The UEFA Champions League certainly has its issues, which sadly, we are all far too familiar with. Sometimes the decisions that are made and their consequences make it very difficult to look past allegations of preferential treatment. The way in which the impartiality of UEFA is so frequently called into question, does nothing to help the sport and it leaves the fans of teams like Chelsea (who so often bear the brunt of the tournaments almost routine scandals) with a needlessly reduced enthusiasm and regard for the competition.
However, as this week showed, it does have the one slightly redeeming feature of being unbelievably entertaining! The drama and the emotion and excitement of this year’s semi-final ties, for me, was proof enough that beneath all the politics, the Champions League is professional sport at its very best.
As a result, to see our own team succeed in it should mean we are left with a resolute sense of pride and satisfaction, and no doubt we would be if it wasn’t for all these stupid and arrogant pieces of writing that lament our tactics, labelling them ‘anti-football’. The aesthetics vs results argument has existed for decades and anyone who thinks Barcelona (or any other team) have ended it/found the perfect compromise, are horribly deluded in my opinion. Nobody can say what constitutes a ‘better’ method of playing or indeed which method is ‘better’ for football. There must be hundreds of ways to win a game of football and what’s good for the sport, in my eyes, is to see as many of these methods utilized as possible and to see teams aspire to perfect as many of them as they can.
Anyway, we did it! Chelsea are in the final of the Champions League for the second time, and if there is a victory for football here, it’s in UEFA not getting the Classico final we assume they were hoping for. Bayern and Chelsea both gave extremely courageous performances away from home, making sure that Spain’s overwhelming duopoly of power won’t spill over into Europe just yet.
Looking ahead then to the final, there isn’t much history between the two sides to look back on, Bayern though, of course possess the far superior record in the competition, this being their 9th final! So far they’ve won four and lost four, but interestingly have lost more often than not when matched up against English opposition, with Aston Villa beating them in 1982 and Manchester United in 1999. Neither of those matches though were in Munich, a place where English sides have only ever won once in European competition (Norwich in 1993!)
There’s no question Bayern go into the final as massive favourites and annoyingly, the threat the pose can’t really be dealt with by digging your heals in like we did against Barca. Bayern are arguably the best dribbling team in Europe with the likes of Robben and Schweinsteiger and Ribery; they also have a world-class, in-form #9 in Mario Gomez, who holds the record for having the highest strike rate in the history of the UCL, for players with more than 15 goals. Their goalkeeper, Manuel Neuer, is also arguably the best in the world. If we want to win this final then it’s going to require a performance of equal heart to the amount we showed against Barca, but it’s going to require a lot more tactical awareness; Bayern may not be as consistent as our semi-final victims, but they can hurt you in a far greater number of ways.
One area of weakness, however, will be in their defence, with them not having any real replacements for Davide Alaba or Holger Badstuber, who are missing through suspensions. Suspensions that are arguably the result of the most ridiculous ruling in professional football, a ruling that means some of the season’s greatest players will miss out on its most important game, in some cases, because of the most trivial offences. What’s even worse though in my opinion is that these players aren’t allowed to go up and receive medals with their teammates, should their team win, when the match is over. How twisted is that! Players like Ramires and Ivanovic deserve as much credit/recognition for their contributions to this campaign as any of our squad members and now they have to spend the entire night in the stands. Even worse still is John Terry, even though he deserves his suspension, the man has put everything into captaining Chelsea to this point and for him to be forced to watch as his teammates celebrate the victory he’s craved and deserved for so long, just makes absolutely no sense. It actually makes me really angry. If John went up anyway to lift the trophy and was handed a consequent 6/7 match ban, I don’t think I’d actually care.
But there’s nothing we can do, and although Di Matteo will be disappointed with this list of unavailable players, it will certainly make picking the team a far easier task. The backline of: Petr Cech, Jose Bosingwa, Gary Cahill, David Luiz and Ashley Cole pretty much picks itself. Mikel Obi, Lampard, Mata and Drogba are all definities. Then with Ramires and Meireles out, you would expect Michael Essien to get the nod in midfield (his form hasn’t been great this year but he remains a legend of both CFC and African football and I can’t imagine him letting us down).
This leaves one place left to fill, for which the contenders will be: Daniel Sturridge (attitude problems are becoming worryingly apparent but he’s still unquestionably talented and dangerous), Florent Malouda (has the experience of playing in a UCL and World Cup final before, okay he lost them both but still…), Saloman Kalou (most likely choice, seems to be rated highly by Di Matteo) and Fernando Torres (English pundits love the fact that neither Drogba, nor Torres have ever scored whilst on the pitch together, but it’s got to happen sometime and when could possibly be a better time?)
Whatever happens on the 19th of May we can be very proud supporters. The amount of times we’ve effectively been out of this competition and fought back is almost unreal. Common sense still prevents me from predicting a Chelsea win but that doesn’t mean it would surprise me, the ability of these players to transcend themselves when it matters is near immeasurable and I would say reaching this final is the greatest achievement in all of their club careers. I feel at this point I have no right in asking them, but please lads… just do it one more time.