The biggest game in world club football, and final of the best competition in the sport takes place in Munich this Saturday, promising to be a truly unique occasion for the fans lucky enough to be there and the players involved. While the World Cup and European Championship are great competitions, nowhere do you find such a concentration of world-class players as at the sharp end of the Champions League, and that is certainly as true this season as it has ever been.
As if the game weren’t attractive enough the final of this year’s Champions League is being played at the home ground of one of the finalists, and while Bayern won’t quite have a home crowd due to FIFA needing to grease the wheel with corporate tickets, the atmosphere will be something special as the Germans line up for one of the greatest nights in their history. This won’t bother Chelsea one bit, of course, as spoiling is something they are quite happy with doing.
Since the appointment of Roberto di Matteo the Londoners have been written off, first against Napoli, and then later being pegged as cannon fodder in the way of the inevitable coronation of Barcelona, but the men in blue have circled the wagons and ignored the naysayers to get this far. Chelsea have never won a Champions League/European Cup before, losing in their one previous final appearance to Manchester United, and it’s well-known that the competition is owner Roman Abramovich’s personal main aim.
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His charges go into the game missing some of their key colleagues, and while the idiotic sending-off and suspension of John Terry has been the main talking point, he is not the only missing Chelsea player. Raul Meireles, Branislav Ivanovic, and Ramires are all also suspended, while Florent Malouda is struggling to get back to fitness in time and centre-backs Gary Cahill and David Luiz have only just begun training after injuries of their own. Terry will be a big miss, of course, but I’d say his absence will not be the one most keenly felt by his side.
With the strength in the Bayern midfield I think the loss of Ramires, the Brazilian who scored a wonder-goal against Barcelona could be a massive one for Chelsea, especially when you consider how cumbersome and slow the likes of Essien and Lampard are these days, although of course they will be aided by either Jon Obi Mikel or Oriol Romeu. Add to this the loss of Ivanovic at right-back, where Arjen Robben will be attacking Chelsea, and things look a little bit shaky for the ‘away’ team.
Bayern are missing just three men, in defender Holger Badstuber, midfield stopper Luis Gustavo and young wing-back David Alaba, who made such an impact at both ends in the Real Madrid tie. None of these are as important to Munich as Chelsea’s absentees are for the Londoners, but Gustavo has established himself in the defensive midfield position and a degree of adjustment will be required by the men around him.
At the other end of the pitch Jupp Heynckes has a wealth of options, and the return to form of Frank Ribery has added another to the list already including Mario Gomez, Thomas Muller and Arjen Robben, as well as young star Toni Kroos. For Chelsea the decision may come down to a straight choice between Didier Drogba and Fernando Torres to lead the line with the Spaniard having revived himself after a tough few months settling in, and whoever gets the nod will almost certainly be playing ahead of Juan Mata and potentially Kalou, depending on how attacking di Matteo feels his side can be early on.
The home side come in as 5/6 favourites, although as I’ve said this is theoretically a neutral venue, while Chelsea are 18/5 to take the trophy home, which is remarkable in a two-horse race. The semi-final against Barcelona showed the blues are well capable of beating a superior football team in a knock-out affair, and that will give them confidence, but the reality is that once you get to the stage the game is as good as anybody’s, and the only guaranteed winners are the neutral spectators.