Everything leads up to this. League titles are a distant second (unless you’re Liverpool). League cups are merely an excuse to play youth and squad players. Players leave boyhood clubs to get in. Clubs leave loyal players to get in. Owners leave a large potion of their fortune in their team’s hands to get in.
It’s the Champions League Final- the ultimate match in non-International football.
This season pits the German leviathan that is Bayern Munich against the ‘always a brides-maid, never a bride’ of Chelsea F.C. Both teams have proven that they deserve to be in the final of Europe’s premier club competition. Both teams feel that they NEED this cup in order for their season to be a success. Chelsea finished a disappointing league campaign in 6th place, while Bayern saw Borussia Dortmund preventing them from garnering any German silverware this season. With so much on the line and so many trials that each team had to persevere through just to make it to this game, the potential of this year’s CL Final is off-the-charts.
Chelsea’s road to the Final has been an extremely interesting and bumpy ride. With soon-to-be axed manager AVB at the helm at the beginning of their campaign, the group stage was a little harder for the blues than it should have been. It took a faltering Bayer Leverkusen and a last fixture victory over Valencia for Chelsea to top the group. In fact, if they had lost to Valencia, the Londoners wouldn’t have even made it out of the group stage. Then, came the massive test in the form of Napoli. After getting thrashed in the opening leg 3-1 (Napoli could have scored 10 goals if Cech hadn’t been on his game) and after seeing their manager hit the road, Chelsea faced a major uphill battle when Napoli came to Stamford Bridge. A truly impressive match followed with Chelsea eventually winning 4-1 in extra-time and progressing on to the quarter-finals…it was the type of match that a future champion would have to win, and Chelsea did.
Chelsea then faced a tough test in Portuguese powerhouse Benfica. Although both matches had their nervy moments, Chelsea never looked truly threatened. David Luiz played, arguably, his best match in a Chelsea uniform when they traveled to Portugal in the away leg…an interesting fact considering that Chelsea had actually purchased Luiz FROM Benfica. Despite the road before seeming to be tumultuous, the task that was set before them in the next round would make all of that stuff seem like a cake-walk in comparison. Chelsea had to face the footballing giant that is Barcelona. Not only was Barcelona still being touted as the best team ever, but their recent league setbacks had caused them to place a ton of emphasis on their European endeavors…a trial worthy of any eventual champion, but a trial that very few believed Chelsea would emerge victorious from. Historic victories in BOTH legs soon followed, with the grand finale coming by way of a Fernando Torres goal (a goal that many claim caused him to ‘turn the corner’…but I need a few more consistent goals to believe that).
Chelsea’s games against Barcelona did have some negative side-effects on the blues chances going into the final. Chelsea are without captain John Terry, midfielder Raul Meireles, defender Ivanovic, and Ramires (this season’s breakout performer for Chelsea) all going to miss the final through suspension. They have recently been buoyed by the return of the injured David Luiz and Gary Cahill, both of which will prevent Chelsea from fielding a rag-tag group of defenders for the final. If these players had not become available to the blues, I don’t know if anyone would be giving them a chance.
Bayern Munich hasn’t quite had to battle uphill throughout the entirety of their Champions League road the same way that Chelsea had. They ensured their group stage exit within the first four matches with three wins and a draw, and despite a first leg hiccup in the round of 16, cruised to an extremely difficult semi-final tie with eventual La Liga champions Real Madrid. The first leg in Germany was a nervy 1-1 affair until a late goal gave Bayern a 2-1 advantage heading into the second leg. What followed was 120 minutes of football and a penalty shootout that is probably illegal to show in Madrid. After two Manuel Neuer stops and a Sergio Ramos penalty that might have gone into orbit, Bayner Munich were into the final.
Bayern also didn’t do themselves any favors in the suspension department, losing two defenders (Alaba and Badstuber) and a midfielder (Gustavo) that will be unavailable for the final. Bayern haven’t had as many injury issues to their starting 11 as Chelsea, so the only injury news that could affect anything would be if one of their players ends up with a training injury. One thing is certain, if any of their three prized attackers (Gomez, Robben, and Ribery) had been hurt and unable to be used for this game, it would seriously affect Bayern’s chances.
When we get down to the deciding factors in Saturday’s game, we find a plethora of stats and information that definitely will play a role in the final.
Chelsea, despite getting Luiz and Cahill back from injury, will be fielding a back four that has somewhat limited experience playing together. No matter who is playing in the middle, I’m not sure if anyone on Chelsea’s roster has the physicality to lock down Mario Gomez (the competition’s second highest scorer). The left-side of the defense will (probably) be filled by Ashley Cole, one of the few left-backs that would actually be given a shot against Robben. Robben will have some slight ideas for revenge when he lines up against another of his former teams, but I still am amazed that very few defenders seem prepared for his signature move. The number of times Robben jukes inside to try and shoot on his favored left foot instead of crossing with his right has to be somewhere in the realm of 2 or 3 to 1.
For Bayern’s defense, the defense will still be made up of most of the group that is responsible for the best defensive record in the competition this season. Neuer has been inspirational, and it will take a superb performance for Chelsea to get past the Bayern shot-stopper. The biggest concern for Chelsea’s scoring seems to purely be about who Di Matteo will choose as his starting striker. With Drogba putting in some absolutely crucial goals recently, it seems impossible to not include the 34 year old. But, with the recent form of Torres, it isn’t as easy as it was around January to put the Spaniard on the bench. Chelsea’s suspensions also creep into their goal scoring issues, as Ramires and Meireles are two of their top five scorers in the CL this campaign. Factor in that Drogba and Torres are two of the other top scorers (Lampard is in there, but with 2 of his 3 goals being penalties, it normally wouldn’t factor into my discussion). However, there have been a ridiculous amount of penalties awarded this season, so it will certainly be important for each team to have someone that can put away a spot-kick.
Before the Cahill/Luiz news, the majority of us here at SR had Munich winning easily and taking home their fifth Champions League trophy. However, now there seems to be a pretty even split, but most of us still feel that Bayern will be dancing around their home stadium once the final whistle blows. Our biggest worry to our pick is the fact that Chelsea has never won this competition, and the desire to bring that first CL victory back to London may be something that no pre-match stat sheet can show…and that’s why we love football!
What do you think will happen Saturday? Do you think Chelsea will win their first Champions League trophy or will Bayern taste CL success again?