Bayern Munich and Chelsea. An unlikely Champions League Final, but a riveting final nonetheless. There is nothing like the pageantry of the Final match of this wonderful competition. It will be more glamorous because the match will be played at the awe-inspiring Allianz Arena, Bayern Munich’s home ground.
Despite battling various injuries and a less than stellar domestic campaign, Bayern Munich reached the European final by playing captivating yet intelligent football. Die Roten finished atop of Group A, a group that featured freshly minted Premier League Champions Manchester City. Bayern then steamrolled FC Basel in the first knockout stage after falling behind 1-0 in the first leg. An elementary quarterfinal over Marseille was followed by a thrilling semi final result over Spanish powerhouse Real Madrid.
Chelsea’s road to Munich was more strenuous. A sixth place finish in the Premier League was disappointing to say the least. The sacking of manager Andre Villas-Boras in March was thought to be the death knell of Chelsea’s season. However the Blues rose to form in Europe, playing their best football in the Champions League, finishing top of the table in Group E. An exhilarating tie with Napoli ensued, as Chelsea lost the first leg 3-1, then followed by winning 4-1 in extra time, sending the Stamford Bridge faithful to a frenzy. A quality result over Benfica in the quarterfinals was followed by Chelsea’s finest hour of the season. The semi final tie against defending champions Barcelona, will go down as one of Chelsea’s finest moments in their history. The Blues headed into the might Nou Camp with a slender 1-0 advantage. After surrendering an early goal, John Terry was shown a red card and Chelsea were down to 10 men. Barcelona scored again and it looked like it was over for the West London side. However Ramires scored a brilliant goal to pull even on aggregate. Then Chelsea held on for dear life, thwarting every Barcelona attack. Fernando Torres sealed the tie with a breakaway goal to see Chelsea through to the final.
Unfortunately, both sides will be lacking key components for the match. Terry, Branislav Ivanovic, Ramires and Raul Meireles are all banished and won’t be available for Chelsea. Terry incurred a three match ban for his red card against Barcelona. Ivanovic, Ramires and Meireles all received a one game suspension for receiving his second yellow card of the competition at Nou Camp. Bayern Munich will not have David Alaba, Luiz Gustavo and Holger Badstuber in the lineup as they are banned from the final due to suspension.
Bayern is noted for using a 4-2-3-1 formation and they most likely won’t change what has worked for them Mario Gomez leads up front as the solitary striker. Gomez has been marvellous in the competition, scoring 12 goals, while being a force for Die Roten.
Supporting Gomez should be Franck Ribery, Arjen Robben, and Thomas Muller. Ribery is the talisman for Bayern, as he uses creativity and imagination to set Gomez free. Robben likes to use speed down the flank to push defenders back. Muller has been erratic, but when on his game, compliments Gomez up front with flair and finish. However Muller is not trustworthy so, there is a concern for Bayern in attack mode. Don’t be surprised if Croatian International Ivica Olic sees time on the pitch, if Bayern needs strength in attack.
With Gustavo suspended, expect Bastian Schweinsteiger to play more of a holding midfield role. While his fitness remains a concern, Schweinsteiger is one of the best players in the world, but most likely will play further back to support the back four. Toni Kroos should be in the starting eleven, although he favours attacking more than defending. If these two remain disciplined in their roles, and use the counter attack properly, Bayern should be fine in the midfield.
The back four will miss Badstuber, but still have captain Phillipp Lahm at left back. Lahm is regarded as the best left back in the world, and his influence on the game should not be discounted. Rafinha, Jerome Boateng and Daniel Van Buyten solidify a solid defence, although Van Buyten is thrusted into a difficult spot replacing the suspended Badstuber.
Keeper Manuel Neuer is carrying on the legacy of the legendary Oliver Khan with his fine play in goal for Bayern. Neuer was brilliant in the semi finals against Real Madrid and provides comfort for Bayern when they request his presence during opposition attacks.
Chelsea caretaker manager Roberto Di Matteo has stated he is keeping his lineup a secret until game time, so no one really knows who will see time on the pitch for the Blues. The expectation is that Chelsea will utilize a basic 4-4-2 formation with Didier Drogba and Fernando Torres up front. Drogba leads the club with 4 goals in only 6 matches in the competition. Torres laboured for most of the season, but has shown better form in recent matches. His goal against Barcelona did confirm Chelsea’s trip to Munich, and it is hoped that he gains confidence for the final. It is possible that Juan Mata could see action up front along with Salomon Kalou or Daniel Sturridge. If Di Matteo wants speed along the flanks, Sturridge is the choice. If creativity up front is the best way, than Mata will start. Kalou should only be brought in as a substitute.
In midfield, Frank Lampard is all but a guarantee to start for Chelsea. His 16 goals in all competitions is best on the club, and his experience and savvy are vital for Chelsea’s success. It is possible that Mata could be an attacking midfielder if Di Matteo chooses. Also Sturridge could be dropped back into midfield, and be used as a winger. Nigerian International Mikel John Obi is a possible starter, as he can sit back in a holding position, but is solid on the counter as well. There are concerns with Michael Essien and Florent Malouda in which neither should start. They may come off the bench as substitutes, but their inconsistent form should be a sign that their presence on the field won’t be needed.
The back four is in major upheaval without Terry, Ivanovic and Ramires. David Luiz has apparently recovered from a hamstring knock, but how fit he will be is a question mark. Gary Cahill was superb against Barcelona, but is also recovering from a hamstring injury so his fitness will raise eyebrows. Jose Bosingwa will be required to solidify the defence to an expected Bayern blitzkrieg. Ashley Cole should round out the back, but his temperament is always a concern. Cole needs to be disciplined and headstrong for Chelsea to be successful.
One absolute is Petr Cech will be the keeper for Chelsea. Cech has been fabulous for Chelsea despite the chaos that has surrounded the club. He desperately wants to win a European title, so expect the best from a motivated Cech in the match.
Prediction: Chelsea must deserve credit for just reaching the final. Their performance against Barcelona was courageous and commendable. However Bayern have been motivated throughout the European campaign to play the final in front of their own supporters. I just can’t see Bayern wasting this golden opportunity to win their fifth European Cup. The absence of Ramires and Ivanovic will be too much to bear for Chelsea in the back. Bayern will hoist the European Cup in front of their fans, with a 3-1 victory.
You can follow me on Twitter @jstar1973