Munich - Football, of course, is a team sport to the core. There is nonetheless the odd situation in which players will conspire as far as possible to help a particular colleague out and one such, traditionally, is when a close-run race for the individual top scorer's cannon reaches its finale.
Keeping sharp for cup final
This season's tussle throws up a few interesting variations on a theme in that context. Setting the pace on 18 goals apiece going into the final matchday are of FC Bayern München and Borussia Dortmund's .
One of the first things to strike any follower of the German game seeing those two names in juxtaposition at the moment is, of course, the fact that Lewandowski is Munich-bound this summer and, as it stands, thus set to be in direct competition with Mandzukic for a first-team berth next season. Although the Poland international did start out at Dortmund operating, with no little success, in the hole behind the main striker – Lucas Barrios at the time – that was a stopgap personnel solution on coach Jürgen Klopp's part and there is little dispute that Lewandowski has truly flourished over the past three years in his preferred central striking role.
Mandzukic, Croatia's Player of the Year for both 2012 and 2013, is the classic centre-forward his No9 shirt suggests and, barring a radical reassignment on Bayern coach Pep Guardiola's part – in itself never to be ruled out of course, as for one could testify to – fitting both players into the same side at the same time looks like a bit of a squeeze. All of which inevitably adds a twist of spice to Saturday's long-distance duel for top spot on the scoring chart, when FC Bayern take on southern rivals VfB Stuttgart at home and Dortmund travel to Berlin on the first of two successive trips to the capital. This time out, they are on league business at Hertha. The following week, at the self-same Olympiastadion, they will be trying to spike Bayern's attempt to win a second straight domestic double in a mouthwatering DFB Cup final clash of the titans.
Mandzukic to take advantage?
With Dortmund already secure in second place behind Bayern and both Hertha and, as of last weekend, Stuttgart safe from the drop, the nominal stakes are not particularly high for any of the quartet involved in the Matchday 34 meetings. The league's top two will be anxious all the same to stay in winning mode in the run-up to their head-to-head in Berlin, but above and beyond that, what are the prospects for their respective top scorers of nabbing the cannon-winning goal(s)?
First-off, naturally, it's hard to score when you're not on the pitch and Mandzukic has been an unused sub for Bayern in each of their last two outings, in which they incidentally scored a combined total of nine goals. In all, he has hit the net just once in the last eight games, wrapping up a 2-0 win at Braunschweig on Matchday 31.
Should he nevertheless get a run-out against Stuttgart, whom Bayern have beaten ten times running in all competitions, the powerful 27-year-old Croat will likely be up against the Bundesliga's statistically weakest central defensive partnership in one-on-one situations, in and . With his season goal count comprising seven headers, six off the right foot and five off the left, Mandzukic clearly has the all-round game to take advantage of any slip-ups on the part of his markers – even if Stuttgart are running an altogether tighter ship at the back since Huub Stevens took charge.
Lewandowski edging up the podium
For his part, Lewandowski was third on the scoring chart two seasons ago and second last year, so there would be a certain completeness to his bowing out at Dortmund on top of the pile. He is spearheading a team who have the undoubted class and sense of solidarity to go the extra mile for a colleague by way of a farewell present. And he has also made a habit of scoring on the final matchday in recent times, against 1899 Hoffenheim last season and SC Freiburg – twice – the year before. That said, he does have a possible last-gasp rival for the cannon in his own ranks, with one of a handful of players two goals behind the leading duo on 16. The Germany international is also Borussia's number one penalty-taker, so the potential is there for at least a minor conflict of interest.
For good measure, Hertha's defence have been notoriously stingy about letting centre forwards score this season, with only FC Bayern conceding fewer to the league's specialised hitmen. So the hosts are less likely than most to be making any involuntary contributions to Dortmund's Lewandowski farewell fund and indeed, in they still have their own outside bet for the scoring crown. The Colombian striker, like Reus and Nürnberg's , goes into the game on the 16-goal mark. After five years at Hertha, snatching the scoring crown would be a memorable note to go out on, albeit at the expense of the team who will be his employers as of next season. All things being equal, however, this one looks likely to boil down to a shoot-out between the man Ramos is replacing at Dortmund and the one he in turn will be joining up with very soon at Bayern.