Tonight, Bayern Munich will become the first team in Champions League history to play the final at their home stadium (Roma were the last team to do this, back in 1984, losing in that famous penalty shootout back when the tournament was called the European Cup). Only Manchester United (Wembley Stadium, London, 2011), Borussia Dortmund (Olympic Stadium, Munich, 1997) have ever played a Champions League final in their home country previously.
Chelsea will be competing in only their second Champions League final, losing the previous in 2008 on penalties to Manchester United, under caretaker manager Avram Grant. Bayern Munich will be competing in their ninth (only Real Madrid (12) and AC Milan (11) have competed in more), winning half of their previous finals. In the Champions League era, Bayern Munich dramatically lost 2-1 to Manchester United in 1999, beat Valencia on penalties in 2001 and lost two years ago to Jose Mourinho’s Internazionale.
Roberto Di Matteo took charge of Chelsea ahead of their second leg, round of 16 tie with Napoli. The caretaker manager overturned a 1-3 deficit from the first leg in Italy to win 4-1 after extra time. The former Blues player unconvincingly eliminated Benfica in the quarter finals before pulling off the shock of the tournament with the 3-2 elimination of defending Champions, Barcelona in the semi final despite all the setbacks.
Bayern Munich’s route to the semi finals was more straightforward. After a 1-0 defeat in Basel, the Bavarians turned the Swiss side over 7-0 at the Allianz Arena in the second leg. 2-0 victories in each leg over Marseille in the quarter finals set up a semi final clash with Mourinho’s Real Madrid in the semi final. Mario Gomez scored a last minute winner in the first leg in Germany, before Arjen Robben’s penalty forced extra time and a penalty shootout at the Bernabeu. Misses from Ronaldo, Kaka and Sergio Ramos setup this final.
And here are 5 reasons why the favourites, Bayern Munich will lift the Champions League trophy tonight:
One thing that was missing from the Barcelona side in the semi finals, other than a plan B was width. Dani Alves gave Chelsea a little threat down the right wing from full back but was not involved enough, whilst Alexis Sanchez preferred to cut inside.
Bayern Munich have plenty of width in Franck Ribery, Arjen Robben and Philipp Lahm bombing on from full back. This will enable the German side to stretch the Chelsea defence. One thing that worked for Di Matteo’s side against Barcelona was being able to pack the middle of the park, even with 10 men to prevent Barcelona getting too many attacks on Petr Cech’s goal.
Ribery and Robben one-on-one with the Chelsea full backs will be able to create chances for their team mates, both by taking it past their opposing defenders and/or by drawing central defenders and midfielders out of position to create space in the middle for their Bayern team mates.
2. Mario Gomez
One player who will benefit from Chelsea defenders being moved out of position is Mario Gomez in the middle of the box. The €30 million signing from VfB Stuttgart in 2009 has scored 12 goals in this year’s competition (plus 1 in qualifying), behind only Lionel Messi (14).
With 41 goals in all competitions, Gomez has outscored his personal best when he hit 39 last season. With the creativity in this Bayern side, from the wings and central midfield, Mario Gomez does what Gerd Müller did many years ago and comes alive in the 18 yard box. Chelsea’s defence cannot afford to doze off for a split second otherwise he’ll find himself some space.
3. Suspensions/Chelsea’s Defence
Bayern Munich themselves are hit badly in defence with the suspensions of Holger Badstuber and David Alaba. Having started out at left back, Badstuber has shown his promise in the centre of the Bayern defence and has been their strongest defender this season. He may well be missed in tonight’s final and does affect the rest of the side. Midfielder Anatoliy Tymoshchuk is expected to fill in at centre back, alongside Jerome Boateng, with Toni Kroos expected to drop back from behind Gomez to play alongside Bastian Schweinsteiger in front of the defence.
However, Chelsea are hit harder with their suspensions. Captain John Terry is missing from the centre of defence. The player who would most-likely replace him there would be right back Branislav Ivanovic, but he too is suspended. David Luiz is facing a fitness test to see whether the unreliable centre back is fit to play tonight. The expensive signing from Benfica has not played for over a month. Gary Cahill looks set to be fit to play this final. The January signing from Bolton was solid in both legs against Barcelona but has not played since the second leg on 24 April. The England international is poor at man marking players which could see Gomez find freedom inside the box.
In midfield, Chelsea are without both Ramires and Raul Meireles. The Brazilian scored a vital goal on the stroke of half time in Barcelona to give Chelsea the away goals advantage at the time. His energy in midfield has been impressive over the past two seasons for the London side. That will really be missed in Munich. Both good defensively and on the counter, Chelsea do not have a player who can fill in for him. As for Meireles, he hasn’t shone since his move to London but is capable of scoring from midfield, although doesn’t add anything to the team that isn’t replaceable.
Bayern Munich have the advantage in the tactical battle heading into this one. They play their successful 4-2-3-1 formation, and with the number of adaptable players in the team they have players well-suited to the formation. They have a strong target man in Gomez, width and creativity from Ribery and Robben, a great number 10 in Thomas Müller, should Kroos be dropped further back. Schweinsteiger adds both protection to the defence, a calm and simple passing game in his own half, and creativity and attacking threat when he pushes forward.
Toni Kroos is a fantastic player and one I can see finally getting some deserved credit in England if he shines at Euro 2012 next month as I think he will. The young midfielder had the highest pass completion amongst attacking midfielder’s in the Bundesliga this season just gone, assisting 9 goals. He doesn’t score as many as some players in his position perhaps should, but isn’t afraid to shoot from distance (this one may go in Chelsea’s favour with Petr Cech only conceding 3 goals from outside the penalty area). If he plays in front of the defence I expect Bayern to have a significant possession advantage in this game. If he plays behind Gomez, I don’t see Chelsea handling him.
Chelsea have got by on defending well and counter-attacking. Aside from beating Barcelona over two legs, an arguably tired and one-dimensional Barcelona side, Roberto Di Matteo’s record at Chelsea isn’t anything special. In fact, his win % in the Premier League is lower than Andre Villas-Boas’ short stint in charge.
Di Matteo’s record against teams finishing above Chelsea (6th) this season is W0 D2 L2 (1-2 at Manchester City, 0-0 vs Tottenham Hotspur, 0-0 at Arsenal, 0-2 vs Newcastle United). He’s nothing special to be honest. I had doubts over him when he joined Chelsea from his West Brom days, and aside from a fantastic run in the Champions League, winning the FA Cup (beating Championship sides Birmingham City, Leicester City, out-of-form Tottenham and an underachieving Liverpool in the final), I don’t believe he has the qualifications to be Chelsea’s full-time manager next season. Jupp Heynckes wins this battle.
5. Home Advantage
Some of the media have tried to play down the home field advantage Bayern Munich have tonight. Yes, the majority of the stadium will not been Bayern fans for the first time this season (not that Chelsea travel well anyway). Those who will be there will no-doubt make the better atmosphere (as German fans do, and that Chelsea are amongst the Premier League’s quietest). The home field, the dressing rooms, the preparation, it’s all in Bayern Munich’s ever-so-slight favour, it really is.
Bayern Munich’s Bundesliga record at the Allianz Arena this season? Played 17, won 14, drawn 1, loss 2. Those two defeats; an opening day 1-0 loss to a tactically sound Borussia Mönchengladbach, with new team mates Manuel Neuer and Jerome Boateng’s miscommunication at cause for the game’s only goal, with Heynckes in the dugout for the first time (for his third spell) as Bayern Munich manager in the Bundesliga. The other defeat came 1-0 to defending champions and to-be 2011/12 Bundesliga champions Borussia Dortmund. Otherwise, it’s not a bad record. Scored 49 and conceded 6 to add.
Bayern Munich’s Champions League record at the Allianz Arena this season? Played 7, won 7. That includes their qualifying round victory over FC Zurich, a 2-0 victory over Manchester City, thrashing FC Basel and beating Real Madrid. 4 clean sheets in those 7 games with only Napoli scoring more than 1. This is what Chelsea have to contend with.