The next two weeks will be decisive for FC Bayern München and could make the difference between a very good season and a great one.
There is no doubt the Bundesliga leaders will cement their 23rd national championship, while a domestic double also appears to be within their reach. They face VfL Wolfsburg in the last four of the German Cup, with either VfB Stuttgart or SC Freiburg lying in wait in the final.
This is certainly a strong position for a club used to sweeping all before them but without a trophy since 2010 – an eternity by Bayern's high standards. Just one defeat in all domestic competitions this term is an outstanding achievement and likely to lead to a record-breaking campaign. Bayern must compartmentalise, though, and focus on the UEFA Champions League – a tournament they have won four times while also losing twice in the past three finals.
"I want to win the Champions League with all my heart," said Netherlands forward Arjen Robben. "I have been in the final twice with Bayern, but at some point you simply have to win that trophy."
Such is the desire to lift Europe's most coveted prize, celebrations are banned for when Bayern do win the German title. "There will not even be a dinner," said chairman Karl-Heinz Rummenigge. "We will not do anything because we don't want to spoil our big chance in the Champions League due to excessive celebration."
The upcoming quarter-final against Juventus will shed plenty of light on Bayern's credentials. While Jupp Heynckes' men seemed almost invincible after the first half of this season, recent results have prompted questions. Weaker displays against TSG 1899 Hoffenheim (only 1-0) and Fortuna Düsseldorf (3-2) could be forgiven considering Bayern's huge lead, but sporting director Matthias Sammer disagrees: "We know we have a 20-point advantage, but we also know we have to improve in some areas."
Then came the UEFA Champions League round of 16 return leg against Arsenal, which Die Roten lost 2-0. Suddenly the doubters returned. Yes, Bayern have done well in the UEFA Champions League, but they have also failed to keep a clean sheet in seven of their eight games so far.
Even more worryingly, Mario Mandžukić, chosen to spearhead Bayern's attack this term instead of Mario Gomez, has yet to prove he has what it takes at the highest level. His six appearances in the UEFA Champions League have resulted in a single goal, when last season Gomez came close to matching Lionel Messi's scoring rate. The Croatia striker will have to step up against the Bianconeri, a club firmly back among Europe's elite.
Should Bayern clear their next high hurdle, though, they will rightly be considered among the favourites for glory at Wembley in May. It would be preposterous to speak of failure should they not do so, but in the end it would be another very good season. Not a great one.
The opinions expressed here are the writer's own and not those of UEFA.
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