"An absolute cup final" is how Marco Reus described Saturday's Matchday 32 showdown between Borussia Dortmund and Hoffenheim, 90 minutes of high drama that could decide the race for third.

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That precious podium place makes all the difference between a smooth ride into the hallowed realm of the UEFA Champions League group stage, and having to negotiate the perils and potential pitfalls of a play-off to join Europe's elite.

With just a point and a place between them, bundesliga.com dissects the two teams, laying bare how they match up ahead of Saturday's meeting.

Forwards

Reus and Aubameyang will lead BVB's attack against Wagner and Kramaric on Saturday.

Few would argue that Dortmund boast the more formidable forward line, particularly with Reus roaring back from a six-week injury lay-off. "Marco is such an important element of our play," said Thomas Tuchel, who has seen his highly-prized German international rattle off four goals in five competitive outings. Add Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang with his 27 goals in 29 Bundesliga games this term, and Tuchel has a potent blend.

For Hoffenheim, the goals have been spread more evenly. Experienced striker Sandro Wagner has netted 11 times, while strike partner Andrej Kramaric has flourished along with his club this season. The Croatia international has notched 12 and teed up another eight to help the Sinsheim outfit win five of their last seven outings and keep a step ahead of the Matchday 32 opponents.

Verdict: As impressive as Kramaric and Wagner have been, Dortmund can surely outscore them.

Midfielders

Ousmane Dembele (l.) and Kerem Demirbay have provided a combined 18 assists this season.

Behind the strikers, expect a deliciously competitive contest between some of the division’s most exciting talents. For BVB, French winger Ousmane Dembele and USMNT man Christian Pulisic, both superstars in the making, will be looking to add to their combined 17 assists this season, not to mention their nine goals.

Hoffenheim's midfield providers may not have a share of the spotlight turned on their BVB counterparts, but they are just as easy on the eye and equally devastating with their feet. Kerem Demirbay had played just three Bundesliga games before this season, but has come into his own in the top flight, contributing seven assists and six goals. 

Further behind him, Sebastian Rudy, although a defensive player by nature, has also laid on seven goals, usually after serving as the catalyst for his club's trademark speedy counter-attacks. His battle with Dortmund’s Julian Weigl, an entirely different type of holding midfielder, should be a fascinating sub-plot.

Verdict: Dortmund have the more menacing individuals, but Hoffenheim’s tactical flexibility and ability to turn defence into attack at breakneck speed means their collective strength could decide the midfield battle.

Defenders

Sokratis (l.) and Niklas Süle (r.) are both key men at the back for their teams.

It is at the back where the visiting side may claim to have the advantage heading into the game. Both sides possess talented players that can play in different formations, but Hoffenheim appear to be more at ease with their 3-5-2 system. They have conceded 32 goals compared to BVB’s 35, and crucially have lost just three times all season.

Borussia, by contrast, have lost six, and even with their Greek warrior Sokratis Papastathopoulos in the side, they have looked fragile. By contrast, Hoffenheim’s backline is marshalled by the peerless Niklas Süle – soon, along with team-mate Rudy, to join record champions Bayern Munich – and both with and without the ball, the Sinsheimers have been extremely solid.

Verdict: With a more settled side in which each player knows his role inside-out, Hoffenheim’s rearguard could be the foundation on which they can succeed this weekend.

Coach

Julian Nagelsmann (l.) is a former pupil of Thomas Tuchel. Tuchel made the young man his assistant and video analyst when he coached the Augsburg youth side in 2007/08. © DFL DEUTSCHE FUSSBALL LIGA

Thomas Tuchel or Julian Nagelsmann? Now that is a tough choice. Tuchel is one victory away from winning the DFB Cup with Dortmund having worked wonders with Mainz between 2009 and 2014. Nagelsman is bidding to lead Hoffenheim into the Champions League group stage in his first season in a senior coaching role. Almost forgot…he's just 29.

“We have the form, the self-belief and the mentality to win this match against Hoffenheim," said Tuchel, and his Dortmund team is without doubt built in his own image: flexible, inventive and tactically astute.

Nagelsmann's achievement of transforming Hoffenheim from relegation candidates last spring to European participants this year is truly sensational, showcasing his ability to motivate as well as coach. Once a pupil of the BVB boss, he looks now as if he might surpass his mentor.

Verdict: In a one-off game between two of Europe’s most intelligent football brains, this game could come down to a stroke of managerial genius.

The SIGNAL IDUNA PARK factor?

Dortmund have not lost a Bundesliga game on their own patch for over two years (against Bayern in April 2015) with the vast majority of the intimidating 80,000 crowd fervently devoted to their cause. It will take a mammoth effort from Nagelsmann’s outfit to leave them disappointed, but surely BVB’s sensational home run will end at some point. Right?

Bernard Reeves

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