With less than two weeks before the UEFA Champions League Final between Bayern Munich and Chelsea FC, it is time for the clichéd and overly speculative fun of making predictions. I personally am never one to really be enthused by them, and I think they are nothing more than mindless banter meant to artificially raise intrigue. But I have found that I am a part of a very small minority in this regard.
For some reason unbeknownst to me, we love to attempt to have a foresight knowledge of an inherently unpredictable practice such as sports for no other reason than to self indulge in one’s own glory when they coincidentally happen to be right. But hey, we are selfish creatures by nature.
But instead of trying to be wholly accurate in my approach to an event that is more than 10 days away from occurring, I instead prefer to be “bold,” aka utterly outrageous and inconceivable in my predictions. This does not mean there is zero chance of any of these instances occurring, but simply that the likelihood would not follow the mass opinions of prognosticators.
But then again, how much more bold is it to make outrageous claims for the future than someone who makes even probably claims as if they are certain?
Here are 10 BOLD predictions for the Champions League Final.
As good a season as Bayern has had, they have not always relied on their big superstar French winger to do so. Franck Ribery, who is having a career year statistically, has been absent in many of Bayern’s biggest tests, most notably against Real Madrid in the second leg of the semifinals and against Borussia Dortmund in what was essentially a must-win match to stay in the hunt for the Bundesliga title.
When faced against lesser opposition, Ribery has been one of the team’s best players, routinely putting up multiple assist games and making mince meat of fullbacks. But Chelsea is hardly a side you can ease up against, especially their defense.
The battle between Ribery and Chelsea right-back Jose Bosingwa is one of the key match-ups in the game. Most expect Ribery to get the better of Bosingwa, who has been shaky this season at best. If he does, it will be difficult to suggest anything other than a Bayern win.
However, Roberto Di Matteo will not leave his defender out to dry and provide him with help. Should that help stymie Ribery and frustrate him early, he could be out of the game before it even ever really starts.
In a veiled figure of objectivity, I think it would be appropriate to suggest that Chelsea’s primary playmaker could be non-existent in the game as well. But it is also backed with evidence more having to do with a preference of style than the inability of the player.
Oddly enough, the one player that had the least to do with Chelsea’s incredible victory over Barcelona was perhaps their player of the year, Juan Mata.
Mata started both matches, but finished neither and honestly could have probably not played at all with little consequence to the result. A purely offensive-minded player, he struggled to cope with the defense-first mentality and was never able to invent in the attack without support. His numbers were atrocious, turning over the ball almost as many times as he completed passes.
With Chelsea down four defensive players for the final, it will be interesting to see how they decide to approach the game. Their bunker into counter has been pretty effective over the past few weeks and could be the option they spring for once again to help cover this makeshift backline.
If this is the style of choice, then there is no reason to think Mata will have any part in the final outcome whether it be positive or negative.
Both Bayern and Chelsea are not teams known for meticulously passing the ball around the pitch to lull the opposition to sleep and then pouncing on that contentment for a goal. They are direct and forward-moving teams that come at you hard with downhill attack meant to get the defenders backpedaling.
I can very easily see them both going for it right off the whistle with the team kicking off likely to lob the ball up field after no more than a handful of touches, seeing if their big man up front can orchestrate an early try.
Mario Gomez and Didier Drogba are massive targets and, like many of the big man forwards, are very good at making something out of nothing. A ball hit to them in seemingly harmless fashion can become a goal with a trap, turn and shot.
Not to mention that either side is missing two starting defenders. With the pressure of such a contest often getting to the nerves of the most experienced players, it will be interesting to see how second stringers handle the early minutes. You can bet that both teams will want to take advantage of this tactically.
The early goal I predicted in the previous slide will open the game up for this one to come true as well. For two teams that frustrated the world’s two best offenses into early exits from the Champions League, this match will be much more of a shootout than anyone could imagine.
As previously mentioned, there will be an absence of defensive-minded players on both sides of the pitch. Without those studs in the back and midfield, the normal order in which the managers approach the game will have to be altered.
Bayern manager Jupp Heynckes will have to somehow deal without Luis Gustavo, a rock in the midfield slowing advances by the oppositions attack and pestering central midfielders all season long. Chelsea’s boss Roberto Di Matteo will be most notably without John Terry, the leader and captain of the club.
However, Di Matteo may mostly miss out on Ramires. The speedy Brazilian has allowed Chelsea’s defensive philosophy to thrive as his pace has made their counter nearly unstoppable. With his suspension, that idea is no longer formidable and they must adopt a more offensive minded style from the start.
In all, it should make for an entertaining and open game that everyone will enjoy.
It bugs me to my core to see players upset over an official’s call, especially those that are indiscernible to the naked eye in real time and your feelings on them fall more along party lines than anything else. It is simply repulsive when all 22 players on the field surround and maraud the ref, who is nothing more than the most exposed individual in a flawed system.
If they really want to direct their anger toward anyone, it should be toward Sepp Blatter and his cronies who refuse to make instant replay a standard at this level of competition. They fear change with the same unreasonable reproach that bigots once did the end of segregation.
Luckily for fans all around, neither side is known for being particularly disgraceful in their treatment of officials in recent times. Both have their divers (i.e. Drogba and Ribery), but you can also expect them to get up and continue play without an immense amount of condemnation directed toward the man in charge.
The player most likely to get into the officials face for an extended period of time would probably be John Terry, but even he does it with more reason than some of the other dissenters (yes, this is directed at two certain Spanish clubs). He will not be playing any way, so that matters little.
The other main contributor to official wrath would probably be Drogba himself. But he has matured quite a bit since he called the performance of 2008 Champions League official Tom Øvrebø a “f ****** disgrace”.
On the other side, Robben will likely be the one to overturn this argument as his escapades during the 2010 World Cup Final got him booked for arguing with that match's official, Howard Webb. But even then it was more emotion than a ploy used to get an advantage that took over.
You can bet there will be some calls that both sides do not agree with and some discussions with the ref. But here is to hoping that this will not be the main talking point come the end of the match.
Every Champions League Final pits two of Europe’s best teams against one another, but rarely are we privileged to a final that has two of the world’s best keepers going head to head. Chelsea’s Petr Cech and Bayern’s Manuel Neuer are arguably two of the top five goalies in the game today.
Neuer has come on the scene in the past few years, establishing himself as the heir to the throne of a long line of netminding greats in German history. Many would have him as the very best playing today and the heart of a German team that is expected to compete for the Euro 2012 title.
Cech had a troubling start to the season, but has regained his form over the past few months and proven the old adage that "form is temporary, but class is permanent" to be true. He has single-handedly been the backbone of the defense, making more than his fair share of game saving stops.
Both will be under heavy pressure in the final and on high alert with the attackers before them. But to suggest the game will be decided by a goalie mistake will cross that fine line between bold and just plain stupid. You are more likely to have UEFA turn over the player suspensions than to see either of these guys make a boneheaded play and cost their side the game.
Instead, we can stay on the side of bold by predicting to their strengths. Neuer already impressed in the semi-finals by stopping two penalties in the shootout against Madrid. Cech is a big and imposing figure, enough so to make Lionel Messi crash his spot kick off the crossbar.
I don’t know if these penalties will occur in regular time or final shootout, but if there are any penalties to be taken, Cech and Neuer will each have at least one save.
It was not more than a few months ago that there was seemingly an open revolt from fans to axe Frank Lampard from the team for his “selfish” acts in the locker room. Villas-Boas loyalists saw the English midfielder as the primary reason for the collapse of the Villas-Boas system.
But it only took a few games removed from that flawed philosophy and the placement of Lampard in one of comfort for him to regain his title as one of the league’s best midfield players ever.
Lampard has been on an utter tear in this min- revival under Di Matteo, outclassing any competition that comes his way with serene passing and a defensive workmanship that he never use to show. His role being dropped back into a pivot like position behind the attacking line has given him the space and time he needs to still contribute despite his decline in speed.
He was never more influential or important for this club as he was against Barcelona. With his dispossession of Lionel Messi in the first leg, he sent Ramires down the flank with a long ball for him to set up Drogba for the goal. In the second, he once again found Ramires with a crafty through pass which the Brazilian lifted up and over Valdes for the score.
But what has really made him such an important cog in the Chelsea machine is the way he has adapted his game to be more of a controller of play rather than a catalyst for attack. He understands the nuanced nature of their current philosophy and never tries to do more with the ball than is necessary.
It has become a game of simplicity for the Blues and he makes it as simple as possible following the most basic of mantras: defense first and score when you can.
He has not netted a goal himself in five games and likely will not against Bayern (with the exception of a penalty). But the outcome of the game will certainly be decided by his play more than anyone else's.
It seems like an eternity ago that Arjen Robben was a part of the creation of modern day Chelsea FC. As one of Jose Mourinho’s first major signings, he was an important part of getting the Abramovic era under way right by scoring nine goals in all competitions and helping the Blues lift their first English title in 50 years.
Since then, he has gone on to bigger and better things, including winning the league in Spain with Real Madrid, the Bundesliga with Munich, and finishing runner-up in Champions League.
It is the first time he will be going up against his former club since the two sides parted ways and you can bet he is excited to do so. The winger is posting near career bests in most categories and been the one of the most consistent players in the Bayern attack. He will also be going head-to-head against a player he is very familiar with: Chelsea left-back Ashley Cole, which usually favors the attacking player.
Cole has had one of his spottier seasons yet at Chelsea. Though he has stepped up for this big games, the fact that he will not be partnered with his first choice backline could make for an interesting duel. Robben will likely want to cut inside, preferring to take on David Luiz or Gary Cahill than Cole straight away. If Cole cannot usher him out wide for crosses, Robben may just find himself getting the most opportunities of any Bayern player.
Ultimately nothing really changes from what has been the norm all season—Bayern will rely on Robben to make things happen. It is coincidence that he will have the edge of doing it against a team he knows very well.
Like a perfect bookend to the predicted exciting start, one of these teams will leave a goal until very late. Now, I am not sure if this goal will have any impact, if it will be the one to secure the trophy or force this thing into extra time, but I expect there to be one nonetheless.
If you had to put your money on it, Chelsea would be the team to back. They have already scored three goals this Champions League inside the last five minutes compared to Bayern’s one. But then again, the Blues often found themselves chasing opposition more often than the Germans who dominated throughout much of the tournament.
But the never-say-die attitude of Chelsea is what has gotten them this far this season. In EPL play, they have scored an impressive 16 goals inside the final 25 minutes of matches. Bayern not to be outdone has hit 14 of their own in the Bundesliga.
However, Chelsea have conceded an astonishing 20 goals in that same time frame as opposed to Bayern’s mere four.
With the data alone, it is difficult to figure who really does have the better chance of scoring at crunch time. But one thing is certain, it all points to someone adding to their score very late.
There was a collective groan let out in the footballing world, which echoed all over except for small pockets in West London and Munich. It was the disappointment being felt by millions of neutral fans who were hoping to see a classic, historical bout between Barcelona and Real Madrid in the Champions League final.
I understand the angst many felt, believing in the idea that the best two teams deserve to be in the final and that the best possible draw would be one that has a history like those two clubs. But it is foolish to think that this games will not be as equally, if not more entertaining than any two other teams that would play.
Chelsea are going into the match without their captain, first choice center-back to replace him, their biggest goal scoring threat over the past few weeks and a prominent midfielder. Their strikers have the ability to score a hat trick just as easily as they do to not get a shot on target. The midfield can be brilliant whether they decide to show it defensively or in the attack. Bayern can match each of these almost identically.
But what that last paragraph really is is one full of questions. What makes this game so interesting and so alluring is no one knows what is going to happen when the two teams step on the pitch. Though Bayern are early favorites, I think few would find them losing to come as some great shock. Likewise there is as much potential for this game to end 2-1 as 4-3.
There has been plenty of good finals over the past decade, but they have all lacked this mystery. Everyone knew about United and Barca going into the game last season, same as two ago. No one was surprised to see Chelsea and United go to penalties in 2008. Same goes for Barcelona-Arsenal in ’06, two of the favorites fighting it to the end.
In this decade, we still have the infamous final in Istanbul, where Liverpool’s impressive second half comeback has become the standard on which we base how good a final is for the neutral fan. I do not see this game following the same script, but certainly mirroring the theme of exciting, fast paced, and open-ended play.
Enough so, by the time the world goes to sleep on May 19, this will be the most exciting Champions League final in the last 10 years.
You might have noticed I didn’t predict a score. Well that is because that is one of those moves that has you traversing the line between bold and stupid. I hate predicting scores because it has little meaning beyond my own egotism. If I were to pick a score, it would favor Chelsea for no other reason than I want the team I support to win.
Also, if I had any idea what the score would be I would keep it to myself, bet my life savings on it and make a fortune, rather than tell you people so it can screw up my line!
Anyway, I hope you found my BOLD predictions to be just that as well as giving you a bit of insight into the match. After all, the only thing that makes any of this worthwhile is the belief that there is something important about playing this game in the first place.
So with all that said, what are your predictions for the final? Do you have any crazy occurrences you think will happen that you would like to share? Or will this just be a lame duck match with players suspended and not really the teams most wanted to see anyway?
As always, please leave your comments below and thanks for reading!
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