Chelsea and Bayern Munich lock horns tomorrow in the Champions League final, the ultimate match of a competition that started last August and has seen many top European teams fall by the wayside. This is a final that few likely expected when the quarterfinal draws came out, and wasn't the likely outcome going into the semifinals, either, but Chelsea's handling of Barcelona and Bayern's dismissal of Real Madrid leaves us with what many disinterested parties might see as an uninteresting final.
There's a line of thinking that the semifinals of major competitions inevitably throw out better spectacles than the finals. In the semis, teams have everything to play for: a place in the final. But the tendency of many managers is to take a much more conservative approach in the finals and put their focus on trying not to concede goals, rather than creating them. In turn, the finals have a tendency to be pretty boring affairs, unless something happens to open the game up (like Liverpool going 3 goals behind in first half of the 2005 final, giving rise to THE GREATEST GAME OF ALL TIME OMFGBBQ, well until last week's Man City EPL finale, anyway).
With that in the background, it's hard for a neutral to get too excited about this final (2pm Eastern on Fox local stations), either. But the suspensions facing Chelsea, in particular defenders John Terry and Branislav Ivanovic and midfielder Ramires, should give Bayern's attackers an advantage to exploit. Bayern are reliant on French left winger Franck Ribery (who is neck-and-neck with Carlos Tevez for the most vicious-looking facial scars in European football) and Dutchman Arjen Robben on the right serving balls into the middle for striker Mario Gomez. The duo, dubbed "Robbery" by fans, are in the upper echelon of attackers anywhere on the continent, and will look to cut inside and make Chelsea's center-backs, especially
Sideshow Bob David Luiz, uncomfortable.
There's talk that Chelsea manager Roberto di Matteo will put Fernando Torres upfront with Didier Drogba, looking to take advantage of the suspension of one of Bayern's center-backs as well. But the pair haven't played well together all season through the middle, and neither on their own causes fear in defenders like they did a few years ago. Looking at the Chelsea team sheet, there aren't too many names that are going to raise a lot of eyebrows among the Bayern team or its supporters. Juan Mata can cause some danger, but someone will have to emerge out of the supporting cast to give Chelsea a chance. If anyone, it will be Drogba, who always turns up for the big games. Otherwise, they'll be banking on their aging old guard to pull out the performance of a lifetime to life the trophy.
The venue of the final should also be noted: it's being played at Bayern's home ground, the magnificent Allianz Arena. The venue moves around each year and is chosen well in advance (Wembley Stadium in London will host the 2013 event, and in 2014 it will be at the Estadio da Luz in Lisbon), but playing at home will undoubtedly give a boost to the Munich team.
Bayern are strong favorites with the bookies (4/5 right now), with Chelsea significant underdogs (10:3), and it's hard for me to see any reason to disagree. What say you?