Despite their clashes, observers noted a general compatibility in the rivals' approach, prompting ARD television commentator, Rainald Becker, to describe the showdown as "more a duet than a duel." On Turkey, the pair appeared to agree that it should not be accepted into the EU, despite continued attempts by President Recep Tayyip Erdogan. Schulz's hard-line stance on Turkey, which Germany accuses of human rights breaches, led Merkel to say that she would "speak to my (EU) colleagues to see if we can reach a joint position on this so that we can end these accession talks."
This could be harmful to Schulz, however, as a lack of distinction will likely see him struggle to gain ground ahead of the national vote on Sunday September 24.
"The good news from tonight's debate is that at the end of a heated election year in Europe, polarization is very limited among Germany's two largest parties. For Schulz, however, this is a problem," political analysis firm Teneo Intelligence stated in a research note.
"Put differently, the debate highlighted that Merkel and Schulz are compatible enough to lead a grand coalition together; yet it is precisely this impression that narrows Schulz's electoral prospects. This poses the risk that the SPD will not do well enough to make it into government again.
Merkel's Christian Democratic Union currently leads a coalition government with the SPD. Given the complex make-up of the German parliament, and Merkel's notable but insufficient lead in the polls, another coalition is likely. This could either be with the CDU and the SPD, or the CDU and one or more of the smaller parties. Polling ahead of Sunday's debate saw the CDU emerging triumphant with 38 percent of votes to the SPD's 24 percent.