Chelsea vs. Bayern Munich promises to be not so much an underdog vs. favorite match but a battle of two once-great clubs that are struggling to rediscover their prominence.
Chelsea come into the Champions League Final on an amazing high. After a bitterly disappointing season under the bright but ultimately flickering flame of Andre Villas-Boas, the Blues have been nothing short of resurrected under the loose guidance of Roberto Di Matteo.
Now comes their sternest test, a Bayern Munich side that has been there, bought the t-shirt and is ready to come back and win.
Neither club sits atop their respective league tables, despite the fact that both see a league championship as the only respectable end to a season.
Chelsea are in a miserable (for them) sixth place, nowhere near the top. Until recently there was serious talk of not being in any European competitions next year, a thought truly incomprehensible considering that Mr. Roman Abramovich fired the moderately talented Jose Mourinho for failing to win the Champions League. Such doom-mongering has been stifled by a run of phenomenal form and a real chance of winning that elusive trophy.
Di Matteo has taken a club full of headstrong players and given them what they wanted: control. He has let them play their game their way and—instead of trying to force them as an outsider into some sort of program—has reminded them that he is actually one of them, a player come home.
Consider Di Matteo a player-manager that simply isn't on the bench for the game and you have a closer idea of what Chelsea as a club are about.
Player power was their downfall earlier in the season, and player power has become their saving grace now. Even the mercurial Fernando Torres has suddenly found his way, overcoming the worst slump of form in recent memory to drive a Chelsea attack that believes in itself despite all odds.
Bayern Munich, a club that once dominated Germany, has also lost its way in the past few years, usurped by young, talented sides that rise and fall around it. Like Chelsea, Bayern have not adapted as well as the clubs around them, but the blame cannot rest entirely with them.
Bayern Munich have not gotten considerably worse; the Bundesliga has gotten considerably better.
The challenge for Bayern is similar to the challenge that Chelsea face from Manchester City and Tottenham, but different in that the entire league is growing stronger—QPR surely didn't make the Premier League look too challenging, revival or not.
The true story of these two famous clubs is that somehow, someway, they have managed to recast themselves as underdogs.
Both have beaten the heavily favored Spanish clubs, and both are reveling in the admiration of a world that might be getting a little tired of El Clasicos. Chelsea's new role is even more assured thanks to a moment of lunacy from John Terry, who will watch the game from the dugout with his fellow banned Blues.
In the end, it may be a few pieces of yellow and red plastic that decide this most unlikely Champions League final.