UEFA Champions League Final Preview: FC Bayern München vs. Chelsea FC
With under three days to go, I have finally decided to preview the match. Before I start off, Chelsea fans could be a bit disappointed when they read this preview because this will be mostly about Bayern. So, will Bayern's quest to become the first winner in their home stadium since Inter Milan achieved the feat in 1965 be rewarded on Saturday?
First of all, let's take a look back at a campaign that has had its ups and downs. The qualifiers and the group stages passed like a whirlwind. Each and every one of Bayern's performances showcased their brilliant talents. The final game against City, in which they lost when they were already assured of winning the group, showed that the substitutes are pretty good, too. One game I would like to pick out of the first six is a draw against Napoli in Italy.
That was arguably the toughest match Bayern played. Bayern led through an insanely early (two minutes) Toni Kroos goal (I know it wasn't as early as Roy Makaay's strike against Real). They were repeatedly battered down the right flank by Christian Maggio, who forced an equalizer when his cross was turned in by Holger Badstuber. Bayern earned a somewhat generous penalty which Mario Gomez went on to miss. That game truly showcased that even when coming into a match at their best, Bayern can be frustrating to watch at times.
In the next round they met Basel. They almost messed it up after losing the first leg, but found a way to break records in the second. The games against Marseille saw Bayern prevail 4-0 on aggregate. Bayern dominated throughout, but gave away at least two clear-cut chances in both games. The semis against Real Madrid have been discussed thoroughly before, and there is nothing more to add except that even Iker Casillas feels Bayern's victory was deserved.
Just to remind everyone once again, a total of seven players are suspended for this match, including John Terry, Ramires, Branislav Ivanovic and Raul Meireles for Chelsea. For Bayern, Holger Badstuber, Luiz Gustavo and David Alaba are suspended. Now that I have mentioned it, seven seems like an absurdly large number.
Now, let's look at how Bayern's suspensions will affect the team. The absence of David Alaba removes a major attacking threat on the left flank. Alaba is a good defender, as well. Franck Ribery and Alaba have a great partnership, although Ribery strikes a good partnership with almost everyone. Badstuber's absence leaves a gaping hole in central defence. Badstuber has been Bayern's best defender without a shadow of a doubt this season.
Bayern relies immensely on balance in the team to allow their football to flow. Luiz Gustavo allowed this fluidity by ensuring that Bastian Schweinsteiger or Toni Kroos had a free role to attack. He was the player who did a lot of the dirty work that Mark Van Bommel used to do, without picking up too many cards. He is a good tackler and can also play as a central defender.
As a result, Bastian Schweinsteiger and Toni Kroos will have to partner each other in central defensive midfield. Both players have an attacking mindset. Both are good at regaining possession, but Kroos is perhaps the better tackler. Kroos' movements up front will be slightly restricted as a result. Schweinsteiger will have to be at his best. Kroos' performance will be of utmost importance because when he clicks, Bayern clicks.
Jerome Boateng will have added responsibility at the back. He will have to cover for his partner in central defence at times, whether it be Daniel Van Buyten or Anatoliy Tymoshchuk. Ribery will have to track back even though the Frenchman mostly does it. He will have to do so more than usual to help out Diego Contento, who hasn't had much match practice this season. Thomas Müller will perhaps be coming into attacking midfield now.
A look at raw statistics suggests Bayern has been the better side offensively and defensively. Bayern has conceded 10 goals in 14 games and scored 28 goals. Chelsea has conceded 11 goals in 12 games, while they have scored 25 goals in the same span. If one takes away the qualifiers, Bayern has scored 25 goals, the same as Chelsea, and conceded 10. So, just marginally, Bayern seems to have the better defence.
However, statistics are skewed. Chelsea played under two different managers in Andre Villas Boas and Roberto Di Matteo. Villas Boas' side was not the best defensively. Chelsea had to ensure survival in the competition on the last day in the group stages when Bayern was already guaranteed top spot and thus played reserves against City.
In truth, Bayern's good defence is also down to the simple fact that they control possession in all their matches, hence leaving the defence less exposed. Bayern is prone to counter-attacks, as Dortmund very precisely showed last Saturday and as Real did in the semifinals. Manuel Neuer has made some wonderful saves this campaign to keep out the opposition.
Chelsea, on the other hand, showed brilliant defensive work against Barca even though Lionel Messi missed a penalty. Much of the Chelsea rearguard as mentioned previously will miss the final. David Luiz and Gary Cahill are training hard every day to be fit for the final, but it seems that a last-minute decision will be made on whether they can play.
Bayern has a poor conversion rate. Mario Gomez has had some strange misses throughout the competition. He will need to convert his chances if he gets any in the final, considering that he hasn't been scoring too many of late. Gomez helps the team out a lot, and with a better conversion rate than his current one, he could change a game as he did the first leg against Real Madrid.
These are the two possible lineups for Bayern:
Philipp Lahm- Jerome Boateng- Anatoliy Tymoshchuk- Diego Contento
Bastian Schweinsteiger- Toni Kroos
Arjen Robben- Thomas Müller- Franck Ribery
Philipp Lahm- Jerome Boateng- Daniel Van Buyten- Diego Contento
Bastian Schweinsteiger- Anatoliy Tymoshchuk
Arjen Robben- Toni Kroos- Franck Ribery
Recently, Van Buyten played in a match with the reserve side. The first lineup is basically a showcase of all of the best players for Bayern. It leaves Daniel Van Buyten and Ivica Olic as legitimate substitutes. The second one allows for balance in the side and keeps Müller as a valuable option on the bench. The problem, though, is whether Heynckes will opt for Van Buyten, who just returned to fitness over Tymoshchuk. The first lineup looks the likelier of the two.
A home final for Bayern is very, very special. The entire town is currently buzzing in anticipation of the women's final on Thursday between Lyon and Frankfurt, and then for this one on Saturday. The Allianz Arena will not glow its usual red, though. It will be white with shades of green and blue in accordance with the logo of the final.
This Bayern team is one of the best Bayern teams in history. They haven't won a major honour on the international stage and hence still cannot be compared to the team of the '70s or to even that of 2001. Stefan Effenberg asked Schweinsteiger to step up. The midfielder will undoubtedly have to do so, considering serious questions are still posed regarding his fitness.
Bayern put in a terrible shift against Dortmund, and recovering from a match like that will be difficult. This was the honour they missed out on in 2010. They have the chance to have another go at it—they have the chance of a lifetime, as a matter of fact, to win the final at the Allianz Arena.
Now, Chelsea have a brilliant team even with the suspensions. Didier Drogba scares the living daylights out of almost every defender. Frank Lampard is a classy player despite his age. Juan Mata can strike a ball as good as Kroos or even Schweinsteiger, if not better. Michael Essien in his prime was a fantastic defensive midfielder, and he has a great strike on him. Chelsea is highly capable of grabbing a goal and defending for their lives. An ideal scoreline for them would be 0-1.
The teams met twice previously in a quarterfinal tie in the 2005-06 season. Chelsea won the first leg 4-2 at Stamford Bridge. Bayern won the second leg. Bayern was actually losing 1-2. They scored two goals at the final moments, but their comeback came a tad too late to salvage anything from the tie. Of course, Chelsea was managed by a certain Jose Mourinho, who Bayern beat in the semis this year, back then.
Franck Ribery missed out on the 2010 final. In terms of the starting players, this will be his first major European final. Arjen Robben suffered heartbreak in 2010, as did the rest of the players. Philipp Lahm can become one of the best captains in the history of his hometown club if his side wins the trophy. Lahm deserves much credit for the revolution he caused with his backlash in 2009.
In 2009, Lahm spoke out against the Bayern "ways," criticizing the hierarchy and indirectly Louis Van Gaal. The club fined him but took his words to heart. And now, Bayern is back in their second final in only three years. The question now is, can Bayern win it?
So, who do you think will win it? Let me hear your thoughts.
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