Chelsea and Bayern Munich locked horns on Saturday night in the 2011/12 Champions’ League final. The Allianz Arena in Munich played host to the show-piece event and, in doing so, welcomed one of her home teams to the stage, giving Bayern the opportunity to lift the coveted trophy in their home ground. Unforunately for Jupp Heynckes and his side, Chelsea and Roberto di Matteo hadn’t read the script and proceeded to frustrate the team from Bavaria for 120 minutes, before stealing the crown on penalties.
The game began as it was to continue for two hours, relentless Bayern presssure, consolidated by almost continuous possession. Never in a Champions’ League final have I seen a more one-sided first-half, attack against defence for practically the full 45 minutes. It was reminiscent of the first-half of the 2010 World Cup final (albeit without the aggression), where Holland could barely get a touch on the ball due to the Spaniards’ dominance.
Robben was the first to test Cech, the big goalkeeper was equal to it, saving with his legs. Ribery was running the show for Bayern, his skill and industry frightened Chelsea’s weakened back four, more so than Robben, and it was through him that his side’s first glaring opportunity arose.
The Frenchman cut into the box and hit a right-foot shot; deflected, it fell into the path of Mario Gomez just seven yards from goal. However, the enigmatic German international, whose been in such hot form in this year’s competition, inexplicably was caught in two minds. His first touch was neither deft control nor powerful shot and, instead of the net rippling, the ball bobbled harmlessly wide of the far post, much to relief of the stranded Petr Cech. A major let off.
Shortly afterwards Robben was unlucky as Cech got down to tip his goalbound effort onto the post. Then both Ribery and Thomas Mueller had good chances to open the scoring, both had chances running onto crosses from close range, however, both fluffed their lines badly, the latter sending a volley well wide from just eight yards out.
Chelsea had shown absolute zero in terms of attacking intent, in fact, up to this point, their only effort on goal had come from a Mata free-kick. At almost 35 yards from goal, the effort was ambitious from the Spanish playmaker, however, it flew harmlessly over the bar with no chance of ever troubling Neuer. Eight minutes before the interval came the Blues’ only meaningful effort of the first-half, when Salomon Kalou’s effort was held by Neuer at his near post.
Bayern remained wholly on top, Chelsea resorting to the “park the bus” tactic which their old boss, Jose Mourinho, used to complain about so much if their opponents ever employed it. There was still time for another great chance to break the deadlock before the interval though and it fell, again, to Mario Gomez.
This time the striker made his own opportunity by rolling Gary Cahill, who had gotten far too tight, inside the box to create a clear sight of goal. With the hard part done, however, Gomez, once more, made a mess of the finish, leaning back at the point of contact and sending the ball high over the bar from twelve yards. Frustration for Gomez and the home support!
Into the second half and the pattern continued completely unchecked. Chelsea camped in their own half, their opponents with all of the ball, all of the play and all of the attacking intent. Eight minutes into the second period Bayern thought they had their breakthrough, Robben’s shot hitting Cole, landing at Ribery’s boot and then hitting the back of the net.
The linesman, however, had different ideas and raised his flag for offside. Replays are inconclusive but seem to suggest that the French international was level with the England defender when the ball left Robben’s foot and, certainly, the benefit of the doubt could and probably should have gone the other way.
The controversy came after Kroos and Ribery had been denied by excellent last-ditch tackles and the pressure continued after the incident. Robben, not as effective as his team-mate Ribery on the night, perhaps because he’s more known to Chelsea, being formerly on their books or perhaps because of his penchant for selfishness and wishing to see his name up in lights. He certainly wasted a number of promising positions down the right hand side by coming inside his man and attempting blockbuster left-foot strikes, all of which were poor, none of which were on target.
With the game entering its final ten minutes, Thomas Mueller, normally so assured in front of goal, wasted two great opportunites, failing to trouble Cech on either occasion. Then, seven minutes from time, he came good. Found by a beautifully shaped, deep cross from Toni Kroos, Mueller arrived at the back post and planted a textbook header down into the ground and out of the reach of the Chelsea goalkeeper.
At 1-0 it looked for all the world as if the game was Bayern’s. Van Buyten was brought on to solidify the midfield and help shut up shop. Nobody, least of all Bayern, expected that five minutes later, and with their first corner of the match, just two minutes from time, Chelsea would equalise. That’s just what they did though; Didier Drogba getting free at the near post and powering a header towards goal that was too strong for Neuer to keep out. Mind you, the German number one may well be angry with himself for not getting it up and over the bar, having got a good hand on it.
So to extra-time and, quelle surprise, Chelsea were again forced to hang on for dear life as Bayern continued to throw men forward in an attempt to put the tie to bed. Drogba’s cynical foul on Ribery earned him a yellow card, forced the midfielder to leave the field injured and provided Arjen Robben with a fabulous chance to potentially win the trophy for his team from twelve yards.
Robben’s outward confidence in his own ability has never been up for debate, however, whether he really believes his own hype is now more questionable than ever. Fresh from missing a vital “elfmeter” in the league showdown with Borussia Dortmund, he stepped up to take another vital spot-kick here and , just like before, his nerve deserted him. His penalty was poor, neither powerful nor well placed and at a nice height for Cech to deal with, he had let his team-mates down at the most crucial point for the second time in a month.
Still the German side came and still the English side resisted. Olic tried to set up van Buyten but the defensive minded player was on his heels and failed to react to the Croatian’s pass, as the Bayern fans watched the ball slip agonisingly across goal and out. Gomez had a final chance to seal glory, however, Cahill’s block meant that his night of frustration in front of goal was complete.
It would take penalties to decide this one and, when Neuer saved from Mata in the first round, the smart money was on the Germans. Neuer, Gomez and Lahm all scored for Bayern, as did Luiz, Lampard and Cole. However, Cech’s save from Olic left the scores tied with one round to go. Bastien Schweinsteiger stepped up to take Bayern’s final kick and, almost unbelievably, hit the post, the ball rebounding to safety leaving the midfielder distraught as Didier Drogba calmly rolled in the decisive penalty to steal, sorry win, the Champions’ League for Chelsea.
Never have I seen a more one sided European Cup/Champions’ League final which has not been won by the dominant side. Chelsea were resolute but were helped immensely by Bayern’s profligacy in front of goal and a kind decision from the referee’s assistant.
Hats off to the London club for their achievement even if purists such as Johan Cruyff have condemned their victory. The Dutch legend has said “Chelsea winning the CL-final is a defeat for proper football. I’d rather not win it, then to have to play this way.” Though they may be true, certainly in his eyes, the words will do little to dampen the mood of celebration in West London, nor will they be of any comfort to those involved with Bayern.
Allianz image by CottonIJoe. Cech image by The _Old_Grey_Wolf