May 18, 2012, 10:14 PM EST
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
Dec 7, 2013, 7:04 AM EST
Manchester United look to bounce back from last week’s defeat, and are hoping that the return of Robin van Persie will help make up for Wayne Rooney’s absence.
Dec 6, 2013, 11:24 PM EST
It appears that Arsene Wenger will remain a Gunner for at least three more years, with a contract extension reportedly near completion.
Dec 6, 2013, 10:39 PM EST
With injuries putting Robin van Persie on more and more of an island at Old Trafford, are troubling times creating a stir in the dressing room?
Dec 6, 2013, 9:58 PM EST
Cameras caught the main man of English soccer laughing and making a throat-slash gesture when England were selected into their devilish group.
Dec 6, 2013, 9:22 PM EST
Nick Rimando, Kyle Beckerman and Javier Morales were all part of the 2009 MLS Cup winning side – and they are still on top of it all:
Dec 6, 2013, 8:46 PM EST
The Germans and Ghanans alike are ready to watch the Boateng brothers square off, and US nemesis Asamoah Gyan has vowed to escape into the knockout phase.
Dec 6, 2013, 8:10 PM EST
Where to watch all the games from Week 15, right here:
MLS Cup preview: Real Salt Lake meets Sporting Kansas City to decide Major League Soccer’s 18th championship
Dec 6, 2013, 7:33 PM EST
Two well-regarded American coaches, two super defenses and record cold temperatures are the dominant sub-plots:
Dec 6, 2013, 7:00 PM EST
Could one very hard-to-read Frenchman be the key to Real Salt Lake’s title chances?
Dec 6, 2013, 6:21 PM EST
Given the crippling equatorial heat in Manaus, England and Italy will lobby FIFA to build drinks breaks into matches. The United States is also set to play a match in the Amazonian city.
Dec 6, 2013, 5:45 PM EST
Two Best XI players and 2012′s Goalkeeper of the Year will be Sporting’s key men on Saturday.
Dec 6, 2013, 5:05 PM EST
The German boss smiled upon FIFA’s placement of his country with the United States. The rest of the country remains confident that the group stage is just the beginning for Germany.
Dec 6, 2013, 4:30 PM EST
Will the Three Lions roar to victory in Brazil? The answer is… probably not:
Dec 6, 2013, 4:29 PM EST
One team that could have not asked for a better World Cup draw is non other than two-time World Cup champion, Argentina. Being drawn into Group F with Bosnia, Iran, and Nigeria; the South Americans are already expected to have a place in the Round of 16 and even already in the quarterfinals since they…
Dec 6, 2013, 4:00 PM EST
If RSL’s number nine is healthy, this is an easy call. If not, Saturday’s visitors may still have the edge.
Dec 6, 2013, 3:46 PM EST
Star Cristiano Ronaldo, manager Paulo Bento, and former international Luis Figo all acknowledged Germany’s presence will make things difficult but remained hopeful of Portugal’s chances in the group.
Dec 6, 2013, 3:30 PM EST
The formations are different but the roles are similar for Sporting, RSL’s midfields.
Dec 6, 2013, 3:18 PM EST
Some of the massive games we can look forward to in the opening stages of the World Cup:
Dec 6, 2013, 2:59 PM EST
Real Salt Lake captain and USMNT midfielder, Kyle Beckerman, was caught by the media in the MLS World Cup Draw party in Kansas City. The holding midfielder sounded calm with a hint of resignation about the unkind USMNT World Cup draw that has put them against Portugal, Germany and Ghana on what many people claim to be this…
Dec 6, 2013, 2:47 PM EST
It’ll take a lot of work for any of CONCACAF’s four teams to find their way out of group play at the 2014 World Cup, though for some it will be easier than others.
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