Young midfield maestros headline Leverkusen v Bayern summit clash

Berlin (AFP) – Saturday's title-defining clash between Bayer Leverkusen and Bayern Munich will feature the respective 20-year-old German midfield maestros — Florian Wirtz and Jamal Musiala.

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Born nine weeks apart in 2003, Wirtz and Musiala are set to form the heart of Germany's midfield for the next decade, but will go head-to-head in a match that could have major ramifications for the league title.

A win at home would 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 win would allow Thomas Duchel's side to leapfrog Leverkusen into first place, while becoming the first team to inflict defeat on their 30-game unbeaten rivals this season.

Wirtz is at the heart of that unbeaten run.

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 15 assists and eight goals in all competitions this season.

Nowhere was Wirtz's influence more evident than in Tuesday's 3-2 German Cup quarter-final win, where his two assists helped Leverkusen beat an impressive Stuttgart and reach the final four.

Wirtz grew up 20 minutes away from Leverkusen in Fulheim, while Stuttgart-born Musiala spent most of his childhood in England, signing for Bayern at 16.

Musiala, who chose to represent his country of birth over England, shone at the 2022 World Cup in Qatar, emerging as the only Germany player to live up to his reputation after a disappointing campaign.

Bayern Munich midfielder Jamal Musiala (left) scores the championship-winning goal last season. © KERSTIN JOENSSON / AFP

He then wrote himself into club folklore, scoring in the 89th minute on the final day of last season in Cologne to give Bayern the Bundesliga title.

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Alongside winger Leroy Sane, Musiala has formed the heart of Bayern's creative midfield this season, allowing striker Harry Kane to top the tally with 24 goals in 20 league games.

A veteran of major tournaments for club and country, Alonso sought to play down the emotions surrounding Saturday's match, saying his team would prepare „as always”.

„We are playing Bayern, the best team in Germany, but we are preparing as always,” he insisted. „Against Bayern you have to beat them once, twice, three times.”

„This is Bayern, winning is in their DNA,” said Alonso, who spent three years at Munich, winning three league titles.

One to watch: Xavi Simons (RB Leipzig)

Xavi Simons, who arrived at Leipzig on a one-year loan from Paris Saint-Germain in the summer, has become an indispensable part of Marco Rose's side at the age of 20.

Leipzig's Xavi Simons (left) has seven goals and five assists in the league this season.
Leipzig's Xavi Simons (left) has seven goals and five assists in the league this season. © Ronny Hartmann/AFP

Xavi has a league-high seven assists this season, but told the Bundesliga website he prefers scoring to creating.

„If you asked me years ago, I would have said assist, but now I would say goal. When you score, the adrenaline you have is different.”

Xavi's seven goals in all competitions this season, including January's Goal of the Month winner, show his versatility for the German Cup holders.

Key statistics

30 – Bayer Leverkusen are unbeaten in 30 games in all competitions this season, with 26 wins and four draws.

14-2 – Dortmund have won three of their last three games against Freiburg and have an overall record of 14-2 at home against their rivals.

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24 in 20 – Harry Kane has scored 24 league goals from 20 games this season. Failed to score in just five league games since joining the club.

Devices (1430 GMT unless otherwise specified)

Friday

Borussia Dortmund at Freiburg (1930)

Saturday

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)

Sunday

Stuttgart at Mainz, Hoffenheim at Cologne (1630)

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