Sunday, 20 May 2012

The End Of The Cycle

57th European Cup Final, Allianz Arena - Munich; Bayern Munich 1, Chelsea 1 (Chelsea win 4-3 on Penalties)

In the run up to this match, there were competing omens at play.  One omen went that the circumstances of this match resembled the 1975 European Cup Final where an English team that started the season with a new manager intent on re-shaping an aging squad sees an managerial change mid season and somehow manages to get to European football’s showpiece event.  we all forgot about the other omen staring us in the face – that the last time a team played a European Cup final in their home stadium they lost out to an English team on penalties.  Oh and the one about Bayern always losing European finals that they dominated, like they did in 1982, 1987 and 1999.

What is almost certain about that game though is that Liverpool did not win against all the odds and despite being very much on the back foot for most of the game, and they did not send a suspended captain up to collect the trophy – the collection of the trophy by Terry was highly inappropriate especially given he changed into full kit.  Chelsea spent much of the first half penned into their own box, while Bayern created chance after chance.  Most of which fell to Mario Gomez, who missed three chances – two in particular should have been goals.  Just before the 20 minute mark, Muller found Gomez who took one too many touches in the box when he should have shot, on 35 minutes a Gomez volley went wide of the target while just before half time Gomez ran on to a Muller flick and blasted the ball over the top.  Bayern at this point were playing 4-2-4 with Robben and Ribbery playing in advanced wide positions and Muller slightly off of Gomez.  Chelsea’s intended formation was 4-2-3-1, but this too changed as the game went on to 4-4-1-1.

In the second half, the game opened up slightly, but the pattern still remained with Bayern dominating.  Bayern did manage to get the ball into the back of the net during the first 10 minutes of the second half.  A low cut back from Muller found Robben, his shot was deflected and found Ribbary who put the ball into the back of the net before being flagged offside.  Such was Bayern’s dominance that it took Chelsea until the last quarter of the game to create their first chance.  It looked more and more like one goal would settle it.  The winner looked like it had come on the 83rd minute.

With 10 minutes to go, Kroos put a cross in that Chelsea had difficulty in dealing with.  Minutes later Kroos put in another cross which Muller headed into the turf and into the net (left), it was vaguely reminiscent of another European Cup final goal scored in Munich.  Both sides then made substitutions that would have a bearing on the remainder of the game, Bayern brought on Daniel van Buyten for the goalscorer Muller in a clear defensive move while Chelsea brought on Torres.  With three minutes left, Bayern’s worst nightmare began as Chelsea’s first corner brought their goal – Drogba evaded his marker to bullet a header past Neuer.  Bayern then began to look nervous and tired as the ghosts of 1987 and 1999 began to circle, however they did manage to reach extra time.

In Extra Time, Bayern had two chances to win.  Firstly, Drogba brought down Ribery to concede a penalty.  Robben’s penalty was saved by Cech, then in the second period a Lahm pass found the second substitute Olic who elected to cross into Buyten rather than shoot himself.  That was it, and the match went to penalties.  Must be a win for Bayern Munich considering how good German teams are at penalties, right?  Well, no.

Chelsea recovered from missing their first penalty to win 4-3.  The key penalty takers being Olic and Schweinsteiger – who stuttered with his run up and hit the post (right) – for Bayern while Drogba scored the decisive penalty.  So Chelsea became the 23rd team to win the European Cup, the first new team to win since Borrusia Dortmund down the road at the Olympiastadion 15 years ago.  Unusually for a European Cup winning team, this victory does not go to a team with a glittering future or in the middle of a trophy glut but to an experienced side that will break up in the next couple of years.

Bayern Munich will face questions of their own, like how on earth they lost that match.  For Chelsea, the questions will revolve around the identity of their new coach and of the rebuilding job that will be required to replace Terry, Lampard and Drogba.  It’s one thing for Di Matteo to re-shape an existing squad to make them more compact and harder to beat (which countless sides have done with much success in Europe and in Cup matches in England) but it’s another to re-build this Chelsea side.  However, as last hurrah’s for great teams go, this one will probably take some beating.

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