Chelsea are Champions League winners

Granted, late comment, but truth be told, those of you who read these lines probably already read the most relevant comments elsewhere before.

As expected, both teams followed their own game plans: Chelsea played deep and tried to hoof long balls in the direction of Drogba, and Bayern played their passing game based on the wings and aimed at crosses for Gomez in the box or shots from just outside the box from the wingers and midfield runners.

The biggest surprise in both sides was the use of Bertrand on the left side of Chelsea’s midfield to help Ashley Cole dealing with Robben and Lahm. The use of a second left back ahead of the first has been used before, especially by sides facing Barcelona and hoping to stiffle Dani Alves. Also Mourinho used Eto’o and Pandev to that effect during his famous semi-finals matches against Barcelona two years ago. Besides the obvious use of deploying a more defensive minded player to help out, the positioning of this player, which will be deeper than a normal winger’s would be (as exemplified by Kalou on the other flank), guarantees that wingbacks will have less space to run to. Therefore, fast players like Alves or Lahm have more difficulties in imposing themselves offensively and the fluidity of the side is reduced.

This is precisely what hapenned to Bayer as the double play of Robben cutting inside and Lahm surging on the overlap was consecutively made difficult by the lack of spaces in which they operated. This was further compunded by a reluctancy from Lahm to cross from deeper positions, which meant that there was always a Chelsea player on hand for the block. Thigs were not worse only because of the clever movement from Thomas Müller, who frequently drifted right to drag defenders out of position when Robben moved inside and thus created space. These movements were responsible for some of the misses by Robben, Kroos or Gomez throughout the game.

On the left, Ribery and Contento had some more freedom due to two factors. On the one hand, Kalou offered less protection than Bertrand and this caused Bayern to have too often a 2 on 1 situation against Bosingwa. On the other, Bosingwa is himself a less acomplished defender than Cole and had therefore more problems to stop the attacks. It is no coincidence that both Bayern’s goal and the penalty originated from that side. Also the cross for Gomez missed header and the one for Müller to volley wide came both from the left side. The upside of Kalou’s utilisation in this position was that Contento always seemed ill at ease going forward and seemed affraid of runs behind his back.

Di Matteo opted for the deep positioning and long balls, but also decided to play Mata very high up the pitch to stiffle the action of Kroos and Schweinsteiger. This meant that Chelsea had more of a threat going forward, but the clever exchange of roles by Bayern’s deep midfielders while doing forward runs meant that Mata was always well watched and he struggled to make an impact. Still, had he played deeper, this might have opened up the possibility for both Schweinsteiger and Kroos to play closer to Chelsea’s box which, given their prowess in long-range shooting, could have caused even more defensive problems.

Drogba played his usual lone forward game well, but differently from the matches against Barcelona, here he did have two players who could challenge him physically (even if not quite match him) and the tandem of using Boateng for the physical challenge and Tymoschuk for the anticipation movement worked quite well throughout the match, with the Ukrainian having a good game at the back, even if never quite confortable. When he moved up to midfield, his insecurity and narrower range of influence (as compared to Luis Gustavo, Schweinsteiger or Kroos) showed enough that Mata had his best spell during the extra-time.

The truth is that, even though Chelsea assembled a very good strategy to deal with Bayern, the bavarians were more responsible for the blues’ first Champions League trophy more than the winners themselves. Missing clear-cut chances at this level is usually punishable by losses and this match was no exception. The match, on the other hand, showed the difference between a big-game player like Drogba (seven times he scored for Chelsea in finals, according to the Guardian’s MbM report of the match) and a big-game bottler like Robben. It is true that Drogba had only one chance and had his header been aimed slightly higher or lower, or had Neuer placed a stronger hand to the ball (in truth it was a missile), Bayern would have celebrated. Still, it’s in the details that the devil hides his tail and this time Chelsea had everything going for them. I do not think anyone would expect this Chelsea side to be better than Bayern Munich but for one match, for this match, they were.

Congratulations Chelsea.

Further notes:
1. In the penalties, Cech made the difference. Study of the opponent goes a long way. Neuer showed his courage in taking his penalty, especially after the torrid time Bayern’s fans gave him at the start of the season.
2. Cole was the outstanding player of the match. Drogba may have been the man of the match, but nobody did more than Cole, who frequently seemed to be in two places at the same time.
3. Müller. Did. Not. Deserve. This.
4. The moment when Drogba, after bowing to Chelsea’s fans, realises what he did with his goal and his penalty on his last match for the club must go down as one of the moments of Champions League history.

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