Bayern Munich head into their Champions League clash with Ajax needing only a draw to take top spot in Group E. But a victory is essential if they are to truly begin to recover from a dodgy start to the season.Form is temporary, class is permanent. It's a sporting cliché that Niko Kovac and Bayern Munich have to prove over the next two weeks, before German football hibernates for the winter break.
Three games, three big wins, 10 goals and star man Robert Lewandowski back firing in the penalty box have quelled any talk of a crisis in Munich and the speculation that upper management could cut ties with their Croatian coach.
After the loss to title rivals Borussia Dortmund and the capitulation to Fortuna Düsseldorf, it's the exact reaction befitting Bayern's champion status over the past seven years.
But it's only the beginning, it has to be.
Up next is Ajax, a team brimming with exciting, young talent and stabilized with old heads, conducted by promising coach, Erik ten Hag, who, like Kovac, is making his Champions League debut this season.
The first meeting in Munich between these sides ended in a 1-1 draw, a result sandwiched by Bayern's first mis-steps in the Bundesliga where they drew to Augsburg and lost to Hertha Berlin and Borussia Mönchengladbach. They can't afford another similar rough patch.
Form within Bayern's grasp
Bayern must flex their muscles and show their domestic and European rivals that they are still one of the top dogs in the race for both the Bundesliga and the Champions League. It's the Bayern way, the only way they should know, but a way which has been too easily lost this season.
A draw would be enough to seal top spot for the Bavarians in Group E, but it would halt precious momentum going into the dying stages of the Hinrunde (first half of the league season). Three points, a confident display, and an injury-free 90 minutes is essential to ensuring the crisis is officially banished.
"We want to keep going," said Bayern midfielder Leon Goretzka.
"Now we travel to Amsterdam and want to finish first in the group – that's important for us."
For just the third time this season, Kovac looks in position to name and unchanged lineup to face Ajax at the Johan Cruyff Arena, a sign that the 47-year-old is now confident of his best team.
Utilizing a complete squad and managing minutes for your top players is commonplace for elite clubs competing on several fronts, but Kovac has often been too trigger-happy in his bid to discover his best starting XI. On 14 occasions he's made three or more changes to his starting side, seven of those involved five-plus exchanges.
Arjen Robben and Thiago may be returning from injuries – and will still be crucial to Bayern's season – but after finally stumbling upon a winning formula, Kovac seems keen to avoid tinkering.
"The rhythm is there, the boys are in the flow – that's why we don't want to change anything," he said.
New-look XI paying back trust
That includes new midfield duo Joshua Kimmich, who's assisted three in three playing in the middle of the park, and Leon Goretzka, who's benefitting from his first consistent run in the first team.
"Both have a very good understanding of football and read the game well," Kovac said.
"They get on well off the pitch and are in the national team together. It's an axis that's really fun right now – not only for those two but the whole team."
Serge Gnabry, too, is starting to find his feet after being trusted with a starting role, scoring three and assisting two in his past five matches. And playing Thomas Müller behind Robert Lewandowksi has seemingly rejuvenated the Polish hitman as he's netted four in his last three games.
With the same lineup for a third consecutive match, Kovac will be keen to see another strong performance from his chosen XI. Victory against Ajax and securing top seeding for the Champions League knockouts is a must and would send the club back towards a path normality.
Going back to the drawing board ahead of clutch Bundesliga fixtures against Hannover, RB Leipzig, and Eintracht Frankfurt would be an unwelcome blow.