I had a shot at getting to Munich for this match, but instead chose the away tie against Real Madrid. You know, so I could make sure we got to this match. And, wow! Was Madrid fun! It took away the sting of losing there against Inter in the final two years ago. But, a part of my heart is always in Munich: My favorite city in the world, my favorite team in the world. And I'm more than a bit wistful that I'm missing the final at home in that most beautiful of football stadiums.
It has been interesting reading the English-speaking press leading up to this glorious match on Saturday. Since this game is comprised of two teams that are not quite as familiar to, let's say, an American audience, the press has gone out of its way to establish "good guy / bad guy" roles. And for once in our storied history, we are considered the good guys! Ha HA! From our Jewish past, through our helping cash-strapped teams, to our solid, profitable business acumen, we are the very model of a successful football club. Somebody tell that to the millions of supporters who hate us in Germany.
But, they won't hate us on Saturday.
There is a marked difference between German and English supporters. Almost every German I know wants Bayern Munich to win. They put their country before their club, whether it's for the good of the national team going in to EURO 2012, of which Bayern sends seven starters, or simply because of German pride. Deutschland ueber alles, indeed. Where most of the English I've spoken with- if they don't already support Chelsea- are pulling for Munich as well: Spurs fans, of course, making the top of that list.
Projected Starting XIs:
FC Bayern Muenchen: Neuer - Lahm, Tymoschuk, Boateng, Contento - Schweinsteiger, Kroos - Robben, T. Mueller, Ribery - Gomez
Chelsea FC: Cech - Bosingwa, Cahill, Luiz, A. Cole - Mikel, Essien - Lampard, Kalou, Mata - Drogba
While prone to some kindergarten-esque mistakes, Manuel Neuer has proved himself to be mentioned as one of-if not the- best goalkeepers in the world. And we all know how he loves a big match. This season he broke Olli Kahn's Bayern Munich record, going over 1000 minutes without conceding. We can only hope he got all that childishness out of the way against Dortmund in the Pokal Final last Saturday.
Petr Cech is no slouch either. He won best goalkeeper of the tournament for three seasons in the Champions League ('05, '07, '08). And holds the Premiere League record of shortest number of apperances to 100 clean sheets (180).
Both teams are dealing with multiple suspensions for this final, and except for Gustavo (Bayern), Ramires (Chelsea) and Meireles (Chelsea), all are defenders. The big question will be whose patchwork defense holds up better?
Jupp Heynckes smartly kept the Lahm / Robben pairing on the right intact. (More on that in a bit.) Tymoschuk will be playing out of position, paired with Boateng in the center, and it will be up to Jerome to compensate for Antoliy's lack of pace. While Daniel van Buyten might have been a bigger physical threat to Drogba, he also might be the slowest player in the Bundesliga. He will be the first defensive sub, however, if things go awry. And remember, Diego Armando Contento started the 2010 Final, and really only lost his starting position due to injury and the rising star of David Alaba.
Bosingwa is certainly the weakest link in Chelsea's back four, and the excellent Branislav Ivanovic will be sorely missed. Cahill and Luiz have only returned to training this week, both having suffered hamstring injuries. Ashley Cole is certainly the best out of the bunch- strong and quick with excellent tackles.
The Defensive Midfielders
Neither Schweinsteiger nor Kroos are particularly defensive-minded, but that will need to change on Saturday. The set-up should look almost like a 4-1-1-3-1, with Bastian in a midfield sweeper-type role and Kroos playing a bit more up-field. One of them will need to stay back to help Boateng and Tymoschuk in defense.
I'm guessing at Mikel and Essien in the holding midfield spots. Although Lampard could be used there as well. While the loses of Terry and Ivanovic are difficult for the Blues to digest, the loss of Ramires, and especially Meireles, will hurt them most; forcing di Matteo to shuffle around his midfield.
What do you say that hasn't already been said about our front four? Gomez will be looking to exploit the (hopefully) questionable fitness of Cahill and Luiz in the center. While Robben faces the best of Chelsea's defense in Ashley Cole, he can expect some help in overlapping runs by Philipp Lahm. And on the other side, Bosingwa is faced with the gargantuan task of containing Franck Ribery. I would expect Mikel to have to come over and help- which opens up the middle of the pitch quite nicely for Toni Kroos and Thomas Mueller.
Again, I have assumed that Mikel and Essien will be in a holding position, but it very well could be Essien on the bench with Lampard holding and Sturridge on the wing. It could also be Torres in the ten-slot behind Drogba, although I think he's more likely as a sub. But, this is all about Didier Drogba- Chelsea's most potent threat (when he's not falling down). That man is an absolute beast, and Jerome Boateng will need the match of his life to contain him. And yes, I am nearly certain Didier will get on the scoresheet. It is a question of how much.
With Chelsea placing out of contention for a Champions League spot next season, and Bayern lately ever the bridesmaid to Borussia Dortmund, this match is everything. EVERYTHING. Two teams. All the marbles. It comes down to this.
Up until I started writing this preview, I really couldn't believe this was all happening. My heart rate has jumped nearly 50 percent since. I expect I won't be sleeping a wink tonight, and I expect millions of supporters on both sides to be in the same sleepless boat. God, I love football!
One final note: Welcome, Blues! I love a bit of banter, but let's keep WWII out of it, OK? Comments insulting other commentors will not be posted. (Comments insulting me, however, are fine... as long as they're funny.) Let's focus on the match, and play nice, boys and girls!
Auf gehts, Bayern! Kaempfen und Siegen!
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