There's no doubt that Bayern Munich are one of Europe's most formidable clubs. Only Barcelona and Real Madrid can claim to have squads of similar class, and based on aggregate performance over the last five years, the German giants are behind only the Catalans.
Still, there is something missing. For all Bayern's immense talent, they have gone without a major trophy for two seasons. Even Manchester City, pathetic as their performance in Europe has been, have claimed a title in that time.
And while Bayern are poised to win the Bundesliga title this season, that won't be enough to justify their billing as Europe's best or even second-best team. They need to finally cross the finish line in Europe.
Bayern should be commended for reaching two Champions League finals in the last three years, but all they've proven thus far is that they have been consistently second-best—never superlative. They've worked hard to assemble what now is their best squad in over a decade. Now is time for the Bavarians to make good on their potential.
Not only do Bayern owe themselves a Champions League title, but to an extent they owe it to the rest of the Bundesliga and German football overall.
Germany's top flight has undergone tremendous improvements in recent years, but many clubs are still having trouble attracting and retaining their talents. The likes of Leverkusen and Stuttgart, and even Freiburg and Frankfurt, need the Bundesliga to be a more attractive place if they are to sign and retain talents.
But they haven't the means to contend for the Champions League trophy; that burden is on Bayern even if it is not their responsibility.
How far will Bayern progress in the 2012-13 Champions League?
It's unfair that Bayern have to hold the standard for the Bundesliga, but that has historically been their cross to bear. On the plus side, it's a source of confidence and makes Munich the Bundesliga's most enviable destination. And at any rate, it is, if unfair, a simple fact that will not change.
Bayern also owe it to the German national team to win a Champions League trophy. Many of the Bavarians' stars represent the national team, and die Mannschaft's failure to live up to their potential in recent years is related to Bayern's run of near-misses.
Dortmund emerged as a top-class side in the Champions League this fall, but much like Bayern, they have something to prove. In BVB's case, it's much more than their domestic rivals: For all their brilliant performance in the group stage, the Ruhr side still haven't won a Champions League knockout tie since 1998. They may contend for the title, but to expect anything in the knockout rounds would be foolhardy.
Bayern, despite having earned fewer points from a less difficult group, decidedly remain the safest bet in Germany.
It may not be fair for Bayern to shoulder the burden of playing standard-bearer for Germany and the Bundesliga, but it is the reality they face. The German record champions have a world class squad and in the past have proven they can match any team on their day.
But this team will only be remembered as one of the greats if they can win Europe's most coveted trophy. Anything less, and they're just another good team that fell at the final hurdle.