Tonight Chelsea take on one of the true European heavyweights, Bayern Munich, in the Champions League Final in Germany.
Both clubs have had less than memorable seasons domestically by their own high standards. Chelsea, who have enjoyed considerable success in the last ten years, finished a lowly sixth in the Premier League, meanwhile the Germans finished second domestically and last week were thumped 5-2 by Borussia Dortmund (the league winners) in the German Cup Final.
Tonight’s final is a clash of polar opposites. If Chelsea win tonight, it will be their maiden Champions League title. Finalists in 2008, they lost to Manchester United via a penalty shootout in Moscow. By contrast, Bayern have undoubted European pedigree as they have won the Champions League / European Cup four times and have been runners’ up five times. The Germans have historically been a powerhouse both, domestically and in Europe. Conversely, Chelsea have only been regularly successful since Roman Abramovich lavished his Russian fortune on the West Londoners. €800 million later and Chelsea have their second Champions League final in nine years under the billionaire’s stewardship. League titles and FA Cups have never been enough for him – he craves the Champions League.
On paper, Chelsea have in all to do. The Blues are missing their hugely influential captain John Terry in addition to fellow defender Branislav Ivanović and midfielders Ramires and Raul Meireles while David Luiz and Gary Cahill have not played since 15 and 24 April respectively due to hamstring injuries. To compound matters further, the final is being played at Bayern’s home ground in Munich. A ground where they have won all seven of their Champions League games this season. Although the odds looked to be stacked against the Londoners, Alan Hansen passed on encouraging words following his own experience when Liverpool beat Roma in the 1984 Final in Rome, winning on penalties. “We had a lot of laughs in our dressing room and some big personalities. We’d already had a walk around the pitch to take in a very hostile atmosphere, which was Graeme Souness’ idea, then we walked out into the tunnel for the kick off.”
Mark Lawrenson, Hansen’s defensive partner in that final added, “We were totally together and that’s what Chelsea must be, playing a Champions League final on their opponents’ own ground. They must be their last words to each other – stick together, be with each other all the way because without that you’re nothing in these games.”
Bayern have their own issues as they are missing two of their usual back four in David Alaba and Holger Badstuber, while Luiz Gustavo is also banned. Furthermore talismen Franck Ribery and Arjen Robben have not been the best of pals but this is a club which has been labelled as FC Hollywood in the past. Despite this, the combined frontline threat of Mario Gomez, Ribery and Robben would be enough to keep a full strength Chelsea side on their toes, let alone a distinctly weakened one. Jupp Heynckes, the Bayern coach has downplayed his side’s chances and has praised Chelsea. “We’re playing a team with fantastic organisation and great players. If you look at Chelsea’s path through the Champions League, they beat Napoli at home, beat Barcelona – the best team in the world – at home and played for 60 minutes a man short in the Camp Nou. That’s enough warning for anyone.”
Both sides look at recent losses in previous finals as a spur, as mentioned, Chelsea in 2008 and Bayern in 2010. Phillip Lahm said, “It’s an advantage to have played in the final two years ago. The players know what to expect so we’ve made a few steps forward. Two years ago, everything was new. We have more experience now, but Chelsea played in the final [in 2008]. For some of their players, it will be the last chance to win this title.”
Bayern are favourites but Chelsea cannot be written off. Since Roberto Di Matteo replaced the unfortunate Andre Villas-Boas, he has certainly revitalized Chelsea. They beat Liverpool a fortnight ago to claim their fourth FA Cup triumph, at Wembley, since 2000. Judging by last weekend’s events in the Premier League, tonight is a one-off game and anything can happen.
Melosport prediction. Bayern 3-1 Chelsea
KICK OFF: 19.45 (GMT); 20.45 (CET)