Bayern rebounded under Heynckes and are out for revenge vs. PSG
Considered the city of love and romance, there were no red roses for Carlo Ancelotti in Paris as the Italian's topsy-turvy relationship with Bayern Munich ended messily after a harrowing evening almost 10 weeks ago. Humiliated 3-0 by Paris Saint-Germain in the French capital in a clash of transfer philosophies, jilted Bayern unceremoniously dumped Ancelotti the following day.
Ancelotti's assistant, Willy Sagnol, took charge for the 2-2 draw at Hertha Berlin on Oct. 1 as the faltering German champions let slip a two-goal lead for a second successive Bundesliga game -- for the first time ever. The Frenchman captured the headlines during the postmatch postmortem in Berlin, saying Bayern were no longer the best team in Germany -- that honour safely reserved for runaway leaders Borussia Dortmund.
However, it is clear that chastening loss in the French capital has proved a blessing in disguise. President Uli Hoeness said at last week's annual general meeting "that night woke the club up." In hindsight, it forced their hand with Ancelotti as Bayern went lefter than leftfield, taking everyone by surprise by persuading 72-year-old Jupp Heynckes to ditch his pipe and slippers and return to the fold.
Heynckes took over in early October for his fourth spell in charge and has engineered a remarkable transformation in Bayern's fortunes in those 10 weeks. He oversaw nine consecutive wins in all competitions, before his injury-ravaged side succumbed to his former club Borussia Monchengladbach in the Klassiker last weekend.
Bayern bounced back to winning ways with a routine 3-1 success over promoted Hannover on Saturday and now back in the safest pair of hands, Heynckes' return has also coincided with a rather swift Dortmund collapse. Chasing a sixth consecutive league title, the reigning champions have cruised six points clear, while BVB five points ahead when Heynckes took over, now languish in sixth 10 points behind.
Despite reluctantly accepting Heynckes' decision to stick to his guns and slip quietly back into retirement again next summer, it is fair to say CEO Karl-Heinz Rummenigge will miss the veteran coach.
"He has again achieved exceptional results with his quality, hard work, calmness, experience and footballing knowledge," Rummenigge said of his manager. "Everything he does is geared towards success -- it's simply outstanding."
Moreover, Heynckes is keen for his side to stamp their Champions League credentials and avenge that embarrassing loss of face in Paris.
Many pointed to Ancelotti's impressive Champions League record, but Heynckes has reached the final in each of his three attempts. He won in 1998 in his one and only campaign with Real Madrid and again with Bayern in 2013, brushing swiftly over somehow losing a penalty shootout to Chelsea on home soil in 2012.
"We want to win because in football it's all about psychology. We could meet PSG again in the quarter- or semifinals, or in the final," he told reporters.
Brushed aside 3-0 in Paris, Bayern must win by a four-goal margin to finish top. And despite Bayern's transformation, this looks an impossible task against a PSG side that have conceded just once so far in the competition. While Bayern were stumbling past Anderlecht last time out, Celtic's Moussa Dembele fired Celtic into a shock lead against PSG after only 56 seconds. You could say Dembele's shock opener upset the Ligue 1 leaders slightly. PSG went on to win 7-1 -- taking their goal tally to 24 -- a tournament record at the group stage.
Two of Bayern's most inventive players, Arjen Robben and Thiago, were both injured in Brussels as well. Thiago will definitely miss Tuesday while Heynckes said, "it's tight" with Robben. Heynckes is reluctant to take any risks with injured players so it does not look good for the former Netherlands skipper.
Furthermore, it is also hard to see Bayern stopping PSG's attacking trio of Neymar, Edinson Cavani and Kylian Mbappe from scoring -- even with Heynckes' recent stiffening of the previously porous backline and Sven Ulreich's improved form.
Having scored in all five group games so far, Neymar will wish to experience "The Joy of Six" by bagging another in the Allianz Arena. No one has ever achieved this scoring feat in the Champions League -- and Neymar seems to be the kind of player who loves to outdo the likes of those mere mortals Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo when he can. The Brazilian also found the net in both legs for Barca in the 2015 semifinal, so he has plenty of fond memories of matches against the Bavarians and the stadium.
However, Bayern will be burning with desire to save face. Expect them to go all out for an early goal in a bid to open up a few scars from last season's 6-1 humbling at the hands of Barcelona when -- albeit without the likes of Neymar and Mbappe -- PSG let slip a seemingly impregnable 4-0 first-leg lead.
Moreover, having won 18 out of 19 at home in the competition, including 16 in a row before last season's 2-1 quarterfinal defeat against Real Madrid, Bayern will be confident of another win on their own patch -- even against PSG.
Aided by the fit-again Thomas Muller, this is the perfect stage for Robert Lewandowski to illustrate why he's worthy of mention in the same breath as Neymar, firing the goals as Bayern gain a semblance of revenge for the trouncing in Paris.
Mark Lovell covers Bayern Munich for ESPN FC. Follow him on Twitter: @LovellLowdown.