Bayern Munich have now completed the group stage of the Champions League as the only team with a 100% record.
Bayern have been free-scoring in the UCL so far, hitting the net 24 times in six matches. They banged Red Star Belgrade away for six only a few weeks ago. They also astonishingly put seven past Tottenham at White Hart Lane.
Such a great start suggests that the Bavarians are ready mount a serious challenge to win the Champions League this season.
It would be their first victory for European football’s most sought after trophy since 2013.
Bayern’s successful…and challenging…year
Yet it has been far from plain sailing this season for the German giants.
They’ve had inconsistent league form resulting in the sacking of Niko Kovac last month after just 16 months in the position. Hansi Flick has taken over as interim manager. Chief executive and former striker Karl Heinz Rummenigge has said that he will be in charge “until at least Christmas.”
Given their league form, the UCL may take priority.
The challenge from England will be fierce. Manchester City are looking to become champions of Europe for the first time. Defending champions Liverpool have started the season very strong, staying unbeaten in the Premier League.
Barcelona have been indifferent at times this season. Yet they are still contenders and will be looking to avoid the second leg collapses against Roma and Liverpool in the past two seasons.
Juventus have again been astute in the transfer market, with the free transfer signings of Aaron Ramsey and Adrien Rabiot. The Bianconeri also strengthened an aging defence in the off-season with the acquisition of Matthijs De Ligt.
PSG look strong as well. Real Madrid is rounding into form as well.
Lewandowski form is crucial
Robert Lewandowski has been in prolific form, scoring ten goals in the Champions League so far (even though he was rested for the Tottenham game).
In the Bundesliga, the Polish striker has been just as lethal, with 16 goals in 14 games.
The 31-year-old’s form has raised eyebrows, as its has been suggested that a possible move to Real Madrid in recent seasons has ended up with the forward going into a sulk. A healthier attitude has been developed this season, even staying behind after training to help bring on the younger strikers.
His goals will be crucial if Munich are to be champions of Europe again. Of course Lewandowski will need the inventive support of his teammates.
Gnabry the standout creator
Bayern potentially have the firepower to take the European crown.
To fulfil that potential, there will have to be more consistent performances from the wings, and the number ten position.
Serge Gnabry has emerged as one the main creative forces in the Munich team. This is perhaps a surprising outcome, having been previously overlooked by Arsenal and West Brom. So far this season he has provided seven assists and nine goals.
Kingsley Coman is set to be out for a while after a bizarre knee injury suffered against Tottenham. The Frenchman started the season well, but his performances have faded away. Coman has scored only once in the Champions League and the Bundesliga.
Philippe Coutinho has followed a similar pattern to Coman, as his form has dipped after a promising start. Its also a pattern that marred his time at Barcelona. So far he has managed an decent return of four goals and five assists. Perhaps his showing on Saturday, netting three goals and two assists, gets him back on track.
Defence needs improvements
Bayern will have to work on their defensive strategy if they are going to shut out the best in Europe.
Even during the winning run in the Champions League, goalkeeper Manuel Neuer complained that his team needed to score three times to win a game, such is their weakness at the back. This comment was after the 3-2 win against Olympiacos in Group B.
Yet there has been many cases of bad luck for Bayern defensively, as injuries have taken their toll. Niklas Sule ruptured a cruciate ligament in October, and is now expected to be out of action until April. If Bayern as expected do make it to the business end of the Champions League, it unlikely that Sule would be anything like match fit.
More devastatingly, club record signing Lucas Hernandez has been ruled out until at least the end of this month with a cracked ligament in his ankle. It was not the start to his Munich career that would have been envisaged by the club, after his £72 million move from Atletico Madrid.
More positively, Joshua Kimmich has been in impressive from patrolling the midfield in front of the back four.
In the Bundesliga, Munich have conceded a significant total of 20 goals in 14 games. This included a 5-1 mauling at Eintrancht Frankfurt, which led to the sacking of Kovac.
Hitherto under Hansi Flick, there has been a defensive improvement with four consecutive clean sheets after he was put in charge.
Although this was before back-to-back defeats, both 2-1 reverses against Bayer Leverkusen at home. And then away at Borussia Monchengladbach.
European progress despite domestic woes
If Bayern’s league form is anything to go by, then their prospects of becoming European champions are limited. At the moment its hard not to look twice at the Bundesliga standings, as Munich are currently in fourth after Saturday.
Regardless, the Bavarians have won the last seven titles in a row and 29 overall, last season just edging past Borussia Dortmund by two points.
In the other six title winning seasons in their recent run, Munich won it at a canter, with the closest margin between first and second nine points in the 2013/14 season. Once again it was Dortmund who lost out.
Tough managerial choice ahead
Rummenigge has a big decision to make on Hansi Flick.
Only positive results would persuade Bayern’s hierarchy that they could put off making a move for a permanent new manager until the summer. It is not impossible for a caretaker managers to win the Champions League. Caretaker Roberto Di Matteo’s Chelsea beat Bayern on their own Allianz Arena turf seven years ago on penalties.
Reports have suggested that Mauricio Pochettino is out of the running, due to him not speaking German. Thomas Tuchel is thought to be viewed as a very serious candidate. The Paris Saint-Germain and former Dortmund manager has a good relationship with Flick, and a partnership between the two has been suggested.
Yet some may argue that Tuchel would not necessarily bring them success, especially in Europe. His best performance in the Champions League was a quarter-final appearance two years ago with Dortmund. And last season his Paris Saint-Germain surrendered a 2-0 away leg victory, to lose 3-1 at home to an already average Manchester United team that was missing ten players.
Munich supporters await what could be a very interesting season ahead.