The Champions League Final. Chelsea, Barcelona’s conquerors and in search of their first Champions League triumph, will take on Bayern Munich, Real Madrid’s nemesis and relative European royalty with four Champions League / European Cup wins to their name. Together they are two of European football’s greatest teams and will go head to head in a match that promises to be the most intriguing of the entire competition.
English pragmatism vs. German ‘Total Football': For the hearts and minds of football?
Bayern Munich are one of the few clubs to have won the European Cup three times in a row, 1974, 1975 and 1976 where they played some of the best football ever witnessed. Together with West Germany, who won Euro 1972 and World Cup 1974, they inspired a generation to play attacking, possession-based football where scoring goals and conceding few was the name of the game.
While Chelsea, the great European underachievers of the English game with only one Champions League final appearance to their name – a loss on penalties to Manchester United in 2008, with Roman Abramovich’s billions, have always threatened to succeed without ever having the nous to make it over the final line.
Now in this, the most surprising of years for the Blues, who finished sixth and 25 points off first place and won the FA Cup with a replacement manager, Roberto Di Matteo, who was deemed surplus to requirements at West Bromwich Albion, they may have their best chance ever to win the “trophy with big ears.”
Bayern, on the other hand, have become the first club in Champions League history to reach a final on their home ground and are easy favourites for the trophy. That favouritism is not based upon their league form though, Borussia Dortmund cantered to a league and cup double in Germany, it is purely based upon home territory and upon how they dismissed Real Madrid in the semi-finals.
The two teams come into this game in similar form, albeit with Chelsea as FA Cup champions and Munich as Der Pokal runners-up following a 5-2 mauling by Dortmund, and two contrasting philosophies and styles.
Since Roberto Di Matteo succeeded Andre Villas-Boas as the Pensioners manager he has reverted to a more pragmatic style of football where Didier Drogba’s strengths are key. While Jupp Heynckes, in his second term as manager, employs a fluid counter attacking style that uses width and guile as its main weapons.
The value of these philosophies should not be underestimated because whichever style wins may be deemed the philosophy of choice for Sunday league and schoolboy teams across the world for years to come.
Chelsea: How they got there; form PLD-12 W-7 D-3 L-2 GOALS F-24 A-11
The Blues were handed a relatively easy Group-E that consisted of Bayer Leverkusen, Valencia and Genk.
They were steam-rolling their way into the knockout stages before a shock 2-1 loss to Leverkusen in match day five made the last group game against Valencia a must win for seeded progress.
A superb team performance capped off by a man-of-the-match display by Didier Drogba, who scored two goals, meant that the Pensioners were hardly tested in their routine 3-0 win over Unai Emery’s team. The major difference between the two sides on the night was Chelsea’s physical advantage over the slight Spaniards and as time would progress without Villas-Boas this set-up would become the Blue’s default setting.
A dreadful draw against Napoli in the Last-16 was compounded by Andre Villas-Boas making poor decisions and dropping key players which resulted in a very poor performance in a 3-1 defeat and ultimately his sacking a couple of days later.
Roberto Di Matteo was parachuted into first team management from first team coaching and the first thing the Swiss-born Italian international did was build a side around his key players.
The effect was instant as Chelsea recorded one of the great comebacks of the modern age when the beat Walter Mazzarri’s side 4-1 after extra time.
With the wind in their sails the Pensioners then travelled to the Stadium of Light where they recorded their only Champions League away victory this season. However, having done all the hard work a week previous, the Blues were almost undone at Stamford Bridge by Benfica’s ten men as the Portuguese side dominated the second half and only some last ditch defending saved them a place in the semi-finals against Barcelona.
What can you say about the Barcelona semi’s that has not already been said?
In truth they were magnificent occasions and against all the odds, against conventional wisdom and against the football gods Chelsea somehow beat the best football team on the planet over two legs – deservedly.
Overall, home form has been vitally important for the Pensioners in their run to the final and it is easy to see why – they have won every single game at Stamford Bridge en route to Munich including memorable victories over Napoli and Barcelona.
Away from home their form is not quite as good and it may be a key statistic that their only win away from London came in the Quarter-Final clash at Benfica.
Key player: Didier Drogba
The Ivorian national is probably the best practitioner of lone centre forward play ever seen and is certain to go down in history as one of the great strikers of the game.
When on his game he is practically impossible to play against. As a player Drogba possesses superb technique, great physical strength and stamina and a willingness to work that can put other players to shame.
As far as European football is concerned Drogba has a brilliant scoring record. During his entire career 508 games he has scored 228 goals, in Europe his record reads 44 goals in 81 matches and this season it is five goals in seven matches.
While he may be slowing and his stamina may be reducing, Drogba is still king as far as strikers are concerned at Stamford Bridge and in general if he plays well, Chelsea play well.
The key to beating Chelsea:
Chelsea lack width.
The only players they have that can operate in wide positions comfortably are Jose Bosingwa and Ashley Cole. As such, they always play a narrow midfield that is very tough to break through and their full backs bomb on to provide support out wide.
By getting the ball out wide early Bayern can force Chelsea into one vs. one situations against the likes of Franck Ribery and Arjen Robben with Kroos and Gomez also coming into the mix as the peel off their markers.
It is here that Bayern Munich must launch concerted and counter attacks to break through and get behind the Blues defence. From here they can get Chelsea’s central defenders on the half turn and Mario Gomez and Toni Kroos can capitalise by coming from deep – but saying it and doing it are two different things.
Ashley Cole remains the best left back in the world and it has been years since he was given a torrid time by a wide player so Bayern Munich’s best option will be to expose whomever Roberto Di Matteo selects at right full.
This, of course, must all be achieved while keeping Drogba quiet.
Roberto Di Matteo: Chelsea Coach:
I know a lot of people are speculating because of Bayern’s last game [a 5-2 German Cup final loss to Borussia Dortmund], but you don’t assess a team over just one match.
They’re a fantastic team, they have some excellent players, and it’s going to be a tough game.
That’s what you expect when you’re in the Champions League Final.
Bayern Munich: How they got there; form PLD-12 W-8 D-2 L-2 GOALS F-26 A-10
Every team makes it to the final on merit but the route Bayern Munich have taken will take some beating.
Handed the group of death the Bavarian giants had to contend with Napoli, Villareal and Manchester City.
Like Chelsea, home form in the group stages was also vital, but the calm assured way they disposed of Manchester City in Matchday-2 will not be lost on anyone.
Two routine results, a win away to struggling Villareal and a draw away to Napoli set Munich up with only needing three points from their last two games to win the group and they achieved this with a nervous win over Napoli in the Allianz Arena in Matchday-5.
Leading the Bundesliga at the time, Bayern were playing with all the swagger you would expect of one of Europe’s leading sides and a first half hat-trick from Mario Gomez should have put the tie to bed with Munich leading 3-0 at the interval.
However, Napoli came out all guns blazing in the second half and scored early before Bastian Schweinsteiger was forced to withdraw with a broken collarbone in the 53rd minute and from there Munich’s game fell apart.
Napoli went on to dominate the bad-tempered second half and scored a second goal with ten minutes remaining but in the end Munich hung on to claim first place in Group-A.
The Last 16 saw Bayern draw Basel, but the Swiss champions were utterly destroyed 7-0 in theAllianz Arena in the second leg. Having won 1-0 in the first leg it seemed as if the big occasion got to Basle and Munich were in no mood to be sympathetic.
Another routine stroll saw Heynckes men easily beat Marseille in the Quarter Finals with back to back 2-0 wins and then the big guns came to town.
Enter Jose Mourinho and Real Madrid.
The 2-1 win in the first leg with Mario Gomez only scoring the winner in injury time suggests that the game was a tight affair but in truth Munich were by far the better team. They were well organised at the back and bossed midfield to such a huge extent that it was surprising they did not win by a bigger margin.
The return leg was set to be a titanic affair and it certainly lived up to its billing as Cristiano Ronaldo scored two early goals to put Madrid 3-2 ahead on aggregate.
However, Bayern were in no mood to roll over and pulled level after Arjen Robben scored from the penalty spot and from there normal business resumed with the German side dominating matters with their superior midfield, surely one of the best of modern times.
Home soil was key to Munich’s progress to “home soil” and it is important to note that on the way to playing in the “Allianz Arena” they won six games out of six, scored 19 goals and only conceded five.
Key player: Bastian Schweinsteiger
While possess a number of phenomenal attacking players like Robben, Kroos, Ribery and Gomez it is the lynchpin of the side that is most important – Bastian Schweinsteiger.
The German midfielder is a throwback to years of old when midfielders were expected to attack, defend, pass, tackle, head and contribute in all areas of the game and he is without doubt the best central midfielder of his type operating in the world today.
He is a beautifully simple player and he ties the entire team together from attack to defence.
The key to beating Bayern Munich:
Munich have one of the great midfields of the modern age with the likes of Schweinsteiger, Kroos, Robben and Ribery offering attack and defence, excitement and steel and cleverness and brawn in equal measure.
Going toe to toe with them, as Real Madrid tried in the semi-finals, does not usually end well.
For Chelsea, they do not possess the wingers to bypass them, the creative midfielders to pass through them or the dribblers to run through them so the best way to beat Bayern’s strongest part is to simply go over them.
Long ball football may not be pleasant to look at but on the right occasion it is extremely effective.
A couple of factors must be realized before we go on.
Both teams have a large number of players suspended for the final but Bayern may be hit more than Chelsea because their losses should feed directly into the Blues’ tactics.
Daniel van Buyten is still recovering from injury and is not expected to play at centre half and to compound matters his regular partner, the wonderfully named Holgar Badstuber, left full, Alaba, and defensive midfielder, Gustavo, are all suspended.
Add in Chelsea’s suspensions Ramires and Meireles, both midfielders, and John Terry and Branislav Ivanovic, both defenders, and you can see that both teams will be far from full strength.
However, it is pretty clear that Bayern will not have their first choice defence out while Chelsea will also be missing two of their first choice midfielders.
Given this I expect Chelsea to bypass midfield completely as they go to Drogba early with the likes of Mata and Lampard bombing on to support him.
This will be the key to Chelsea beating Bayern.
Jupp Heynckes: Bayern Munich Coach:
They played completely differently against Benfica [in the quarter-finals] than they did against Barcelona [in the last four]. I expect Chelsea to be a bit different than against Barcelona.
The team has been going through a really good period in the last weeks, and they’re playing better, more successful football.
They have a lot of experienced players in their team and it’s clear that the veterans, the players who’ve been playing at Chelsea for many years, want to win something big.
And that’s very dangerous for us.
The match will be open and the chances are 50-50, but it might be a little advantage to play here at home.
This will be one of the most intriguing matches this season. Bayern play free flowing counter attacking football while Chelsea have reverted to the effective physical system that has served them so well over the last number of years.
With both teams suffering the loss of key players through suspension it will be more than interesting to see how the squad players take to the occasion as players with bigger reputations have often frozen under the intense final spotlight.
It is very hard to call a winner as both teams are on form, but when push comes to shove, I think Chelsea should nick a tight game.