Bayern need a result at PSG to boost team morale, calm lingering tension
Pep Guardiola once declared that the Champions League was "like a good meal in a nice restaurant" whereas the Bundesliga tasted more of "everyday pizza or hamburger." Carlo Ancelotti, a man well-known for his love of food, will undoubtedly appreciate that culinary analogy. The trip to his former club Paris Saint-Germain on Wednesday night holds out the promise of both a gourmet experience and a satisfied stomach.
A win at the Parc des Princes would instantly change the perception of Bayern's season so far and turn down the discontent levels in Bavaria. Yes, the champions might have dropped more points (three in six games) than expected at this point in the Bundesliga campaign, allowing Borussia Dortmund to impress as the early pace-setters at the top of the table. Yes, performances have been decidedly uneven. But as long as the team turn up when it really matters, these shortcomings will probably be forgiven, at least for the time being.
To employ another metaphor, the visit to the French capital can make for a nice change of scenery, a chance to forget one's domestic troubles on a fun-packed mini holiday.
Unfortunately, this journey is fraught with danger, too. The outcome of the PSG game will determine the mood at Sabener Strasse for the next four weeks, a relatively quiet spell until a double-header with RB Leipzig (in the cup and the league) in late October will concentrate minds again. A defeat in Paris does not necessarily have grave practical consequences as far as progress in the Champions League is concerned, but it would certainly prove toxic for the atmosphere Munich.
As the defeat vs. Hoffenheim and even the win against Anderlecht have shown, latent dissatisfaction with Ancelotti's work is bubbling just underneath the surface, looking for any opening to gush out like lava. After all, dressing room tensions are only kept in check with the help of incessant wins. And on top of all of that, Dortmund's superb early run has raised the stakes considerably. For the first time since 2011-12, it looks as if Bayern won't be able to take the league title for granted. There is a very real possibility they could end up with only the DFB Pokal or no trophy at all. By Munich's standards, it's a disaster.
The pressure is very much on. But for once, it's not the manager who has the most to lose. While Ancelotti will recognise the importance of the Paris match in terms of negotiating a smoother first half of the season, his long-term future at the Allianz Arena is not really in doubt. Not anymore.
Unless there's a sudden, violent change of heart at the boardroom level or over at Hoffenheim, where Julian Nagelsmann effectively remains on stand-by, the Ancelotti era will end in June 2018 independent of any trophies won or lost. Even if Bayern were to achieve the treble, a parting of the ways would still be on the cards. The club simply want a more proactive manager, someone who is able to develop a side and foster individuals at a time when Bayern can't and won't compete with the biggest spenders in Europe for the superstars.
Ancelotti wrote in his latest book that he was usually getting fired for the very reasons he was hired in the first place, and his Bayern stint will ultimately be a good example of just that. When Bayern signed him to follow Guardiola, they wanted a calmer, less demanding manager with a talent for keeping everyone happy but they have realised these attributes won't quite suffice in the age of the €222 million transfer.
For his part, Ancelotti can legitimately point to the number of measures the club have taken to limit his powers -- such as the appointment of assistant coach Willy Sagnol -- as well as the effort he has (belatedly) made to bring in younger players. The ongoing rift between president Uli Hoeness and CEO Karl-Heinz Rummenigge hasn't made his job any easier yet he's taken all of it in his characteristic stride. The prospect of losing his job, it seems, has not unduly perturbed him. Nevertheless, he has his own, self-interested reasons to hope that Bayern can find more cohesion on Wednesday night.
Ancelotti's reputation as a "super coach" has been built largely on his successes in the world's premier club competition. Three Champions League wins mark him out as a certified specialist, a man who can take great teams that little bit further (and over the line) where others have failed. After all the negativity in the early weeks of the season, a statement performance against the French upstarts can serve as a perfect, timely reminder of his unique qualities, both to the wider football public and potential new employers.
As long as his Bayern side can appear competitive in Europe's elite competition, the 58-year-old's mystique as a coach will remain largely intact, too.
Raphael Honigstein is ESPN FC's German football expert and author of "Bring the Noise: The Jurgen Klopp Story." Follow: @honigstein