Friday, 18 May 2012

The Impossible Final

Bayern Munich's last European Cup win in Milan, 2001
Saturday doesn’t just see the first Scottish Cup Final contested by Edinburgh’s top two since the 19th century.  Saturday night sees Bayern Munich attempt to become the first team to win a European trophy on their home patch since Feyenoord beat Borrussia Dortmund in the UEFA Cup 10 years ago.  Of course, this is the European Cup, so things are a little rarefied.  Munich are only the fourth team to reach a European Cup final that is played on their home ground (Real Madrid in 1957, Inter Milan in 1965 and AS Roma in 1984 are the others).  Standing in their way is the improbable shape of Chelsea.  Because of their respective semi final victims being both halves of El Classico, this is the most improbable final pairing for many a year.

In some respects, Bayern Munich are the favourites.  Having lost out two years ago to Mourinio’s Inter Milan side, this side will constitute most of the team that lost out then.  Notably Frank Ribbery will be available, as he was banned two years ago.  They also have the experienced Jupp Heynckes in charge (for the third time).  Heynckes will be aiming to emulate a former Bayern manager Ottmar Hitzfield (as well as Ernst Happel and Jose Mourinio) in winning the European Cup with two different teams.

Yet what will be key will be how both teams adapt to their missing players.  Bayern have Gustavo, Alaba and Badstubber suspended after picking up bookings in the semi final win over Real Madrid.  All are players who take up defensive positions.  Van Buyten may well be pressed into service, while Phillip Lamm may well be shuffled around the Bayern back line.  Chelsea appear to be worse off though – they will be missing the Skipper Terry, Ivanovic, Ramires and Meireles.  It will be the defensive positions that will be hardest to fill as both Luis and Cahill are racing to be fit.  Meanwhile one of the possible replacements for Meireles, Florien Malouda is also struggling to be fit after a pulled hamstring.
Terry's miss depriving Chelsea of European Cup Glory in 2008

That Chelsea has reached this stage of the tournament is something akin to a miracle.  In January and February, they were listless and directionless as the senior players fell out with their manager Andreas Villas Boas (Who?).  From the moment he was sacked, and former midfielder Roberto Di Mateo was installed as the caretaker manager, Chelsea became that bit more difficult to beat.  They did miss out on the top four of the English Premier league, but they did pick up their sixth English FA Cup in 15 years and went on a European Cup run, disposing of the highly rated Napoli, followed by Benfica before their staggering toppling of Barcelona – a win that puts an end to the claim that this Barcelona side were the best football team ever.

The consensus seems to be that with essentially the second string defences playing for both sides, that it will be an open game.  Certainly the only time these sides have met (in the quarter finals in 2004/5) it finished 6-5 on aggregate.  I’m not so sure about that, Chelsea under Di Mateo are not set up to be open.  While both sides play 4-2-3-1, Bayern’s attacking 4 is much more advanced than Chelsea’s, though there is the suggestion that Bayern will be forced to change formation.  If Bayern adapt quickly, then I suspect that they will win comfortably.  Whatever happens, this may well be the last hurrah for this Chelsea side.  They will be hoping to go out on a high.

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