The Champions League Final takes place in Munich this weekend between Chelsea and Bayern, the two teams who were meant to be the underdogs in their respective semi-finals.
Real Madrid and Barcelona were supposed to advance to add another chapter to the battle they have been having all season in La Liga. However, Chelsea’s dogged defensive display in both legs was enough to knock out the Catalan giants, whilst Bayern beat Real Madrid on penalties.
With the Champions League Final taking place in Bayern’s backyard, here are five factors that will influence the outcome.
1. Bayern’s front four
Bayern Munich prefer to utilise a 4-2-3-1 system with the attacking midfield three of Arjen Robben, Tony Kroos and Franck Ribery playing in behind Mario Gomez.
The 26-year old Gomez, who has been lethal in this year’s competition with twelve goals from eleven appearances, feeds off of the triple-threat behind him.
Franck Ribery has been the man set up man, averaging 2.6 chance-creating key passes per match. However, Tony Kroos (2.4) and Arjen Robben (2.1) are not far behind, as Bayern have averaged 14 shots per match in the Champions League, with Mario Gomez taking a whopping 4.1 of these.
Only Cristiano Ronaldo and Lionel Messi have more attempts on target than super Mario, but with Arjen Robben also taking 3.4 shots per game and Tony Kroos 2.4, Bayern carry a balanced threat.
2. Will Chelsea press or sit?
Chelsea advanced to the Final by sitting deep and packing the middle against Barcelona and they will have to make a choice of how they set up against Bayern.
The Munich side have dominated possession in their Champions League matches, averaging 56%, which is second only to Barcelona in the group and knockout phases.
Bayern have lost three times in this season’s competition so far though. Manchester City beat them 2-0 at the Etihad, Basle won 1-0 in Switzerland and Real Madrid edged them 2-1 in the second leg of their Semi-Final.
Manchester City did a good job of pressing and hounding Bayern up the pitch in order to force turnovers as we can see on Stats Zone. They really pressed down the right side as Ivica Olic was playing out of position on the left of the Bayern midfield three and Diego Contento was standing in at left back.
This tactic worked and City were able to run out 2-0 winners.
Both Real Madrid and Basle adopted a more restrained defensive display in their Champions League victories over Bayern though.
Basle really sat deep, content to concede possession and territory to Bayern Munich, opting to hit them on the counter.
Whilst Real Madrid were able to rush in to a 2-0 lead in the second leg of their Champions League Semi-Final, they were also content to not press Bayern up the field.
Without Ramires’s energy and with the age of the likes of Didier Drogba and Frank Lampard, Chelsea probably won’t be pressing Bayern up the field and will drop back as well.
All three of these matches were on the road, but in the Champions League Final, Bayern will be at home. However, with Munich having David Alaba and Holger Badstuber suspended, they will be missing their left back and left-sided central defender. Chelsea may do well to adopt Man City’s approach and to press this side of the field in advanced areas.
3. The cross-field pass to attack the Bayern left-back
As I outlined in an article before the Champions League Semi-Finals entitled 5 keys for Chelsea to beat Barcelona, teams had success looking for the pass in behind Daniel Alves when he had gone up field.
Chelsea duly obliged in the first leg, as Frank Lampard spread the ball wide to Ramires, who had filled the space left by Alves’s forward run. Ramires then crossed for Drogba to score and Chelsea had a lead to defend.
In Bayern’s Semi-Final with Madrid, Real were also looking at a similar tactic to get the ball out to isolate left-back David Alaba one-on-one with Angel Di Maria. Madrid were able to earn a penalty from this ploy and also created the second to go two up in fifteen minutes.
With Bayern missing the left side of their defence, Chelsea may do well to not just press this side, but to test them with a similar tactic.
4. Can Chelsea play against real wingers?
Chelsea advanced to the Champions League Final by jamming the middle, forcing Barcelona to go wide to try and beat them by crossing the ball. Barca had no real height to the team and with Alexis Sanchez and Andres Iniesta playing narrow, no devastating players in the wide positions even when they gave youngsters Cuenca and Tello a shot on the flanks.
The problem Chelsea will have with Bayern is that they have two good wide-men in Arjen Robben and Franck Ribery, whilst also having to contain a bigger striker who can score with his head.
With no John Terry or Branislav Ivanovic, Chelsea may have trouble defending the right side against Franck Ribery, Bayern’s top chance-creator. If the Frenchman can deliver the ball, Gary Cahill and David Luiz will have trouble keeping Mario Gomez out.
5. Who fairs better in the Champions League Final without their suspended players?
Suspensions have been a big talking point since the Semi-Finals and the missing men are going to have a major impact on their teams in the Final.
Chelsea are without four players – Terry, Ivanovic, Meireles and Ramires, whilst Bayern are missing three – Gustavo, Alaba and Badstuber. Add to this teh fact that Chelsea will also be pairing Gary Cahill with David Luiz in the middle, both of whom haven’t played since the Semi-Final with Barcelona, and the Blues banged up defence will be severely tested Saturday night.
Bayern have their own defensive worries, but Anatoliy Tymoshchuk partnered Jerome Boateng in Munich’s match against Cologne straight after the Semi-Finals and should start Saturday night. Diego Contento also got the nod in the Cologne game at left-back ahead of David Alaba, who he also replaced in the second half at the weekend.
Bayern’s only problem will be who to play in the place of Luiz Gustavo. Thomas Muller came on for the Brazilian at the weekend and he also took his place in the Cologne match with Tony Kroos dropping deeper to play alongside Bastian Schweinsteiger. It would be an attacking move to include Muller, but if Chelsea are going to sit deep, it could prove a decisive one.
With both Chelsea and Bayern missing key players, there are definitely weak points for both teams to attack. If Chelsea can keep Robben, Ribery, Kroos and Gomez in check, then they have a very good chance to crash the party.
If they cannot, then they’ll be watching Bayern celebrate winning the Champions League in their own backyard.