May 18, 2012, 10:14 PM EDT
So much is stacked against Chelsea on Saturday, but given the season they’ve had, the Blues should be thrilled to have another shot at their first European Cup. They’ve survived a poor run under a new coach and some additional miles on some already old bodies to make their second final, with only Bayern Munich standing between owner Roman Abramovich and the title that’s motivated his soccer investment.
Unfortunately, Bayern will be playing at home. And, while Bayern’s dealing with suspensions, Chelsea’s seem potentially more devastating. Their best midfielder is out, and the team has little reasonable recourse should one of their central defenders (returning from injury) fail to make it to the final whistle.
Looking at … defense: Like Bayern, Chelsea’s dealing with key, shakeup-forcing absences. John Terry was caught kneeing Alexis Sanchez in the lower back during the semifinal leg in Barcelona. He’s banned, as is Branislav Ivanovic, who accumulated too many yellows (Ramires and Raul Meireles are also suspended).
That forces David Luiz and Gary Cahill into the lineup even through hamstring injuries have kept both central defenders sidelined for weeks. Given the alternative, Chelsea will take what they can get. A central defense of Michael Essien and Sam Hutchinson was a possibility before Luiz and Cahill returned to training earlier this week.
Wide, Chelsea will have Ashley Cole (left) and José Bosingwa. Cole’s performances against Barcelona showed he’s still capable of being the game’s best left back. Bosingwa, on the other hand, is somebody who wouldn’t be playing where it not for the suspensions. At one time Chelsea’s first choice on the right, Bosingwa’s defending has seen him relegated to the bench behind center half-turned-fullback Ivanovic. It’s not exactly the profile of somebody you’d want matched up with Franck Ribery.
Thankfully, Chelsea have Petr Cech as their last line of defense. Against Barcelona, Cech was his former self – a self that was often considered one of the world’s best goalkeepers. In the FA Cup final against Liverpool, he came up with a huge save on Andy Carroll to preserve the Blues’ trophy. He has the ability to keep Chelsea in this one should their defense break down, though he’ll have to be aggressive off his line to keep Bayern from making Mario Gomez into a difference-maker.
Looking at … midfield: John Obi Mikel has experienced a revival under Roberto di Matteo. After seeing his time disappear under Andre Villas-Boas, Mikel has been re-instilled as Chelsea’s first choice defensive midfielder. He’ll line up along with Frank Lampard in the 4-2-3-1’s deeper positions, with Lampard playing the shuttling role.
Lampard will also be the first cog in Chelsea’s counter attacks, with attacking midfielder Juan Mata the next level’s link. More known for his wide play than as a through-the-middle option, Mata has been drawn in by di Matteo’s shift to 4-2-3-1. Like Thomas Müller, however, his tendencies lead him to play higher up the pitch than a natural midfielder would do in the same role. A conservative Chelsea will give him a deeper base position; however, if the game opens up, he will act more in support of Didier Drogba.
Out wide, Chelsea’s ready to make a surprise choice. Ryan Bertrand, the left back-in-waiting, will be handed a start at left midfield, with Florent Malouda unable to go through injury. As others have opined, this seems a response to Bayern’s right flank, which features Arjen Robben and Philipp Lahm. Regardless, Bertrand’s European debut will be on the biggest stage of them all.
On the other side, Salomon Kalou will assume the spot normally occupied by Ramires. If Bayern starts Lahm at left back (with Rafinha on the right), Kalou and Bosingwa could be in trouble.
Looking at … attack: Didier Drogba’s going to have to do a lot of the work by himself, but if there’s one player who you’d want to take up that challenge, Drogba is it. Inspired spring performances against Barcelona, Liverpool and Tottenham have silenced speculation the 34-year-old Ivorian has lost a step. I mean, he definitely has, but it’s a bit foolish to talk about such things when Drogba’s scoring key goals in big games.
Even with Mata acting as a facilitator, Chelsea’s play to Drogba tends to be very direct and (often) very long. Part of the reason the Blues can sit so deep in defense is the faith they have in Drogba’s ability to win long balls and hold up play, letting their midfield get into attack. Without Ramires to serve as the second man in transition, Drogba might have to hold the ball a little more (and for a little longer), but with significant advantages against Jerome Boateng and (possibly) Anatoliy Tymoshchuk, Drogba can still have his way.
Likely Starting Lineup
G: Petr Cech
LB: Ashley Cole
CB: David Luiz
CB: Gary Cahill
RB: José Bosingwa
DM: John Obi Mikel
M: Frank Lampard
LM: Ryan Bertrand
AM: Juan Mata
RM: Salomon Kalou
F: Didier Drogba
Most dangerous player: Didier Drogba
Most likely to score: Drogba
Best creator: Frank Lampard
Key defender: David Luiz
Most important: Petr Cech
Oct 25, 2014, 11:44 PM EDT
The Timbers’ postseason aspirations are hanging in the balance, but this 2-0 win over FC Dallas has certainly put them in a nice spot.
Oct 25, 2014, 10:31 PM EDT
Final: New England Revolution 1, Toronto FC 0
Oct 25, 2014, 9:49 PM EDT
AS Roma defender Ashley Cole has drawn the interest of MLS teams once again.
Oct 25, 2014, 8:48 PM EDT
Cristiano Ronaldo praises manager Louis van Gaal and is convinced that the 63-year-old will lead Manchester United to its former glory.
Oct 25, 2014, 7:23 PM EDT
Short recap and highlights of Saturday’s Round 9 Premier League matches.
Oct 25, 2014, 7:08 PM EDT
With three games on the slate, here’s what you can look forward to on Sunday.
Oct 25, 2014, 6:18 PM EDT
Final: Montreal Impact 1, D.C. United 1
Oct 25, 2014, 5:23 PM EDT
The Chicago Fire are seeking to bolster the strength of their roster, examining the possible signing of ex-Tottenham Hotspur midfielder Jaime O’Hara.
Oct 25, 2014, 4:55 PM EDT
A sleepy game for over an hour, Seattle and L.A. used the last hour to stage a contest worthy of a trophy-winning event.
Oct 25, 2014, 4:29 PM EDT
Pique speaks of his handball in Barcelona’s 3-1 defeat to Real Madrid: “It was unintentional.”
Oct 25, 2014, 3:47 PM EDT
The L.A. Galaxy and Seattle Sounders are scoreless through 45 minutes at CenturyLink in Washington.
Oct 25, 2014, 3:30 PM EDT
Leeds United have fired manager Darko Milanic after only 32 days leading the squad.
Oct 25, 2014, 2:59 PM EDT
Several fun games whet the appetite for a massive top of table Sunday tilt between Bayern Munich and Borussia Monchengladbach.
Oct 25, 2014, 2:29 PM EDT
With six games on Saturday in the PL, here’s what happened.
Oct 25, 2014, 2:20 PM EDT
Wilfried Bony scored both goals for Swans, 2-0, who cruised to the win against the suddenly-struggling Foxes.
Oct 25, 2014, 2:07 PM EDT
Will the Sounders handle the Galaxy and expectations to clinch home-field throughout the playoffs?
Oct 25, 2014, 1:54 PM EDT
“Maybe they [Stoke] created two possibilities, not chances and that’s a great team effort,” Koeman said of his Saints.
Oct 25, 2014, 1:47 PM EDT
Despite going behind earlier, Real came roaring back to win the first El Clasico of 2014-15.
Oct 25, 2014, 1:28 PM EDT
Watch and enjoy, then follow the second half live on NBC and online via Live Extra.
Oct 25, 2014, 12:59 PM EDT
Neymar and Ronaldo stealing the show so far, as four on yellows for Barca. Live updates, here:
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