Standpoint, part 2

Group D

In my predictions for this group I had imagined France going through as first and England as second, with Sweden possibly being able to challenge the latter for this spot. I had never expected such a mediocre performance of the swedes in the first two matches (especially in defence) or that Ukraine could cause these many problems. I could not follow these matches as well as I would have liked (the work that kept me from writing also kept me from watching everything I would have liked to, so compromises had to be made), but the general impression was one of a talented but disfunctional french side, organised english and ukrainian ones and a swedish side which relied too heavily on their star player. In the end, the results might not have been totally expected or logical (England were very much the weaker side against large periods of the match against Ukraine), but reflected what happened.

Group A

Much of what I had expected came to being. Russia surprised me with their 4-1 thrashing of Czech Republic, but it was all downhill from there. They seemed tired (at the end of the match against Poland they hardly moved) and the players seemed uncomfortable with having to be the attacking side and playing a proactive game. It was telling that their best result came in the match when the opposition decided to take all initiative and left spaces at the back. Also some element of luck (understood as a happy accident) might have been at play there.

Poland were, as expected, too much dependant on their three star players. It’s not that they did not perform: Piszcek did well, Lewandowski was excellent and Blaszczykowski was the best polish player. It’s just that the opposition knew that, by shutting out these three, there was little threat from their teammates. This ended up being their undoing in attacking terms, since the defence did well throughout the tournament.

The winners were Czech Republic, the team I had expected especially because of a solid group, without real stars, but consistent and balanced. They were never going to hit great heights, but in an even group, it was clear that the better organised side might come out top. Gebre Selassie may have caught the eye with his forward runs, but his defensive positioning was often questionable and some more maturity will help him tremendously. At this moment, however, Vaclav Pilar may already be pointed as the surprise of the tournament, with his pace and trickery causing problems throughout. If supported by some more creativity and movement from his teammates, he could have carried the team further. At under 1 million euros he already seems the bargain of the summer for Wolfsburg.

Greece played pretty much the way it was expected. Solid at the back, with some attacking runs (they were more attacking than in previous tournaments) and had as star players the young centre-back Papadopoulos and midfielder Katsouranis. In the end, they qualified through hard work and plenty of heart, but also some tactical astuteness from their manager Fernando Santos (especially against Poland). They would never set the world alight, but they showed enough spirit for their compatriots and that was what they had aimed at.

Group C

As expected, Spain came out on top, with Italy getting second place ahead of Croatia and Ireland departing with three defeats. Italy, however, did much better than expected, strongly stiffling Spain (and even having the best opportunities to win the match) and not being far from beating Croatia. Had Croatia drawn with Spain in the last match, Italy might have been gone, but the spanish were keen to avoid surprises and won against the croats with a display somewhat characteristic of their Euro: unconvincing. Still, in the end the best teams went through and Croatia can go back feeling they really gave their best. Ireland went for the party and cannot really be disappointed: their victory was in being there.

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Standpoint, part 1

First of all, an apology is in order. Due to professional obligations which have absolutely nothing to do with football or any other sport, I was not able to finalise my preview of all the groups of the Euro nor to post any thoughts on the matches. I will try therefore to offer a small summary of my expectations to the other two groups not covered before (groups B and D) and my impressions of the tournament so far.

Group B

As could be expected by reading the header of this blog, this was the most interesting group on a personal level. I was expecting Germany to prove itself too strong for all opponents, but I had also expected some different things happening throughout the matches. For once, I had imagined Germany as capable of steamrolling Portugal while conceding one goal but instead we were treated to a relatively even match in which Germany’s availability of a world class striker made all the difference. Against Holland, I had expected pretty much the match that took place, but not such a broken game where one team tended to be pinned down at the back for while the other attacked. Versus Denmark, the Danish resilience surprised me, but I would have thought Joachim Löw would have preferred to go with a slightly modified line-up, bringing in more mobile and creative players in any of Klose, Götze, Schürrle or Reus. Also from the point of view of a neutral, it would have made for something considerably more exciting than the football on show.

Holland is usually a complicated team to predict, as we never know the face they will present in the major tournaments. In this one, it was the disjointed and divided one, which is probably the main reason for having departed on zero points after being touted as the “third men” of the competition, after Germany and Spain. Bert van Maarwijk’s tactics could be brought into question, particularly the use of van Bommel instead of van der Vaart or Kevin Strootman, but the simple fact that before the tournament it was the place of Nigel de Jong that was in question should eliminate any 20/20 hindsight reflections. The tactics of two defensive midfielders were sound (as the match against Portugal showed) and if anything, it was the use of Robben instead of Huntelaar (with van Persie, Sneijder and Affellay/Kuyt forming a fluid attacking trio) that unbalanced the team. Playing two destructive players at the base of the midfield was the basis for the almost fully successful run in the world cup in South Africa, so it should not be undermined here.

Denmark was a surprise in the way they managed to confound the opponents so much. Against Holland, they were lucky not to concede, but the interplay between some of the front players was excellent. Against Portugal they pulled back by exploiting the Portuguese weaknesses and against Germany they relied on some strong determination to fight for the match for a long period, even if outclassed. The determining factor was Crohn-Dehli, a dynamo of a player who plays mostly in a striker position for his club but who played here as an inside forward on the left, simultaneously providing attacking threat and also helping the left-back to cope with attackers of the caliber of Robben, Nani and Thomas Müller. All in all, Denmark can be proud of their performance.

Of course that the qualification of Portugal (already in the semis, but I’ll leave that for afterwards) pleased me, but especially because I had not expected them to get so far. I imagined they would lose to Germany, probably scrape a victory against Denmark but then fall short against Holland. This was the defining match, but I had predicted that Holland would have been in a better moment and not as desperate. The weaknesses of Portugal were quite evident from the start: problems with a left flank where Ronaldo does not help much, two left backs extremely vulnerable in balls through the air; and the lack of a quality striker. It was also pointed out that Portugal did not present much creativity, but that was not something I was particularly worried about. Even though neither of the midfield trio is a typical “number 10” type of player, their simple background grants them a larger degree of creativity than that of a comparable English, German or even Dutch counterpart. Without a really creative player, their combined inventiveness would provide the necessary penetration. In this sense, even though he is probably the striker with the worst finalization of all Paulo Bento took with him, Postiga’s movement fits well with the attacking actions of the wingers and he works well to create spaces for midfield and flank runs. His main weakness and one which frequently exasperated Ronaldo is his incapability to deal with balls played in space for him to chase and score. He can however get himself in good striking positions and if the ball is well placed he can score good goals (he has a better ratio of goals/caps for the national team than at any of his clubs). Still, I always expected that balls floated from right or left to behind the centre-backs (as in the goals of Gomez and both of Bendtner) would be Portugal’s undoing. The team however reacted splendidly and with Veloso doing a wonderful and unheralded job of picking the opposition’s attacking midfielder and helping Coentrão in defence, it was possible to offer some measure of balance. Also the substitutions by Bento were spot on, with Varela and Oliveira able to offer energy and dynamism to confront the opposition while the coming in of Rolando clearly hinted at several hours of training ground work with three at the back dealing with balls in the box. In the end, it has been Ronaldo’s performances that have made the difference, even against Denmark where his threat meant someone ended up always free, something which lead to the winning goal of Varela. This dependence may be worrying, but as long as he plays like this, there is nothing wrong in Bento playing to his strengths.

Euro2012 – Group C

In group C, two teams can be immediately pointed out as favourites to go through to the quarter-finals: Spain and Italy. The theoretically most accessible team will certainly be Ireland, with Croatia hoping to pip one of the favourites to the top places. However, at a time when reactive sides seem to be doing increasingly well against possession-based sides, Ireland could cause some surprises under the guidance of Giovanni Trapatonni.

Spain are the european and world champions and are again the overall favourites to the title and as such are also favourites for taking the group. Still basing the side around the Barcelona and Real Madrid players with a couple of others thrown in, Spain will expect to pass their way to the top and use this style to both attack and defend. In comparison to their sides from 2008 and 2010, there are some changes in personnel which could prove to be important, especially at the back. If the absence of Capdevilla should not be a problem (Jordi Alba should be a more than capable replacement), Puyol’s injury not only removes the most dynamic member of the back four, but also the man who commanded them and kept the whole group concentrated (as well as scoring some important goals). As an extra, the switch of Sergio Ramos from the right to the centre also caused Arbeloa to start and thus remove some of the width that Ramos brought with his forward surges. The absence of David Villa also brings one extra problem, as Spain strongly depended on him for goals. With Torres’ drought and with Llorente’s different style of game, Spain are somewhat wanting for goals. However, with the amount of opportunities they are likely to create, this should not be an important problem during the group phase.
Despite seeming less strong than in other years, Spain should take the top place in the group. Being qualified by the last match, it is possible they will settle for a draw with Croatia.

Italy seemed to be one of the biggest favorites after Spain, Germany and Holland, but the recent betting-investigations seem to have taken a dent on their confidence and fluidity. With that in mind, Italy has taken two World Cups in scandal filled years, but it is possible this year that flip will turn out a strech too far. In a side with Buffon, Chiellini, Pirlo, de Rossi or Ballotelli, anything can be expected, but some of these players could be excused for being a bit distracted at present (Ballotelli lives in that state permanently). On top of that, the recent injury to Barzagli reduced the tactical options at the disposal of Cerare Prandelli for the group matches and may mean Italy will not be able to switch between four and three at the back as he might have wished.
All in all, if Italy manage to stay focused, they could be the biggest surprise of the tournament (what with them not being considered real contenders), but they still will come second to Spain in the group phase.

Croatia have been for some time most commentators’ dark horses but have always failed to live up to expectations. In the end the lack of real world class players apart from Luka Modric and a shaky defence always seem to make the difference against the bigger or more determined teams. With this being the last tournament national coach Slaven Bilic will take part, it is also the last opportunity to take advantage of a certain core of players at thier highest level. The team depend very strongly, and as it would be expected, on Modric’s playmaking qualities. His time in England has supplied him with the ability to deal with more physical opponents, but that should not be the biggest issue in this group apart from Ireland (who defend very deep in any case). More decisive might be the capacity of widening the play on the part of Dario Srna, Perisic or Pranjic, especially when dealing with Spain and Italy, teams which have a natural tendency to play more narrow. In the end, however, much of the success will be placed on the capacity of converting their chances and in that regard Croatia may come somewhat short.
In other groups, Croatia would be strong favourites to go through, but against Italy and Spain, it is quite likely they will come short. Much of the croats’ possibilities will rest on Italy overcoming the recent distress. If Italy falter, Croatia could very well go through.

Ireland‘s presence at the Euros should already come as a success and a testament to old man Trapatonni’s abilities to bring the best out of weaker sides. Recognizing the limitations of his side, he should line up with a safety-first approach and relying on a direct game and set-pieces to get a goal. Truth is, I do not know enough about Ireland and most english speaking readers will be better informed than me, so I will just jump to the predictions.
These are quite simple: Ireland would be lucky to escape with anything at all from this group. Still, a surprise result is not beyond them and even if they should  go through, they may well complicate things for the favourites.

Euro2012 – Group A

With the Euro2012 knocking on our doors, it is about time I started writing something, I believe. I will do a simple preview of the tournament in several. installements, one on for each group and then one for general considerations on the tournament,We’ll strat with group A.

Group A
Contrary to most people, I find that the expression “group of death” better applies to this group than to group B. In group B, whatever the strength of the teams involved (any of them would be the favourites in group A), there are two clear favourites. In group A, however, neither team could be considered the strongest favourites. Even the theoretical weakest team, Poland, are expected to get a lift from the home support which could even the odds.

Russia are the obvious favourites and have the most impressive group of players, but most of them come on the back of a one and a half year internal season which, despite all the breaks, may have taken a toll on the best players. The fast running and counter-attacking game displayed at Euro2008 was strongly supported by the fact most players were in the middle of their seasons and therefore in top physical condition. This will not be true at poland and Ukraine however, and the surprise factor may therefore be absent. The impressive results in preparation matches may be an indication of form, but that is not necessarily an indication of strength. Russia will play with strong support but also with high expectations, which my well turn against them. Furthermore, despite being known as a good coach, Dick Advocaat does commit the occasional tactical blunder (the most famous of which if somewhat unjustly, was the substitution of Robben at the Holland-Czech Republic match at the Euro2004) and all these factors may reduce the favouritism placed on the russian team.
My expectation, even though this will go against what most people will say, is that Russia will not get out of the group, finishing third.

Greece were in impressive form in qualification, winning seven times and finishing without defeats. Following previous years, the manager Fernando Santos adopted a more conservative approach, keeping things tight at the back and exploring fast attacks based on holding play from the striker and betting strongly on set-pieces to get the goal necessary to win the match. Whereas this strategy should not be enough to repeat the surprise of 2004, Greece come to the Euro as a very complicated opponent which are capable of causing problems to any opponent and possibly cause some surprises along the way.
The expectation will be if they can get the goals to win the matches, but it is quite possible they could qualify from the group with three draws. After this, even though they may well be able to beat any team, thewinner of group B is likely the kick them out of competition.

Poland are on paper the weakest side in the group and it is quite possible they will live up to the low expectations set for them. Poland base their game around four players: the Arsenal goalkeeper Szczesny and the trio from Borussia Dortmund Piszczek, the captain Kuba and the striker Lewandowsky. With Piszczek and Kuba, Poland present one of the best right wings of the tournament, but given the overall quality of the side, it is quite possible this will leave the game predictable and easy to defend against. In Lewandowsky Poland will also present one of the outstanding strikers of the tournament, a player capable of scoring goals, hold up the ball, get teammates into play and create spaces with his movement. His form will be fundamental for a good display by the hosts and he may well be the surprise of the tournament, but is likely to see his good work wasted by the lower quality of the team.
Unfortunately, the high quality of the players mentioned above should not be enough to see them out of the group. One win or two draws should be the most they can expect. It is however very possible that they will score on most games and it would not be too surprising to see Lewandowsky take the award for the best scorer.

Czech Republic arrive to Poland with the nostalgia of previous years but that should not cloud the fact that this is a very solid and balanced side which should surprise their opponents in the group. The final matches of the season saw Petr Cech rise to his former heights as one of the outstanding keepers of his generation anfd this should bring the necessary confidence for the defence, especially the full-backs for roaming forward. The midfield have a good balance of defensive guile and creativity and the forwards, though not brilliant, are capable of scoring and should be able to get one or two goals for each match of the group phase.
If no injuries affect the key players, the czechs should be able to take the group as leaders and then they do have the quality to beat any of the teams from group A. Still, qualifying to the quarter-finals should be the maximum achievable goal, but a semi-final spot is not beyond them.

What makes a football legend?

In When Saturday Comes, the point was raised that Messi, whilst a star, is not quite yet a legend. To explain this fact, it is pointed that people who are considered legends, like Muhammad Ali, Wayne Gretzky, Tiger Woods and Michael Jordan, redefined their sports and thus achieved this status. It was not the records, it was that untangible quality that makes people stare in awe.

Even though I do agree with the conclusion, I believe the article fails to be convincing. The first reason is the comparison of a player from a team sport which fields 11 players on each side, with players from sports of 1 vs 1, 6 vs 6, 1 vs 1 and 5 vs 5, respectively. The main point of the comparison is that the more players on the field you have, the less likely it is to influence the outcome of a single match, let alone one season or a career. That means that boxing, hockey, golf and basketball are more likely to have players who could redefine the sport and mark one era simply because of the influence of numbers: they had less players to dominate at any given moment.

Taken from this point of view, it begs the question: who would be, under that fuzzy definition, the real legends of football (soccer for those americans unfortunate enough to read these lines)? Well, Maradona and Pelé would be the obvious answers. Who else? Puskas, di Stefano, Cruiff, Beckenbauer, Sindelaar, Yashin? These were undoubtably greats, but were they legends in the sense that they redefined the game? Well, in some cases, the answer is obviously yes, but is is also easy to point other players who redefined it even more despite being somewhat lesser players. For Pelé, read Zagallo, the man who transported almost single-handedly the game from the 4-2-4 to 4-3-3 and 4-4-2 (Alf Ramsey’s 1966 England did much in this sense as well). For Puskas, read Hidegkuti, the man who played the completely revolutionary withdrawn forward role to such perfection that he brought the WM to an unnofficial end. Could they fall under the definition of “legends”? Certainly so, in some quarters or in their own countries, but probably not globally in the history of the game.

Then how to establish this definition? Well, what makes Pelé a great and a legend? In 1970, he played in what was arguably the best national team of all times, a side as ruthless as it was artistic. In 1962, he spent most of the time injured and saw Garrincha destroy side after side and take most of the plaudits. In 1966 he was injured and Brazil were kicked out (literally) of the tournament by very good sides who also aimed at stiffle their quality. In 1958 though, at just 17, he inscribed his name in history books through taking the whole tournament by surprise and scoring some emblematic goals (the most celebrated of which was the 3-1 in the final). Of course, his goals (over one thousand of them by his own reckoning) and a stable and uncontroversial career (as opposed to that of the equally brilliant Garrincha) meant he managed to create his own legend, something very much aided by the emergence of global television and his willingness to appear in movies to further his own image.

That was one side of things. What about Maradona, the man that came to challenge Pelé for the title of “the greatest”? Well, this was a different proposition. Maradona won only one world cup, but differently from Pelé, he dominated it in a way never before seen and playing for an Argentina team that was decidedly average. Furthermore, he imposed not only his football, but also his own will and personality, as exemplified by his “hand of God” comment. On the way to the title, he also scored some emblematic of goals (actually, the most emblematic of them all, followed by an almost equally ridiculously good one against Belgium). Finally, once marked ruthlessly in the final, he created constantly spaces for his teammates by dragging opponents out of position and then made the brilliant pass for the decisive goal. The World Cup in 1986 pretty much encapsulated Maradona’s career (minus the drugs): unbelievably brilliant player playing for an average team and carrying his teammates by pure force of genius and will. The absence of more major tournaments or more individual records become, under this light, unimportant. His term of comparison, in WSC’s article, would naturally be Muhammad Ali.

How does Messi measure up to this then? Well, truth be told, he does not. Not yet. He is far too young and his career has still far too long to go. He may still fall down some celebrity drain and his genius may come to be seen as a light that shone intensely for four seasons and then disappeared. It also looked like Ronaldinho could have challenged the greats, for a couple of seasons at Barcelona, but then parties, the weight of celebrity and his own willingness to leave overcame the determination to suceed and stay at the top level of football. The lack of a World Cup trophy should not be an impediment to Messi’s ascention to the list of legends, because that trophy is not as important as before. It used to be the only chance to see the best players in the world (Pelé is hardly remembered for his Santos career outside South America), but the ascention of global television and YouTube mean that such tournaments are no longer necessary for global recognition.

However, Messi’s bane may also be the lack of a tournament defining performance. Either the carrying an average Barcelona to the Spanish or European title or being the dominating player of the tournament in a Copa America or World Cup that Argentina wins. These are his only paths to legend status. He may break every record in existence and that will not be assured, as it will always be mentioned along the words “yes, but he played with Iniesta and Xavi/Fabregas/Thiago“.

Legend status is not achieved by gods, it is achieved by demigods. As much as Zeus was the most powerful god in Olympus, it is Heracles who achieved the immortality level. It is only the spark of failure that brings certainty of transcendency. Without humanity, this is impossible. And we still need to see Messi’s humanity and frailty before passing judgement on his legend.

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.

CL final: Bayern Munich – Chelsea

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.