Meetings between Bayern Munich and Borussia Dortmund are always special occasions, but the impending Klassiker at the Signal Iduna Park on Matchday 11 is sprinkled with an extra helping of spice.
Peter Bosz's Dortmund side were flying high at the start of October, five points clear of their Bavarian rivals, but now find themselves three behind the defending Bundesliga champions going into this weekend's clash.
With the opportunity to strike a significant blow in the 2017/18 title race, neither side can afford to slip up. bundesliga.com takes a closer look at some one-on-one match-ups that could determine the outcome…
The lock-pickers: Mario Götze vs. James Rodriguez
Both teams have fearsome attacking arsenals at their disposal and each could field a variety of players to combine pace, trickery and power to devastating effect. Yet in what is certain to be a furious encounter, the more subtle – yet no less potent – gifts of Mario Götze and James Rodriguez may well prove decisive.
On his day, Götze can be unplayable. His effortless movement, knack of finding space between the opposition defence and midfield, combined with the ability to glide past defenders is a joy to watch. With just two assists and no goals in seven Bundesliga outings this season, the 25-year-old might not yet be at the same level that helped him capture the imagination of the Black-and-Yellow faithful in his first spell at the club, having been set back by a combination of injury and illness since his return from Bayern in summer 2016, but he is at least now back on the right track.
"I feel good, I'm very fit," he told bundesliga.com this week. "With everything that's happened, I'm positive compared to how it was. I feel good." His inside knowledge of how the Bayern players operate could also swing the tie in Dortmund's favour.
Watch: Mario Götze's top 3 Dortmund goals
Working to counter that at the opposite end of the pitch will be James. The Colombian has also been set back by injury this term and has been restricted to just five Bundesliga appearances. Yet with Franck Ribery definitely sidelined for this game and Thomas Müller a doubt, the 26-year-old is set to start successive league matches for only the first time this season.
He was lively throughout Bayern's 2-0 triumph over RB Leipzig on Matchday 10, scoring the opener in an excellent all-round display, his second league goal this term. And he believes there is still plenty more to come: "Life here is something completely new to me and I also have to get used to Bayern's playing style. That's not something that happens overnight."
At his best in a central playmaker's position, James has outstanding technique and vision – as seen in his assist for Arturo Vidal against Schalke on Matchday 5 – and will be eager to make the most of the injuries to fellow big-name attackers to cement his place in the side. After all, a match-winning display in Dortmund would make him very hard to drop…
Watch: James' match-winning performance against Leipzig
Wing wizards: Christian Pulisic vs. Arjen Robben
To call this a meeting of master versus apprentice is probably doing Christian Pulisic a disservice, although there is undoubtedly an element of truth to it. The 19-year-old USA international has played in 88 competitive games for Dortmund at senior level so far, whereas the 33-year-old Arjen Robben is closing in on 500 career games.
That contrast in experience is one Pulisic acknowledged in an interview with bundesliga.com this week, describing the Dutchman as "an unbelievable player, a player I’ve watched from when I was very young and a player that I’d like to model myself on. I think he has a lot of great qualities that I can learn from. A good professional, all round.”
That is not to say Pulisic is without his own weapons, however. Quick, hard-working and a threat in front of goal, the Dortmund starlet also possesses the ability most feared by defenders everywhere: the willingness to run at and take on his marker whenever he gets the ball.
Furthermore, what sets Pulisic apart from most other players his age is his mentality. Grounded and already exuding a maturity beyond his years, the BVB No.22 is unfazed by the big occasion. For example, he netted the opener against Bayern in the Supercup in August, robbing Javi Martinez of the ball before calmly slotting home, and has also contributed a goal and three assists to his side's cause in the Champions League.
Watch: Pulisic began the 2017/18 season with a bang
Robben, meanwhile, is widely considered to be one of the finest wingers of the modern era. Quick, agile and ruthless in the final third, the Dutchman has proved his quality at the highest level for well over a decade.
Starting from his preferred position on the right wing, over the years he has honed his signature move, cutting inside onto his stronger left foot, dribbling past any defenders in his way and curling a shot into the far corner. Predictable? Yes. Stoppable? Rarely. Even Pulisic is an awe of it: "Sometimes when something is too good, it can’t be defended. That’s how it is sometimes.”
That, combined with the fact it was he who plunged the dagger into Dortmund hearts with the winning goal in the 2013 Champions League final, gives Robben an extra fear factor. "I look forward to these kind of games," he said this week. "Sometimes you can be nervous for important games, but I get more excited." Dortmund, you have been warned.
Watch: Robben's top 5 Bundesliga goals
The deadly duo: Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang vs. Robert Lewandowski
Dortmund fans could be forgiven for wondering what might have been had these two had longer together in the BVB side than just the 2013/14 campaign. Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang scored a respectable 13 goals in that season – his first in the Bundesliga - while Robert Lewandowski notched 20. Yet the latter's departure to Bayern has arguably provided each with room to blossom.
Now undoubtedly the main man in Dortmund's attack, Aubameyang's goal tally has improved with each passing year: 16, 25, 31. He even beat Lewandowski to finish as top scorer last season, his 31-goal haul equalling Dortmund legend Lothar Emmerich's club-record total for a single campaign, set back in 1965/66.
The Gabon international's electrifying pace is his primary threat, although in recent years he has greatly improved his movement around the box and become a far more clinical finisher. Ten Bundesliga goals in as many games this season is testament to that, while he has added a further four combined in the DFB Cup and Champions League.
Watch: All 95 of Aubameyang's Bundesliga goals so far
Lewandowski does not have the same ground speed as his former team-mate but he more than makes up for it in other areas. Strong, intelligent in his movement and able to score of either foot or with his head, the 29-year-old is one of the most feared strikers in the world, famed for his ruthlessness in front of goal.
Like Aubameyang, he has ten Bundesliga goals already this season and recently set a new record in a single European qualifying campaign for the FIFA World Cup, finishing as the continent's top scorer with 16 goals as Poland sealed their place at Russia 2018.
Moreover, he has a handy knack of scoring against Dortmund, having struck eight times in nine league and cup games against BVB since moving to Munich in summer 2014.
Watch: All 87 of Lewandowski's Bundesliga goals in a Bayern shirt
With so much talent on display and so much already at stake even at this early stage, Saturday's meeting is not to be missed!