Champions League Final Preview

The Champions League Final, also known in America as the Super Bowl of European soccer, takes place tomorrow in Munich. This season’s Champions League had many story lines since Semptember. The two Manchester teams exited the tournament after the group stage. Maybe even more surprising, the two Spanish giants were eliminated in the semifinals. At the end Chelsea and Bayern Munich will meet up in the final.

How they got here: Bayern Munich and Chelsea just went through disappointing league campaigns. Bayern finished in second place, but were expecting to win the Bundesliga after making several summer signings. Chelsea finished an embarrassing sixth place in the EPL, but won the FA Cup two weeks ago.

In the Champions League both squads won their groups. Bayern topped the “group of death” that featured Napoli, Manchester City and Villarreal. Chelsea placed first in a group that consisted of Bayer Leverkusen, Valencia and Genk (Belgium). Both teams were defeated in the first leg of their round of 16 tie. Bayern Munich lost to Basel 1-0, but recovered by dominating the Swiss side 7-0 in Munich. Chelsea looked done when they lost to Napoli 3-1 in Naples, but won a classic second leg 4-1 after extra time in London. Bayern beat Marseille 4-0 on aggregate and Chelsea defeated Benfica 3-1 on aggregate in the quarterfinals.

The semifinals saw major upsets. Bayern Munich beat Spanish champions Real Madrid in penalty kicks after the second leg. Bayern won the first leg at home 2-1. In the second leg, Real Madrid quickly took at 2-0 lead before Bayern responded with a penalty kick to match Madrid’s away goal. No one scored in the second half or extra time, and the match went to penalty kicks. Cristiano Ronaldo, Kaka and Sergio Ramos missed their penalties and Munich made three out of their four to advance to the final in their home stadium.

Chelsea were out possessed by Barcelona by a large margin, but their defense held firm in both legs against the defending Europeans champions. Chelsea won the first leg 1-0 behind a counterattack goal by Didier Drogba. In the second leg, Chelsea fell behind two goals and were a man down until they scored a goal out of nowhere right on the stroke of halftime. Chelsea then spent the second half defending and Barcelona eventually ran out of ideas.

What to watch for in the final

Between two teams, seven players are suspended for the final. Defenders John Terry and Branislav Ivanovic, and midfielders Ramires and Raul Meireles are ineligible for Chelsea. Bayern will be without defenders Holger Badstuber and David Alaba, and defensive midfielder Luiz Gustavo.

The suspensions to the Chelsea defenders are huge losses because of the injury questions surrounding Gary Cahill and David Luiz. The latest word is that Cahill and Luiz will start, but might not be fully fit. Roberto Di Matteo has some decisions to make on who to start in the midfield and what formation to play. A certainty is that Drogba will start at forward and Juan Mata will play with him or right behind him in support. If Chelsea wants a little more attack in their starting 11, then Daniel Sturridge might play on a wing. However, Chelsea will took to defend strongly and hope for a counterattack goal through Drogba, or maybe even with Fernando Torres as a substitute.

The loss of Luiz Gustavo means that Bayern will likely drop versatile midfielder Toni  Kroos to a holding midfield spot with Bastian Schweinsteiger. Thomas Muller should fill into an attacking midfield role just behind Mario Gomez. The Bayern Munich wingers will be very important and could give Chelsea some troubles without Branislav Ivanovic. Right winger Arjen Robben used to play for Chelsea and has a dangerous left footed shot. Chelsea left back Ashley Cole is the player you want to contain Robben. On the left side, Franck Ribery should have a great match against whoever Chelsea plays at right back.

Prediction: Bayern Munich 2, Chelsea 1; The Dutch and French wingers on Bayern Munich will be too much for a beat up Chelsea back line.

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