After eliminating the two main favourites in two highly entertaining semi-finals, Bayern Munich and Chelsea will play tomorrow for the Champions League Cup and the salvation of their respective seasons. Bayern may feel less aggrieved by the season after coming second in the Bundesliga and reaching the final of the German Cup, but in such a club used to be serial winners, this season feels very much a failure without any major trophy to show. In a final played in Munich, the bavarians will be hoping to celebrate the trophy at home and will be buoyed by the prospect, even if captain Philip Lahm reminded recently that Chelsea supporters will have as many seats available as the Germans.
For Chelsea, the sense of urgency is even more noticeable. Drogba may not be at the club for much longer, with his future still to be decided. Lampard, Terry, Cole and others may see time starting to slip away and view this match as very likely their last opportunity. After losing any chances of reaching Champions League football next season by means of qualification through the Premier League, Chelsea changed strategy and became more focused on the big matches and switching off in the meaningless ones. These elements make the blues a very dangerous proposition for Bayern in a one-off.
In terms of unavailable players, Chelsea will be missing some very important players, but the alternatives seem relatively straightforward. To replace Ivanovic and Terry as centre-backs are Gary Cahill and David Luiz, with Bosingwa ready to take the right-back spot. Replacing Ramires and Meireles in midfield will be even simpler, at least in terms of available personnel, even if not in terms of the energy these two men bring to the team. Essien will most likely not be available, so Lampard and Mikel will probably find themselves playing with Malouda (unless di Matteo decides to gamble on Romeu) in a well packed midfield which will try to squeeze out the space to the Bayern midfielders.
As Jonathan Wilson wrote in his preview of the match for Sports Illustrated, playing Bosingwa against Ribery and Contento or Lahm may leave the portuguese overwhelmed. Ribery alone is already likely to do that seen that he likes to cut inside to the left back of the defender and Bosingwa is considerably unhappy when faced with that option. After seeing Paulo Ferreira starting the match against Benfica in Portugal for the quarter-finals, it would not be completely unexpected to see him bringing his experience to face the tricky frenchman. Plenty will depend on who else di Matteo will place on the right wing ahead of the fullback. As Jonathan Wilson wrote, Sturridge would provide less defensive cover but more attacking prowess. Personally I believe di Matteo will choose the more defensive minded Kalou, especially considering the opposition options. If Lahm plays, Sturridge will face a less offensive player than Contento and one who would feel confortable with Sturridge cutting inside to his left foot. On the other hand, if Contento would add vulnerabilities to Bayern, it is also likely that with him and Ribery doubling on Bosingwa (or Ferreira) would pose too much of a risk. With di Matteo having shown himself a “safety first” tactician, it is likely that Kalou will line up from the start, with Sturridge being used as an impact substitute.
In terms of tactics, these seem quite straightforward. Bayern will bring Kroos to play alongside Schweinsteiger in midfield and Müller will advance to play just behind Gomez. Chelsea are likely to shut down the middle of the park and play deep. Even though this tactic is dangerous against opponents who can easily use the aerial threat of Gomez and Müller, it will also cause problems to the runs inside of Ribery and Robben, especially the latter. These will likely cause congestion in the middle of the park and will possibly shut down Bayern’s left flank (Ribery is much more adept at crossing from the byline). Chelsea will certainly have a tactic based on gaining the ball in that area of the field and hit long balls to Drogba, who will likely come out best against Boateng and Tymoschuk. Ideally Chelsea would have Ramires in fast support, but will have to rely on Mata and possibly Kalou to join these fast breaks.
As is common in CL finals, the match should be a tactical one, with both teams playing to their respective strengths and patiently looking for the goal that can settle the match. Personally and following logic, I can see Bayern winning the match but needing more than one goal (probably from Gomez) to cancel one from Chelsea (via or due to Drogba). Still, the lack of bench alternatives to impact the match may become the bavarians’ undoing.