Jupp Heynckes under no pressure as Bayern prepare for Besiktas
Tuesday's round-of-16 appointment with Besiktas is just like every other match for Bayern Munich: a must-win fixture. Failure to advance to the quarterfinals after landing their preferred opponent at the draw in Nyon would constitute a real embarrassment in the Bavarian capital, akin to the sense of disbelief that greeted their exit against Inter Milan at the same stage in 2011.
Following that ignominious second-half 3-2 collapse at the Allianz Arena after Bayern had taken a 2-1 lead, Louis van Gaal was soon sent packing, but Jupp Heynckes won't have to fear similar recriminations.
The 72-year-old is in the hugely unusual position of being able to approach a Champions League knock-out tie with zen-like serenity. Having won the competition in 2013 (and in 1998, with Real Madrid) his legacy is already safe, and unlike his successors Pep Guardiola and Carlo Ancelotti, he won't have to face up to unflattering comparisons with Bayern's treble-winning campaign of five years ago that had been orchestrated by... Heynckes himself. In fact, the worst that could happen to Heynckes if his team were to crash out against the Black Eagles is that his bosses in Munich might stop pestering him to continue in a job that he's no intention of continuing in the first place. It's not exactly a daunting prospect.
Due to these unique circumstances, no Bayern manager has been under less pressure to do well in Europe's premier club competition. And to an extent, the team benefit from this seemingly benign dynamic. While an untimely exit in the Champions League would all but end Bayern's season prematurely -- success in the DFB-Pokal would be the last remaining interest due to their unassailable lead in the league -- there is no longer a sense of expectation bordering on entitlement that they should lift a sixth European Cup.
A terrible start to the campaign under Ancelotti (including a chastening 3-0 defeat by Paris Saint-Germain), big money signings by the European superpowers and the imperious form of both Barcelona and Manchester City have relegated the German giants to "outsider status" in this competition. In fact, they're back to where they started before Heynckes took over in 2012: at the fringes of football's elite, capable of beating the very best sides but not among the very front-runners. It's a pretty comfortable position to be in.
The big question is whether the powers at Sabener Strasse will be happy to accept that demotion to the second row in light of their English and Spanish rivals' superior spending power or if they will embark on a ambitious transfer-market campaign in the summer in an effort to close the gap.
With a wage-to-income ratio below 50 percent, there's certainly enough scope for a more ambitious policy in theory. In practice, results in Europe will dictate the next move. Do Bayern need a proven superstar to make up for lost ground, or can they continue on their recent course of largely concentrating on top talent from the Bundesliga and investing in players with potential, like Kingsley Coman and Joshua Kimmich, who have both made rapid progress since joining in 2015?
A deep run in this year's Champions League will convince the club's bosses that the squad needs tweaking rather than a complete overhaul ahead of the arrival of Heynckes' likely successor, Thomas Tuchel. The tie against Besiktas is, thus, a must-win with a difference. It's the first installment in a series of games -- hopefully, from Bayern's perspective -- that will not act as a verdict on the coach but on the squad. Players such as Arjen Robben, Franck Ribery or Arturo Vidal are playing for their very own future, not that of the man on the bench.
It's an unprecedented situation in recent years but it could well play out to Bayern's benefit. It wouldn't be the first time a team that's no longer quite at the height of their power got their act together for a final hurrah in pursuit of the biggest prize in club football.
Raphael Honigstein is ESPN FC's German football expert and author of "Bring the Noise: The Jurgen Klopp Story." Follow: @honigstein