Munich - Tales of friends reunited, obligatory Bundesliga best marks and fraternal rivalries will all make for one unadulterated edge-of-the-seat encounter between FC Bayern München and FC Schalke 04 on Saturday (kick-off 17.30 GMT/ 18.30 CET).
Friend or foe?
The Bavarians are unbeaten in their last 47 league matches, while Schalke go into the game off the back of a 6-1 drubbing at the hands of Real Madrid CF in the UEFA Champions League round of 16.
"Obviously I know Schalke better than anyone else in the team," said Bayern custodian Manuel Neuer, having spent 20 years at the heart of die Knappen's inner sanctum, before moving to the Allianz Arena amidst outcry from many of his Royal Blue subjects in June 2011. "They don't have the players to sit back and defend - their strength lies in attack. They won't be coming here to let us win."
It goes without saying that Schalke will call on every last sinew of their being to upset Pep Guardiola's title-hungry apple cart, but the odds appear stacked against them. Bayern have won all eleven of their home Bundesliga matches this season and have taken three points from each of their last six meetings against the Royal Blues. Moreover, while Schalke were being picked apart by the Spanish giants in Europe, Neuer and Co. were able to focus exclusively on Saturday's match-up.
'Room for improvement'
"We've trained unbelievably hard these last three days," explained Guardiola. "I don't know what will happen tomorrow, but I know how much work we've put in. Schalke are one of the best teams in the league and are doing really well. I wouldn't read too much into [the Real defeat]. The Bundesliga is completely different to the Champions League. We're in good form and can take another step towards defending our title."
As things stand, Bayern, currently on 62 points and boasting a 19-point spring on closest pursuers Bayer 04 Leverkusen, are on course to become the first side to lift what would be their 23rd Bundesliga crown in March and could even top the 91-point tally accrued under Jupp Heynckes in 2012/13. As Neuer warned, however, they're not there yet: "We know we are beatable and cannot afford to rest on our laurels. We've been working with Guardiola for over six months, but we're still not where he wants us to be."
Hardly what Schalke will have wanted to hear, then, as they look to pick themselves up from what can only be described as a psychologically damaging reverse at the hands of La Liga's No.1 outfit. "In the Champions League we played the second-best team in Europe, now we go up against the best," admitted head coach Jens Keller. "We've analysed our mistakes. We know it's going to be a tough test."
Schalke's already daunting task hasn't been helped by news of a hamstring injury to centre-back Felipe Santana, who takes his seat on the sidelines next to Marco Höger, Dennis Aogo, Jan Kirchhoff, Atsuto Uchida and Christian Clemens, and could even be joined by resident game-changer Kevin-Prince Boateng. The Ghanaian midfielder suffered a muscle strain in midweek and remains a doubt for tomorrow's face-off with half-brother and "best friend" Jerome.
Bayern: Neuer - Rafinha, J. Boateng, Dante, Alaba - Lahm, Schweinsteiger - Robben, T. Kroos, M. Götze - Mandzukic
Schalke: Fährmann - Höwedes, K. Papadopoulos, Matip, Fuchs - K.-P. Boateng, Neustädter - Farfan, M. Meyer, Goretzka - Huntelaar
Relive what happened the last time the Boateng brothers met courtesy of the Bundesliga's official YouTube channel: