As Manchester United discovered last Tuesday night, in the Champions League, the best sides expose frailties.
Tonight, fans of Bayern Munich might fear being similarly schooled as their side, who’ve been experiencing a subpar season by their lofty standards, travel to Anfield.
Bayern return to European action in the unusual position of not being comfortably top of the Bundesliga as they turn for home.
Doubtless their players will still back themselves to progress in a tournament in which they’ve been semi-finalists in six of the last seven seasons.
Nevertheless, it’d be surprising if there wasn’t just a little trepidation at the thought of their visit to Merseyside given how Borussia Dortmund suffered at Wembley last week.
Lucien Favre’s BVB may sit top of the Bundesliga, but they were demolished by a Spurs side lying third in the Premier League.
And if the third best side in England can flatten the Bundesliga leaders, what might Liverpool, who trail leaders Manchester City on goal difference, do to a Bayern side struggling to hit the heights of previous seasons?
That Bayern are chasing the Black and Yellow owes as much to their own failings as the clear improvements seen at the Westfalenstadion.
There’s no question that Favre has improved Dortmund. BVB have 51 points from their 22 league games this season – just four less than they amassed all last term.
But Bayern, under new manager Niko Kovac, haven’t been themselves.
They’ve already lost and drawn as many games this season (four and three, respectively) as they did last. Indeed, Bayern only lost for league games in total in the two seasons before that!
Some have been happy to pin Bayern’s problems on Kovac. The Croat has struggled at times to marry the defensive solidity he demands with the expansive play Bayern fans crave.
That could be because, as some players reportedly believe, Kovac is out of his depth. But then some of those players may have been happy to push that angle given that their aging legs and a loss of desire have certainly played a role.
Bundesliga.com’s Mark Rodden believes there may be something in the “miles on the clock” argument, but also feels that a World Cup hangover and injury problems to key players have hampered the champions.
That said, he also believes that Kovac is showing signs that he’s getting to grips with the job, with the support of the club’s hierarchy playing a crucial role.
“Once it was clear that the powers that be would back Kovac in the autumn, everyone seemed to knuckle down,” says Rodden.
Some senior players were stung by the criticism they’ve faced, while younger players like Leon Goretzka and Serge Gnabry, have started to settle.
Injury issues have cleared up for the most part, and Thiago Alcantara and James Rodriguez have returned to offer invention in midfield.”
Bayern have won nine and drawn one of their last eleven Bundesliga matches, allowing them to close the gap on the Dortmund to three points, and Rodden feels they’re capable of overhauling Favre’s men.
“Bayern certainly have the ability to catch them and players who know how to win the league – something not necessarily true of Dortmund,” he says.
“Moreover, Kovac has said his side are comfortable being hunters and suggested that Dortmund would be feeling the pressure.”
That assertion may have legs given the leaders’ recent run of five games without a win in all competitions, conceding nine goals in their last four.
“A blip,” asks Bundesliga expert Rodden, “or a sign they’re running out of steam?”
But the chase goes on hold for Bayern on Tuesday night, as they return to Champions League action, perhaps the most coveted prize of all for the Bavarians.
“Liverpool are favourites,” says Rodden. “Ajax really got at Bayern in two draws in the group stage, and Liverpool will get about them in the same way. Their firepower and pace should cause Bayern serious problems.”
But Rodden sounds a note of caution for Reds fans.
“Despite their current flaws, Bayern’s experience and quality means they remain a dangerous outfit,” he says.
And while their Bundesliga desire may have waned a little, it’d be dangerous for Liverpool to assume the same applies to the Champions League.
“Franck Ribery spoke last week about learning from the last few seasons and the need to peak at the right time to win the Champions League,” says Rodden.
“This is a tie he and a few others have been looking forward to for a long time as a chance to prove their doubters wrong.”