me."
And, once more, the Pole is right. Now operating primarily as a second striker, running off of Lewandowski, Müller has given Bayern greater potency in front of goal over the back end of the season. They have scored 47 goals in 16 Rückrunde matches, compared to 32 in 17 during the Hinrunde and also gone 10 games unbeaten (W7, D3) since Müller was restored to the starting lineup in the 5-1 demolition of Gladbach on Matchday 24.
Typically, Müller has been simple and forthright in his assessment of Bayern’s chances. “We must be on form,” he said, as well as describing Bayern’s run-in as “simple mathematics”. If Müller and Bayern are at their best against Frankfurt, it will all add up to a seventh consecutive title for Der FCB.
It is no coincidence that Jovic’s most lean run of the season has coincided with Frankfurt’s. It has been five games now since the Serbia striker found the back of the net in the Bundesliga and five games since the Eagles last tasted victory. It is form that has somewhat derailed the top-four hopes that were in their own hands until last week. Hope is not entirely lost, however, and Frankfurt still have the incentive of European football to fire their engines one final time this season.
In Jovic, they have a 17-goal striker who has scored just once in a losing cause this year. Compare that to the eight defeats Frankfurt have succumbed to without Jovic on the scoresheet and you realise the importance of their spearhead.
Jovic’s numbers this season are ridiculous, the 21-year-old establishing himself as an all-round, complete forward described as “unbelievable” by teammate Filip Kostic and “extraordinary” by Frankfurt team manager Fredi Bobic. Should he, Sebastien Haller and Ante Rebic be able to stoke the Frankfurt fires once again on Saturday, they could not only earn their side Champions League football next season but also help hand Dortmund the title initiative.
Leading that Dortmund charge will be Reus, the club’s talisman and captain who will be looking to inspire his teammates should Bayern falter on the final day. BVB, like Frankfurt, have keenly felt the disappointment of letting slip a position of power having led the Bundesliga for much of the campaign. But they have responded superbly in recent weeks, heeding Reus’ rallying cries to “keep fighting at the top of the table” and “keep believing we can win the title.”
There is added incentive for Reus to win the Bundesliga with his hometown club. "That remains a major goal for me," he has said of claiming a first league championship of his career. "I will give everything for that, and I have a strong feeling that it can happen one day." That “one day” is within touching distance and should they get over the line, an enormous amount of credit will be due to land at Reus’ feet.
The “Man of the Hinrunde” has been playing some of his best football for BVB this year, already registering the second-best goal scoring return of his career (16). His red card in the dramatic 4-2 Revierderby defeat to Schalke will have still left a bitter taste in Reus’ mouth. But, having sat out the following two matches through suspension, he will be itching to set the record straight on his return to the side and ensure both Reus’ and Dortmund’s seasons are not defined by that derby loss. His record of seven goals and five assists from 10 matches (W8, D1, L1) against old club Gladbach is a fine one that suggests Reus and Dortmund will be well placed should Bayern slip up.
Watch: How Marco Reus became Dortmund's leader
Holding back tears, Pulisic bid farewell to the Yellow Wall last weekend, with the American bringing his five-year stint in Germany to an end this summer with “a heavy heart.” Since announcing his departure for Chelsea, however, Pulisic has had his eyes firmly fixed on bowing out in style and he has proven hell-bent on this in recent weeks.
Restored to the starting lineup on Matchday 32, following injury, Pulisic has scored in successive matches and handed Dortmund the lead in both the 2-2 draw with Werder Bremen and 3-2 win over Fortuna Düsseldorf. He has done so from both wings, too, once again highlighting the commitment to the greater cause, versatility and excellence in front of goal that have underpinned the 20-year-old’s record-breaking time in Germany.
For now, however, Pulisic has called for selfishness if Dortmund are to capitalise on any potential Frankfurt aid. “We can only focus on ourselves, and then we'll see,” said Pulisic. “The manager keeps telling us that it's possible. We try to win every match."
Watch: Christian Pulisic's emotional Dortmund farewell
Pulisic will play a pivotal role in Dortmund holding up their end of the bargain, flitting from left to right in unison with either Jadon Sancho or Jacob Bruun Larsen to force the Gladbach full-backs into retreat. Win that battle, win the war? Either way, Pulisic will be doing all he can to secure a maiden Bundesliga title to give his Dortmund fairytale the happily ever after it deserves.
Out to play the role of villain will be Gladbach, led by their Belgian schemer; Hazard, whose goal and assist in the 4-0 win at Nuremberg last time out saw BMG jump into fourth spot. It ended a run of 15 games without a goal for Hazard, whom coach Dieter Hecking described as having gone through “a very, very difficult phase.”
Victory at Borussia-Park would secure Champions League football for the Foals next season. It would be rich reward for both Gladbach and Hazard, who has supplied 10 goals and 10 assists for his club this term. It is the second season in succession that Hazard has hit double figures in terms of goals and his most successful output of assists since moving to Germany in 2014.
Last year’s top scorer for Gladbach, Hazard has only been outgunned by Alassane Plea (12) so far this campaign and could still go back-to-back if the 26-year-old delivers the kind of high-quality performance he is more than capable of. And, much like Pulisic, Hazard will be out to cause nightmares for Dortmund’s full-backs, primarily Lukasz Piszcek at right-back who will need to call on all of his experience to nullify the threat of Gladbach’s pulsating forward.