2012 Champions League Final Preview: Bayern Munich vs Chelsea

Chelsea is once again being tagged as underdogs ahead of this Saturday’s Champions League Final, a tag that may provide them with a reassuring familiarity as they tackle Bayern Munich on Saturday evening. Roberto Di Matteo’s side will be having their second bite at securing their maiden European Cup after heartbreak in the 2008 Final, whereas Bayern themselves are looking to secure an historic fifth European Cup triumph.

If Chelsea is to succeed in Munich then they will have to do so without four suspended players, meaning their side will have an altogether different look to those that have been fielded and been victorious earlier in the competition. The task is made all the more demanding for Chelsea as the game will be played before a back drop of Bayern’s very own Allianz Arena, as well as a crowd that will be Bavarian in their majority and certainly raucous in their support. It seems an insurmountable task for Chelsea. Maybe the underdog tag is justifiable this time? Well, maybe not.

As previously mentioned, being second favorites has been a recurrent position for Chelsea and a position they have flourished in so far this season. Twice so far in this competition they have seemingly come back from the dead; after being 3-1 down after the first leg in Napoli as well as 2-0 down (2-1 down on aggregate) in the Nou Camp, with ten men nonetheless. Both times they have managed to come through the tie and it would be naive to write them off again against Bayern. Plus, with proven big game players such as Drogba and Lampard within their ranks, Chelsea will feel they have more than a sniff of returning from Munich victorious.

Bayern is also a side who themselves have failed to fire on all cylinders in recent weeks. Dortmund trounced Bayern 5-2 in the German Cup Final last weekend and the media in Germany have downplayed their chances of winning on Saturday. Maybe their coach Jupp Heynckes has a point when he asked ‘If Chelsea can beat Barcelona over two legs, how are we supposed to beat them?’  It seems nobody wants to be favorites for this final!

Bayern also have its own suspensions to contend with, as Luis Gustavo, Helga Badatuber and David Alaba will all sit this one out. This will lead to a reshuffled back line as Anatoliy Tymoshchuk and Diego Contento look likely to fill in at centre half and left back respectively. Thomas Muller should come in to replace Gustavo, with Toni Kroos likely to play a more withdrawn role in midfield.

But just as it would be naive to completely write off Chelsea’s hopes, it would be equally as naive to play down the challenge that they face. Bayern Munich is a European giant who have some of the world’s best footballers. They have in Manuel Neuer many people’s top goalkeeper in the world, the ever consistent Philipp Lahm and bags of running and quality in the centre of midfield with Bastian Schweinsteiger. Factor in the threat on either wing from Arjen Robben and Frank Ribery as well as the finishing ability of Mario Gomez, they are a side that could turn over anyone on their day. Chelsea’s makeshift back line of David Luiz and Gary Cahill, who will both be played as a necessary risk as opposed to a premeditated one, will have to be at their best to contain Bayern’s front three. The last time Cahill and Luiz partnered each other in defense was during the disastrous 3-1 defeat in Napoli. Heynckes is also a manager with genuine Champions League pedigree, as he looks to become the fourth manager to win the trophy with two different sides. Turning over this Bayern side on their own path would be some achievement indeed.

Below is the line ups both sides look likely to field, as well as the key areas the game might be won and lost:

Likely Line Ups:

Bayern Munich:
Neuer, Lahm, Boateng,Tymoshchuk, Contento, Kroos, Schweinsteiger, Muller, Robben, Ribery, Gomez

Cech, Bosingwa, Luiz, Cahill, Cole, Mikel, Essien, Lampard, Kalou, Mata, Drogba

Route to Final (knock out stages):

Bayern Munich

Last 16:
Basel 1-0 Bayern, Bayern 7-0 Basel

Quarter Final:
Marseille 0-2 Bayern, Bayern 2-0 Marseille

Semi Final:
Bayern 2-1 Real Madrid, Real Madrid 2-1 Bayern (Bayern won 3-2 on penalties).


Last 16:
Napoli 3-1 Chelsea, Chelsea 4-1 Napoli (AET)

Quarter Final:
Benfica 0-1 Chelsea, Chelsea 2-1 Benfica

Semi Final:
Chelsea 1-0 Barcelona, Barcelona 2-2 Chelsea

Key Battles:

Tymoshchuk vs Drogba:
The Ivorian Drogba has proved to be a talismanic figure for Chelsea in the Champions League this campaign. With one winning cup final goal secured this season, he’ll no doubt be desperate for another. He will look to isolate the Ukranian veteran Tymoshchuk who will more than likely fill in at centre back. For all Tymoshchuk experience, he is a centre midfielder by trade and he will have to be up to the physical threat provided by Drogba in order for Bayern to his excellent record in finals. This area maybe Chelsea’s most fruitful from an attacking perspective, if they can exploit Tymoshchuk then Drogba can cause him serious problems.

Schweinsteiger vs Lampard:
Whilst the German international has had some unfortunate luck with injuries this season, he has been the heartbeat of the Bayern Munich midfield in the games he has featured. At the Bernabeu in the semi final, Schweinsteiger’s tireless running and cool head under pressure helped see Bayern through after they trailed 2-0 in the opening 10 minutes. Frank Lampard will look to provide similar inspiration for Chelsea in the Allianz arena. Whilst he may not have the legs on Schweinsteiger in the middle of the park, his ability to pick a key pass or time a burst forward are just as crucial for Chelsea. Schweinsteiger will hope his box to box style is not hindered by the absence of holding midfielder Luis Gustavo, whereas Lampard will have the insurance of Essien and Mikel when he looks to break forward. Should be an intriguing battle this one.

Robben v Cole:
According to some the best out and out winger in world football up against the best full back. Robben and Cole will know each other well from their time together at Stamford Bridge and it will be interesting to see how this one plays out. Robben has excelled in this competition over the years and has devastated teams from all over Europe cutting in from the right hand side. There aren’t many wide men who get the better of Ashley Cole however and he will be looking to add to his seventh FA Cup Final success with a first Champions League winners medal. The best way to stop Robben in the past has been to show him down the line onto his right foot, but with his pace, trickery and directness, its obviously a task that can is much, much easier said than done. Cole will need Mata work back defensively if they are to contain the dutch wizard.

Everything in this one on the face of it seems to point to a Bayern victory and the whole club has been looking to this day for the past few years as an opportunity for glory. I think their suspensions will hurt them more than Chelsea’s however, as the English side can bring in two proven big money signings to cover the centre back position. I expect Drogba to cause the makeshift Bayern defence lots of problems. There will be a lot of pressure on Bayern and if they start nervously then Chelsea could capitalise. It’ll be a tight one, but I fancy Chelsea to nick this one in extra time.

Bayern Munich 1-2 Chelsea (AET)

TV Coverage:
In the United States, the game will be shown live on FOX’s free-to-air network, beginning at 2pm ET.

Follow me on Twitter: @13mattj13

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