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The key for Chelsea at the end of the day is Didier Drogba. Can he give Chelsea an out-ball? Can he occupy the Bayern last third, like only he can? And, can he score? Drogba is back to his beastly best because he has once again found a Chelsea manager that totally believes in him. At his best, Drogba offers so much flexibility because of his unique ability to establish a point of attack from virtually any situation, and his selfless work on the defensive side of the ball-game.
Like Messi and Cristiano, Drogba on his day in unplayable. He is a devastating physical phenomenon. He is Chelsea’s man for the big occasion. Starting with that final group game against Valencia through to the last 16 second leg tie against Napoli and to the semis against Barcelona, Drogba has been Chelsea’s match-decider.
Although Bayern have inconvenient selection posers of their own, they still are the favourites.
The absences of Basdtubber and Alaba do mean Bayern boss Jupp Heynckes will have to rejig his defence.
Experienced Ukrainian utility-man Anatoliy Tymoshchuk seems the first choice to step into defence, though Daniel Van Buyten, who recently played in a reserve match, could make a surprise return. The return of Van Buyten in place of Badstuber, in fact, wouldn’t necessarily be a bad thing for Bayern. He is a big, rugged defender and doesn’t mind the physical stuff while Badstubber is a more refined defender, the type which Drogba thrives against in his close-quarter battles.
Heynckes, bidding to become only the fourth man to win Europe’s top club crown with two different clubs – joining Ernst Happel, Ottmar Hitzfield and Jose Mourinho – also has the option of playing Diego Contento in Alaba’s place or switching skipper Philipp Lahm to the left and starting Rafinha at rightback.
In midfield, the absence of Gustavo will likely mean a midfield base of Bastian Schweinsteiger and Toni Kroos, with Thomas Mueller in behind top-scorer Mario Gomez, and Franck Ribery and Robben on either flank.
That “front four” of Gomez, Mueller, Ribery and Robben are on their day is as potent as any in world football. They are the munitions room where slow, methodical moves crescendo in football explosions. Bayern love to work triangles in attacking areas and put in crosses for their big man Gomez, and with so much uncertainty over Chelsea’s line-up this cohesion alone gives Bayern a big edge.
Gomez by the way has an amazing scoring record, with 80 goals in 90 appearances for club and country over the past two years and 12 goals in the Champions League this season. Those stats would frighten even a fully fit defence.
Finally, who will win?
The match is almost impossible to call, especially in what has been one of most unpredictable European season in recent memory. There are so many intangibles at play that it really would take a brave soul to call a winner.
It really will come down to who take their chances. The first goal will be vitally important. History tells us that the scorer of the opening goal on such occasions more often than not wins.
It needs no reminding too that discipline and composure are imperative on occasions such as this. The last team to score first and fail to win was Arsenal, but they were down to ten-men. Chelsea, as the away team certainly can’t afford that on Saturday.
Bayern will have more of the ball, it has become their way. The German side have evolved into a cultured team that perhaps is only behind Barcelona in terms of their strategic and meticulous use of the ball. The orchestrator of this symphony is Schweinsteiger and it may be down to Lampard, or whoever is the furthest forward of Chelsea’s midfield three, to disrupt him. Mikel similarly will have on put the brakes the slippery Mueller.
This is a theme you may have noticed. Chelsea no doubt will have to be the disruptors. They have to diffuse the emotion from game and frustrate Bayern. They have to plant the seed of doubt in Bayern, who can be rampant once they are in the groove, as their 7-0 demolition of Basel in the last 16 stage demonstrated, but vulnerable when the script turns, as their 5-2 German Cup final defeat to Borussia Dortmund illustrated.
All the cards, though, seem to be in the hands of Bayern Munich. They are at home and have a more settled feel. They are young, hungry and talented and will be looking to write Bayern’s name into football history by winning a fifth Champions League title.
But, if there is one team that can do the impossible it is Chelsea.
This is a Hollywood movie script – the last chance for this wonderful group of Chelsea lion-hearts to win the Holy Grail.
Yes, it’s game time.
Image Courtesy of FC Bayern München