May 19, 2012, 6:13 PM EDT
Man of the Match: Didier Drogba was nearly the goat, taking down Franck Ribéry four minutes into extra time, just minutes after his blistering header off Chelsea’s first corner pushed the match to extra time. With the post kick, Arjen Robben blasted the potential winner into Petr Cech’s stomach, setting the stage for Drogba’s second moment of glory. With the final kick of the shootout, Drogba slotted his kick into the lower left-hand corner fo Manuel Neuer’s goal, giving Chelsea their first European Cup.
Packaged for takeaway:
- The story was so obvious, we mentioned it in our preview. John Terry and Frank Lampard are more readily associated with Chelsea FC, but Drogba has been the Blues’ most important man in the Roman Abramovich era. Playing what might be his last match with the club (his contract up), this game always seemed destined to revolve around Didier Drogba.
- And once his kick decided it, this match became one of the more compelling individual dramas in recent memory. With his global stature, recent resurgence, contract situation and Moscow antics (getting sent off in the 2008 final when he would have been the fifth penalty kick-taker) as prologue, Drogba was hard-pressed to produce a night that didn’t undermine the plot. But he did it. The 88th minute goal was exactly what you’re expect if you were fabricating the night’s drama. The 94th minute mistake, giving up a penalty kick? Merely raising the stakes. Converting the winning kick in the shootout? The only way it could end.
- Surely, Drogba must be re-signed at this point, right? He wants a two-year deal. Give it to him. At this point in their history, Chelsea is not Chelsea without Didier Drogba.
- When it comes to penalty shootouts, each hero has a corresponding goat. That goat is (surprisingly) Bastian Schweinsteiger. With Bayern’s last kick, their all-world midfielder went off the right post, the hesitation he offered in his run up to the ball betraying the moment. The cool he showed in sealing the shootout in Madrid had abandoned him, and unlike John Terry, Schweinsteiger can’t point to the turf as a reason he missed his try.
- Perhaps somebody less enthralled by the Drogba narrative might have picked Petr Cech as man of the match. A great save on Robben early, the penalty save late, command of his box throughout the match, and diving the right way on all five shootout kicks – if he’s not man of the match, he’s a close second.
- Of note on the shootout: Neither Arjen Robben nor Fernando Torres took kicks. With Robben’s miss so late in the match, his exclusion was understandable. Torres was caught on camera talking to Roberto Di Matteo, who seemed to ask him if he wanted to be on the sheet. Torres, finally said yes after being asked a couple of times. It seems Di Matteo decided better of it.
- Despite the result, it doesn’t appear Di Matteo will be back. With this win, however, he can walk into most jobs in the world. Given the distinct tactical changes Di Matteo employed after taking over for André Villas-Boas, the former MK Dons and West Brom boss has reason to feel himself an integral part of Chelsea’s triumph.
- Though they let Bayern control most of the match, Chelsea’s night was defined by a serious of strong individual performances. Cech’s night was made easier by the stellar shifts from his fullbacks, Ashley Cole and José Bosingwa. John Obi Mikel and Frank Lampard were impenetrable in the middle. Juan Mata, when given a chance to turn and run with the ball, often produced at least a half-chance for Chelsea (and delivered a great ball on the first goal). And Ryan Bertrand, making his European debut, gave a relentless performance before being brought off after 74 minutes.
- Bayern can’t say the same. Manuel Neuer was good in the shootout, scoring a goal and stopping Mata’s try. Still, some will say his hands should have been stronger on Drogba’s goal. Philipp Lahm provided good support for the midfield and, late, tried to push Bayern to a winning goal. Franck Ribery was Bayern’s best player until leaving in the 94th minute. Aside from those three, no Bayern player performed to the best of his abilities.
- Mario Gomez missed four chances that he might have converted another day. Arjen Robben continuously put 24-yard shots toward goal that had no confidence behind them. Thomas Müller scored in the 82nd minute but also found himself lost on the right for long spans of the match. The double pivot of Schweinsteiger and Toni Kroos failed to force holes in the Chelsea defense despite having the freedom to play at the edge of the final third for much of the match.
- That was a function of Chelsea’s tactics, very similar to what we saw against Barcelona. The team sad very deep, possibly to protect their returning central defenders (David Luiz and Gary Cahill). While you could say the approach paid off, the Blues were down after 82 minutes and may not have won had Bayern not made a very important change.
- That change: Taking off Müller, moments after scoring (replacing him with Daniel van Buyten), conceding control of the match to Chelsea. It’s not an uncommon approach – bring on an extra defender to see out the match – but the way Bayern was dominating the ball, they could have kept Müller on and bled out the clock. Jupp Heynckes went with the more conservative option, and after Chelsea equalized, he was left to play out the match with his more defensive lineup.
- Detractors will point to that as yet another break Chelsea got on their way to the title. Those detractors will look at the way Chelsea won their semifinal the final and note all the “luck” the Blues needed to claim their first Champions League. But in a tournament like this one, everybody winner needs some luck to claim the title. There are just too many matches against too many good teams to expect your side to emerge victorious without getting breaks along the way.
- And when you consider the John Terry red card at Barça, Chelsea’s three other suspensions, Drogba giving up two crucial penalty kicks (over the last two rounds) and having to play the final on the road with two just-returning center halves, it’s unclear Chelsea has received more luck than your average UEFA Champions League winner.
- Very shortly, people are going to forget about all these ancillary concerns. Even the qualms about the tactics will dissipate in time. All that UEFA will write in their record books is the name of the victor. Chelsea FC are winners of 2011-12’s UEFA Champions League – the crowning achievement for one of the more memorable club teams of our lifetime.
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