It was all guns blazing as Bayern Munich kicked off the second part of their Champions League defense last week when a spirited Arsenal gave them a brief scare before simple fate got in the way.
Bayern eventually won the game 2-0 with relative ease once the home side had gone down to 10 men, but despite the win, a few fingers began to point at the German club's claim to the throne.
If Arsenal could put Pep Guardiola's side under so much pressure with 11 men, is this Bavarian side really the best in world football at the moment?
The first thing that we must acknowledge before we begin contesting which side are currently the best in the world is, of course, who used to be the best team in European football last season.
The simple answer is naturally whoever won the Champions League that year, which is, of course, Bayern, but if we are to take this seriously, then such a claim from the title holders is one that will need to be examined with a little more scrutiny.
Who Bayern beat on their way to the final is the first factor we have to take into account. Now, the group stages consisted of a number of relatively simple opponents in Lille, Bate Borisov and Valencia, with the Spanish side taking a point from Bayern in Spain and the Belarusian team completely surprising everyone with a 3-1 win at home.
Not a perfect away run but a group that the German champions had little trouble overcoming.
It was then Arsenal in the round of 16, who again offered some stiff competition to Jupp Heynckes' side as the Bavarian club slipped up again, this time in Munich, after overcoming the English side in London with relative ease. Another sloppy affair but one that Bayern managed to sneak through.
It was after the two legs against Arsenal that Bayern seemed to toughen up and take the competition seriously.
In the quarter-finals they faced Italian giants Juventus, yet despite some pundits suggesting the Germans would be undone by their Italian foes—a tale as old as time itself—Bayern went on to dominate the two legs with two unanswered goals home and away.
What Juve offered Bayern was a chance to prove their intent to overcome the next best dark horse for the competition that year. With players such as Arturo Vidal and the evergreen Andrea Pirlo, the Serie A champions were more than confident in their chances.
Until they faced Bayern.
Then the real talent kicked in. Barcelona were next and what the Spanish side offered was a genuine challenge to the Bayern's clear desire for a spot at another final. Yet they fell, too. By no less than seven goals over the course of the two legs.
An unheralded thumping; a changing of the guards before our very eyes, and a clear sign of how things were changing for the German club.
It was, of course, then none other than fellow Bundesliga contenders Borussia Dortmund who met Bayern in the final last May. A side built from very different resources but still desperate to reach the same end goal, yet despite Jurgen Klopp's best efforts that night, the match and the entire competition belonged to the Bavarian club.
Bayern had beaten the very best and deserved to be called the best in Europe that season.
Now, let us fast forward to the current situation in this heralded competition. Bayern are quite likely to overcome Arsenal at the Allianz Arena when the return leg comes around, but how will they stack up against some of Europe's bigger and more experienced sides?
If we were to take one simple look at the other sides that dominated so easily in the same week as Guardiola's side did against Arsenal, then we may find some opponents who could easily trip the German side up.
Manchester City's opponents last week, Barcelona, gave an excellent account of themselves at the Etihad Stadium with a resounding 2-0 win over the former Premier League champions. Yet Neymar aside, the Spanish outfit just don't look as unbeatable as they once did under the current Bavarian coach.
And as we've seen in the league this season, they are far from consistent, never mind against a side in Bayern who now know how to take them apart so effectively.
It is, in fact, French side PSG who are perhaps the most notable contenders. With a recent 4-0 drubbing of second-placed Bundesliga outfit Bayer Leverkusen through the magic of players such as Zlatan Ibrahimovic, Thiago Silva and Edinson Cavani, the Parisian side are built from top to bottom with world-class players recruited from across the world.
Yet they also possesses a clear hunger to test themselves against the very best, a task they clearly don't get to enjoy in the French league, and as such have raised their game whenever a larger opponent comes into range.
Add to that a physical element that clubs such as Barcelona can't compete with and you have a club who should offer some genuine trouble to Bayern.
This week, Manchester United and Dortmund begin their test of the European waters yet neither side really offers much in terms of a real threat to Bayern. Dortmund did once, a long time ago, but with the shape of their squad these days, they'll be desperate to avoid the all-too-familiar shadow that protrudes from Munich. Meanwhile David Moyes' side continue to battle with bigger beasts at home.
Like PSG, the Spanish side offer a little something beyond just the conventional concept of ability, with a strong team filled to the brim with hungry players. Cristiano Ronaldo is a given threat against any team, but so too are the likes of Gareth Bale and Luka Modric.
Add an experienced manager in Carlo Ancelotti to the mix and you have an impeccably trained team designed to do what the Italian coach does best: Win European Cups.
Similarly, this year's Chelsea side will be run by the ever-threatening Jose Mourinho. Although the London side have a starting 11 that could match any team in the competition this year, it's their star coach who will have Guardiola looking over his shoulder at every opportunity.
As we saw in the European Super Cup prior to this season, the former Madrid coach can match Guardiola in terms of tactics and knows just how to wind the Catalonian up. Not to mention Chelsea's own history with the German club: If there's one team that can make Bayern unsure of themselves this season, it's this English side.
Like the new article format? Send us feedback!