Let me, just for a moment, show the fact that I am indeed an American. There’s a seminal moment in a movie from the U.S. called “Major League” where the baseball team that the movie is about realise that the owner has been plotting against them. Without getting into boring details, apparently, she wants to move the team to a bigger media market, but to force a move, she wants the team to perform so badly that she can force the city to let her move. She buys has-been or never has-been players, and there’s a moment where the team learns that they will all be released after they lose enough for her to move.
The main character then declares, “there is only one thing left to do. Win the whole f’ing thing.”
At the moment, Chelsea are at a similar crossroads. With Champions League qualification out of reach based on finishing 6th in the league, Chelsea must win the whole thing in order to get in next season.
Awaiting them are a Bayern Munich side that have been every bit the challenge for every opponent, with the added benefit of the final being played at the Allianz Arena in Munich.
This could be a blessing or a curse, as it means that Bayern will have the eyes of a city and a country on them with the added pressure of being the favourites.
The underdog tag has worked well for the Blues, as we’ve come back from behind or were looked down at by the media. The players have developed a siege mentality, and it’s carried them to an unpredictable finish in Barcelona.
The suspended players on both sides have been talked about to death, so I will try to leave them out of it. But there are some positives that I think we can take from how Bayern fared against Borussia Dortmund in the DFB-Pokal final.
The one weakness that Bayern showed against Dortmund was that they were susceptible to the quick counter attack.
Dortmund have been Bayern’s kryptonite over the past couple seasons. Dortmund not only got the better of them in their two league meetings, but they also won the Bundesliga by eight points over Bayern. Dortmund simply capped it off by a 5-2 victory over their competitive rivals.
The key is that Dortmund have played a high-energy pressing game with a focus on counter attacking swiftly. In fact, Shinji Kagawa gave them fits in the number 10 role and presumably Juan Mata will be looking for the same space.
In fact, Real Madrid found some joy against Bayern when they stopped playing Mesut Ozil as a support man for Karim Benzema and pushed Angel Di Maria further forward.
The problem with Madrid’s approach is that their counter attack was very narrow, whereas Dortmund and Chelsea both counter attack from wider areas. Madrid play Cristiano Ronaldo and Angel Di Maria on their opposite wings, which is something we might not do.
The Bayern Munich weakness to the counter is mainly affected by the absence of Luis Gustavo.
Though Gustavo had a terrible game for Bayern against Dortmund, he has been the holding midfielder for most of the season for Bayern, giving Bastian Schweinsteiger a chance to look further forward. With the absence of Gustavo, the partner in the center for Schweinsteiger will be Toni Kroos. While Kroos plays a very mature game for being just 22, he’s not really a defensive-minded partner to hold the midfield.
If those two press too high up the pitch, it will give Mata even more space to operate. In addition, the absence of Gustavo means that they will not have a third true midfielder to support the play.
What position will Thomas Muller play?
Thomas Muller is a challenging player to figure out because it’s how he plays that will determine the space and pattern of the Bayern play. While the two main threats are Arjen Robben and Franck Ribery, it’s how Bayern links play to Mario Gomez that makes all the difference in the match.
Muller is usually best cast as a supporting striker, but in this match, he will line up in the number 10 role, most likely interchanging with Robben and Ribery. The problem this adds that if Muller plays to high, it forces the midfield higher, and exploits space to counter into. In addition, if he withdraws too far into the midfield, Gomez will be isolated and it exposes the fact that Muller isn’t really a defensive player.
That will tell us all we need to know about Bayern’s intentions.
Mario Gomez is their clear goal scorer, but he’s clearly a mystery at times.
Mario Gomez is an interesting striker. He has 40 goals in all competitions this season, but if you were to watch him, you’d wonder how. He doesn’t really link play well. He doesn’t really run with the ball at his feet well. He simply probes the spaces in the backline and stuffs the ball into the net by any legal means. Suffice it to say, he’s not going to win any “Goal of the Season” medals.
The one thing to notice about Gomez is how he didn’t deal terribly well against Mats Hummels and Nevin Subotic. Both players are good passers of the ball, but they are also bigger, physical CBs who took Gomez off his game. David Luiz and Gary Cahill are in a similar mould, provided they both pass fit. That will be the biggest question about this match.
Lastly, if there’s one man that will be motivated for this Final and ready to drag the team to victory, it’s Didier Drogba.
Not only does the Ivorian want what is perhaps his last shot at the trophy that’s eluded him, but he also has bad memories of the 2008 Final where he was sent off in disgrace for slapping Nemanja Vidic.
All that aside, Drogba will start and his presence will be vitally important given the absence of John Terry.
If Terry is the captain and the leader, Drogba may just be the spiritual and emotional advisor. Drogba has long had the ability to raise his game as the situation needs and will run himself into the ground for the team.
If there’s anyone in that dressing room that is willing to put the team on his shoulders and will them to score, it’s Drogba.
I don’t know what it is, but the nerves have not completely sunk in. Perhaps, as I looked at the stats, the games played, everything, I came to the realisation that Gary Neville might have said it best in the Semifinal, “sometimes it’s just written in the stars.” I can’t explain it, but I personally feel that after everything that could’ve gone wrong this season and didn’t, that somehow we are destined to lift that trophy before the offseason dissection takes place.
All I can say is, be safe to those who are travelling to Munich, and Come on, you Blues!