The Matchday 22 meeting of Bayer 04 Leverkusen and Borussia Dortmund – third against second in the table – will also, fitness permitting, be a shoot-out between two of European football's top strikers of the moment: Javier 'Chicharito' Hernandez and Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang.
The prolific duo go into the encounter boasting a combined total of 33 goals in 37 league outings this season, and even that is not the whole story. Hernandez has rattled the net 22 times in 26 games across the board since his arrival at Bayer – while freshly-crowned African Player of the Year Aubameyang has bagged 30 in 32 for Dortmund in all competitions.
A vital threat
The most recent of those came in the 3-1 DFB Cup quarter-final victory at VfB Stuttgart, where he chipped in with a brace of assists for good measure. The beneficiary of the first, Marco Reus, was subsequently happy to confirm that, “The threat he poses up front is vital for us. Auba knows that when he gets a chance, he's going to stick it away. He works hard every day towards scoring as many as possible.”
Aubameyang's prodigious strike rate has helped enable Dortmund, alone, to just about hang on to Bayern München's coattails in the race for the Bundesliga title. That BVB are also still in the running for silverware on two other fronts – the domestic cup and UEFA Europa League – is likewise down in no small part to the Gabon international's goals. He missed last weekend's laboured home victory over Hannover 96 with a slight foot injury but even there, his eye-catching cold-weather clobber made for a headline-grabbing sideshow.
Setting the standard
Thomas Tuchel had already touched on the forward's exuberance and showmanship in the public domain as being “one part of his personality.” The other, as the head coach stressed, “involves a lot of hard work... I really admire his ability to focus on the essentials and tamp down his own ego. His attitude, his hunger for goals is exemplary. He's setting the standard for everyone else.”
A standard Aubameyang aims to maintain at the BayArena on Sunday, all things being equal. Whether his superstar counterpart will be running out for the hosts remains to be seen, however, with Hernandez still battling back to match fitness after suffering a gluteal muscle injury in the 3-1 DFB Cup quarter-final loss to Werder Bremen.
“His absence is a real blow, of course. Chicharito's very important to us,” said Bayer sporting director Rudi Völler. Coach Roger Schmidt reckons there is “a small chance” that Hernandez might yet play a role in the game. With Dortmund 13 points ahead of them going into it, Leverkusen could sorely do with their Mexican icon on Sunday.