Headlining Saturday’s title-defining clash between Bayer Leverkusen and Bayern Munich are the sides’ respective 20-year-old German midfield maestros — Florian Wirtz and Jamal Musiala.
Born nine weeks apart in 2003, Wirtz and Musiala look set to form the core of Germany’s midfield for the next decade, but will go head to head in a match which could have huge ramifications for the league title.
A win at home will send Bayer Leverkusen five points clear with 13 games to play this season, putting Xabi Alonso’s side in the box seat for a maiden Bundesliga crown.
A Bayern victory will allow Thomas Tuchel’s side to leapfrog Leverkusen into first spot, while becoming the first team to inflict defeat on their rivals who are 30 games unbeaten this season.
At the heart of that unbeaten run is Wirtz.
Long touted as Germany’s next great midfield hope, Wirtz has come into his own under Alonso.
Reminiscent of a young Kevin de Bruyne, Wirtz has pulled the strings in midfield, laying on 15 assists and scoring eight goals in all competitions this season.
Nowhere was Wirtz’s influence clearer than in Tuesday’s 3-2 German Cup quarter-final victory, where his two assists helped Leverkusen overcome an impressive Stuttgart to reach the final four.
While Wirtz grew up 20 minutes away from Leverkusen in Pulheim, Stuttgart-born Musiala spent much of his childhood in England, before signing for Bayern aged 16.
Opting to represent his nation of birth rather than England, Musiala shone at the Qatar World Cup in 2022, emerging as perhaps the only Germany player with his reputation intact after a disappointing campaign.
He has since written himself into club folklore, scoring in the 89th minute on the final day of last season at Cologne to win Bayern the Bundesliga title.
Alongside winger Leroy Sane, Musiala has this season formed the core of Bayern’s creative midfield, allowing striker Harry Kane to florish up front, with 24 goals in 20 league games.
A veteran of major matches for club and country, Alonso sought to play down the emotion surrounding Saturday’s match, saying his team would prepare “like always”.
“We’re playing Bayern, the best team in Germany, but we’re preparing like always,” he stressed. “Against Bayern you need to beat them once, twice, three-times to win.”
“It’s Bayern, it’s in their DNA to win” added Alonso, who spent three years in Munich as a player, winning three league titles.
One to watch: Xavi Simons (RB Leipzig)
Arriving in Leipzig on a one-year loan from Paris Saint-Germain in the summer, Xavi Simons has quickly become an indispensible part of Marco Rose’s side aged just 20.
Xavi has a team-high seven assists in the league this season, but told the Bundesliga website he prefers to score rather than create.
“If you would ask me years ago, I would say assist, but now I’d say goal. When you score, the adrenaline that you have is just different.”
Xavi’s seven goals in all competitions this season, including January’s Goal of the Month winner, show his variety for the German Cup holders.
30 – Bayer Leverkusen are unbeaten in 30 games in all competitions this season, with 26 wins and four draws.
14-2 – Having won three of their last three games against Freiburg, Dortmund have a cumulative score of 14-2 at home over their rivals.
24 in 20 – Harry Kane has scored 24 league goals from 20 games this season. He has only failed to score in five league games since joining the club.
Fixtures (1430 GMT unless stated)
Borussia Dortmund v Freiburg (1930)
Augsburg v RB Leipzig, Werder Bremen v Heidenheim, Borussia Moenchengladbach v Darmstadt, Union Berlin v Wolfsburg, Eintracht Frankfurt v Bochum, Bayer Leverkusen v Bayern Munich (1730)
Stuttgart v Mainz, Hoffenheim v Cologne (1630)
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