Skip to content

Countdown to Champions League final: Looking at Chelsea, back to front

May 18, 2012, 10:14 PM EDT

UEFA Champions League Final - Chelsea Training Getty Images

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

Back to front: Bayern Munich

Latest Posts
  1. DaMarcus Beasley, introduced in Houston: I see myself as a left back

    Jul 24, 2014, 11:25 PM EDT

    DaMarcus Beasley

    Introduced to the media in Houston, Beasley said he’s move on from midfield.

  2. Wenger talks Zelalem, gets taste of U.S. obsession for potential international

    Jul 24, 2014, 10:24 PM EDT

    Wenger Getty Images

    With Wenger interview, SI had to get Zelalem out of the way first.

  3. Henry, on Suárez sale: ‘We needed more depth’

    Jul 24, 2014, 9:16 PM EDT

    BRITAIN-US-FBL-ENG-PR-LIVERPOOL Getty Images

    Reds’ owner does not want a repeat of last year’s weaknesses.

  4. Barclays Premier League LIVE: Select U.S. theaters to show games during the 2014-15 season

    Jul 24, 2014, 8:02 PM EDT

    Premier League logo

    NBC Sports and Fathom Events are taking Premier League soccer to the big screen.

  5. 11 Things From AC Milan’s Training Session in New York

    Jul 24, 2014, 7:10 PM EDT

    mario-balotelli-cosmos-1000

    Balotelli, Honda, Muntari, and more from the Rossoneri’s N.Y. training.

  6. Jorge Luis Pinto will not return as Costa Rica head coach

    Jul 24, 2014, 7:04 PM EDT

    jorge_luis_pinto AP

    Pinto will depart after failing to come to new terms with the federation.

  7. Everton adds 21-year-old Bosnian midfielder Muhamed Besic

    Jul 24, 2014, 6:12 PM EDT

    muhamed_besic AP

    After appearing three times at Brazil 2014, Besic is set to add depth behind Gareth Barry and James McCarthy.

  8. Serbian club FK Jagodina set to sign Freddy Adu

    Jul 24, 2014, 5:21 PM EDT

    Credit: Blackpool Gazette Credit: Blackpool Gazette

    Adu close to joining the 10th club in his 11-year career.

  9. U.S. prospect Rubin suffers broken nose, concussion with Utrecht

    Jul 24, 2014, 4:08 PM EDT

    rubio rubin

    After seeing time with the senior squad, 18-year-old prospect will be sidelined indefinitely.

  10. WATCH: Radamel Falcao’s batting cage cuts send pitcher diving

    Jul 24, 2014, 3:25 PM EDT

    Screen Shot 2014-07-24 at 2.45.37 PM

    The Colombian striker takes a few hacks before AS Monaco’s friendly in Miami against Atletico National.

  11. Andy Carroll’s out a week, or four months (depending on who you trust)

    Jul 24, 2014, 2:50 PM EDT

    article-2704570-1FCE5BED00000578-747_634x382 Getty Images

    Limited to just 16 matches last year after his big transfer from Liverpool to West Ham, Carroll is battling another ailment this season.

  12. Jay DeMerit’s retirement letter is as grateful, humble and classy as you’d expect

    Jul 24, 2014, 2:09 PM EDT

    South Africa Soccer WCup US Algeria AP

    The rags-to-riches defender steps away from the pitch, at least as a player, while reflecting on his career journey from North America to Europe and back.

  13. EXCLUSIVE: Manchester United’s new signing Ander Herrera focused on success

    Jul 24, 2014, 1:46 PM EDT

    Manchester United v Los Angeles Galaxy AP

    Herrera chats exclusively to PST: “If we are a humble team and we work hard, we will achieve our objectives and we will win trophies.”

  14. Son of Mexican national teamer says he’ll represent United States

    Jul 24, 2014, 1:26 PM EDT

    Twitter.com/ferarceJr Twitter.com/ferarceJr

    His dad played for El Tri, but California-born Fernando Arce Jr says his U-20 bow with the States makes him an American player “forever”

  15. Premier League on tour, Weds roundup: Five play, only Liverpool loses

    Jul 24, 2014, 1:00 PM EDT

    Manchester City v Sporting Kansas City Getty Images

    Aston Villa, Manchester United and Manchester City all cruised, while Spurs had to find a late winner after coughing up a two-goal lead.

  16. Serbian boss: Freddy Adu sought by Europa, UCL clubs in Serbia, Cyprus

    Jul 24, 2014, 12:15 PM EDT

    150px-FK_Jagodina_Emblem

    Goran Milanovic is hoping the former American prodigy chooses to revitalize his career with FK Jagodina in the Serbian top flight.

  17. Report: Jay DeMerit set to call it a career; ‘Caps to get relief

    Jul 24, 2014, 12:00 PM EDT

    Colorado Rapids v Vancouver Whitecaps FC Getty Images

    One of the best stories is United States men’s soccer history is about to move past the “playing career” chapter.

  18. Where does Frank Lampard’s signing rank in MLS history of mega-deals?

    Jul 24, 2014, 11:47 AM EDT

    Frank Lampard

    How big of a deal is the Chelsea legend signing for New York City FC? It’s up there.

  19. Frank Lampard delighted to sign for New York City FC, start MLS adventure

    Jul 24, 2014, 11:14 AM EDT

    Source: New York City FC Source: New York City FC

    Lampard: “I want to test myself, carry on challenging myself, I want to be that leader and that person on and off the pitch that can make things happen for this club.”