Bayern Munich vs Chelsea, Champions League Final, Allianz Arena, Munich
Kickoff – 19:45 GMT (00:15 IST), 19th May 2012
The biggest night of the football season is upon us. Another season will pull curtains on itself, with the culmination, of what is expected to be a titanic tussle for European glory between traditional German powerhouse Bayern Munich, and England’s rich glamour boys, Chelsea.
Reaching the Champions League final, is always a hard and arduous journey, and both teams deserve it, for all the major teams they have ousted this season. Bayern Munich had to negotiate through the ‘Group of Death’, comprising Italian club Napoli, Spanish side Villarreal, and newly crowned English champions Manchester City. Chelsea, on the other hand, had a tricky group of their own, Bayer Leverkusen, Valencia and KRC Genk the opponents.
The quarter finals pitted Chelsea against Napoli, and the Blues completed a remarkable turnaround to progress. Down 3-1 from the first leg, a managerial change followed, which galvanised the Londoners to a 4-1 win in extra-time in the second leg. Bayern, meanwhile had it relatively easy. Despite losing 1-0 to Basel in the first leg, they thrashed the Swiss side 7-0 in the second to progress.
Chelsea had it easy against Benfica, winning the away leg 1-0, and despite some nervy moments, won the second leg 2-1, to progress 3-1 on aggregate. Bayern, too had it easy against a below par Marseille, beating the French side 2-0 in both legs.
Both the eventual finalists were handed tasty semi-finals ties against Spanish superclubs Real Madrid and Barcelona. While the press and neutral fans alike hoped for an El Clasico in the final, it was infact the underdogs who won.
Chelsea, despite being under attack from Barcelona, all night, scraped the first leg 1-0 at Stamford Bridge. In the second leg, they showed remarkable grit and steel, despite going down to 10 men, after captain John Terry was sent off, and Gary Cahill limped off, to keep Barca at bay, and progress 3-2 on aggregate. Bayern Munich, won the first leg, through a late Mario Gomez strike, 2-1, and the second leg drew the same scoreline, but with Real Madrid winning. Some comedic penalty taking ensured Bayern’s progress to the final.
Both teams have reached the final, at a cost, though, with some of their best players missing, or in doubt of missing. Chelsea will be without the suspended quartet of John Terry, Branislav Ivanovic, Ramires and Raul Meireles, of which the latter 3 were instrumental against Barcelona. Bayern will be without defenders Holger Badstuber and David Alaba, and midfielder Luiz Gustavo.
This could cause some headaches for both managers. Roberto di Matteo also will be sweating upon the fitness of Gary Cahill and David Luiz, both of whom have missed the season’s run-in. Should any of them miss out, di Matteo will have to shuffle around with his backline, and include full-backs Paolo Ferreira and Ryan Bertrand. The only other centre-back is Sam Hutchinson, but he is way too inexperienced to be given a start in such a huge game.
Bayern Munich are expected to ploy experienced Ukraine international Anatoliy Tymoschuk in defence and Argentine Diego Contento at left-back. However, experienced Belgian defender Daniel van Buyten could be the surprise inclusion, after his recent return to full fitness after a long injury layoff.
The pressure will be quite clearly on a young Bayern Munich side. Having the game being played in their own stadium, and in familiar surroundings, may seem easy, but the weight of expectations can prove to be too heavy. It will take a calm and composed approach from Bayern to win. Chelsea come into this game as the underdogs, despite ousting tournament favorites Barcelona. A poor league season, which saw them finish 6th, has meant a complete change in emphasis towards Europe, and the have stuck to their task well.
The Bavarians play a fast, well-paced attacking game. With former Chelsea midfielder Arjen Robben, and France winger Frank Ribery, the German side can counter with devastating speed. Three fine products of Bayern’s famed youth academy will run the show in midfield. Bastian Schweinsteiger will be the holding midfielder in place of the absent Luiz Gustavo. Toni Kross and Thomas Muller are two young and vibrant midfielders, who have shined for club and country. The focal point will be Spanish born German striker Mario Gomez, who has been prolific this season. Jerome Boateng, Manuel Neuer and Philip Lahm are among the first three names on the team sheet. It will be interesting to see who gets picked at centre back, while Diego Contento playing at left-back.
Chelsea play a more slower, defensively sound and tentative game, and this has served them well in Europe this season. With the physical presence of Didier Drogba upfront, who is always a menace, they are always a threat. I can see them playing two defensive midfielders for this one, in Jon Obi Mikel and Michael Essien, as they are short in the midfield department. Juan Mata, Frank Lampard will start, while the recently in-favour Salomon Kalou may just get the nod ahead of Daniel Sturridge. Fernando Torres, who has recently, hit some sort of form, and Florent Malouda will be attacking options on the bench. Oriol Romeu could also be a good substitute late on, if Chelsea are looking to defend a lead. Chelsea’s backline is a matter of concern, but they are lucky to have one of the top goalkeeper’s in the world, Petr Cech, who made numerous saves against Barcelona.
Here is how I see the teams line up.
It could be an open game with two teams, with completely contrasting styles. Chelsea, who have already won the FA Cup, will have to win if they are to keep their place in the Champions League next season. Bayern, who were trounced last week by Dortmund 5-2, in the German Cup, know they will never get a better chance to lift the cup in their very own backyard. It could also turn out to be a cagey tactical affair, but we would certainly hope it is not.
Both teams have players who have suffered heartbreak in the Champions League final. Michael Essien, Ashley Cole, Frank Lampard and Didier Drogba were part of the team that lost to Manchester United on penalties on Moscow in 2008, while Lahm, van Buyten, Schweinsteiger, Muller and Robben were in the team that lost to Inter Milan in 2010.
There will be tears for sure. Will it be blue or red. Only time will tell.