Beating Bayern would prove Liverpool's credentials to go one step further
When FC Bayern were looking for a manager in the summer, there was no shortage of nervous twitching on Merseyside.
Jurgen Klopp, one of Germany's finest coaches, had transformed Liverpool into a buccaneering force that had blown away half of Europe en route to the Champions League final.
He had caught the imagination of every Reds fan but the fear was that he might have caught the imagination of those on Sabener Strasse too, those who make the decisions at Germany's biggest club and who were looking for someone to lead the club back to European glory and sate their hunger for another Champions League trophy.
There has always been the feeling that Bayern, a well-oiled machine from Germany's industrial and commercial heartland, never seemed like a fit with the rock-n-roll stylings of Klopp, all fuzzy beard and wild gesticulations on the touchline.
They had their chance when he was at Mainz and they had another window of opportunity after the immense success with Borussia Dortmund that knocked FCB off their perch.
However, they never took the plunge and now, as Liverpool click into gear in the beginnings of year four of the Klopp process, Bayern are instead wondering whether they're about to head back to year zero and hit the reset button in the off-season.
Niko Kovac took over in July and has struggled after an initially quite promising start.
A squad that was ripe for renovation last summer was, in the end, trusted to see out another campaign but as their play got more sterile and results worsened, it became clear through the autumn that the clearout and rebuild was overdue and a reckoning was coming.
For now, of course, Bayern have no choice but to continue. They still have an immense amount of talent packed into their squad, but there has been a strange amount of helplessness around Bayern this year.
For a club who so often win almost by automation, perhaps it is difficult to know what to do when results begin to go awry.
Certainly, as they fell to a fourth game without a win as Borussia Moenchengladbach came into the Allianz Arena and won 3-0 in October, there was a mood of nobody knowing what exactly was wrong - just that things weren't right.
"Sometimes you have good times, sometimes you have bad times," said Kovac, looking for answers. "Everybody is trying at the moment, but we cannot bring it together on the pitch."
The players were even more robust in their criticism, Joshua Kimmich claiming that the defeat couldn't even be put down to missed chances because "we didn't have any".
Since that defeat to Gladbach - who share second place in the Bundesliga with the Munich outfit - Bayern have strung together a good run of form, though an engrossing, frustrating defeat to Dortmund in November virtually ensured that Lucien Favre's side will be herbstmeister (winter champions) in Germany and Kovac's men will likely begin the second half of the campaign with a nine-point deficit to overhaul.
Continental competition may be their best chance for success, then, if the club can address their problems on the field. Thumping back-to-back wins against Nurnberg and Hannover suggest this is a team finding some much-needed rhythm again, though Liverpool's thunder-and-lightning approach makes them a team capable of knocking sides off their game.
The Reds feel like a team with momentum, a runaway train gathering speed while Bayern are still chucking more coal in the fire and trying to pull away from the station, but once the Bavarians get going they are generally pretty hard to stop, their European pedigree is historically the equal of Liverpool but their recent success in the competition is greater.
That sometimes matters more than you think it would in the knockout stages.
For all Liverpool have sometimes felt like a young team under Klopp, Bayern are an old team under a coach who is in his first season at this level.
Klopp's Champions League final heartbreak at the hands of Bayern in 2013 and then again against Real Madrid in June are fuel for his fire while Kovac is stepping into the unknown.
Bayern are a dangerous opponent but less dangerous than they have been in recent years.
A team that feels as if it is in a transitionary year is meeting a team that looks to be hitting its stride.
Whisper it quietly, but Liverpool could have the edge. And, if they have the edge against a club like Bayern, then they are contenders for the whole thing. (© Independent News Service).