Bayern will find out where they stand
Bayern Munich are at Anfield this week, that habitually successful organisation with an enviably democratic ownership structure and such a hold on the Bundesliga title one imagines that giant silver plate sits unremarked upon on their sideboard. Somewhere to put the mail, or the place Karl-Heinze Rummenigge leaves his car keys.
They have won the German title 16 times since Liverpool were last English champions. Their president, Uli Hoeness, said last week that Bayern very nearly appointed Jurgen Klopp in 2008, which is no surprise because they have either signed or appointed just about every successful player and coach to come out of Germany, even if the scrutiny in recent times has been about those they missed.
At the annual general assembly of Bayern's membership in December, which has to limit attendance from the club's 291,000 members, Hoeness was given the kind of slapdown to which even a man whom a prison sentence could not dislodge from the club is unaccustomed. He was taken to task by one of the club's rank and file members, Johannes Bachmayr, a 33-year-old lawyer and amateur footballer, who launched an attack on Bayern's leadership.
Hoeness, 67, has recently marked 40 years serving in senior positions at Bayern, where he played before injury cut his career short - including that brief sabbatical in prison for tax fraud from June 2014 to February 2016.
Bayern are controlled by their members, who account for 75 per cent of their ownership, with the rest in the hands of long-term commercial partners Audi, Allianz and Adidas. But there is growing concern about the club's future with a board of figures from Germany's corporate elite, and perceived as allies of Hoeness.
Bachmayr's attack was remarkable, not least because, in the democratic traditions of the club, the Bayern board had to sit and listen, with Hoeness wearing the expression of a man who had spotted a spider in his kartoffelsalat. Bachmayr's grievances ranged from the treatment of former great Paul Breitner, banned from the Allianz Arena's VIP area for his criticism of the club, to the failure to commit the funds to sign Kevin de Bruyne and Leroy Sane.
Bachmayr questioned why Bayern's board, heavily critical of the state-funding of Paris St-Germain by Qatar, had accepted Qatar Airways as a commercial partner. Why, he asked, had it taken so long for them to appoint a sporting director? Why had they given new manager Niko Kovac a three-year contract and then, as the team struggled in the early part of the season, been lukewarm in their support? And how come Hoeness' family sausage business was awarded the catering contract to supply the Allianz Arena? Quite a grilling, although on that point the club maintain there was a fair tender process.
If falling as low as sixth place, as Bayern did after defeat by Mainz on October 27, constitutes a crisis, then most supporters of other clubs would make their peace with that. They are second now and on Friday night came from behind to beat Augsburg 3-2, their ninth win in their past 10 matches. Since Klopp's two-time title-winning team at Dortmund, no one has stopped them domestically. Given that their turnover of €629m is twice that of the next wealthiest club, Dortmund, on €317m, it might be the very least that could be expected.
Hoeness was re-elected for another four years unopposed. Not even Bachmayr, 'der Bayern-Rebell' as he became known, wanted to stand against him. Rummenigge, the chairman, has signed a new two-year contract. It is not quite Real Madrid, where the president Florentino Perez runs an autocracy under the auspices of a democratic structure, but nothing much changes at Bayern either.
It should not be forgotten that the Football Leaks revelations last year identified Rummenigge and Bayern as eager advocates of a European Super League that was unpopular among supporters.
Facing Liverpool in this Champions League round-of-16 tie, and the greatest German coach working in the game, will be a test of where Bayern stand. Liverpool's latest financial results demonstrate that they are a well-run club with turnover of £455m (€519m) and pre-tax profits of £125m (€143m) but that is still a long way behind Bayern. Even so, the teams feel well-matched. Bayern fans look back to 2013 and 2014 when they twice topped their Champions League group ahead of Manchester City, and notice that the English club have progressed much more quickly.
They lost Pep Guardiola after three years and there is evidence that he preferred the control he was given at City, which was nothing like the level afforded to him at Bayern.
Kovac has looked out of his depth when it has come to establishing an identity for the new Bayern. Even so, Bayern remain a profitable club, owned by its supporters with the costs of the new stadium fully paid. For the fans of Premier League clubs under the control of absentee owners, who do not offer themselves up to public scrutiny there is a lot to be said for the way Bayern are run. Whether the right people are in charge is quite another matter.