Following last season's barnstorming 4-4 draw at the Signal Iduna Park, champions Borussia Dortmund and improving VfB Stuttgart have much to live up to when the two sides renew acquaintances on Saturday afternoon (kick-off 15:30 CET).
Definitively the game of the season and arguably the game of the decade, the March encounter raised the Bundesliga bar to an altogether new level as Dortmund wobbled at the top and Stuttgart pressed on towards Europa League qualification.
Two goals to the good through Shinji Kagawa and Jakub Blaszczykowski, Dortmund must have thought they were home and dry but, with 20 minutes to go, Vedad Ibisevic's predatory strike turned the game on its head. Julian Schieber's fine brace put Stuttgart ahead, before Mats Hummels and Ivan Perisic restored order with four minutes left to play. Normally that would have been enough, but Christian Gentner had other ideas, punctuating a remarkable clash with an injury-time equalizer.
Of course, Dortmund would go on to defend their crown at a canter, while Stuttgart deservedly secured European football for another season, but this time round there's little to choose between the two Bundesliga heavyweights - three points and four places to be precise - with Dortmund losing just once at home in the last 12 months and Stuttgart seemingly at their best on the road.
On the up
Indeed, after making a somewhat stuttering start to their title defence, champions Dortmund are finally beginning to kick into gear. "We're on a good roll. We've found our formation and look solid," affirmed head coach Jürgen Klopp. The "roll" in question has seen die Schwarz-Gelben bounce back from the derby defeat against Schalke 04 with a Champions League triumph over Real Madrid swiftly followed by a league and cup double over SC Freiburg and VfR Aalen respectively.
Riding a comparable upward curve are Stuttgart, who've managed to go from hapless relegation fodder to table-climbing European hopefuls, all in the space of five weeks. Midfielder Gentner joined leading scorer Ibisevic (five) on the scoresheet last weekend and, as his side look to build on their fine run of ten points from the last twelve on offer, naturally "wants the three points" up for grabs against Dortmund.
Back to the bench
Klopp's men warmed up for Saturday’s clash by swatting aside Aalen in the German Cup but, while rotation is likely, the coach was keen to stress his side "are not in the position to change eight players and ease to victory." Of those changes, Sebastian Kehl and Marco Reus are expected to return at the expense of Ivan Perisic and ex-Stuttgart man Schieber, but Sven Bender and Blaszczykowski remain sidelined.
Stuttgart counterpart Bruno Labbadia, meanwhile, could welcome Gotoku Sakai back into the fold, after the Japanese international sat out die Schwaben's 3-0 midweek win over St Pauli, having suffered minor ligament damage during the Matchday 9 defeat of Eintracht Frankfurt.
Borussia Dortmund: Weidenfeller - Piszczek, Subotic, Hummels, Schmelzer - Gündogan, Kehl - Reus, M. Götze, Großkreutz - Lewandowski
VfB Stuttgart: Ulreich - G. Sakai, Tasci, Niedermeier, Molinaro - Kvist - Gentner, Holzhauser - Harnik, Traoré - Ibisevic