After the tribulations of last season, a renewed sense of optimism has been restored at Borussia Dortmund, with Thomas Tuchel’s appointment inspiring the club to an unbeaten start to the new campaign.
The major test for the Signal Iduna Park outfit this term, as always, is usurping German football’s dominant force Bayern Munich from the Bundesliga summit.
Under Jürgen Klopp the men in yellow and black had a period of ascendancy against their perennial rivals, but over the last three campaigns under firstly Jupp Heynckes and now Pep Guardiola, Die Roten have been the all-encompassing driving force domestically.
This Sunday’s clash between the teams at the Allianz Arena will be eagerly anticipated and is an acid test to dictate the likelihood of a potential Dortmund title push this season.
Tuchel’s men won their first 11 games of the new campaign in all competitions, but have drawn their last three games, including a 1-1 stalemate against PAOK in Greece last night.
For most teams, winning your first five league games of the season and drawing the next two would automatically mean a place on top of the table – but not with Bayern around.
The Allianz Arena outfit have claimed victory in all seven of their domestic fixtures so far, scoring 23 goals in the process and conceding only three.
There is no doubting that on their day Dortmund can win Der Klassiker, even on enemy soil; Die Schwarzgelben have claimed four victories in the last ten meetings between the teams, with Bayern claiming five and one draw.
This time round the game has a spicy sub-plot, with the chief protagonist for the reigning champions a familiar face to the visitors.
Robert Lewandowski is world football’s most in-form striker, something that will stick in the throat of Dortmund fans given that he used to wear their colours and departed Signal Iduna Park for Bavaria on a free transfer.
The Poland international is currently the top goalscorer in the Bundesliga, Champions League and in Euro 2016 qualifying, suggesting that he will take some stopping on Sunday.
His incredible five goals in nine minutes against Wolfsburg propelled his name to headlines the world over, but in truth Lewandowski’s purple patch has been in full flight for the entire campaign.
Ten goals in a week over the course of three games is an almost unparalleled feat, while the burly number nine has struck 13 goals in his last six matches.
As such, Mats Hummels and co, who know their former team-mate’s ability more than most, will have to be at the top of their game to prevent the Pole from extending this outstanding record in front of goal.
A trip to Greece is not ideal preparation for Tuchel’s men, while Bayern had an easy win on home soil against a modest Dinamo Zagreb outfit in midweek as a warm-up.
It is not only Lewandowski that the visitors have to worry about, with Douglas Costa continuing to look like a new world-class player in a world-class team.
However, Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang and the Dortmund forward line will be keen to test David Alaba, who has been converted into a centre-half this season by Guardiola, and certainly have the weaponry to hurt Bayern.
One of Europe’s most anticipated and intriguing rivalries, the game should be a classic encounter given the individual quality on show.
A Bayern win would grant the champions a seven-point advantage at the Bundesliga summit already, while Dortmund can stake their claim with a victory at the home of the champions; let battle commence.