Ten Thoughts on the Champions League Final

21/05/2012

The Champions League Final was filled with drama and many twists on Saturday. Chelsea defeated Bayern Munich in penalty kicks to finally win the trophy that owner Roman Abramovich has coveted. Here are ten thoughts about Saturday:

1. Chelsea manager Roberto Di Matteo deserves a lot of credit for the job he has done since taking over for Andre Villas-Boas in the middle of the season. Di Matteo salvaged a disappointing league campaign with a FA Cup and Champions League trophy. It will be interesting to see if Chelsea will make Di Matteo their permanent manager. Regardless of what happens, Di Matteo will be remembered in Chelsea history.

2. Didier Drogba is planning on leaving Chelsea. The Ivory Coast striker will be departing the club on top after scoring the game tying goal and winning penalty kick on Saturday. Drogba almost ended up as the goat when he took down Franck Ribery in the box early in extra time. However, Petr Cech spared embarrassment for Drogba by saving Arjen Robben’s spot kick. Two Cech saves in penalty kicks opened the door for Drogba to be the hero one last time.

3. Give a lot of credit to Di Matteo for starting young Ryan Bertrand at left midfield. Bertrand did well in his first Champions League appearance. He is a natural left back so he was able to help Ashley Cole contain the dangerous Arjen Robben. It was a bold move by Di Matteo that worked.

4. The win for Chelsea is a fitting end to many Champions League heartbreaks. In 2008, John Terry missed a game winning penalty kick in Moscow, and Manchester United ended up winning the final. In 2009, Barcelona sunk Chelsea through a last gasp goal by Andres Iniesta in the semifinals. In 2010, they were upset by Inter Milan in the round of 16. Those glum moments for Chelsea fans can be forgotten now that they have European hardware.

5. The amazing part of Chelsea winning the Champions League this season was how they got there. In the round of 16, their chances were slim after a first leg loss to Napoli. Di Matteo rallied his players to comeback in the second leg and force extra time. Branislav Ivanovic scored an extra time winner to send Chelsea to the quarterfinals. Chelsea didn’t have too much trouble with Benefica in the quarterfinals. Going into the semifinals Chelsea were heavy underdogs against Barcelona. Throughout the two legs they were out possessed severely, but scored two counterattack goals to send them to Munich. Chelsea continued to be the comeback kids in Munich as Drogba’s equalizer came right after Thomas Muller scored the first goal of the match. Chelsea’s run was just as impressive as Manchester City’s EPL title run this season.

6. Looking at the match stats, the one thing that stuck out for me was the corner kicks. Bayern Munich has some tall players that are great in the air, but were never able to do much with their 20 corner kicks. Chelsea only had one corner kick and they made the most of it. Drogba’s 88th minute goal was a header off a corner kick.

7. It is common that soccer’s big games disappoint because teams play very conservative and try to avoid costly mistakes. This game wasn’t beautiful soccer, but it was highly entertaining throughout. This was the best final since 2008. Barcelona handily beat Manchester United in 2009 and 2011, and Inter Milan had little trouble with Bayern Munich in 2010.

8. Saturday was another instance of Arjen Robben disappointing in a big match. He is a world-class player, but his legacy will be that he has been on the losing end of important games. The 2010 Champions League Final is one example, and the 2010 World Cup Final is another. In the World Cup Final, Robben had several opportunities to win the World Cup for the Netherlands. On Saturday, Robben missed a penalty kick in extra time that would’ve likely won the Champions League.

9. Another major match in Germany, another time the Germans fail to win on their home soil. Germany is one of the great soccer nations in the World, but has had some heartbreaking results in the last six years. The Germany national team lost to Italy in the 2006 World Cup semifinals in extra time in Dortmund. The Germany women’s national team was upset in the quarterfinals of the 2011 Women’s World Cup that took place in Germany. Now Bayern Munich, in their own stadium, lost a match that they should’ve won.

10. The match can affect England and Germany as Euro 2012 takes place in less than three weeks. It was a truly amazing season in England in 2011-2012. Manchester City won a dramatic title for the first time in 44 year. Chelsea went on an incredible run in the Champions League with Frank Lampard, Ashely Cole and Gary Cahill playing key roles. Can the magic from the club season last and inspire the Three Lions this summer? It certainly can’t hurt. The German Bayern Munich players must have short memories as the come into the Germany training camp. Manuel Neuer, Jerome Boateng, Philipp Lahm, Bastian Schweinsteiger, Toni Kroos, Thomas Muller and Mario Gomez must focus and get ready for next month. Germany is one of the favorites of the Euro 2012, and they need some of these players to be in great form.

Advertisements

Champions League Final Preview

18/05/2012

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.


Review of Top European Leagues

17/05/2012

Spain: This season’s Spanish La Liga was all about two players: Messi and Ronaldo. The two were must see TV every weekend and scored goals by the bunches. Lionel Messi ended up with 50 La Liga goals and Cristiano Ronaldo netted 46. Ronaldo will represent Portugal this summer at Euro 2012 and his team got the last laugh in the league table. Real Madrid won the league by nine points to finally get over the hump since they bought Ronaldo and Kaka in the summer of 2009. Valencia finished in third place, but ended up 30 points behind Barcelona. Malaga used their new money effectively to finish fourth and will take part in next season’s Champions League. Villarreal finished 18th and will be relegated. Very disappointing for a club who was in the Champions League earlier this year.

Italy: Juventus won Serie A in historic fashion by going undefeated in the regular season. Juventus won 23 games and drew 15 of their matches. AC Milan battled all year at the top of the table, but finished four points behind Juventus. Serie A leading scorcer and AC Milan striker Zlatan Imbrahimovic, 28 goals, now turns his attention to anchoring Sweden in Group D at Euro 2012. Udinese lost Alexis Sanchez to Barcelona last summer, but finished in third to gain the last Champions League spot. Italian international Antonio Di Natale scored 23 goals for Udinese. Inter Milan finished a disappointing sixth place, and won’t be competing in the Champions League or Europa League next term.

Germany: It felt like Bayern Munich would dominate the Bundesliga after a strong start to the season. However, Borussia Dortmund recovered and defended their title. Dortmund finished eight points ahead of Bayern Munich. Polish International Robert Lewandowski scored 22 goals this season for Borussia Dortmund, as they captured the Bundesliga and the German Cup. Host country Poland will count on Lewandowski’s goal scoring next month. Schalke 04 and Borussia Monchengladbach captured the other two Champions League spots. Bayern Munich has the opportunity for a trophy as they play Chelsea in the Champions League Final on Saturday.


Survival Sunday a Hit in America

16/05/2012

I was going to do a review that covered the entire EPL season, but this dramatic season can be defined in one crazy day.

Manchester City won the title on goal differential over Manchester United for the first time in 44 years. How Manchester City won it will be remembered around the world, even in America.

Manchester City defeated QPR 3-2 and scored two injury time goals to secure the trophy. The game was broadcasted live on ESPN2 so all of America was able to view the game.

When the game ended, Twitter blew up with people commenting on the shocking finish. Sports fans who never talk about soccer took the time to give their input on the ending of the match. As a Manchester United fan I was obviously disappointed at the result, but found silver lining that the popularity of soccer is growing in America.

For fans who loved the Survival Sunday, make sure to stick around and follow Euro 2012. The intensity and competition is great and every game will be on the ESPN family of networks.