Richard Buxton: Battle Royal between Salah, de Bruyne
Liverpool-Manchester City clash could hinge on showdown involving the Player of the Year candidates
Separating Mohamed Salah and Kevin de Bruyne has become football's latest Sophie's Choice.
Brilliance manifests itself in different forms for the talismans of Liverpool and Manchester City.
Salah has plundered a prolific 37 goals this season, while de Bruyne has been an orchestrator on multiple levels for his side.
Boiling down that impossible distinction of the game's church and state begins tomorrow morning (Singapore time) in their sides' Champions League quarter-final showdown, but the denouement of the greater player will still be far from conclusive.
Rarely have the season's Professional Footballers' Association and Football Writers' Association's annual accolades been won by different players.
In seven of the last 10 seasons, the same player won both awards.
On the face of it, de Bruyne should maintain the status quo by becoming another EPL title winner to land both prestigious accolades as City's grand conductor in his side's impending coronation.
But the quality in depth which Pep Guardiola's side possess could also be the Belgian's potential downfall.
A stellar supporting cast including David Silva, Leroy Sane and Raheem Sterling risks diluting the groundswell of support for de Bruyne among his fellow professionals.
A recent inability to back up an abundance of creativity with tangible statistics also threatens to undermine the playmaker's candidacy, with just one EPL strike since the turn of the year, while an assist in City's 3-1 win over Everton on Saturday was only his first in four EPL matches.
Yet he is still comfortably into double figures for goals, while his 128 chances created in all competitions this season overshadows Salah's tally of 75.
Salah, meanwhile, continues to send Liverpool's goal records tumbling and remains on course to at least equal Ian Rush's long-standing tally of 47 in all competitions.
His return in the Champions League is as emphatic as his EPL haul, with seven strikes in the past 10 outings.
The Egyptian has transformed from a one-time Chelsea misfit to the newest king of the Kop.
Flowing movement and a heightened sense of opportunity sets Salah apart from his illustrious predecessors in the Anfield front line, including Luis Suarez.
Finding the target three more times in the Reds' remaining six domestic games would elevate him above the current Barcelona marksman, while a stand-out moment in a two-legged tie with City promises to see his debut season go down in greater significance.
Should Salah judge the big occasion over the coming six days with a trademark humility, it will aid the battle for superiority over his opposite number, who is already guilty of underestimating the influence that the Anfield faithful can have on continental nights.
Guardiola knows far better than to downplay its importance. As a player, coach and impartial observer, he is all too aware of the damage being cocksure can be as City suffered their first league defeat this season in January's seven-goal thriller between the sides.
The last EPL champions-elect that travelled to Merseyside for a Champions League knockout showdown also found themselves carried away when Chelsea's team coach arrived, in 2005, bearing a sign of "two down, one to go" in reference to a potential treble haul.
With City harbouring similar aspirations to the since-dethroned Londoners, Guardiola needs his most influential player to avoid the mistakes of their predecessors and not taking their position for granted.