Cologne - Borussia Dortmund against FC Bayern München - Ruhr district dynamism against Bavarian power-play, Jürgen Klopp against Pep Guardiola.
No meeting of equals
The ultimate super-heavyweight Bundesliga duel of recent years, featuring the clubs who have carved up the last five league titles and last three DFB Cups between them, as well as contesting a UEFA Champions League final which in 2013 served as the best possible advert for Germany's top flight on the international stage.
On Matchday 27, the old adversaries go head-to-head once again, in front of a guaranteed capacity 80,000-plus crowd at Dortmund's . And the atmosphere will be as febrile as ever, despite the fact that this time around, it is no meeting of equals at the top end of the standings. The hosts' calamitous opening season-half saw to that, but they have recovered sufficiently well since to at least put themselves back in the frame for a possible UEFA Europa League berth.
“We're eight points clear of the relegation zone, so we've hauled ourselves out of that mess. But we're hardly likely to be served up the next six points on a plate,” Klopp noted after Matchday 26's 3-2 win at Hannover 96, contemplating the upcoming games against Bayern and away to Borussia Mönchengladbach. “Our plan is to keep picking up points, points and more points until we're mathematically sure of staying up. Then we'll look and see what can be done with whatever remains of the season.”
Bayern, with a ten-point cushion over second-places VfL Wolfsburg at the top, have problems of a more enviable nature. The return to fitness of long-term absentees Holger Badstuber and Thiago Alcantara, as well as skipper Philipp Lahm, leaves Guardiola positively spoilt for choice on the personnel front - even more so with Javier Martinez likewise in the final stages of the recovery process. On the downside, a torn stomach muscle in the 2-0 home loss to Mönchengladbach has ruled star winger Arjen Robben out of action for the coming weeks but all-in-all, the men from Munich are looking in good shape as they head down the home straight still battling it out in three competitions.
The next hurdle in the defence of their Bundesliga title comes, then, at a venue which has seen its recent share of six-pointers in the race for the championship shield. The lack of that added twist of spice on this occasion might in itself help underscore just how much pride and passion both sides invest in this encounter in its own right. Dortmund's back-to-back title success in 2011 and 2012, the latter topped off with a 5-2 thumping of Bayern in the DFB Cup final, are still a source of background annoyance to the all-conquering Munich outfit. Their acquisition, in turn, of BVB superstars Mario Götze in 2013 and Robert Lewandowski last summer, will not be forgotten any time soon by fans of die Schwarzgelben.
If Dortmund adapted reasonably well to the departure of Götze, finishing their first season without him as runners-up, the absence of frontline leader Lewandowski appears to have had a more debilitating effect. For his part, the Polish sharpshooter is settling in ever more effectively at his new club and, with 13 goals, is currently joint third on the individual scoring chart. This will be Lewandowski's first Bundesliga outing for Bayern at his former stomping ground but he did play there in the pre-season DFL Supercup, putting in a subdued shift as the visitors lost 2-0.
The home crowd's response to seeing their ex-hero running out for their bitter rivals was similarly low-key, in stark contrast to the cacophony of jeers that greeted Götze on his first trip back. The furore attached to that move has since abated but it is just one more indication of why Germany's very own clásico can be relied on to serve up thrills and intensity aplenty, whatever the stakes involved.