The culmination of the European club season is upon us. Bayern Munich takes on aging interlopers Chelsea in the Allianz Arena–which happens to be Bayern’s home ground. (For US viewers: kickoff is at 2:45pmET, and the match will be televised on Fox’s main network. In fact, the Fox networks are going full bore with almost-Super Bowl levels of TV coverage–see below for the full schedule.)
And what a season it’s been–especially the past month. Recall that it was just (over) a month ago that the Champions League semifinals started, with Bayern defeating Real Madrid at the same venue, and with Chelsea shocking the world with a 1-0 win over Barcelona at Stamford Bridge. The return legs the following week were even more dramatic. Chelsea even more unbelievable result at the Camp Nou, eliminating the defending Catalan champions; and the next day Bayern downing Madrid in PKs at the Bernabéu.
At some point we’ll have to revisit those extraordinary matches, as well as the ensuing events (Pep Guardiola’s announcement that he will step down, and the dramatic events in the various domestic leagues and cups).
But with kickoff just hours away, here’s a pregame reading/listening list to get you ready for today’s match:
- ZonalMarking’s tactical match preview: including his probably starting lineups:
If Chelsea did an ‘Inter 2010′ in the semi-final against Barcelona, they need to repeat the trick here – Inter went onto beat Bayern in the final that year.
Jose Mourinho’s side played extremely defensively in the final two years ago, essentially continuing the strategy they’d used at the Nou Camp a few weeks earlier, despite the fact they were playing a much more attacking game in Serie A at the time. Will Chelsea do the same?
Broadly the same approach makes sense. No-one plays quite like Barcelona, but in terms of ball retention, Bayern are the closest thing. Barca lead the way in terms of average possession and pass completion rate across Europe’s major five leagues, but Bayern are second in both categories. Though they’ve always been a side with fine passers, they’ve become even more about retention since the final two years ago – then, they mixed possession play with direct play down the flanks from Franck Ribery and Arjen Robben. Those two are still in the side, of course, but tend to find themselves trying to break down packed, deep defences more frequently.
- FourFourTwo’s Professor Champions League Paul Simpson sounds similar themes in his column on the “Fascinating final clash of styles which echoes down the ages“:
The 2012 UEFA Champions League final isn’t just a contest for the greatest prize in club football; it is the latest instalment in a never-ending tactical argument.
Jupp Heynckes’ Bayern belong to the grand tradition of Bill Nicholson, Jock Stein, Rinus Michels, Johan Cruyff and Pep Guardiola in which teams dominate possession, take the initiative and feel obliged to win in style, as Danny Blanchflower once put it.
Roberto di Matteo’s Chelsea stand for a different, no less valid, tradition in which teams seek to draw the opposition out and punish them on the counter.
- Our friend PoliticalFootballs caps off this season’s last installment of his “This Week in English Football”–following of course a recap of last Sunday’s crazy final day in England–with a quick preview of today’s match (http://politicalfootballs.com/2012/05/17/this-week-in-english-football-city-champions-of-england-chelsea-of-europe-next:
With the game being played in Munich, and the home side having the duel threats of Ribery and Robben to throw at Chelsea, Bayern are clear favourites to win the trophy. But they are susceptible to teams who counterattack well – as last weekend’s 5-2 defeat to Borussia Dortmund proved in the German Cup final – and they will be wary of the English side who knocked out Napoli and Barcelona in previous rounds with the odds stacked against them. There is bad news and good news for Chelsea in terms of player availability – both Ivanovic and Ramires miss out through suspension; but so too does John Terry.
- Following Chelsea’s defeat of Barcelona, Jonathan Wilson detailed the remarkable historical coincidences between Chelsea 2012 and Leeds 1975:
The team in white celebrated wildly. Reduced to 10 men in their semi-final second leg on 24 April at the Camp Nou, they’d held on for an improbable 3-2 aggregate victory over Barcelona to reach the European Cup final.
Earlier in the season they’d looked in disarray. An upstart young manager who was supposed to oversee the rejuvenation of the squad had been ousted after alienating a core of senior players, but a safe pair of hands everybody assumed was a short-term appointment had arrived, soothed egos and reawakened some of the old fire.
The league was beyond them, but doggedly they’d scrapped their way through to within one game of the prize – the greatest prize – that had eluded them through all their years of success. In that final that side in white faced Bayern Munich. Undone by some scandalous refereeing, they lost and were never the same again.
The similarities with Leeds United in 1974-75 and Chelsea’s success at the Camp Nou 29 years later are striking.
Here’s the full day’s US televeision schedule, via WaPo’s SoccerInsider:
1 p.m. ET: Pregame show on Fox Soccer and Fox Deportes
2 p.m.: Pregame show on Fox’s main network
2:30 p.m.: Match coverage on Fox’s main network and Fox Deportes
5 p.m.: Postgame show on Fox Soccer and Fox Deportes
5 p.m.: Match tape on foxsoccer2go.com
8 p.m.: Match tape on Fox Soccer
10 p.m.: Match tape on Fox Deportes
Sunday at 3 a.m.: Match tape on Fox Soccer
Sunday at noon: Match tape on Fox Soccer
Sunday at 5 p.m.: Match tape on Fox Soccer Plus