There were ten German bombers in the air. Ten German bombers in the air. There were ten German bombers, ten German bombers, ten German bombers in the air. But the RAF from England shot one down. The RAF from England shot one down. But the RAF from England, the RAF from England, the RAF from England shot one down. There were nine German bombers in the air…
English soccer fans still sing that song whenever their national team plays Germany, the match always somehow rendered a tableau of forgotten wars. (Hey, it’s marginally better than the predecessor chant of “Two world wars and one world cup, England, England…”) And you can expect that at least some Chelsea fans will deem it necessary to give voice to the inspiration they take from their grandparents’ enduring the Blitz as their team faces the firestorm of Bayern Munich playing on home ground for the title of champions of Europe.
That’s pretty silly, of course, not least because Chelsea’s starting lineup is likely to include just three Englishmen, whereas Bayern’s main attacking threat comes from the Dutchman Arjen Robben and France’s Franck Ribery.
The men in blue don’t embody England as much as they represent the ambitions of their Russian oligarch owner, Roman Abramovich, to win the one title that has eluded Chelsea despite the $1.5 billion he has invested in its pursuit. And, of course, for the aging spine of the squad that has won so much glory in England — Didier Drogba, Frank Lampard, Ashley Cole, Michael Essien and, of course, John Terry, whose suspension keeps him out of the final — it looks like a final shot at glory, and opportunity to erase the pain of losing the final on penalties in Moscow in 2008, before most are moved on. And then there’s the matter of next season’s Champions League: Bayern will be in it regardless of Saturday’s result, having finished second in the Bundesliga; Chelsea finished sixth in the Premier League, meaning their only remaining route to qualify for next season’s Champions League is winning in Munich.
Bayern is a younger team, and predominantly German. For decades, in fact, Bayern has been a kind of flagship team for German football on the continent. They too have ghosts to exorcise — the 2-0 defeat at the hands of Inter Milan that cost them the 2010 final. And it’s been said by senior figures in the German game that Bayern losing the final would shake the confidence of Germany’s national team ahead of this summer’s Euro 2012 mini-World Cup. Plenty of dramatic hooks, then, in a game that sees the two sides fairly evenly matched.
“It was like he was being controlled by a ten-year-old on a Playstation,” said former Manchester United fullback-turned-TV pundit Gary Neville earlier this season. The object of his wry Mancunian wit was Chelsea’s Brazilian centerback David Luiz, after a frenzied performance against Liverpool had seen him pop up all over the field, running like a man possessed to join the attack at every opportunity, yet ultimately being found out for his positional indiscipline as his team lost.
He may have been piqued at the insult at the time, but Luiz appears to have taken it on board: Asked in the buildup to Saturday’s Champion’s League final showdown with Bayern Munich whether he had ever faced the home team’s striker Mario Gomez, the Chelsea man answered “Yes, but only on Playstation.”
Chelsea fans had best hope that the console controlling Luiz’ movements is in the hands of an especially risk-averse and tactically aware ten-year-old during Saturday’s showdown in Munich, because the London club’s prospects for winning its first-ever Champion’s League trophy will depend heavily on Luiz — and centerback partner Gary Cahill — coping with the overload on their fullbacks (Ashley Cole and Jose Bosingwa) created by Bayern’s rampaging wingers, Franck Ribery and former Chelsea star Arjen Robben. Both of those men have the ability to create defensive crises by either beating their man outside or cutting in to create the extra man in attack with Gomez lurking in the center and Thomas Muller breaking into the area. Shutting them out will not only require exceptional performances by the full-backs — especially Cole, who knows all too well that Robben, operating on the right wing, will always try to cut inside and take the ball onto his devastating left foot (and the fullback’s weaker right foot) — but also by the decision making of the centerbacks in providing cover.
Ribery, of course, has an even deeper bag of tricks, and Bosingwa is not the most defensively sound fullback in Chelsea’s squad: The problem, of course, is the absence through suspension of both the experienced John Terry (who while capable of idiotic acts of thuggish indiscipline, such as the knee in the back of Barcelona’s Alexis Sanchez that got him the red card that keeps him out of this game, is also the leader on the pitch who would organize his defense) and the more defensively robust Serb Branislav Ivanovic who can play at right back.
Then again, Chelsea ought to be relieved that suspension also keeps out Bayern’s 19-year-old left back David Alaba, whose rampaging expeditionary runs and ability to combine with Ribery would make Bosingwa’s job impossible. Bayern’s defense, in fact, has a makeshift look about it, with key centerback Holger Badstuber also out through suspension and Daniel Van Buyten injured, meaning Anatoliy Tymoshchuk, normally a defensive midfielder, is likely to play at center-back alongside Jerome Boateng, with Diego Contento deputizing for Alaba. With the Brazilian Gustavo also suspended, the Bayern midfield is likely to be anchored by Bastian Schweinsteiger and Toni Kroos, both excellent playmakers capable of setting Robben and Ribery free. But one of them will have to shut down Chelsea playmaker Juan Mata, while Chelsea looks to block Bayern’s path through the midfield with Lampard, Essien and Jon Obi Mikel keeping it compact, but threatening to release Drogba and Solomon Kalou on the break. The 34-year-old Ivoirian striker is a match winner on his day, and may prove more than a handful for Boateng — if he gets the service from midfield he requires.
Both teams are defensively a little suspect against the other’s attacking options, which ought to make for something of a goal fest. Don’t be surprised if its 2-2 after 90 minutes. And beyond that, it’s anybody’s game.