2012 Champions League Final preview: Bayern Munich v Chelsea
Well, well, well, after 10 months and 212 games we finally know that the Champions League final at the Allianz Arena in Munich on Saturday May 19 will be between Bayern Munich and Chelsea.
Both teams produced very different types of extraordinary efforts to book their place in the final and deny what many feel would have been the glamour final of ‘El Clasico’.
Chelsea, who have had a typically eventful season for the wrong reasons, atoned emphatically for the managerial merry-go-round and off the field drama on Tuesday (24 April). After a brilliant backs to the wall performance against the mighty Barcelona at Stamford Bridge in the first leg, where they won 1-0 courtesy of a Didier Drogba goal, Chelsea travelled to fortress Camp Nou for what many felt to be a bridge too far.
It certainly looked that way when they lost centre back Gary Cahill to a hamstring problem on 11 minutes. Chelsea reshuffled but soon went a goal down after Sergio Busquets tapped in from Cuenca’s cross. Things got worse for the away side two minutes later when Captain John Terry crashed a knee into Alexis Sanchez’s back, earning him a straight red card.
Barca capitalised going 2-0 up a couple of minutes before half time through Andres Iniesta. However out of nowhere, Lampard released Ramires and the Brazilian chipped the ball beautifully over Victor Valdes to keep Chelsea in the tie right on the half time whistle.
Two minutes into the second half, Drogba was adjudged to have brought down Cesc Fabregas for a penalty although replays showed no contact. Lionel Messi stepped up and after having scored 63 goals this season...crashed the penalty against the bar to extend his drought against the West London club to eight games.
For the next 45 minutes it was pure self preservation stuff from Chelsea, shots were peppered at Petr Cech’s goal and were blocked either by him or by the legs, chests, backs, heads or feet of his team mates.
After soaking up the pressure for the longest 45 minutes in history, stoppage time saw the type of moment legends are made of. One desperate volleyed clearance from Jose Bosingwa found Fernando Torres alone just inside his own half with nothing but space in front of him. Torres brought the ball down deftly and sprinted towards goal, met by the onrushing Victor Valdes Torres shimmied to the right, rounded Valdes and slotted the ball home to see Chelsea through 3-2 on aggregate, edging another step closer on the long road to justifying his £50m price tag in the process.
To book their place in the final on their home turf no less, Bayern Munich saw off nine times winners Real Madrid. After a 2-1 win at the final’s venue and their home ground, the state of the art ‘Allianz Arena’ thanks to goals from Franck Ribery and Mario Gomez-Bayern went to the Santiago de Bernabeu for the deciding second leg.
Madrid’s talisman Cristiano Ronaldo showed just why many (including myself) feel he is the best player in the world, firstly slotting a fifth minute penalty past Manuel Neuer before doing the same thing from open play eight minutes later.
Former Madrid man Arjen Robben got Bayern back into things, levelling the tie 3-3 on aggregate when he scored a penalty of his own on 26 minutes-‘keeper Iker Casillas desperately unlucky after getting a hand to Robben’s strike.
The second half saw Bayern grow in confidence and through Ribery, Gomez and Robben they were a constant threat-Madrid however looked tired after their efforts in beating Barcelona last weekend and it showed as they lost their initial spark and drive, allowing Bayern onto them.
90 minutes couldn’t separate the teams so it meant extra time...that couldn’t split the sides either so it was that dreaded of all endings PENALTIES (DUM! DUM! DUM!).
Ronaldo repeated his 2008 final penalty effort in the shootout, his penalty saved low to Neuer’s right hand side just as it was for Cech four years ago. Kaka followed tamely before Sergio Ramos put a hole in the moon with his woeful penalty that blasted high over the bar.
David Alaba, Mario Gomez had scored penalties for Bayern before misses from Toni Kroos and Philipp Lahm. Bastian Schweinsteiger made no mistake after Ramos’s miss though, calmly drilling the ball to Casillas’s right to put the Germans through to the final after winning on penalties (sounds familiar).
Records in Champions League
Due to their undoubted European pedigree and home turf advantage, Bayern will surely be favourites on May 19. The German club have won the European Cup/Champions League four times, the last coming in 2001. However the most famous final Bayern have ever been involved in, ended in heartbreak when after leading 1-0 against Manchester United in Barcelona’s Camp Nou in 1999, Teddy Sheringham and Ole Gunnar Solskjaer struck in stoppage time to give United the 2-1 win.
Last night’s win in the Bernabeu will surely have given Bayern some sort of closure, with the famous stadium being the scene of Munich’s last final agony-they lost 2-0 to Jose Mourinho’s Inter Milan in the 2010 final.
Chelsea on the other hand, are still looking for a first Champions League success. Their most notable effort came in 2008 when they reached the final in Moscow, only to be edged out on penalties by Manchester United after Frank Lampard had cancelled out Cristiano Ronaldo’s goal in normal time. Captain John Terry could have been the hero that night but slipped before sending his penalty crashing against the post. He more than anyone would have been wanting a chance to redeem himself in Munich, sadly his moment of stupidity in the Camp Nou means he will be looking to his team mates to bury his final demons.
With regards to previous encounters between the two sides in the Champions League, there is only one meeting to go on. Their one and only meeting came in the 2004/05 season when at the Quarter-Final stage, Mourinho’s Chelsea prevailed 6-5 on aggregate after a 4-2 win at Stamford Bridge in the first leg was followed by a 3-2 defeat in the second.
There should not be too much read into that game however, after all not only was it seven seasons ago but out of the eight different scorers in that tie, only three remain (Lampard, Drogba, Schweinsteiger).
Managers: Old v young
It is not only the players that will be scrutinised either, the respective managers have complete polar opposite stories. Bayern coach Jupp Heynckes is a much travelled and distinguished manager currently in charge of his third stint at Bayern, after spells at; Borussia Monchengladbach, Athletic Bilbao, Eintracht Frankfurt, Tenerife, Benfica, Schalke and Bayer Leverkusen.
His biggest success came as manager of Real Madrid, when after a 32-year drought he brought the Champions League trophy back to the Bernabeu.
During his career Heynckes has won two league titles, two domestic cup competitions, two (now defunct) Intertoto cups and that famous Champions League.
On the other hand, Chelsea manager Roberto Di Matteo is a comparative rookie. The Italian is currently Chelsea’s interim coach after the departure of the highly rated yet ultimately very disappointing Andre Villas Boas.
In fairness Di Matteo has a decent football league pedigree, having led the Milton Keynes Dons to the Play-Offs in 2009 before being snapped up by West Bromwich Albion of the Championship, for the following season. He would need only one shot at getting West Brom into the Premier League, winning automatic promotion after finishing second behind Newcastle United.
Di Matteo was sacked by West Brom six months into his first Premier League campaign as a manager. His next job came when he was appointed as Villas Boas’s assistant in June 2011, however when the Portuguese was himself sacked after a poor first half of the season, Di Matteo was handed the reigns and has since led the Blues to an FA Cup Final and a place in the 2012 Champions League Final- strengthening calls for the former Chelsea great to be given the job full time.
In terms of key men for the final, the fact that both teams have lost a number of players through suspension (Alaba, Badstuber and Gustavo for Bayern – Ivanovic, Ramires, Meireles and Terry for Chelsea) makes it slightly easier to predict teams in one way but twice as hard in another.
Personally I think the final will be won and lost on the strength of each defence. Both sides will almost definitely be spearheaded by big, strong battering rams in Mario Gomez and Didier Drogba but with both defences decimated by suspension, it will be a case of who can replace the missing men best.
Bayern will surely look to Daniel Van Buyten to replace Holger Badstuber and in my opinion, he will be the weakness that Chelsea can exploit. The 34 year old Belgian is not getting any younger and has never been the most mobile of defenders so if Chelsea play the ball in to Drogba’s feet, the Ivorian can get Van Buyten turning and almost certainly get a lot of joy from doing that.
Chelsea will be missing two of their most consistent defenders in Branislav Ivanovic and John Terry. However, Gary Cahill is in line to have recovered from the hamstring strain that forced him off against Barcelona and David Luiz will be available after his own hamstring trouble. Cahill has grown into a one of England's finest centre back over the last year or two and his move to Chelsea has only improved the former Bolton man- you can almost liken him to a younger John Terry.
Luiz is another man who has improved greatly. Before, there were concerns over his defensive capabilities and ability to focus but the Brazilian has matured this season and his athleticism and technical skills will complement Cahill’s British Bulldog, win the ball at all costs spirit, if paired together for the final.
So, if I was pushed to make a prediction and I think that is pretty much the point of this, I feel that after their heroics over two legs against a Barcelona side lauded as the best ever, Chelsea will go into the 2012 final as underdogs in Bayern’s back yard but will emerge victorious-capturing their first Champions League on the greatest night in their long history.
I think it will be 2-1, with Chelsea scoring first, Bayern equalising then dare I say it...Torres to score the winner.