The Key Head-to-Head battles in Munich

This evening’s Champions League final pits firm-favourites Bayern Munich against underdogs Chelsea both of whom have had to defy the gods en-route the final.

Heynckes Di Matteo

Bayern’s Manager and Chelsea’s Interim Manager will have a huge say in tonight’s final

Bayern Munich, who I tipped as my Champions League winners in a blog post at the start of the season, will have the huge advantage of playing the final of European football’s showpiece event on their own pitch, in front of a lot of their own fans and in the comfort of their own stadium.

As nice as it is for Bayern to be playing on home turf, if some were to level criticism at them for winning the trophy in favourable circumstances then that would be grossly unfair given that they have overcome the likes of Real Madrid en-route to the final.

Madrid who early in the second leg of their Semi-Final clash had a 3-2 aggregate lead and a 2-0 lead on the night, were eventually out-gritted and out-done by the kings of German football who somehow found the strength to claw their way back into the tie and win it on penalties.

It is also hard to estimate just how much of an advantage it will prove to be for the giants of German club football to be playing at the Allianz Arena given that their home fans will theoretically have a far smaller ticket allocation than they would usually have for matches in their own ground. However, given that Munich are hosting the final it is more than likely that the ‘neutral’ sections of the ground will be awash with the red shirts and this anticipated wealth of support should give them the edge if they didn’t already have that in terms of their arguably superior playing personnel.

Opponents and ‘visitors’ Chelsea have endured a very strange season indeed. They have already slumped to a pretty dismal sixth-placed finish in the Premier League but they have also managed to land themselves some silverware in the FA Cup.

The other major positive in Chelsea’s season of contrasting fortunes has been their rise from the ashes in this season’s Champions League which has seen them recover from 3-1 down against Napoli after the first leg of their Second Round tie and from 2-1 down and a man down half an hour into their Semi-Final against a much-vaunted Barcelona side.

The man who must receive the most credit for dragging Chelsea’s season up from the cusp of a crisis is undoubtedly their Interim Manger Roberto Di Matteo. The young Italian has led the side he once played for with admirable calmness and confidence and should he fulfil the Chelsea Owner, Roman Abramovic’s, dream of landing the Champions League then surely he will be named the full-time boss come next week.

The outcome of the final could well be result of the team selection’s which both of the manager’s make and the reason for this is that both of them will be without several key players due to suspension.

Bayern will be without youngsters Holger Badstuber, David Alaba and Luis Gustavo who all would have been probable starters and Chelsea are missing their captain, John Terry, the ever-reliable Branislav Ivanovic and energetic midfielders Raul Meireles and Ramires who performed brilliantly against Barcelona in the Semis.

The probable line-ups for tonight’s game are as follows:

FC Bayern: (4-2-3-1)

Neuer

Lahm

Tymoschuk

Boateng

Contento

Schweinsteiger

Kroos

Robben

Muller

Ribery

Gomez

 

Chelsea FC: (4-2-3-1)

Cech

Bosingwa

Luiz

Cahill

Cole

Mikel

Lampard

Kalou

Mata

Bertrand

Drogba

 

I think the key battles to look out for tonight at the Allianz Arena will be as follows:

 

Bosingwa Vs. Ribery

Chelsea’s probable selection at right-back will be Jose Bosingwa who isn’t exactly renowned for his exemplary defensive strength and discipline but in the absence of the suspended Ivanovic he has to play ahead of Paolo Ferreira as he has the pace to try and deal with the rampaging runs of Franck Ribery.

Ribery Robben

Ribery and Robben will give Chelsea a lot of problem’s down each flank

Ribery is one of the the most talented players in the Bayern side and although he has failed to truly prove himself on the very biggest stages of world football thus far, maybe tonight will provide him with the chance to shine. Going up against Bosingwa will have it’s difficulties in terms of Bosingwa’s speed which should help him keep with the Frenchman but Ribery’s craft and dribbling ability could cause the Portugese full-back to have a torrid evening. If Bosingwa keeps Ribery in his pocket then much of ¬†Bayern’s threat will be negated.

Boateng Vs Drogba

In the absence of first-choice centre-halves, the versatile German international Jerome Boateng provide’s Bayern with their only obvious option to command the central area of their back-line and the task ahead of him could hardly be more difficult than having to deal with Drogba.

Drogba Boateng

Drogba looks to have the beating of Boateng but the young German could emerge as the star for Bayern if he keeps Drogba quiet

There is arguably still no better player on the planet than Drogba when it comes to playing up top as a solitary front-man and if he is at his best then I would be surprised if Boateng and co keep him quiet for long. If Boateng is partnered at centre-back by an out of position and perhaps more importantly rather short Anatoliy Tymoschuk then much of the defensive burden may fall on his shoulders and he could be almost solely reliant for taming the undoubted threat which Drogba poses.

Schweinsteiger Vs. Lampard

Two of this final’s veteran players could have a huge say in the outcome of the match as both of them hold the key to their side’s passing games.

Lampard Schweinsteiger

Could these two decide the outcome of the final with their possession-play in midfield

Both Lampard and Schweinsteiger are seen as their side’s dictators of play and much will rest on each of their shoulders as they seek to win the possession battle which could prove very significant on the night.

Cahill Vs. Gomez

Having played very little football over the past few weeks due to injury, tonight could go one of two ways for Chelsea’s January recruit Gary Cahill. One possibility is that this short-term absence has kept him fresh and ready to take on Bayern tonight, but the other possibility is that he may be under-cooked which he simply cannot afford to be when taking on the likes of Mario Gomez who has already scored 41 goals this season in all competitions.

David Luiz

Gary Cahill will need to be at his very best after a brief injury lay-off

Gomez has some similarities with Chelsea’s target-man Didier Drogba in that they are both part of a rare-breed of tall and strong strikers who aren’t merely physical presences but who are also very mobile and very technically sound footballers. If Gomez performs to something like the best of his abilities then Cahill will have to produce an epic performance to try and keep him under wraps as his likely parter at centre-back will be David Luiz who in spite of an improving level of awareness still represents something of a liability.

 

My Prediction:

I think that both sides will provide a threat due to their respective absences of key players in key positions but I think Bayern will come out on top and deny Chelsea from winning a first Champions League title.

Score: Bayern 2 – 1 Chelsea:

Scorers (In order) : Gomez (First Half), Robben  (Early Second Half), Drogba (15 minutes to go)

 

 

A tale of two diminutive Spaniards

As we all know too well, English football is deprived of creative attacking midfielders with superb craft and much sought after ‘end product’. One particular area of the world though is thriving in this department and you may not be surprised to hear that this is Spain.

Silva and Mata

Silva and Mata are amongst a wealth of creative talent at Spain's disposal

Think Xavi, Iniesta, Cesc Fabregas, David Silva, Juan Mata, Thiago Alcantara, Sergio Canales and Javi Martinez and on the basis of the weekend’s performance Mikel Arteta and you arguably have a list of 8 or 9 experienced and/or enormously talented individuals capable of unlocking defensive doors, playing the killer pass and even getting themselves in the mix for plenty of goalscoring opportunities themselves.

In England on the other hand we are really limited in this crucial area. Gerrard and Lampard still have their moments but it would be hard to deny that they are past their best, Paul Scholes is re-emerging since his brief retirement period as arguably England’s best ball-playing midfielder but he too his way beyond the wrong the side of 30 and beyond this I’m struggling to think of any match-winning playmakers that we have at our disposal.

Jack Wilshere is probably England’s up and coming force in this role but he has already been on the receiving end of a string of injury concerns and may miss out on the Euros this summer and even putting such issues aside is he really better than the likes of Thiago, Canales, Mata and Martinez the emergent midfield forces in and around the Spanish squad? I personally don’t think so.

The other hope for England in this sort of role is Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain but it is very unclear just where he will end up being best utilised in the future for club and country as he is very much in the developmental and fledgling stage of his career at present.

The lack of current and emerging options in this pivotal attacking role is alarming and perhaps why the major English forces in the Premier League have turned to Spain to find their diminutive playmakers.

Manchester City have David Silva operating ‘in the hole’ behind the forwards as their most trusted playmaker, Chelsea have Juan Mata fulfilling much the same role in their line-up and Vicente Del Bosque must be licking his lips when thinking about how two of his dead-certs for the Euros have plied their trade in the Premier League this season.

Juan Mata Chelsea

Silva and Mata have been two of the most impressive playmakers in the Premier League this season

At times, both Spanish attacking central midfield players have been the driving forces behind their team’s runs of form and when they have been at their best they have been almost impossible to handle.

Silva may have looked a little ‘burnt out’ in the latter stages of this season, which of course will be of concern to the Spanish management as well as Manchester City’s but perhaps this is just a knock-on effect of his fellow team-mates’ slumps in form? Even if it is just a personal form issue, one good thing for Spain to come out of Silva’s stuggles to light up the Premier League in the second half of the season is that City have been lost without him, which suggests that he is a hugely influential and instrumental player when he is at his best.

This theory might be for those of a sunnier, glass-half-full disposition but it is a theory that I’m sticking too. I think that as soon as Silva is re-united with his international team-mates before the Euros that he will feel refreshed and will have a new lease of life not often seen in City’s recent struggles.

While City have struggled in the absence of Silva’s best form, Chelsea have begun to flourish as a result of Mata’s rise to prominence.

Perhaps it is the way that Mata was being deployed by Andre Vilas-Boas that was slightly inhibiting the Spaniard’s form in his first few months at the Bridge or perhaps it is just a case of him taking a while to settle in but one thing is for sure and that is that Mata has now begun to express himself as we know he can and that Chelsea are reaping huge benefits as a result.

Mata has far outdone David Silva’s efforts of late and it is little coincidence that their two sides have had coinciding contrasting fortunes, so much so that Chelsea could yet be contesting a Champions League and an FA Cup final whereas Manchester City now look like ending the season trophy-less and dejected.

One might even go as far as to argue that Mata’s recent efforts mean that he deserves to jump Silva in the queue to be part of Spain’s starting play-making unit at the Euros. Whether this will be the case or not though, it is clear that Spain’s finest ball-players are a step ahead of England’s at present and that they have an embarrassment of riches in this role which could well drive them to a third consecutive major tournament win this summer.

One interesting point which I will make though is that England have no one closer to such talents and such attacking influence than Paul Scholes and that his contributions since returning to United this season mean that whoever takes the England to the Euros this summer simply must try again to persuade him out of retirement. If Scholes isn’t a part of the England squad then do we really have anybody who can compete with Xavi, Alonso, Iniesta, Fabregas, Silva and Mata not to mention a couple of other huge talents?