Chelsea are currently preparing for their biggest game since the heartbreaking penalty shoot out loss to Manchester United in the 2008 Champions League final. This year they must travel to Germany and defeat Bayern Munich at their home ground, the Allianz Arena, if they are to lift the trophy they all crave so badly. Roberto Di Matteo faces the biggest game of his managerial career bar none, and will be hard at work fine tuning his approach to the game already, but here are Scott Carey’s thoughts on what the FA Cup holders must do if they are to lift the big eared trophy on Saturday night:
1. Contain Mario Gomez
Chelsea are missing their influential captain and strongest defender in the form of John Terry following his idiotic red card for kneeing Alexis Sanchez in the semi-final and have only two, semi-fit, very young centre backs to step into the heart of defence for the final. Chelsea will hope that Gary Cahill is fit, and brave, enough to step into Terry’s shoes, and his main task will be to mark the dangerous German international Mario Gomez out of the game.
Cahill is the better physically equipped to deal with the threat of Gomez than his potential defensive partner David Luiz on Saturday. Leaving Cahill to nullify Gomez will allow Luiz to do what he does best, roam around the back cutting out threats and mopping up around him. With a lack of really dangerous breaking midfielders (Toni Kroos and Bastian Schweinsteiger are hugely talented but won’t predominantly be playing high up behind Gomez, however if Thomas Muller plays there will certainly be a dual threat to contend with and John Obi Mikel will be required) Chelsea will hope that taking Gomez out of the game will allow the full backs to do the next thing on this list…
2. Restrict the wingers
Bayern Munich are blessed with two of the finest wingers in the game today. Chelsea will be all too aware of the threat Arjen Robben poses cutting in from the right. Chelsea are well equipped to deal with the flying Dutchman in the form of world-class left back Ashley Cole, who will know what Robben wants to do and will back himself to contain the threat in what is undoubtedly THE key battle of the evening, followed closely by Cahill v Gomez and Boateng v Drogba (which I am coming to).
On the other flank, if he plays, Jose Bosingwa will have to deal with the more unpredictable Franck Ribery. The tricky Frenchman is a different player to Robben in that he has more tricks in his locker and is more prone to roaming, a dangerous modus operandi against Bosingwa, who can be liable of lapses of concentration. Bosingwa is good against pacey wingers, he has shown this against Gareth Bale on a few occasions, but the more subtle approach of Ribery could undo Chelsea.
3. Win the midfield battle
Yes it’s a footballing cliche, but with Jupp Heynckes and Roberto Di Matteo expected to play the same 4-2-3-1 formations they have deployed much of the season expect the game to be tight. The two target men will need to win their individual battles and the key battleground will be out on the flanks. Both teams will want to dominate possession, Bayern especially as they are on home soil and will probably play higher than Chelsea.
When you get two matching systems it is vital to dominate the centre of the pitch and this battle will be intriguing come Saturday night. The most likely match ups will be Schweinsteiger and his German international teammate Toni Kroos v the resurgent John Obi Mikel and Frank Lampard. This promises to be quite a tight match up, with both teams relying on Schweinsteiger and Lampard to pull the strings in the middle and both oppositions keen to restrict the time and space to allow this. This, like all the battles to be had on Saturday, is one that Chelsea can win, but I for one simply cannot call it.
4. Pick the right wingers
Strangely enough the flanks have become Chelsea’s weakest area of the last couple of seasons. Gone are the days of Robben and Damien Duff terrorising the opposition. Now Di Matteo has to select between the four options of Florent Malouda (a doubt for the game), Daniel Sturridge, Salomon Kalou and Fernando Torres to operate either side of Didier Drogba, with Juan Mata expected to take up a key central role behind the big Ivorian. Arguably Chelsea’s biggest loss for this tie is Brazilian Ramires, whose injection of pace and guile, as well as some key finishes, have helped them achieve an effective counter-attacking game.
Di Matteo must select wisely here, the temptation to go all out with the goal threats of Sturridge and Torres is an option, however the tracking back that Malouda and Kalou offer may be just as necessary against the attacking threats of the Bayern full-backs and the aforementioned danger men Robben and Ribery. For me Kalou is the obvious but unpopular choice as he offers a bit of both. My money is on Torres taking up the opposite flank, but this one is down to Robbie.
5. Unleash the Drog
Anyone who has seen the recent Avengers Assemble film could see Di Matteo channelling Captain America in his pre-game team talk. Captain America, while tactically assembling his army for the film’s final battle scene carefully instructs each member of his ranks, before reaching the Incredible Hulk whom he tells simply to do what he does best: “smash.”
Di Matteo needs Didier Drogba to be at his unplayable best against a weakened Bayern backline if he is to get anything from the game. Chelsea will be hoping for no more subtlety in Drogba’s approach than that of the giant green Hulk as he looks to smash his way through the German defences.
Bayern will be a side demoralised after a hugely dissapointing 5-2 German cup final loss to Borussia Dortmund. Dortmund are officially the best team in Germany at the moment but to put five past Bayern was a great achievement, and one that Chelsea can take heart from. In particular the performance from Dortmund’s lone Polish striker Robert Lewandowski, who bagged a hat trick, will spur on Didier Drogba.
Lewandowski benefited from some superb service by Japanese attacking midfielder Shinji Kagawa against a Bayern side that don’t operate with a strict holding midfielder, a weakness Chelsea may look to exploit through their talented playmaker Juan Mata on Saturday. Bayern had their full roster of defenders available against Dortmund and still ended up conceding five goals, Chelsea will hope they can replicate this by taking their chances in Munich.
In his column for the Daily Mail today Martin Samuel highlights Drogba’s unplayable streak. At his best, and so often in the big games, Drogba’s physical approach can wreak havoc. Bayern are without German international Holger Badstuber for the final and will most likely deploy a holding midfielder in his place, probably Ukrainian Anatoliy Tymoshchuk if Belgian heavyweight Daniel Van Buyten isn’t fit in time.
Drogba is coming to the end of his Chelsea contract but has been in devastating form at the back end of this season, turning in two such ‘unplayable’ performances, firstly making Tottenham’s William Gallas look foolish in his side’s 5-1 win and then again against Martin Skrtel, no wimp, in a triumphant FA Cup final. Drogba will prove a handful for any defender on his day but will need to remain cool and composed and not let the occasion get to him, this could be his last chance.
6. Stay cool
And on that note Chelsea as a side must stay cool and composed. The ‘disgrace’ of Tom Henning Ovrebo against Barcelona in 2009 and the heartbreak and tears of John Terry’s penalty miss in Moscow in 2008 mean this is an emotional game for all involved, especially the old guard of Frank Lampard, Ashley Cole and Drogba for whom this may be their last chance at elite European glory.
Decisions may not go their way and the home crowd in Munich will be deafening, but if they can stay focused and get at Bayern this is a battle they can win. Be calm my jangling nerves.
Bosingwa – G. Cahill – David Luiz – A.Cole
Mikel – Lampard
Torres – Mata – Kalou
Rafinha- Jerome Boateng – Tymoshchuk – Lahm
Schweinsteiger – Kroos
Robben – Muller – Ribery
By Scott Carey