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)

 

 

Could Milan teach Barca a Nou Lesson?

We all know too well that Barcelona can be a force of nature and that for now they are without question the Kings of European football. They have elevated football to a new level and founded upon the strong and composed defensive unit they have put together their more attacking options have become the envy of all clubs in world football.

Pep Guardiola has fashioned a side worthy of enormous praise and adulation not just for the results that his side have achieved but also for the way they that they have played their football en route to becoming the continent’s and in fact the world’s most feared side.

Barcelona Milan

Magical Messi couldn't quite force a way through at the San Siro

As it stands though, Barca have come away from the first leg of their Champions League quarter final in a position of genuine precariousness, as for the third time in this season’s competition they have failed to beat Milan.

Sure they still managed to get a draw out of their away leg, and sure Milan looked a totally different side when travelling to Arsenal in the previous round when compared with the ruthlessness and discipline they showed at home to the Londoners but Barcelona’s inability to find the net at the San Siro could well be a cause for significant concern and could yet cost them dear.

Barcelona’s dominance has been such over the past few years that they have at times seemed untouchable. When you think back to Wembley last year in the final of the Champions League and how they totally overwhelmed Manchester United for 80 of the 90 minutes and matched them for the other 10 you can’t help but heap praise on the side that Pep Guardiola has built and nurtured at the Nou Camp but this season has perhaps exposed a few chinks in their armoury.

The three successive draws against Milan aside, they have struggled to keep pace with Real Madrid in La Liga and at present they look set to lose their crown as Spain’s number one side even if they do overcome the Italians and go on to land another European success. They have been  too sloppy and too often against grossly inferior opposition at times this season and perhaps there is fuel in the argument that complacency has creeped into a side, who have after all, been repeatedly told by almost everybody that they are invincible.

You could hardly level any suggestions of complacency at Barcelona on the night though against Milan, as they continually switched the play from flank to flank and probed in and around the opposition’s penalty area in a persistent attempt to find the elusive away goal which would surely have made them overwhelming favourites to progress.

There was no lack of effort and no lack of ideas but Milan were just about as good as any side have been at negating the threat of the Catalan’s undying thirst for stringing passes together and building pressure.

Time and time again, Milan made the right intervention, the crucial intervention, at the perfect moment. Whether it was an interception, a tackle, a save, or a block, the Rossoneri just seemed to come up with the goods every time and never more so than  when Luca Antoinini demonstrated an exemplary bit of last ditch defending which thwarted one of Barcelona’s unusually low count of genuine clean breakthrough’s in the match.

Not only did they demonstrate phenomenal commitment and composure at the back but it would also be fair to say that Milan could even have won the game.

They too produced  a couple of potentially match-winning chances and had it been for some more convincing efforts when the opportunity knocked then they could feasibly have been heading to the Nou Camp buoyed by a hard-earned victory rather than just the clean-sheet which, in itself, is more than admirable.

Though it may feel to them as if they could have nicked the tie and be going to Spain with the goals-advantage the Rossoneri must surely be satisfied with their efforts on the night.

Throughout the vast majority of the 90 minutes Milan were oh so organised in defence and proved to themselves as much as anyone else that it is possible to shut out their much vaunted opposite numbers. The chances they did manage to create must too be a sign of great encouragement for them as they head to the Nou Camp on a mission to de-throne the kings of Europe and they must believe that a fourth draw in a row against Barcelona is possible and with the shut-out on home turf already achieved they now know that a draw might well be all they need.

I personally still fancy the Catalans to progress but I only think they will manage to do so by a very fine margin and if I were a betting man then I would back Barca to come out as 2-1 winners at the Camp Nou but I do still harbour the belief that Milan are well set up to try and cause a massive shock.

They are blessed with having some very experienced players through the core of their side, which is crucial when taking on a side like Barcelona who play with such intelligence and cunning but they too have younger, stronger and more offensively able players amidst their ranks.

The likes of Robinho, Kevin-Prince Boateng and the enigmatic Zlatan Ibrahimovic may at times seem withdrawn or off-colour but their maverick and mercurial nature provides such a threat that they could really harm Barcelona just as they probably could any side in world football.

I can’t see the second leg of this tie doing anything other than exciting and perhaps even shocking a few people out there but whatever the outcome I am looking forward to the fourth instalment of the Barca-Milan battle this season with great anticipation. It is beautifully poised and that is what knock-out football is all about.