Chelsea produced another fine defensive performance/killed football again.
Depending on your viewpoint…
No real surprises from Bayern with their line-up, boss Jupp Heynckes isn’t one for rotation, and fielded a team of players who had played most of the season – some of them 50+ games. Bayern’s main strength is their fast counter attacking quartet of Ribery, Robben Muller and Gomez. They set up in a 4-2-3-1 formation with right footed Ribery on the left and left footed Robben on the right
Chelsea did spring a surprise in the team sheet, albeit one that was leaked all over the internet before the teams were announced. Left back understudy Ryan Bertrand was picked in midfield – on his Champions League debut. With Ramires suspended, Di Matteo wanted someone who could offer a fast outlet from defence, also Bertrand was tasked with helping out Ashley Cole with the threat of Arjen Robben, who doubled up with Lahm and was also assisted on that right flank by Thomas Muller.
Ashley Cole certainly had his hands full for 120 minutes. He had an outstanding game, but the one mistake he did make let Muller in to score the German’s only goal of the night.
Chelsea, as underdogs, were expected to play in a similar fashion to how they had fended off Barcelona in the semi’s. Suspensions took some of their first teamers out of contention, so there was little expectation of any attacks other than the odd daring break on the counter attack.
Indeed, from the very first time Chelsea managed to get hold of the ball, Drogba was the long ball target, his aerial prowess again on display. It wasn’t a sophisticated approach, but it had got them to the final and now, robbed of some of their best footballers (and John Terry) it was a route-one game plan from the Londoners.
Both legs of the semi-final against Barca where characterised by defiant and desperate defending. Chelsea’s first important block by a defender came with just 4 minutes on the clock and, as in the semis, defenders got their bodies in the way of a startling 21 shots, and intercepted 19 passes. Bayern were allowed most of the park to play in, and so it was deep lying players such as Kroos and Schweinsteiger who were popping up in the dangerous areas.
Chelsea did break forward on occasion, but clearly missed a rapid ball carrier in the Ramires mould – Bertrand didn’t embarrass himself by any means, but didn’t make an incredible impact either. Every time Chelsea broke, there was the very real danger of a counter-counter attack, Bayern are one of the best teams in the business at lightning fast attacks, but were profligate. In the first half, Bayern had 16 attempts on goal, with only two in target. Noticeably, their normally deadly players such as Ribery, Robben and in particular Gomez were wasteful in front of goal. Included in those fourteen shots that didn’t work Petr Cech, six were blasted high or wide by Bayern attackers from within the 18 yard box.
The first 20 minutes followed this pattern. Chelsea soaked up Bayern pressure, stole the ball and broke, then Bayern threatened immediately back. Periods of continuous Chelsea possession were few and far between, but they did create a few chances – which kept Bayern modest, if nothing else.
The first half ended with Bayern beginning to become visibly frustrated by their own wastefulness. There must have been a sense, amongst the players, that creating so many chances and converting none of them, might come back to haunt them.
Chelsea seemed to play the first half like an away leg of a European tie. In a sense it was, with Bayern playing in their own stadium, but there would be no cushion of away goals, and no comfort of a home leg. Thankfully, for the sake of the game, they came out of the blocks far faster in the second half. But yet again they were reminded time after time of the counter attacking potential of the Germans. The 52nd minute brought up a huge warning sign for Chelsea, Ribery pouncing on a rebound in the box and slotting home – but then rightly called offside. Ribery had an incredible amount of shots during the game – more than the entire Chelsea team.
With an hour gone, Chelsea became more withdrawn, Drogba was seen in both full back positions and also making vital headed clearances in the middle of defence.
On 72 minutes, Bertrand was brought off for Malouda. Ostensibly a more attacking player, but given the role that Bertrand had been asked to fulfil, it was more likely to do with fitness – Di Matteo didn’t alter the shape when he came on.
Bertrand and Cole had combined well defensively down Chelsea’s left hand side. As mentioned before, Lahm and Robben were sometimes helped out by Muller dragging wide from his No.10 position, much as Mata drifts left in games that Chelsea are dominating.
They were certainly not dominating this one. Bayern finally managed to breach Chelsea’s defensive shut-out, Muller again finding a bit of space from the right in the 82nd minute.
Left with little option but to gamble. On came Torres for Kalou, and Bayern brought on Van Buyten for goal-scorer Muller. A number 10 for a centre-back, to see them through the last few minutes. Chelsea’s shape didn’t alter much, Torres might have been a straight down the middle forward at Liverpool, but when Drogba is on the pitch he’s only getting in the big man’s way. He edged out to the right, making an only slightly more direct option than his predecessor.
Torres was not to continue his goal-scoring heroics from Camp Nou, but his introductionin addition to a new defender coming on for Bayern may have caused enough confusion for Chelsea’s goal. A fine header by Drogba from Chelsea’s only corner, taking the game into extra time.
Extra time passed as it does for many high-pressure, high-stakes games: nervous and with diminishing risk taken by each side. Having introduced a centre-back following Bayern’s goal, Heynckes could re-jig his players to resemble his preferred 4-2-3-1 shape. Chelsea, running on fumes by this stage, and having got the goal they needed in normal time, were now tasked with getting through another 30 minutes without conceding and had two strikers on the pitch. Torres and Drogba took turns to lead the line (Effectively just being the target for long balls), whilst the other helped out at the back. It was Drogba who clumsily took down Ribery for a penalty during one of his defensive shifts. Incredibly, it was missed by Robben. With a shoot out just around the corner, that was a massive lift for Chelsea – Robben declined to participate in the deciding penalties.
It wasn’t one of the great vintage performances, and detractors will say that Chelsea rode their luck – not just for this game, but for both legs of the semi-finals and possibly the Napoli second leg. Chelsea had a game plan, it wasn’t the most beautiful, or complex, or sophisticated – but it worked. Chelsea’s name on the cup, and a first star above the crest on their shirts next year. Even John Terry’s will have one on.