Even with Robert Lewandowski ruled out through injury, RB Leipzig behemoth Dayot Upamecano has a huge job on his hands against future employers Bayern Munich at the Red Bull Arena on Saturday. bundesliga.com weighs up a fixture that could go a long way to determining the destination of the 2020/21 title...
Bayern restored their four-point advantage over second-in-the-table Leipzig, courtesy of a thumping 4-0 win over VfB Stuttgart prior to the March international break. The record champions spent a week down in seventh after their Matchday 2 defeat to Hoffenheim, but have occupied a position in the top two since Matchday 4 and have led the standings all year.
Save the odd mini period on pole, Leipzig have ranked as Bayern's nearest pursuers throughout the winter months and into spring. They boast the meanest defence in the league with only 21 goals conceded across 26 matches, but have scored 30 fewer goals than Bayern's record 78.
Watch: Analysis - best defence vs. best attack in Leipzig vs. Bayern!
Bayern have recorded 19 wins to Leipzig's 17 and suffered four defeats compared to Die Roten Bullen's six. There have been three draws apiece, including a six-goal thriller between the sides in Munich on Matchday 10.
Leipzig also held Bayern to a goalless stalemate in February 2020. In fact, they are the only team to have stopped Bayern from scoring in 76 competitive matches under Hansi Flick, who's watched his team stick away 48 and 188 goals respectively either side of that solitary blank.
Bayern's ability to score at will is thanks in no small part to Lewandowski. He top scored in last season's Bundesliga, UEFA Champions League and DFB Cup with 55 goals combined, and has added 42 strikes in 36 competitive outings to his scorecard so far this term.
A whopping 35 of those have fallen across his 25 Bundesliga appearances, leaving him only five shy of Gerd Müller's 40-goal single-season record of 1971/72, with eight rounds of fixtures remaining. Averaging a goal every 60 minutes of top-flight football, he was on course to end up closer to 45 goals for the campaign. However, a knee ligament injury sustained on international duty with Poland could force him to miss the entire month of April.
Watch: Thomas Müller - Bayern Munich's key without Robert Lewandowski
Bayern's remaining 43 Bundesliga strikes are split between Thomas Müller (10), Serge Gnabry (nine), Leroy Sane, Leon Goretzka (both four), Kingsley Coman, Jamal Musiala (both three), David Alaba, Joshua Kimmich (both two) and a further six players on one apiece.
Eric Maxim Choupo-Moting is one of the sextet in question. The veteran centre-forward has made 24 first-team appearances since joining Bayern from Paris Saint-Germain last summer, including 15 in the Bundesliga. He has had a direct hand in six goals - one of his own, plus five assists - at an average of one every 125 minutes.
Leipzig's highest scorers are Emil Forsberg, Christopher Nkunku and Marcel Sabitzer with an equal share of 18 goals between them. That's as many league strikes as Lewandowski has put away in his last 13 outings alone.
Leipzig are the second lowest for goals in the current top five, but they do boast a league-high 15 different scorers. Suffice to say head coach Julian Nagelsmann has fulfilled his self-appointed brief of successfully sharing out the goal-scoring load in the wake of club record marksman Timo Werner's move to Chelsea in summer 2020.
Watch: Highlights of the teams' 3-3 draw on Matchday 10
Leipzig might not be scoring as many goals in Nagelsmann's second season as coach as his first, but they are keeping more out.
Bayern shipped a league-low 32 goals last term - only five fewer than Leipzig. After 26 matches of the 2020/21, the league leaders have been breached 35 times at a rate of 1.34 goals conceded per game. Leipzig's ratio is a watertight 0.80 per 90 minutes of Bundesliga action.
Upamecano is the bedrock of the German top-flight's stingiest defence. In last season's goalless draw, he reduced Lewandowski to just two shots and won 78 percent of his attempted challenges. Deep into the current campaign, there is not a single Leipzig or Bayern defensive player who has won more challenges than Upamecano's 242. The France international is also among the league's top six for successful pass completion (91 percent).
Those are exactly the kind of numbers that prompted Bayern to make their move. Assuming he recovers full match fitness following a knee injury, Upamecano will face the record champions for one last time before moving to the Allianz Arena in the summer.
Watch: Why Upamecano is the perfect signing for Bayern
Happily for Leipzig, Nagelsmann is well stocked in terms of proven alternatives.
Germany international Lukas Klostermann was Upamecano's replacement when he went off injured in the 1-1 draw against an Eintracht Frankfurt side that had beaten Bayern 2-1 only three weeks earlier. Long-serving sentry Willi Orban assumed the role of Leipzig's central-most defender in a back three in the 1-0 win away to an Arminia Bielefeld outfit that held Bayern to a 3-3 draw on Matchday 21.
In the four games marauding left-back Angelino has missed because of injury, Leipzig have taken 10 out of a possible 12 points. The Frankfurt draw is in fact the only one of their last eight league assignments they have failed to win.
For reference, Bayern's generational custodian has recorded six shut-outs so far this term, whilst 35 goals marks his biggest concession in 10 seasons in a Bayern shirt. He's only given away more single-season goals once before (44 for Schalke in 2010/21) - but that's the sacrifice you make when the players in front of you are drilled to go all-out overdog on the opposition.
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Flick will not change tack against Bayern's closest pursuers, either. Even with a man down following Alphonso Davies's 12th-minute red card against Stuttgart, the record champions stuck to their guns. They duly blew the opposition away, scoring four first-half goals without reply.
Alaba switched from a central midfield to left-back role in Davies' absence. In Leipzig, 2018 FIFA World Cup winner Lucas Hernandez will be first in line to deputise for the Canadian, enabling Alaba to revert to the left-hand side of a central defensive pairing alongside the deceptively rapid Niklas Süle, with Jerome Boateng suspended. Hernandez's 2018 World Cup-winning teammate Benjamin Pavard should complete a back four accustomed to playing closer to the halfway line than their own 18-yard box.
The rest of the team pretty much picks itself. Ahead of a midfield pivot comprising the terrier-like Kimmich and box-to-box maestro Goretzka, Müller takes centre stage in the No.10 role. Two from Sane, Gnabry and Coman will man the supply lines. Choupo-Moting is the likeliest candidate to fill the Lewandowski void as the focal point of a trusted 4-2-3-1 formation that has collectively rattled off 236 competitive goals since Flick took charge.
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Nagelsmann is far more unpredictable.
Klostermann, Upamecano and Marcel Halstenberg were the chosen three-man defence in the aforementioned 0-0 draw in Munich. In this season's corresponding fixture, Ibrahima Konate and Nordi Mukiele flanked Upamecano.
American handyman Tyler Adams has moonlighted at centre-half, as well as on the right-hand side of a back four, and there are times when Leipzig have lined up without a recognised striker.
In terms of sure-fire starters, you're probably looking at Gulacsi, Upamecano, Angelino if fit, captain Sabitzer, and attacking duo Dani Olmo and Nkunku. The remainder of the team hinges on Nagelsmann's choice of system on the day.
The safe money is on Nagelsmann sticking to his favoured 3-4-1-2. Given Bayern's ultra-high defensive line, it's fair to assume the pace in transition of Forsberg and Roma loanee Justin Kluivert will be preferred to the rough-and-readiness of traditional centre-forwards Yussuf Poulsen and Alexander Sorloth.
Watch: Leipzig's tactics under Nagelsmann
Nagelsmann has drawn his first three meetings with Bayern as Leipzig coach. The Saxony outfit recovered from a goal down in the first, shut out the baddest attack on the planet in the second and led twice in the third. Of all the teams Flick has faced more than once at the Bayern helm, Leipzig are the only one he has failed to beat.
A trend-bucking win for either man could be the difference between a maiden Bundesliga title for Leipzig, and a record-extending ninth in a row - 30th all told - for Bayern.