Bayern Munich vs. Chelsea: 5 Key Matchups to Watch in Champions League Final
The stage was set by the Champions League semifinals first-leg results. Chelsea claimed a heroic 1-0 win over Barcelona at home, and Bayern Munich battled to claim a late 2-1 win over Real Madrid at home.
But the real shockers came in the second leg of the semifinals. Chelsea's 2-2 draw with Barcelona, with only 10 men for more than half of the game, was a result that surprised even the most experienced football analysts.
Bayern Munich's result was less shocking, but still not a result that the majority of football fans predicted would come to pass.
Nevertheless, on May 19, 2012, the Champions League final will be contested between Bayern Munich and Chelsea. Here are the key matchups to watch for in that game.
Mario Gomez vs. Chelsea's Centre-Backs
At the moment, no one really knows what defense Chelsea will have ready for the Champions League final.
As most of us already know, John Terry and Branislav Ivanovic will not be available for the Champions League final due to the suspensions they picked up in the second leg of the CL semifinals versus Barca.
That leaves Gary Cahill and David Luiz as the only two recognizable centre-backs available to play in the Champions League final. So, what's the problem, you ask?
Neither of them are close to being fit.
David Luiz is still recovering from the hamstring tear he suffered playing against Tottenham on April 15 in the FA Cup, while the extent of the injury Gary Cahill picked up this past Tuesday is unknown.
The best-case scenario is that both defenders recover a week or so before the Champions League final, enough to build up some fitness to perform adequately versus Bayern Munich and Mario Gomez, Bayern's monster center-forward.
If that happens, Gomez still possesses the advantage in terms of strength and ability, but Luiz and Cahill will at least combine to make it hard for him to score.
The worst-case scenario is that neither defender recovers in time, and Chelsea start any two of Sam Hutchinson, John Obi Mikel, Michael Essien or Oriol Romeu in defense.
If that happens, I'd put my money on Mario Gomez bagging a hat trick.
Didier Drogba vs. Bayern Munich's Centre-Backs
Bayern Munich's defensive situation isn't as dire. Jerome Boateng escaped the match without picking up a yellow card, thus making himself the only starting centre-back on either team who is presently fit and available for selection for the Champions League final.
But, Holger Badstuber's suspension will not be an easy one for Bayern to cope with. Badstuber has been Bayern's best centre-back this season, and Bayern don't exactly have much depth in the center of defense anyway.
Daniel Van Buyten fractured his foot earlier this season and has yet to recover from the fracture. It isn't yet known if he'll recuperate in time for the Champions League final.
That leaves Bayern Munich's fourth-choice centre-back, Breno, the famous alleged arsonist, as the only other centre-back available for the semifinal. Breno has seen very little action with Bayern in his five years with the club, making only 21 league appearances for the club, including 11 as a substitute.
His last appearance for Bayern took place on April 17, 2011, more than a year ago. Is there any way that Jupp Heynckes is going to trust this guy to start a Champions League final? I don't think so.
Bayern also have Anatoliy Tymoshchuk, who can play as a centre-back, but he'll likely start as a defensive midfielder to cover for Luis Gustavo, who will also miss the Champions League final through suspension.
Didier Drogba, well removed from his prime, isn't nearly as sharp as Mario Gomez, so I don't expect him to wreak havoc on Bayern's defense the same way Gomez will if Chelsea's first-choice defenders are unavailable.
Nevertheless, I expect that Drogba will take advantage of Bayern missing their best centre-back and nab at least one goal for Chelsea.
Rafinha vs. Salomon Kalou
This may be the most intriguing matchup of the game, mainly because both of these players have been out-of-favor at their respective clubs for long stretches this season.
Rafinha was brought in to finally give Bayern Munich a solid complement to Philipp Lahm at the right-back position. Though Rafinha did put in some good displays, his inconsistency eventually caused him to lose his starting spot to David Alaba.
As for Salomon Kalou, he was (rightly) not rated by Andre Villas-Boas, but Roberto Di Matteo's decision to start playing Juan Mata as a central playmaker has resulted in more playing time arising for Kalou on the left flank. He's not been great, but has shown his ability to score opportunistic goals at times.
Both Kalou and Rafinha are subpar players who would not be playing in the Champions League final if there were better alternatives available to each team's managers.
I expect them to cancel out, but if Kalou can take advantage of Rafinha's inconsistency to score or create a scoring chance for Chelsea, that could really swing the game in favor of the Blues.
Jose Bosingwa vs. Ribery
Under Andre Villas-Boas, Bosingwa hit arguably the lowest point of his career, as most Chelsea fans turned on the Portuguese defender who seemed to commit a major error every time he stepped onto the pitch.
That's why it was a huge surprise when Bosingwa played so well as Gary Cahill's replacement in the 12th minute of Chelsea and Barcelona's Champions League semifinal. Everyone expected him to slip up and make a mistake, and he never did.
But in the Champions League final, Bosingwa's defensive ability will be tested to its limits when he takes on Franck Ribery on the right flank.
Ribery has had his good days and bad days this season, but his stats still very clearly point to him being arguably the best winger in the world after Cristiano Ronaldo.
If Bosingwa can perform at the level he did at the Camp Nou, Chelsea may have hope of nullifying Bayern's threat down their left flank. If he plays like he played under AVB, it'll be a long, long night for Chelsea.
Bastian Schweinsteiger vs. Frank Lampard
If there's one matchup to watch in the Champions League final, it's this one.
Frank Lampard has quietly been one of the major forces that has pushed Chelsea's Champions League campaign to the brink of success.
Against Barcelona, he was the one that dispossessed Messi to start the counterattack that led to Chelsea's goal, and in the second leg, he was the player who played the perfect through-pass that Ramires converted when Chelsea looked dead and buried after John Terry's red card.
Not bad for a player that many speculated was on his way out under Andre Villas-Boas.
As for Bastian Schweinsteiger, a number of injuries have limited the Bayern vice captain this season, and as such, he has not been able to reach the heights that have led many pundits to call him one of the world's best central midfielders in seasons past.
But even when he isn't at his best, he's a player of pure class and one who will step up in the big moments, such as today, when he converted Bayern's winning penalty.
Neither player captains his respective team, but each is arguably the most inspirational and influential member of his team. Will Lampard's experience give him the edge, or will Schweinsteiger's class render Lampard ineffective?
The winner of this matchup will likely win the game as well.