Bayern Munich have one last chance to salvage a season that has otherwise been marked by their inability to beat Borussia Dortmund: a win against Chelsea in the Champions League final at their home stadium.
All season long, Bayern Munich have been consumed with achieving one goal: reaching the final of the Champions League, held at their own Allianz Arena in Munich, and raising the trophy in front of their home fans. After finishing a distant second place to Dortmund in the Bundesliga and dismally losing to them 5-2 in the German Cup final, Bayern Munich are in a must-win situation Saturday against Chelsea. A loss would be the final straw in a disappointing season for a team that can't stand second place.
A win for Bayern would mean redemption, to some extent, for their shortcomings in the league. Key players were rested down the stretch in the Bundesliga, especially before the two legs of Bayern's European semifinal against Real Madrid. That was an indication that Bayern had given up on the league and put all their eggs in one basket, hoping for a big payoff with the Champions League title.
The same can be said for the German Cup final against Dortmund: true, Bayern essentially beat themselves by making mistake after mistake, but Bayern could, if they win Saturday, wipe the slate clean.
Saving the season
Win this match, and all will be forgiven in Munich. Lose, and it will be Bayern's second straight season without a piece of hardware, not to mention the heartbreak of losing the biggest match at Allianz Arena since it opened in 2005.
"We must not even think about [losing]," said Bayern's Franck Ribery on Thursday. "If we win the Champions League, then we can forget about not winning the league or the cup, nobody will care about that."
"We are not the favorites of the game, we are playing away," Chelsea goalkeeper Petr Cech said on Thursday. "It is very rare when you have the home team playing in the home stadium, using the home dressing room, so I think the advantage goes to Bayern Munich because of that. But we know we have a chance and we will fight for it."
But this match will come down to the team that can better take advantage of holes that have been blown in each team's defense due to injuries and suspensions.
Filling the gaps
Between the two sides, seven starting players will miss out on the final. Chelsea saw Raul Meireles, Ramires, and Branislav Ivanovic each get their third yellow card in the second leg against Barcelona, and captain John Terry was given a straight red. Terry and Ivanovic are fixtures on Chelsea's backline, which was already at half-strength due to hamstring injuries suffered by Gary Cahill and David Luiz. Chelsea coach Roberto di Matteo hopes those two are fit enough for the final, since Chelsea will need all the help they can get in the back.
For Bayern, David Alaba and Holger Badstuber - both defenders - and Luiz Gustavo, a defensive midfielder, are also suspended for picking up three yellow cards.
The impact of the suspensions will hit Chelsea the most. In addition to a weakened back line, Meireles and Ramires are mainstays on offense, supporting strikers Didier Drogba or Fernando Torres. With Ramires out, Drogba could start as striker, with Torres moving to the wing. At any rate, there is more uncertainty in The Blues' lineup than there is in Bayern's, who will be able to rely on striker Mario Gomez and the dynamic-duo of Arjen Robben and Ribery on the wings as they have all season.
Most of the question marks will still be defensive for both teams, but to think that this is an indication of a high-scoring affair on Saturday would be a discredit to both team's last lines of defense.
Between the posts
Neither side would be competing in the final if it wasn't for the heroics of the teams' keepers. Cech defended against wave after wave of attacks from Barcelona in the semifinal for Chelsea, and Manuel Neuer showed nerves of steel in Bayern's penalty shootout in the final leg against Real Madrid, blocking penalties from Madrid stars Cristiano Ronaldo and Kaka.
Chelsea's best shot will be to come out of the gate at a sprint and gain an early advantage against Bayern, who will be doing everything they can to keep their long-cultivated dream-final in their control. Otherwise, Bayern's determination to salvage their season may be enough to carry them through to the trophy ceremony - at home, just like they planned it.
Author: Matt Zuvela
Editor: Rina Goldenberg