Leverkusen - On paper, it has all the makings of the German Bundesliga's game of the season so far: and come what may, the Matchday 8 head-to-head between Bayer 04 Leverkusen and FC Bayern München is unquestionably the first major summit meeting of the 2013/14 campaign.
Bayer the stumbling block again?
Hosts Leverkusen have won six of their opening seven league matches - a new club record - but are still 'only' third in the table, a point behind FC Bayern and table-toppers (on goal difference) Borussia Dortmund. On the subject of records, the visitors from Munich are now unbeaten in an incredible 33 Bundesliga outings and rapidly closing in on Hamburger SV's all-time best-mark of 36, set between January 1982 and the same month of the following year.
And the last team to get the better of Bayern? None other than Saturday's opponents Leverkusen, with a 2-1 win at the Allianz Arena way back on Matchday 9 of last season. A repeat showing, this time on home turf, would see Bayer leapfrog the defending champions and move up to second place, at least - as well as spiking that near-record run, of course.
"Bayern are the ultimate big cheese at the moment, not just in the Bundesliga but in Europe," Leverkusen skipper said after his side's 2-0 home win against fourth-place Hannover 96 last weekend. "In terms of the table, it's shaping up to be a cracker. Bayern are a top-drawer team but maybe we can give them a few problems, like we did last season."
One man who could certainly do just that is Stefan Kießling. The Bayer No11 was the league's top scorer with 25 goals last term and one of them set his side on the road to that victory in Munich last October. Kießling has hit the net five times already in the current campaign, but he is under no illusions as to the task in hand this weekend against an all-star ensemble who "rotate a lot, but without any drop-off in their performance level. In fact, you get the feeling it can make them play even better."
Hyypiä's motivational skills not required
Bayern centre back Jerome Boateng, who involuntarily diverted Kießling's headed opener into his own net in the aforementioned defeat, meanwhile agrees that "the other two [Leverkusen and Dortmund] are looking pretty solid as well, but we're just focused on our own games and if we keep winning, we don't need to keep checking on them." Thomas Müller, scorer of the all-important goal in the 1-0 win against VfL Wolfsburg last weekend, did cast at least half an eye elsewhere, noting, "Leverkusen have lost just one game and won all the rest, haven't they? That shows in itself how much quality they've got - winning in the Bundesliga's never a walk in the park."
A walk in the park is the last thing either side is anticipating at the BayArena this Saturday. "Bayern have great individual quality and we need to stand up to them if we want to take something from the game," B04 head coach Sami Hyypiä reflected. "But I guess the players won't need any extra motivation for this one, the motivation's there when you to play Bayern. And of course it's a good challenge for us against Pep Guardiola."
His counterpart at Bayern will doubtlessly be thinking along similar lines in the build-up to his toughest domestic test so far. That said, the Guardiola project in Munich may only just have gotten underway, but the general feeling in the Bundesliga is that it will prove to have long legs. As Kießling succinctly put it, looking ahead both to the upcoming match and somewhat further down the line: "It's going to be difficult keeping up with Bayern over the next few years, as well."
Check out this dramatic previous meeting between the two sides on the Bundesliga's official YouTube channel: