It’s not Real Madrid versus FC Barcelona as many expected, but we’ll take it. In an improbable matchup, FC Bayern Munich will host Chelsea FC in the Champions League final on Saturday. Bayern Munich finished runners up to a dominant Borussia Dortmund in both the Bundesliga and the German Cup. Chelsea finished sixth in the English Premier League but are FA Cup champions. Chelsea must win the title for any chance of playing in the Champions League next season. Additionally, Chelsea seek to avoid becoming the sixth English team to lose a Champions League final in the last seven years.
The final will take place at the Fussball Arena München, also known as Allianz Arena during non-UEFA games, which has been home to Bayern since the 2005-06 season. Real Madrid in 1957 and FC Internazionale Milano in 1965 each won the European Cup final in their own stadium and AS Roma lost to Liverpool FC at home in 1984. Although the stadium is a neutral venue, Bayern will use their regular locker room rather than one of the two available neutral dressing rooms. But any suggestion of a home field advantage to Bayern is negated by the heavy expectation of the Bayern fans from all over Germany in the city for the game.
Bayern will appear in their ninth final. They have won four titles, and their most recent title was in 2001. Their most recent appearance, however, was only two years ago when Louis van Gaal’s side lost to Jose Mourinho’s InterMilan in Madrid. All but a handful of players remain from their Champions League final loss two years ago. Louis van Gaal, a former Champions League winner as manager with AFC Ajax, is also gone.
Instead, Josef “Jupp” Heynckes, a former West Germany player on the 1972 European Championship team, leads Bayern in his third managerial stint with the club. He arrived at Bayern in July 2011 but has managed over 600 games in the Bundesliga, which is second only to legendary coach Otto Rehhagel. Mr. Heynckes previously coached Bayern to back-to-back German championships in 1989 and 1990, Tenerife to a UEFA Cup semifinal in 1997, and Real Madrid to a Champions League title in 1998.
This is only the second time Chelsea has appeared in the final. Chelsea lost on penalties to Manchester United in the 2008 final under caretaker manager Avram Grant who took over during the season after Mr. Mourinho was terminated. Chelsea has had a recent string of success in the Champions League and has advanced to the semifinals in six of the last nine seasons under five different managers. Chelsea enter this final under another caretaker manager.
Nobody on the face of this planet could have predicted last year that Chelsea head coach Roberto Di Matteo would lead a team in the Champions League Final this weekend. West Bromwich Albion fired Mr. Di Matteo in February 2011. Birmingham City subsequently rejected him in favor of Chris Hughton to manage the club in the Football League Championship, which is the English second division, for the 2011-12 season. Mr. Di Matteo, a former Chelsea player during their “Italian Era” near the turn of the century, rejoined the club as an assistant manger to Andres Villas-Boas last summer. Mr. Di Matteo took control of a deflated Chelsea in March after the club terminated Mr. Villas-Boas.
Mr. Villas-Boas started the Champions League campaign in the group stage with Bayer 04 Leverkusen, Valencia CF, and Belgian side KRC Genk. Chelsea struggled in the group stage and thrice lost points late when points seemed secured. They advanced to the knockout stage and won the group in their final game with a strong win over Valencia. But this success did not start a trend. A resurgent SSC Napoli soundly defeated Chelsea 3-1 in the first leg of the round of 16.
Cue Mr. Di Matteo. With only a Premier League win and a FA Cup Fifth Round replay victory under his belt for Chelsea, he took over the London side for the second leg. By game time, Napoli was in a six-game winning streak and had defeated Cagliari 6-3 in the Serie A the weekend prior. Under Mr. Di Matteo’s leadership, an inspired Chelsea won 4-1 in extra time and advanced to the quarterfinals 5-4 on aggregate in what many at the club hailed, at the time, as Chelsea’s greatest game of the season.
Bayern entered the Champions League through the playoffs against FC Zurich. Their group stage opponents included Manchester City FC, Napoli, and Villarreal CF. Bayern won the group on the penultimate group game, and their only loss was to Manchester City in the final game where Mr. Heynckes coincidentally rested many of his starters.
Bayern drew FC Basel 1893 of Switzerland in the round of 16. Many had predicted that Bayern would sail into the quarterfinals, but Basel defeated Bayern 1-0 in the first leg on a late goal in what appeared to be anything but an easy game for the Germans. Bayern regained their composure, and Mario Gomez scored four goals and former Chelsea player Arjen Robben added two more as Bayern defeated Basel 7-0 in the second leg to advance to the quarterfinals.
After defeating Olympique de Marseille in both legs of the quarterfinals, Bayern faced a confident Real Madrid under Mr. Mourinho. Bayern won the first leg 2-1 after a dramatic final minute goal. Madrid quickly regained the advantage early in the second leg when Cristiano Ronaldo scored two goals in the first quarter of an hour. Bayern scored on a first half penalty kick, and the aggregate score remained 3-3 through extra time.
In the resulting penalty shootout, Bayern goalkeeper Manuel Neuer saved spot kicks from Cristiano Ronaldo and Kaka. Madrid goalkeeper Iker Casillas stopped kicks from Toni Kroos and Philipp Lahm. Sergio Ramos for Madrid fired his penalty high over the bar. Bastian Schweinsteiger scored the subsequent penalty kick for Bayern, which gave his side an insurmountable 3-1 lead to advance to the final.
Chelsea’s path to the final was no less spectacular. Chelsea defeated SL Benfica of Portugal in both legs of the quarterfinals for the unenviable privilege of playing Barcelona in the semifinal. Barcelona dominated the first leg, holding onto possession and firing 19 attempts on goal. Chelsea goalkeeper Petr Cech and determined defenders stood firm. And Didier Drogba’s first half goal in added time, their only attempt on goal in the game, allowed Chelsea to take a narrow 1-0 win back to Barcelona.
The second leg started out as a disaster for Chelsea. After going down 1-0, Chelsea captain John Terry was sent off, and Barcelona doubled the lead a few minutes later. All seemed well for the home team until Ramires scored for Chelsea at the end of the first half. Now with the advantage, ten-man Chelsea struggled to hold Barcelona in the second half. Lionel Messi had a chance to put Barcelona ahead, but misfired a spot kick early in the second half. Fernando Torres sealed the trip to the final with an added time goal.
The semifinals took their toll on both teams, and seven players are suspended for the final. Chelsea will have four players suspended including defenders John Terry and Branislav Ivanovic, and midfielders Ramires and Raul Meireles. Bayern will be without three players including defensive midfielder Luiz Gustavo and defenders Holger Badstuber and David Alaba.
The Champions League final will be televised in the United States on FOX, and kick off is scheduled for 1:45 p.m. Central Daylight Time.