The new Premier League season is going to be an uphill battle for Chelsea, and here’s why.
Well I’m adamant nobody will remember my preview 12 months ago when I called a Barcelona win by a scoreline of 3-1 over Manchester United.
Ashamedly enough, I did not have the courage to predict in the article that Wayne Rooney would break his scoring duck in a Champions league Final and that David Villa would hit a humdinger.
So as my beloved Blues are back to contest their second final in four years. They are attempting to erase the nightmare of Moscow minus Captain John Terry, the Chelsea player’s player of the year Ramires, the rock-solid Branislav Ivanovic and the man that has scored all his goals for Chelsea from outside the box in spectacular fashion, Raul Merieles.
I might as well have another crack at predicting a match that I hope will hopefully cause me to shed a tear or two as we lift that hallowed trophy for the first time.
Bayern Munich enter the finale at the Allianz Arena having been thumped 5-2 by domestic kings Borussia Dortmund and will be reeling.
They also finished runners up in the Bundesliga and therefore run the risk of finishing the season empty handed after such a superb season.
It will be a sting but they have been exceptional on the continent this term, having seen off the likes of Manchester City, Napoli and of course Real Madrid with aplomb.
They will be looking to join Liverpool by delivering title number five having triumphed previously in 1974, 1975, 1976 and 2001.
Under Louis van Gaal only two years ago in 2010, ‘FC Hollywood’ were humbled 2-0 by Jose Mourinho’s history making treble side Internazionale and will therefore be looking to make amends after a terrific domestic double triumph in 2009/2010.
The boys from the Bridge have endured in many ways a torrid season that has been characterised by two things: inconsistency and fight.
Under Andre Villas-Boas Chelsea suffered an identity crisis and looked their most vulnerable and impotent in years defensively and up front.
Didier Drogba and Fernando Torres were misfiring with a disgruntled winger in Daniel Sturridge carrying the responsibility during the first half of the season to score.
The at-times suicidal line that was introduced to help dominate matches and control possession was an abject failure as 5-3 and 3-1 losses to Arsenal and Manchester United exposing the poor execution of such a intricate tactic.
Simply, Chelsea were not good enough up until Christmas and up to Villas Boas’s sacking despite signs of promise.
Roberto Di Matteo has instilled great assurance and confidence into the squad which has enabled the team to finish the season in a flurry having won a fourth FA cup in six years and making it to Munich after overcoming the Barcelona juggernaut.
Inconsistency has plagued the team all season but the fight has always remained whoever has been in charge.
Chelsea put in magnificent performances before Christmas in 3-0 wins over Newcastle away and against Valencia in the Champions League to seal progression, as well delivering a first defeat of the season to Manchester City winning 2-1.
When their backs have been against the wall they have delivered more often than not. Their inconsistency has made virtually all their games a big one, which has obviously taken its toll.
But a European Cup double would end up being their greatest season yet and would almost certainly banish the demons of Moscow 2008 for this ageing core group of warriors.
With Holger Badstuber, David Alaba and Luis Gustavo suspended, the Bavarian’s defence is depleted to say the least.
Without their most consistent centre half, and energetic left back who has come on in leaps and bounds this season mirroring the attacking bursts such as Marcelo and Ashley Cole and being resolute in defence, Bayern will be weakened.
Luis Gustavo has been a revelation in screening an often-weak back four with long term injuries to Daniel Van Buyten and Breno and the offloading of Martin Demechellis, leaving Badstuber’s partner Jerome Boateng with a massive workload.
The question will be how Jupp Heynckes constructs his back four to combat Drogba, who poses one of the greatest threats in the world with his prowess in the air and on the deck.
With Neuer a certainty in goal and Boateng the only certain available centre back at the time of writing Heynckes will be sweating on the fitness of Van Buyten and Breno to be fit for the final.
Anatoliy Tymoschuk may have to play as a makeshift centre back which could be fatal if Dider Drogba starts.
With Alaba out, another dilemna is whether to play Philipp Lahm at his natural RB slot and play the young Diego Contento who has played just 14 matches this season in his natural LB position or, allow the skipper Lahm to play on the left where he has played several times before for club and country and leave the right flank to Rafinha.
Bayern’s back four is in my opinion the most crucial decision for the match with a combination of injuries and suspensions leaving it quite vulnerable.
Chelsea proved against Barcelona that they are not afraid to play long and direct to Didier Drogba and utilise the set pieces to wreck havoc so it will not be surprising if they try to exploit an underdone Bayern defence.
With no Gustavo I suspect Schweinsteiger will stay a lot more deeper and try to dictate from a withdrawn position if partnered alongside Toni Kroos as the two holding midfielders.
In their customary 4-2-3-1 system to allow the young German starlet Kroos the opportunity to burst forward and support Thomas Muller.
However, Anatoliy Tymoschuk may well being entrusted to track the runs of the likes of Frank Lampard, Florent Malouda and Michael Essien into the box leaving Schweinsteiger to roam free and support Kroos in attack instead, if Mueller is overlooked to start as the number 10.
Mario Gomez and Ivica Olic will be keen to make their mark up front with the latter odds on to come of the bench if he were to be involved as Gomez has established himself over the last two seasons as an indispensable member of this powerful Munich side.
I believe that Van Buyten will pull up well after his reserves hit out and Contento and Tymoschuk to be the unlucky omissions from the starting XI:
Neuer, Rafinha, Boateng, Van Buyten, Lahm, Schweinsteiger, Kroos, Ribery, Mueller, Robben, Gomez
Olic, Contento, Tymoschuk, Butt, Pranijic, Petersen, Usami
The Blues are hit just as hard with four suspensions and injury clouds surrounding their only two eligible senior centre backs.
Captain John Terry will be sorely missed after his leadership has inspired Chelsea to the great heights they have been able to climb to ever since his return from injury.
A positive is that Chelsea will not need to hold their breath if the game were to go to penalties!
Ramires has been sensational for Chelsea this season proving to be a real x-factor with his lightning pace and classy finishing putting the gloss on a game that runs on a never ending engine and versatility that is unmatched.
Raul Merieles has had his moments in blue since his switch from Anfield and played a vital role in the semi-finals against the Blaugrana with his tenacity and discipline.
Perhaps the loss with the biggest ramifications is that of Branislav Ivanovic. If eligible he would have been able to play on the right or at the heart of defence but has now opened the door for the highly unreliable Jose Bosingwa to take centre stage.
Worst case scenario would be Bosingwa playing as a centre back if the injured Gary Cahill and David Luiz were to fail in their recovery.
It will be a 4-2-3-1 versus 4-2-3-1 and it will be most fascinating to see where Frank Lampard starts.
With Ramires and Merieles suspended, I am sure that Michael Essien and John Obi Mikel will start.
Frank Lampard has been played in a deeper position for club and country over the last 12 months and is more than able to competently spot the runs of those such as Ribery and Robben and help out at the back and create from deep.
However, I expect Chelsea to open up a bit more than they were against Barcelona and wouldn’t be surprised if Mikel and Essien anchor the midfield with their power and presence being an important factor.
Therefore I believe Lampard will start in his favoured position in the whole just behind Didier Drogba to make himself a greater threat with his trademark runs into the box and his shooting danger from distance.
Roberto Di Matteo has been a big fan of Saloman Kalou since his appointment and while Daniel Strurridge or Florrent Malouda (who started four years ago) offer a variety of options I suspect the Ivorian will be given the green light as the often frustrating and inconsistent Sturridge has been largely unpopular with Di Matteo, while Malouda is under a injury cloud.
Juan Mata will be ripe after given a nice break since the FA Cup final and will be one of the biggest threats during the match whether he looks to create or score himself.
Didier Drogba is Chelsea’s key man with his aerial prowess and strength something Bayern will not have come across this season. He is the potential match winner. Expected starting XI:
Cech, Bosingwa, Cahill, David Luiz, Cole, Mikel, Essien, Mata, Lampard, Kalou, Drogba
Sturridge, Ferreira, Malouda, Romeu, Bertrand, Torres, Hutchinson
For Bayern, playing at home and being the favourites they will be riding off the wave of emotions that the Allianz Arena will be exerting as they go in search of a fifth title.
I am very much resigned to the fact that the first 15-20 mins will be an onslaught and it is this critical moment that will set the tone for the match.
You may have picked up on why I have given Franck Ribery and Arjen Robben such little mention but it will be these two known as ‘Robbery’ that will cause all the trouble during the early stages as Bayern monopolise possession through Kroos and Schweinsteiger’s command in the middle of the park.
When the balls get sprayed to the flanks to either Ribery or Robben or big diagonals are being launched from the back ‘Robbery’ must make the most of the dominance they will have.
When leaving Bosingwa to eat their dust and escape from the sight of John Obi Mikel either of the flying wingers must ensure they tee up Mario Gomez or slam one in themselves, as Chelsea have proven if you do not take your chances against them they will make you pay and have shown their aptitude to defend and defend well for long periods.
Chelsea may have been able to overcome the tika-taka onslaught against Barcelona, but if Bayern Munich are smart they will be wise to mix it up tactically.
Barcelona were criticised for only knowing one way to play, as it was easy for Chelsea to defend for 180 minutes against build-ups that lacked pace and variety which was welcomingly predictable.
Bayern are a dynamic side and should look to try different things when they dominate the ball and certain tactics arent working.
Ribery and Robben should look to switch flanks regularly and cut in from the opposite sides and deliver crosses from the natural flanks into Gomez in order to keep the Chelsea defence on their feet.
Unsettling their defensive rhythm is particularly important especially without John Terry there barking out instructions and directions to keep the defence focused.
Robbery, Kroos and Schweinsteiger all possess a threat from distance and it may well be an avenue to goal if Chelsea cannot be broken down.
Playing with dynamism and utilising all their qualities at a great tempo whether that be ball circulation or lightning counter attacks, will ensure they will be able to unlock a resolute defence such as Chelsea.
At the back Jerome Boateng and co will have to keep a close eye on Didier Drogba and be prepared for a power showdown with the burly Ivorian central to not only Chelsea’s thrust forward but also defensively during set pieces.
Chelsea conversely must overcome the opening 20 minutes or so and ensure they do not concede at all costs. If Bayern score early they will be playing with confidence and that is fatal when playing at their home ground.
Weathering the storm is crucial and playing off the counter attack which has served them so well must be the route to goal.
If they are able to pluck an early goal it will give them the confidence and security to defend with composure and launch measured attacks.
This will ensure Jose Bosingwa will be less likely to panic for Chelsea’s sake.
Ashley Coles ability to mark and contain Ribery and Robben throughout the game will be critical. Gael Clichy, Micah Richards, Andrea Dossena, Christian Maggio, Marcelo and Sergio Ramos are just some full backs ‘Robbery’ have come across this season in the champions league and they all have question marks over their defensive capabilities on top of their forays in attack.
Very few fullbacks possess the quality of the former Arsenal man as he is able to contribute going forward with boundless energy and with age has transformed into an astute defender.
The Englishman will be heavily relied upon to bomb up and down the field to get the team forward and out of trouble.
I also have a weird feeling that if Michael Essien starts in Munich, that he will do something special having been largely frozen out since Di Matteo became manager.
Be it a goal-line clearance or a volley from outside the box the Ghanaian has always had some magic about him.
Petr Cech, Ashley Cole, Frank Lampard, Michael Essien and Didier Drogba – half the team started in Moscow and there will no doubt be a burning desire to cap off a defining era for the Club with a fitting European Title.
There will be no other opportunity like this one imagines for this group of battle-hardened veterans and one final hurrah is well and truly on the cards after all the drama and controversy in the Champions League over the last decade.
Bayern Munich suffered their own heartache in 2010 when they fell to a Diego Milito brace. Daniel Van Buyten, Phillip Lahm, Bastian Schweinsteiger, Thomas Mueller and Arjen Robben started at the Bernabeu and will be looking to go one better this time. The motivation to win will never be higher.
On paper Bayern are overwhelming favourites – playing at home, in superb form in the Champions league, playing some of the best football and have matchwinners all over the park.
I feel that this game will be very much decided in the opening 20 minutes. If Bayern break free expect a comfortable Bavarian win.
If Chelsea can hold out and frustrate the home team then I feel they have honed their counter attacking football well enough and have the discipline and experience to see out up to 120 minutes of intense action. Penalties may well be on the cards.
However I feel Bayern’s defence will not be able to contain Didier Drogba for the entirety of the match and therefore my blue heart believes a Frank Lampard penalty will settle it for the showpiece final in 2012.
Chelsea 1 Bayern Munich 0