Champions League

FOX Soccer Exclusive

Bayern remains favorite despite pressure

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Bayern Munich, Chelsea will battle for the ultimate prize Saturday night.
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Rob Stone

A 15-year broadcast veteran, Rob Stone is the lead host for FOX Soccer Match Day, Goals on Sunday and UEFA Champions League coverage. Follow him on Twitter.

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Heads up! Lifting the Champions League trophy not an easy feat. (Photo by FOX Soccer) 

Welcome back to Five-A-Side — the spot to get caught up with all the chatter about the beautiful game.

Don’t get left behind. Strap on your boots and get on the pitch, these are the five topics with the biggest buzz this week.

There aren’t a lot of “firsts” left in my career — I called a 300 game on the PBA Tour last season (that was one off my bucket list!), I’ve been fortunate enough to cover multiple World Cups, and I’ve witnessed firsthand many other big sporting events. But this weekend is a new one for me: This is my first Champions League final in person.

I’ve always tuned in to watch, but I’ve never been as fully invested as I am this week. Let me tell you, when you make the journey to Munich and start your day by interviewing UEFA President Michel Platini, it slaps you in the face!

One of the great perks of this job is the opportunity to be in the stands at a big game — this is what so many fans dream about. I can tell you, it’s worth it. Being in the stadiums and going to the practices changes your perspective. The same buzz and the same nerves that hit the players and fans before a game gets to us in the booth as well. I’ve charged my phone, and I’ll be snapping pictures like crazy.

As you can see, I’ve already started clicking the shutter button — another one of the perks is to be able to get up close and personal with the trophy. Shockingly, UEFA did not entrust me to return the trophy to them after the interview (a sage move on their part).

Beware of the Red Scare

Bayern has to be the favorite Saturday for many reasons. Having home-field advantage at this stage (in any sport) is so rare, and I just don’t see how Munich can fail to capitalize on it. Now, with that come some hits: There’s more pressure on Bayern’s players and they are getting a lot of static from the outside. Long-lost cousins are showing up, the nannies, the gardeners — all these folks are begging guys on Bayern for tickets and postgame party invites. It may sound silly, but this stuff occupies players’ minds — it can be a huge distraction.

I also think John Terry’s suspension hurts Chelsea big time. Whenever you take a captain out, your team takes a serious blow. On a neutral site Bayern would still be the favorite, but here at home it is simply overwhelming.

Bayern's secret weapons

Everyone is talking about Franck Ribery and Arjen Robben, but I think the key guys in this game are keeper Manuel Neuer and striker Mario Gomez. Neuer is now firmly entrenched as one of the best keepers in the world. This tournament has given him worldwide exposure, and everyone is seeing that he is one of the very best. Gomez is a terror at home in this tournament and, oh by the way, is second in the Champions League scoring table this season behind only one guy: Lionel Messi. He’s going to eat into Messi’s lead Saturday because, at home, he seems to be able to score at will. Those two guys will win this game for Bayern.

Tisk, tisk Chandler

At the minimum, Timothy Chandler is sending the wrong message to the average American fan. There is a small part of me that understands the excuse that Chandler is tired and needs a break. I remember years ago when a young Ben Olsen was starting to make his name with D.C. United and the US national team, and I asked then-US manager Bruce Arena if he had any concern about overplaying him. Bruce, in typical Bruce fashion, shrugged it off and said “he’s young,” implying Olsen should be able to play as much as needed. It wasn’t long after that Ben started to break down. So, yeah, that is a concern.

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But turning down your country not once but twice, just two years away from a World Cup, makes me think there is more to this. It is getting to the point where maybe we need to say to Tim, “OK, thanks,” and look harder at other options. If Tim is holding out for a chance to play with Germany, I have news for him: Tim, you’re not good enough right now to replace any one of their starters, and you’re also slapping America in the face. Look at yourself in the mirror: I see a guy who physically cannot afford to take too much time off.

Nice digs!

BBVA Compass Stadium is the sixth MLS stadium to open in the past two years. Amazing! Maybe we’re getting too used to it, because it seems like Houston isn’t getting its due praise. I was in the minority of people that enjoyed their old home at Robertson — it was intimate and the crowds were into it. But midway through the college football season, that field was a train wreck.

I’m hoping this new home can trigger the pocketbooks of the Dynamo franchise to spend a little more on players. Think what Dominic Kinnear has achieved, especially despite the defections he’s suffered and the payroll he’s working with. This stadium is a testament to what Dom has done, and it’s great for one of MLS’ best — and most underrated — fan bases. And by the way, Dom: I can’t wait until you are eventually named head coach of the US national team.

A 15-year broadcast veteran, Rob Stone is the lead studio host for FOX Soccer Match Day, Goals on Sunday, and UEFA Champions League coverage. Follow him on Twitter  @RobStoneONFOX.

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