Cologne - If one thing is certain ahead of Saturday's Klassiker, it is that Borussia Dortmund cannot catch Bundesliga leaders FC Bayern München whatever the result at the Signal Iduna Park.
BVB would still come up short even if they were to win - and the defending champions lose - all eight of their remaining league fixtures in 2014/15, but that shouldn't detract from the Yellow-Blacks' encouraging run of form since the turn of the year.
Five wins, three draws and one defeat make Dortmund the Bundesliga's fourth best side in the Rückrunde table on 18 points, with only second-placed VfL Wolfsburg, third-in-the-table Borussia Mönchengladbach (both 20) and leaders Bayern (19) faring any better. BVB's 16-goal strike rate isn't quite up there with the top two (29 and 24 respectively), but they have conceded fewer times (seven) than every other side in Germany's top flight with the exception of Gladbach (four).
It's a stark contrast to their lamentable efforts during the first half of a campaign which concluded with the five-time Bundesliga champions marooned in the bottom two, 12 points adrift of the top four and an insurmountable 30 behind their pacesetting adversaries from Germany's south. Despite climbing as high as tenth, it's pretty much as you were on both fronts in the deficit department going into Matchday 27's headline fixture; not that the contest is in any way a forgone conclusion.
Clash of styles
Be it as champions elect, title holders or vanquished Vizemeister, Dortmund have made a habit of striking hard and fast at Bayern hearts. The team's relentless high-pressing is hardly conducive to the metronomic passing game favoured by Pep Guardiola, while the pace and directness of the likes of and have often left the Bavarians wanting in key areas of the pitch.
Last April's 3-0 success at the Allianz Arena is one such example, incisive goals from Henrikh Mkhitaryan, Reus and Jonas Hofmann inflicting a first home league defeat on the 24-time German champions in almost 18 months as well as giving BVB their fifth Bundesliga win in their last ten over the oft-unflappable red machine.
Bayern, though, wouldn't be the formidable ensemble the football world has come to know, love and in some cases fear if they didn't learn from such setbacks. They ground BVB down in extra time to win the 2013/14 DFB Cup and while an experimental, under-strength Bayern side were beaten 2-0 in last summer's on Dortmund soil, they found another gear in their first league meeting of 2014/15, coming from behind to win 2-1 on Matchday 10.
That said, the league leaders have lost twice since (to Wolfsburg and Gladbach) and it's against the backdrop of their first home defeat of the season that they must once again face the Bundesliga's waking giant. Bayern have only lost back-to-back league games on four separate occasions over the course of the last four campaigns, but rather ominously - as was the case as recently as 2013/14 - each episode has involved a Dortmund win.