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|Champions League Special: How Chelsea succeeded against a Bayern Munich barrage|
In a Champions League final full of drama, Chelsea held its nerve to defeat Bayern Munich 4-3 on penalties, after the match ended 1-1 at full time. While Chelsea showed tremendous resilience and individual brilliance at key moments to claim victory, tactical decisions put the ball firmly in Bayern’s court for the majority of proceedings. As fate would have it, the German’s could not capitalize and will be left to rue several missed opportunities. By contrast, the Londoners head home with smiles and silverware.
Chelsea’s plan was clear from the outset – sit deep defensively with extra cover behind the ball and play on the counter-attack. The 4-2-3-1 formation looked more like a 9-1 system for most of the match, with striker Didier Drogba severely isolated. As such, Bayern dictated possession and owned territory. The writing was seemingly on the wall.
While dropping the defensive anchor assisted in congesting the penalty area, the glaring issue for Chelsea was that as a direct result, they were largely unable or unwilling to pressure the ball further up the pitch. The space afforded to dangerous players like Franck Ribery and Arjen Robben in threatening positions caused havoc on countless occasions, allowing the stars to run at defenders and create chances.
The passing interplay from Bayern stretched Chelsea’s defensive structures, where key players John Terry and Branislav Ivanovic were absent through suspension. Gary Cahill and David Luiz are quality in their own right, but the waves of attacking thrusts crashing on top of them were overwhelming. Ashley Cole was strong and composed, but elsewhere vulnerability reined.
Ultimately, there were two tales on the night that largely determined the outcome. One was the experienced players of Chelsea coming to the fore at pivotal stages. The other was Bayern’s poor finishing and Chelsea’s good fortune as the beneficiary.
The game should have been out of Chelsea’s reach well before the dramatic later stages of the match. Mario Gomez lacked composure, Robben’s finishing was uncharacteristically wasteful and Ribery scuffed several sights on goal. Yet it felt as though it was only a matter of time before Bayern would seize the lead. In the 82nd minute, Thomas Mueller’s headed goal gave the Germans the ascendency and looked to have won the match.
There is always a risk associated with inviting the opposition into your half. Had the day not ended in Blue celebration, big questions would have been asked about the defensive positioning that enabled Mueller an open header at the back post. With Chelsea’s central defenders nowhere to be seen, Cole was isolated, leaving Mueller’s height to reign supreme in the air and complete a relatively comfortable finish. Even Petr Cech’s effort to stop the header lacked conviction.
The goal flipped the game on its head in more ways than one. Suddenly, the mindsets of both sides changed. Chelsea quickly injected Fernando Torres off the bench and committed men forward, while Bayern looked to protect its precious lead. A complete role reversal, but Chelsea was far more comfortable with its new persona. Tension was evident for Bayern as Chelsea took the initiative. With this momentum change, the second game deciding factor emerged. Chelsea’s wise heads took control and the cream rose.
From Juan Mata’s corner in the 88th minute, Drogba’s thumping header burst past Manuel Neuer to equalize the contest. Cometh the hour, cometh the man. Drogba’s worth on the big stage was already irrefutable, now it moved closer to immortal. But in extra time, the ageing warrior nearly turned from hero to villain, conceding a penalty after nibbling at Ribery from behind.
As it turned out, the penalty gave another Chelsea stalwart the chance to shine. With Cech’s brilliant, match defining save on Robben, the contest continued to evolve. A sense of renewed belief was now in Chelsea’s corner, snatching an opportunity from the jaws of defeat. Bayern had a massive chance late in piece to regain the lead from Ivica Olic’s tantalizing layoff across goal, but again it wasn’t to be. Penalties would decide the winner.
Having weathered the Bayern storm, it felt as though the weight of expectation and pressure was completely off Chelsea. The Blues had played their part and took their chance when required, while Bayern had butchered its dominance and opened the door for its opponent. As it turned out, it was a burden Bayern could not carry.
Cech was herculean, saving shots from Olic and Bastian Schweinsteiger. Fittingly, the Champions League title hinged on Drogba’s boot. With possibly his last kick for Chelsea, the Ivorian cooly hit the back of the net. The Chelsea champions had outclassed Bayern when it mattered most.
Chelsea played a Russian roulette style of football. While its defence was solid without being superb and Frank Lampard and John Obi Mikel worked tirelessly in support, fortune favoured the Blues. Bayern Munich only found one bullet from 24 shot attempts. Chelsea were wounded, but Bayern did not find the fatal blow and paid the ultimate price. Chelsea rode its luck, diligently stuck to its structures and earned its first ever Champions League title.