There are eight rounds of matches left in the 2018/19 Bundesliga season and it appears the title race will go down to the wire. Borussia Dortmund and Bayern Munich are both tied on 60 points at the top of the table, but what fine margins will decide the destination of this year's Meisterschale?
bundesliga.com puts forward five arguments for each team, with 27 points left to play for. We start with leaders Dortmund…
1) Dortmund have their Rolls Reus
Marco Reus succeeded Marcel Schmelzer as Borussia captain at the start of this season and would be the man to lift the Bundesliga trophy – the Meisterschale – aloft on 18 May should BVB end Bayern's six-year domestic dominance. And the Dortmund native has led from the front in this title race with 15 goals and six assists in just 22 appearances.
Described by teammate Thomas Delaney as the Black-Yellows' Lionel Messi or Cristiano Ronaldo, Reus' importance to Dortmund’s title charge is underlined by their record with and without him. When the 29-year-old plays, BVB average 2.36 points and score 2.59 goals per Bundesliga game. In his absence, those numbers drop to 2.0 and 1.75 respectively. A Reus firing on all cylinders is crucial to bringing the Bundesliga title back to Dortmund for the first time since 2012.
2) The teenage delivery boy
Now we’re not talking pizzas here but assists – 12 of them to be precise and all handed over by Jadon Sancho. No one in the Bundesliga has more than the English wing wizard this season, and only Lionel Messi has set up a teammate as frequently across Europe's top five leagues. In fact, the 18-year-old is the only teenager among the world's top 200 first-tier assist-providers during 2018/19.
Do Dortmund have the best teenager in global football among their ranks? Add eight goals to those 12 league assists from 26 appearances and you’ve got a serious argument. But what about that kid over in Paris, he’s pretty good, isn’t he? Yes, that he is, but the 20-year-old Kylian Mbappe is taking part in a title procession, not spearheading a title race.
Watch: Jadon Sancho's big hopes and dreams
3) Goals left, right and centre
Borussia are no longer the top scorers in the league this season, but they do boast the most goalscorers with 18. Of the 22 players to feature in the Bundesliga, only Ömer Toprak, Schmelzer and goalkeepers Roman Bürki and Marwin Hitz are yet to find the back of the opposition net.
While the focus of defenders naturally lies on top scorers Reus (15), Paco Alcacer (14) and Sancho (eight), that ability to strike from anywhere adds another level to BVB's threat in front of goal. It's a contrast to rivals Bayern and their reliance on Robert Lewandowski in the final third. He is the only Munich player to hit double figures this season, with James Rodriguez and Serge Gnabry second on the list with seven goals each.
4) In Klopp's image
When many fans think of Borussia Dortmund, they cast their mind back to the team that won back-to-back Bundesliga titles under Jürgen Klopp in 2011 and 2012. And Lucien Favre's crop are not far off the marker laid down by BVB's previous champions. The Black-Yellows' total of 60 points from 26 games is only one short of what Klopp's side had in 2010/11 and two more than 2011/12's haul at the same stage.
Klopp teams are also famed for their attacking play, yet Favre's boys are easily outscoring his predecessor's. Dortmund's booty of 64 goals is more than a Klopp side ever pillaged at this stage. In fact, both of his title-winning sides had recorded 53 strikes after 26 games in 2010/11 and 2011/12, markedly less than this season's total. The 2010/11 season was also the only other Bundesliga campaign in Borussia's history where they'd only suffered two defeats in the opening 24 games. The signs are there for Reus & Co.
Watch: The new-look Borussia Dortmund
5) One target
Borussia are the side in pole position and still have their fate in their own hands. They can now also focus all their energy on ensuring they will be parading the Meisterschale around Borsigplatz come the end of the season after their elimination from the UEFA Champions League and DFB Cup. It means Favre's troops know exactly who they have left to face in the remaining eight Matchdays and on what weekends those 90-minute fixtures take place.
On the other hand, Bayern remain in action on two fronts with energy-sapping midweek games that even pose the risk of going to extra-time. While everyone in Dortmund will agree that they'd like to see their side in those competitions, there may now be a quiet sense of relief that the Black-Yellows can focus their attention on the Bundesliga and bringing the title back to the league's founding city.
Time for the argument from the defence, reigning champions Bayern…
1) Waiting in the wings
While the current Dortmund squad as a whole only contains 10 Bundesliga medals, Franck Ribery alone is going for his ninth. That would make the Frenchman the league's outright record holder ahead of illustrious former teammates Oliver Kahn, Philipp Lahm and Bastian Schweinsteiger, as well as his predecessor in the No.7 shirt, Mehmet Scholl. Arjen Robben is also aiming to join that elite club of eight-time winners in his final season with the record champions. The wing duo know how to cut inside and get the job done.
David Alaba and Thomas Müller also have seven titles to their name, while Jerome Boateng, Javi Martinez, Manuel Neuer, Rafinha and Lewandowski have six. That's 59 Bundesliga medals spread across just nine players. No team in Europe's top five leagues right now can boast a squad that has won so many titles for their club as Bayern. They know better than most how to finish top of the pile after 34 games.
2) The form side
The age-old saying goes that a season is a marathon, not a sprint, and that’s where momentum can play a major part. At the halfway point of the campaign, the record champions were six points off Dortmund – having cut the gap from nine after Matchday 15. Now, Bayern have returned to top spot on goal difference, and it's thanks to Bayern's 2019 form, which has seen them win eight of their nine Bundesliga matches (one loss). Borussia, on the other hand, have won just five (three draws, one loss).
There's perhaps no more terrifying sight for a Bundesliga player than a Bayern side getting into their stride, as third-placed Borussia Mönchengladbach discovered when they were thrashed 5-1 at home by the defending champions, a result the Bavarians followed up with a pair of 6-0 wins over Wolfsburg on Matchday 25 and Mainz on Matchday 26. Those results brought Bayern club back to the top, and it is perhaps just as important that Kovac's side turned the table on goal difference as well, going ahead with four strikes more than their rivals, as well as three fewer conceded. Bayern are picking up a head of steam and BVB can now see the plume rising above their towering Yellow Wall.
Watch: Bayern batter Borussia (Mönchengladbach) on Matchday 24
3) Gunfight at the A.A. Corral
Ninety minutes that could determine the destination of this season's Meisterschale: Der Klassiker on Matchday 28. Dortmund have to travel to Munich and take on the champions at the Allianz Arena on 6 April and it could be a decisive trip. It may not be the fortress of recent years, with Bayern only second in this season's home league table, but having 75,000 Bavarians behind you when the title is on the line can be a huge helping hand.
Dortmund's record in the Bavarian capital will also fuel Bayern's optimism. Bar a four-year period between 2011 and 2014 when BVB recorded three wins and a draw under Klopp, the Black-Yellows have a poor record in Munich. They've lost their last four Bundesliga visits by a combined scoreline of 17-3, including a 6-0 thumping last season. They once went 18 trips without a victory between 1993 and 2010, as well as suffering an 11-1 hiding in 1971. Dortmund know surviving this fixture is key to their title hopes, while Bayern feel it could be crucial ahead of a manageable run-in.
Watch: Der Klassiker explained by Tifo Football
4) The X-factor
Wheeling away with his arms crossed in an X, Lewandowski celebrating a goal is one of the most common sights in a Bayern match. Despite what some may see as a below-par campaign, the Poland captain is still leading the scoring charts on 18 goals ahead of Eintracht Frankfurt's Luka Jovic. He is third on Bayern's list of all-time Bundesliga scorers (124) and now the highest scoring non-German in the league's history (198 with Claudio Pizarro on 195).
The 30-year-old is quite simply a guarantee of Bayern success. He's found the back of the net in 82 separate Bundesliga games and the record champions have won 76 of them, drawing five and suffering just one defeat, although it was the 3-2 loss in Dortmund earlier this season. At his current rate of a goal every 128 minutes in the German top flight, you'd expect Lewandowski to clock up at least another six strikes this campaign. Bundesliga defences have been warned - but that never seems to help.
Watch: Lewandowski's rise to global stardom
5) Niko’s grit
Such is the weight of expectation in Munich that not even second place on goal difference is good enough for Bayern. Such demands can be tough for an incoming coach, and it has taken Kovac some time to really acclimatise to the Allianz Arena dugout, but things look to be clicking now with the former Frankfurt and Croatia boss settling on a formation and core to his team. The DFB Cup-winning coach has opted for two holding midfielders in front of a defence now built around 23-year-old Niklas Süle.
James Rodriguez is also a pivotal member of the side following his return from a knee injury, being deployed in his preferred No.10 position between the two out-and-out wingers. Yet despite his Latino flair, one thing to note about Bayern's run of 13 wins in 14 league games isn't the way they've brushed aside teams like Mainz (6-0), Wolfsburg (6-0), Gladbach (5-1), Frankfurt (3-0), Hannover (4-0) and Nuremberg (3-0), but how they've also ground out results. While Dortmund have been struggling somewhat, Kovac's side have battled to narrow victories over Hertha Berlin (1-0), Augsburg (3-2) and RB Leipzig (1-0). It's the stuff champions are made of and what they'll need if they're to be celebrating for a seventh consecutive season on the balcony at Marienplatz come May.