Bayern can home in on victory over weakened Chelsea

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 19 May, 2012, 12:00am
UPDATED : Saturday, 19 May, 2012, 12:00am
 

The founding fathers of the European Cup did not stipulate that the participants in the inaugural competition in 1955 had to be champions of their country, so perhaps they wouldn't be disturbed by the idea of two non-champions contesting the final this year.

For others, though, the title of the Champions League might have a hollow ring tonight when Bayern Munich, who finished third in the Bundesliga last year and second this season, take on Chelsea, runners-up in the English Premier League last year and a distant sixth this time. Neither team has finished any closer than eight points behind their domestic champions in the last two seasons.

This is the fourth time since 1997, when the Champions League was first opened to teams other than domestic champions, that two non-champions have contested the final. Not that it is a complete surprise that Chelsea and Bayern have ended up in the final, as they were fourth and sixth respectively in the betting at the start of the competition.

The German club are firm favourites now with the home crowd on their side. Home advantage tends to be important in the Champions League and Bayern usually make it count - since moving to the Allianz Arena seven years ago they have won 22 out of 31 at home in the Champions League, with only three defeats.

The win rate of 71 per cent and defeat rate of 10 per cent are remarkably close to their Bundesliga home figures of 74 per cent and nine per cent since the move to the Allianz. Taking those figures at face value, Bayern's odds tonight look too big, especially as their record this season includes home victories over the champions of England (2-0 against Manchester City) and Spain (2-1 against Real Madrid).

Bayern are the fourth team to play a final in their home stadium and only one of the previous three lost - Roma in 1984, beaten on penalties by Liverpool. Manchester United, at Wembley last year, became the only team to lose a final in their own country in 90 minutes - of the previous nine finalists in that category, five won in 90 minutes, one in extra-time, one on penalties and two lost on penalties.

That emphasises the size of Chelsea's task, especially with a team weakened by the unavailability of John Terry, Raul Meireles, Ramires and Branislav Ivanovic.

Bayern have absentees of their own - Luiz Gustavo, David Alaba and Holger Badstuber - but none of them is as significant as the Chelsea four. Leaving aside their other qualities, Terry, Meireles, Ramires and Ivanovic have all scored in the knockout stages of this season's competition.

There is still plenty of attacking talent on show. Chelsea's main hopes rest on Didier Drogba, their top scorer in the Champions League with five goals, and behind him they will need Juan Mata and Frank Lampard to get a grip of midfield. Lampard's battle with Bastian Schweinsteiger might be crucial to the outcome.

Bayern's flying wingers Franck Ribery and Arjen Robben will be looking to provide the ammunition for Mario Gomez, who still does not convince as a top-quality striker but has notched 12 goals in this season's competition (only two behind Lionel Messi). Gomez usually needs plenty of chances to score and Chelsea's task will be to restrict the supply from Ribery and Robben.

Interestingly, two of the previous three finals contested by non-champions were won by the team that finished lowest in their domestic league, which suggests that some teams have achieved success in Europe by sacrificing their ambitions at home to concentrate on the Champions League.

Chelsea most obviously fit that profile this year, having been out of the running in the Premier League title race from early in the season. The main factor in their slow start was the ill-starred reign of Andre Villas-Boas, but they have been in great form since Roberto Di Matteo replaced him as manager with 13 wins, four draws and three defeats.

And unlike Bayern - thrashed 5-2 by Borussia Dortmund in last week's German Cup final - Chelsea have put a trophy in the cabinet already with their FA Cup final triumph over Liverpool.

Champions League finals are not as cagey as those in some other major tournaments, with six of the last 10 over 2.5 goals. Taking out finals involving Italian teams - often the most defensive of the major European countries - six out of nine in the past 20 years have had over 2.5 goals.

There are conflicting signals about the goals potential from the two teams involved, with Chelsea likely to play a tight match, but it is worth noting that Bayern have scored at least twice in their seven home Champions League matches this season and Chelsea have not been held scoreless in six away games.

Over 2.5 goals looks the best bet and Bayern are likely to make the most of home advantage, although it is possible they will have to wait longer than 90 minutes.

The Championship playoff final in England does not have the same prestige but it has a huge financial value and West Ham rate likely winners over Blackpool tonight. The Hammers rank best on all the key factors - league position, momentum, away form and head-to-heads (4-0 and 4-1 wins over Blackpool in the regular season).

Third place in the Championship used to be seen as a curse when it came to the playoffs, but four of the last six third-placed finishers have won the final and West Ham look set to boost that trend.

4

Wins out of five for English clubs against German teams in European Cup finals

13

Wins and one draw for Bayern in 14 games since their last home defeat

TOP 3 BETS

1 Bayern win

Odds should be shorter with home advantage

2 Over 2.5 goals in Bayern v Chelsea

Bayern's home scoring record is good

3 West Ham win

Deserve to go up and should make it

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