Chelsea's luck looks set to run out in Munich
SOCCER ANGLES:Both sides are depleted but home advantage can help tilt this final in Bayern’s direction, writes MICHAEL WALKER
BAYERN MUNICH are 4 to 5 to win the Champions League final against Chelsea tonight. It is not a generous price but for those who lose money on a weekly basis betting on football, this would seem to be an opportunity to claw some back.
Making a case for the German team is easier than making one for Chelsea, who have just finished sixth in the Premier League, five points off qualification for the Champions League next season.
THE CASE FOR BAYERN:
Those who say this has no bearing on tonight should imagine if it were the other way round and the game was at Stamford Bridge. Chelsea would be boosted by that home comfort. Bayern will be too.
As Bastian Schweinsteiger said on the topic: “It’s huge. We’ve been thinking about it all year.” Bayern know they have not lost a home Champions League game all season and have beaten Manchester City, Napoli and Real Madrid on the way. Basle, the team that knocked out Manchester United last December, had seven put past them in Bavaria.
GOALS AND GOMEZ
Mario Gomez scored four of the seven Bayern got against Basle in March, having already scored three against Napoli.
Only Lionel Messi has scored more than Gomez in the competition this season.
Gomez has not always convinced – Louis van Gaal had him on the bench for the 2010 final.
German-born of Spanish descent, he can look slow and awkward. He also lacks conspicuous aggression – Didier Drogba, he isn’t.
But on other occasions Gomez looks perfect for the job of hold-up centre-forward who makes his way to the far post.
He will be 27 this summer and is clearly developing. His first-half hat-trick against Napoli in the group stages was not scintillating but he got a hat-trick from being in the right position. Gomez is not a striker who strays, he’s a poacher.
At Real Madrid in the second leg of the semi-final, Gomez was brought down by Pepe for the penalty which Arjen Robben converted. That was near the penalty spot.
Late on, Gomez was again on the Real penalty spot when he took too long to score a goal that would have meant no need for extra-time. But then he had scored in the first leg and he did convert a successful penalty in the shoot-out.
Gomez is favourite to score the first goal tonight; he is favourite to be top scorer at Euro 2012; he will arrive with Germany in Dublin in October in World Cup Group C.
Part of the reason why Gomez finds space in the middle is the opposition’s concentration on the wings.
This is understandable as Bayern have Franck Ribery on one side and Arjen Robben on the other. The two men do not compliment each other – Ribery smacked Robben in the dressingroom after the semi-final first leg – but they do complement each other.
Ribery apologised. He needed to, because in the second leg, Robben was fantastic. The Dutchman knew the dimensions of the Bernabeu well – he was there for two years before moving to Bayern.
But after Real went 2-0 up in 14 minutes, Robben was entitled to feel like this was not going to be a German night.
Messi had not been able to produce his magic the night before against Chelsea in Barcelona, but this was set to be all about La Liga’s other individual, Cristiano Ronaldo.
But Robben intervened. Showing a determination not always associated with him, the Dutch winger took the fight to Real. Schweinsteiger and (the now suspended) Luis Gustavo were not far behind, but it was Robben who took risks.
He changed the shape of an epic 120 minutes as having scored a penalty in the 27th minute he ensured Bayern still believed. The second half was notable for how Real tired.
Robben, of course, played for Chelsea. He won two league titles there, the FA Cup and two League Cups. And there was no diving about in the Bernabeu. Perhaps he has matured.
Robben has a new two-year contract in Munich, which means he and Ribery, who is there until 2015, will see more of each other.
Contracts such as those help to explain why Bayern Munich feel they are a coming force again.
Senior boardroom figures have been crowing about the limiting effects (they hope) of Uefa’s new Financial Fair Play rules and how they will restrict a club like Chelsea, but not one like Bayern.
That remains to be proven. There may even be a slight anxiety at the 5-2 defeat by Borussia Dortmund in the German Cup final last week. Dortmund also won the Bundesliga, and by eight points from Bayern.
But with the final being in their own stadium, tonight was the target and Bayern have reached it.
Captain Philipp Lahm, Schweinsteiger, Robben, Thomas Muller and Gomez all played some part in the 2010 final – as did the suspended Holger Badstuber. So there is continuity.
But there is also exciting change: Basle’s brilliant 20-year-old playmaker Xherdan Shaqiri has already been signed for next season. Germany’s goalkeeper Manuel Neuer was bought last summer.
Bayern Munich have played 53 games this season; Chelsea have played 60 – 12 of them in the 39 days to last weekend against Blackburn. Bayern played 10 in that time.
Losing Badstuber, Gustavo and the hugely impressive Austrian youngster David Alaba has weakened the Germans. But not as much as losing John Terry, Branislav Ivanovic, Raul Meireles and Ramires will hurt Chelsea.
CASE FOR CHELSEA:
As long as Chelsea’s players retain the memory of the pulsating nights against the Italians at Stamford Bridge and Barca in the Nou Camp, they can have faith.
Despite the suspensions, the Londoners can still field a solid, talented and experienced XI. Much depends on the fitness of David Luiz and Gary Cahill, but if both are fit then that releases Michael Essien.
With John Obi Mikel re-emerging from the shadows, Chelsea could field a 4-1-4-1 line-up that still has room for Juan Mata, Frank Lampard and Drogba, but which can attempt to stifle Bayern and build a foothold in the game.
In Lampard and Drogba, Chelsea have serious players. Lampard’s two exquisite passes in the two legs against Barcelona created two goals. He is not done yet.
Nor is Drogba. If he were in the home team, this would feel like a formality but Drogba’s sustained excellence, his mere presence, will worry Bayern.
And, so far, Chelsea have had another factor on their side: luck. Put this way, Bayern’s 4 to 5 is definitely less than generous.