Saturday night sees the culmination of a memorable Champions League season with Chelsea travelling to Bavaria to take on Bayern Munich.
Saturday night sees the culmination of a memorable Champions League season with Chelsea travelling to Bavaria to take on Bayern Munich in the Allianz Arena. The Bavarians are looking to win their fifth European Cup and join Liverpool in third place in the all time list whilst Chelsea are looking to erase the painful memories of Moscow four years ago and bring the “Cup with the big ears” to London for the first time.
Here we take a look at the key factors, individuals, tactical match ups and strengths of weaknesses of both sides and attempt to form some kind of prediction which will no doubt go out the window within the first 15 minutes.
If we look at Bayern first, bookmakers and commentators have placed them as slight favourites although this is mainly conditioned by the simple fact of Bayern playing in their home stadium.
Bayern’s season has been a rather curious one that began in record-breaking style with a new look back-line setting a German record by going over 1000 minutes without conceding. They waltzed through the toughest Champions League group which included Napoli and a Manchester City team who were at their most rampant as well as Villarreal. In the league they were setting the pace but since Christmas time the season has rather gone in peaks and troughs.
A period of crisis and infighting was then followed by a run of successive thrashings with Bayern hitting seven goals in consecutive league and European games. Then they lost the title decider with Dortmund (although even had they won the match they may well have lost the game) but followed this by triumphing over Real Madrid before losing again to Dortmund in the German cup final. This big game inconsistency can be seen as a reflection of two of the clubs most gifted but volatile players. Franck Ribery and Arjen Robben are two of the most exciting players in Europe on their day but the story of Ribery punching Robben in the dressing room at half time in the Bernabeu is hardly indicative of a harmonious team spirit.
When the pair are in full flow they have the ability to overrun teams and stretch them to breaking point, however when one or both are of form they can be terribly detrimental to the team as such is their belief in themselves and arguably their arrogance, they can tend to hold on to the ball for to long and stifle the flow of the team.
There are no major selection dilemmas for head coach Jupp Heynckes as the suspensions that have hit both sides have pretty much made his decisions for him. With David Alaba (LB), Luis Gustavo (CM) and Holger Badstuber (CB) suspended Diego Contento, Anatoliy Tymoschuk and Thomas Muller will come in.
The major impact of this will be that Toni Kroos who usually plays more advanced will be paired with Bastian Schweinsteiger in midfield in Bayern’s 4-2-3-1 which has two subsequent effects upon Bayern. The positive of this is that it gives them even more potential to dominate possession with two excellent passers in midfield however it also removes the defensive qualities of Luis Gustavo or Tymoschuk who will have to fill in at centre half for Badstuber. This increases the chances of Juan Mata who will play centrally behind Didier Drogba, to influence the game. Kroos and Schweinsteiger are both positionally excellent and more disciplined than one would imagine but there is little doubt that Heynckes would certainly prefer to have a “destroyer” in midfield.
If we move now to Chelsea before considering the way the two sides will match up, it is fair to say that Chelsea have been dealt a far greater blow in regards to suspensions. Branislav Ivanovic, Raul Meireles and John Terry are all clearly huge misses however the biggest blow is the absence of Ramires who has been so important to the way in which Chelsea have played under Roberto Di Matteo. Breaking from the right flank behind opposition full backs has been crucial to the two biggest wins of Di Matteo’s reign, the FA cup final and the second leg in Barcelona. Ivanovic and Terry will certainly be blows although reports coming out of Cobham would indicate that they are quietly confident both Cahill and David Luiz will be fit.
It what seems likely to be his last game for Chelsea it is all set for Drogba to write yet another chapter to his Chelsea legend. With Holger Badstuber suspended he will surely fancy himself against both Tymoschuk and Jerome Boateng who is the less secure of the two regular Bayern centre backs. If Drogba can impose himself on the centre backs then Chelsea have a real chance. However a word of caution, three years ago Barcelona went into the final against Manchester United with 35 year old Sylvinho at left back and Yaya Toure employed as an emergency centre back against Wayne Rooney and Cristiano Ronaldo and both were exceptional that night as Barca waltzed to victory.
For Chelsea the key to keeping Bayern out will be similar to their approach against Barcelona in that they will aim to narrow the pitch as much as possible. With the use of both Ribery and Robben as inverted wingers Bayern can sometimes become to narrow, especially with Alaba suspended who is a fantastic overlapping force on the left. If Chelsea can restrict the space on the flanks for “Robbery” and force them to come inside into the congestion this will most likely be their best chance of neutralising the four time champions.
For Bayern, Chelsea’s most fruitful root to goal has already been dented by the suspension of Ramires however his likely replacement Solomon Kalou is more than capable of filling in for the Brazilian. There has been nothing particularly complex about Chelsea’s tactics on the flanks recently, all that has been required is the ability to run beyond the opposition full backs and as such the major attributes needed for this role is simply decent pace and good energy levels both of which Kalou possesses, as does Florent Malouda who will come in on the left, whilst Kalou deputises on the right.
Expect Bayern to enjoy the lions share of possession though this will not unduly bother Chelsea having come through the semi final against Barcelona, and expect the blues to try and bypass Bayern’s midfield and use direct passes into Drogba, whose record in cup finals is extraordinary.
The match may well be decided by which teams striker is able to unsettle his opposing centre backs. Neither Tymoschuk nor Boateng will relish facing Drogba expect the Ivorian to target the Ukrainian and attempt to isolate him from Boateng. For Bayern, they will look for Mario Gomez to sniff out half chances and expect his expert finishing to do the rest. Despite his size Gomez is not a particularly physical player and relies mainly on his movement and instincts to create chances. One danger for both sides will be that their defences include players who have the propensity to make rash decisions and as a result do not be surprised to see a penalty given and the match could even recreate Bayern’s last successful final when three penalties were awarded in the match.
It has been a fairly unpredictable and surprising Champions League campaign and I expect this to continue on Saturday night in Munich. Despite Bayern being slight favourites and probably possessing better individuals all over the pitch, an enduring feeling that Chelsea will somehow find a way to win prevails and as such I’m tipping Frank Lampard (and probably John Terry) to lift the European Cup, one way or the other.