On the evening of Saturday 19th May 2012, at 20:45 Central European Time, the first ever UEFA Champions League Final featuring a team playing at their home stadium will kick off, at the Fussball Arena, Munich, Germany, as Bayern Munich take on Chelsea to be crowned UEFA Champions League Winners for the 2011/12 season.
Statistics and history would point to the same opinion as the bookmakers: home advantage makes Bayern the marginal, but universal, favourites to win on Saturday night.
Both teams came through difficult encounters with Spanish opposition believed to be the trailblazers of World football: Bayern defeated Real Madrid at home before losing away and coming through on penalties in the Semi-Final; Chelsea defeated the decorated Barcelona in their penultimate test.
Bayern’s home performance in that semi final speaks volumes: it was their seventh consecutive European home win.
To add to the feeling that this Final will be a closely matched affair, a glance at recent history sees Chelsea coming through the last European tie which pitched Bayern against Chelsea; Chelsea won 6-5 on aggregate in the Quarter Final of the 2004/05 Champions League.
That match saw Jose Mourinho’s Chelsea win through following a 4-2 win at Stamford Bridge despite late Bayern goals giving the German side a 3-2 win in Munich. The conclusion: Bayern are strong at home.
Chelsea head into this year’s UEFA Champions League Final knowing that they must win in order to secure a place in next year’s tournament – after finishing a disappointing 6th in the Barclays Premier League.
Bayern have also had a below par season – by their high standards – which saw them lose out in the Bundesliga to Borrussia Dortmund who also humbled them 5-2 in the DFB German Cup a week before the Champions League Finale.
But Dortmund have something over Bayern – a hoodoo of sorts – which Chelsea do not. Certainly the Blues have been the poorer of the two over the course of a season which has seen both teams experience injuries to key players at key moments, in addition to some out-of-character form dips.
Where form is concerned, however, a form line running through English Premier League Champions, Manchester City, says Bayern have what it takes to win this one at their home ground: they defeated City 2-0 at home, in the group stage before going on to be beaten by the same score-line in Manchester with their passage to the next phase already assured.
Another key indicator, that of management, shows two teams with considerably different experience. Jupp Heynckes, the Bayern coach, would become the 19th manager to win this tournament twice, and only the fourth to achieve this feat with two different clubs, were he able to guide Bayern to victory on Saturday. By contrast, Chelsea’s Roberto Di Matteo only leads Chelsea into this Finale somewhat by default, after being appointed interim manager following the dismissal of Andre Villas-Boas in early March, following a disastrous string of Premier League results.
While Di Matteo is inexperienced, he has guided them here, and performances, notably of under-fire Spanish striker Fernando Torres, have improved since the Blues’ former midfielder came to the helm. He has performed so well, his hat is well and truly in the ring to keep the job beyond the summer. Winning this coveted prize would go a long way to bolstering an otherwise meagre CV.
That being said, Heynckes wins the battle of coaches hands down: he has been here, seen it, and, importantly, done it before, with Real Madrid in 1998; another point in the long Bayern Munich “pro” column.
Both Bayern Munich and Chelsea, though, are here in this final on merit; cup finals are not group stage fixtures; cup finals are not league matches; UEFA Champions League Finals are not the same as domestic cup finals. The stakes are altogether higher. This is the biggest fixture in club football – at home or no.
Again, in this regard, Bayern have the heritage. The German side has lifted this very trophy four times from eight Champions League Finals – a 50% strike rate. Chelsea have only made it this far once before, in 2008, when they lost out to Manchester United on penalties following a 1-1 draw. But maybe it is Chelsea’s time to shine?
Here there is a glimmer of historical hope for the Chelsea fans winging their way towards München: Bayern have lost two out of three European Cup finals when playing English clubs; they also lost the 2001 UEFA Super Cup to Liverpool, 3-2. If ever there was a nation against which Bayern Munich could be said to be, in any way, weak in cup finals, it is English clubs. The last time Bayern lifted a major trophy having beaten an English club side, was in 1975, when a fantastic Munich side defeated Leeds United 2-0 in Paris in their second of three consecutive European Cup wins.
Unfortunately for Chelsea, as in finance, in football past performance never indicates future success.
When all is said and done, it comes down to two teams, with one goal. Home or away, when Saturday comes, only one thing matters: winning.
UEFA Champions League Final 2012 kicks off at 20:45 CET on Saturday 19th May 2012, at Fussball Arena München, Germany.