Many people, especially in England, are talking about Chelsea being destined to win the Champions League since they overcame Barcelona in the Nou Camp with a whole heap of luck on their side. However, Bayern Munich have appeared to have had fate on their side all season. That is a whole heap of good fortune and positive vibes going against each other on Saturday night.
This season has had an intriguing shape to it in terms of priorities for Bayern Munich. As much as no-one at the club will ever admit it, there has always seemed to be, in recent times, a pattern to how Bayern Munich approach a season. They spotlight the Bundesliga whenever they have a summer preceding it that does not contain a major international tournament.
Whether that is by design or by force, in the sense that so many of the Bayern squad are heavily fatigued by spending the summer playing international football that a slow league start is somehow inevitable. This season is different, although they started the league campaign like the proverbial train, once the Champions League kicked into gear there seemed to be a sense that everybody from Uli Hoeneβ through to the players, and even to some extent the fans, had all eyes on getting to a Champions League Final at their home stadium.
So, now they are there, having seen the Bundesliga title slip away for the second year in succession (the last time Bayern did win the title in two successive years was the mid-nineties), are they actually going to win it?
In most cases, it would be hard to predict what the line-up will be but with injuries and suspensions we already know what team Jupp Heynckes is going to play. That is the same team he used for last league game, a routine 4-1 win that sent FC Kӧln down.
It will be the now commonplace German 4-2-3-1 formation: Manuel Neuer – Philipp Lahm, Jerome Boateng, Anatoliy Tymoshchuk, Diego Contento – Bastian Schweinsteiger, Toni Kroos – Franck Ribery, Thomas Müller, Arjen Robben – Mario Gomez.
Anyone who saw Manuel Neuer play for Schalke in the competition last term knows just what a world class keeper he is and, after some rather basic mistakes earlier on in the competition, and once the furore of a Schalke fan playing for Bayern calmed down, he returned to his form of last term.
But it is the backline in front of him where the problems are. David Alaba is suspended – the biggest blow that Bayern could possibly have at this juncture – with the young Austrian a revelation since he was dropped into left-back allowing Lahm to move to his preferred right-back position. The defence has looked a lot more solid than at the start of the season where Rafinha was meant to play right-back with Lahm over on the left.
In central defence Jerome Boateng and Anotoliy Tymoshchuk are both not natural centre-backs (however much Boateng would tell you otherwise), which means the suspension of Holger Badstuber is also crucial. One centre-half they could probably manage without, it is the injury to Daniel Van Buyten, which happened so long ago nobody is even talking about it, that is even more crucial. With him fit they could use his ability and experience to marshal the back four and push Tymoshchuk into midfield to provide some steel to replace the also suspended Luiz Gustavo. Instead that position will be filled by Toni Kroos.
It is not all bad for Bayern Munich though, with defensive problems like this the ‘home’ side will have to attack. Ribery and Robben can both, on their day, take the game by the scruff of the neck and blow away and of the best sides in the world. Dealing with Robben especially is incredibly difficult for any opposing manager as it will be for Roberto Di Matteo as well.
The big question he will have to answer is whether Ashley Cole will be assigned to marking him one-on-one, risking his left-back being pulled into the middle by the Dutchman’s want to always cut inside his man. The other options would be to attempt to hand him off between Cole and the centre-half which needs great communication defensively and risks giving Müller space in dangerous positions when he should be being picked up by the centre-half.
Even so, this comes with a catch for Bayern. Thomas Müller has had a much weaker season than in the previous two campaigns and his form as been patchy even at the best of times. Added to this, the man tasked with potentially finishing off the chances, Mario Gomez still has question marks over his head. Despite his goal against Real, to use a cricketing term he is still considered a ‘flat-track bully’, scoring hatfuls in unimportant games and against weaker opponents but not doing it against the best.
DI MATTEO’S GAME PLAN
This is undoubtedly a game between two teams that are only half as good as the ones they defeated in the semi-finals so, with Bayern Munich going into this final as favourites to lift the trophy. In the end though, it will likely come down to how Chelsea set up to play.
If they go out with an intention to attack, they could overawe the weaknesses in the backline of Bayern, particularly on the Chelsea right, where the suspect Contento will be given no help by Ribery at all. While the likes of Frank Lampard and Juan Mata would be able to dominate the central areas against a midfield pair that may be less willing to ‘put a foot in’ than they should.
However, if Di Matteo is as worried as he appears to be with the weight of the players he has missing and decides to play a very defensive game, similar to the one they played over the two legs against Barcelona, it will be a missed opportunity. Firstly, it is not taking advantage of the weaknesses highlighted above and secondly it gives Schweinsteiger space in the midfield to spray searching balls through the Chelsea backline. This would be where Bayern get their biggest ‘home’ advantage as he especially would have an intimate understanding of the dimensions of the football field to weight those passes.
To stick my neck out, Bayern Munich will beat Chelsea and save Tottenham Hotspur’s Champions League place.
Tags: Arjen Robben, Bayern Munich, Champion's League, Champions League Final, Chelsea, Franck Ribery