With both Bayern and Chelsea having to reshuffle their lineups for Saturday’s Champions League final in Munich, SoccerAnchor’s Tim Collins takes a look at how some of the key players in the midfield for each team will fare.
BAYERN MUNICH: Bastian Schweinsteiger and Franck Ribery
Bayern head into this Saturday’s mammoth encounter with concerns over their defensive ability in midfield. These concerns were highlighted in Bayern’s 5-2 DFB-Pokal hiding to rivals Borussia Dortmund last weekend, in which Jupp Heynckes’ side was consistently blown apart on the break. Complicating matters further will be the absence of regular starting defenders David Alaba and Holger Badstuber, who are both suspended from the tie against Real Madrid. This places even more emphasis on the ability of Bayern’s midfield to protect their back four and prevent Chelsea from spreading their defence on the counter.
However the Bavarians will be without defensive midfield ace Luiz Gustavo, which hurts the team in two ways. Gustavo, who performs much of the grunt work in midfield and is a superb tackler, not only protects the back four, but also allows either Bastian Schweinsteiger or Toni Kroos to play purely in a creative attacking role. With Gustavo out, Schweinsteiger and Kroos may need to partner each other in more defensive midfield roles.
Schweinsteiger however, who orchestrates many attacking forays for his side through his crisp passing and fine ball control, still appears to be less than 100% fit as he continues his recovery from an ankle ligament injury suffered in early February. This may limit the German international’s effectiveness not only in attack, but also in protecting Bayern’s back four when Chelsea surge forward. With Gustavo out and Schweinsteiger not fully fit, Chelsea, through Frank Lampard, John Obi Mikel and Juan Mata may be able to take advantage, particularly if they are afforded some time and space on the ball where their creativity could become vital in servicing Didier Drogba and Fernando Torres up front.
Over on the left for the home side, Franck Ribery will prove crucial in unsettling Chelsea’s defensive unit. Ribery is a dashing left winger with a bag of tricks, and will attempt to run at Jose Bosingwa, whose defensive ability out wide has been questionable in the Premier League at times this season. If Schweinsteiger and Kroos are able to win the lion’s share of possession in the heart of midfield, expect to see Ribery darting in from the left to receive balls played out in front. The Frenchmen is at his dangerous best when cutting inside and using his speed and trickery to cause havoc in attack.
CHELSEA: Frank Lampard and John Obi Mikel
A few months ago before Roberto Di Matteo took over from the sacked Andres Villas Boas, the pairing of Frank Lampard and John Obi Mikel would have never seen the light of day in midfield for Chelsea. Both were clearly out of favour with the former manager and saw vast reductions in playing time. Di Matteo however, has re-inserted these two into the Blues midfield and has been rewarded with great production and consistency.
Mikel is now charged with the holding midfield role for the men from Stamford Bridge. The Nigerian will have to be at his absolute best to protect Chelsea’s undermanned back four from the likes of Ribery, Arjen Robben and Thomas Muller, who are capable of creating devastating waves of attack in their aggressive formation. Mikel, who plays a similar role to Bayern’s suspended midfielder Luiz Gustavo, will need to use all of his size and strength to apply as much physical pressure to the Bavarians in the middle of the pitch to prevent Bayern attacking with speed and space given the talent they possess up front.
Meanwhile, Lampard will be the team’s leader on Saturday in the absence of the suspended John Terry. Lampard’s creative ability in midfield will be crucial in opening up the Bayern lineup and creating chances for Chelsea to exploit their opponents somewhat vulnerable back four. However, Jupp Heynckes’ men will be well aware of the veteran’s impact on Chelsea and will likely crowd Lampard as often as possible to prevent him linking with Drogba further up the pitch.
A concern for Mikel and Lampard however, will be the absence of Ramires, yet another of the seven players suspended for this epic encounter. Ramires’ play as an attacking winger has been vital to Chelsea’s resurgence in the second half of the season under Di Matteo. The Brazilian’s pace and goal scoring prowess has allowed Chelsea to attack with substantial width, which has lead to opposing midfields being forced to spread. This has had a two-fold effect. Lampard and Mikel have experienced more space and time on the ball as it’s been harder to close them down with Ramires’ threat out wide, while the spreading of the opposition has allowed Juan Mata to find space in little pockets between the opposing midfield and defence. This has allowed Mata to use his creative passing to find his strikers more consistently.
Without the in-form Ramires, Bayern will find it slightly easier to close down on the Chelsea midfield and limit their effectiveness moving forward.
Bayern’s midfield players, who will be aided by playing at home, are likely to see greater possession than their Chelsea counterparts. Considering it’s likely they will field a very attacking lineup, this should lead to the home side creating more chances in front of goal. However, the home side may enter the game with an offensive overload if Bastian Schweinsteiger, Toni Kroos, Thomas Mueller and Franck Ribery all take their places in the starting eleven. If this is the case, the Bavarians will lack a defensive anchor in midfield, and could be exposed on the break by Lampard and Mata.
Advantage - Bayern by a whisker.