FOX Soccer Exclusive
No Barcelona? No Madrid? No problem
Bayern Munich will meet Chelsea in a dream Champions League Final on May 19, becoming the first team in the modern era to play for the title in their own stadium. Ironically, the team Bayern eliminated Thursday night, Real Madrid, is the only team to win a European Cup in their home stadium — way back in 1957.
It's not the matchup many thought we would see when the draw was set before the quarterfinals. Most fans cheered when Real Madrid and Barcelona were kept apart, setting up an ultimate "Clasico" on steroids.
And yet, if anyone outside of Spain is disappointed, they are missing the fact this final has all the dramatic elements you could ever want.
Take Chelsea, the unlikely of teams to reach the semis. They have undergone a rebirth that barely conceals the fact that if the season were to end now, they would not be back in Europe next season. The Blues have won under interim manager Roberto Di Matteo, having captured public sentiment with their heroism and heart.
Chelsea plays a direct, attacking style that has slipped the leash under Di Matteo. What once was a constipated unsure side that seemed to be looking to the future at the expense of the present, is now a team that seems capable of overcoming any hurdle thrown in front of it.
First, the Blues managed to overcome the firepower of Napoli — one of the best attacking sides in Italy — in an overtime thriller. Then they saw off the hardly shabby Benfica. But their greatest magic act was in downing Barcelona with only 10 men Tuesday night.
At Stamford Bridge, Chelsea showed defensive organization and brilliance to eke out a 1-0 win. But in Barcelona, they recovered from a 2-0 deficit to draw 2-2 and win the tie outright. It was nothing short of magnificent, and will go down as one of the greatest games in the history of the European Cup. Not only did the shorthanded Blues hold off the consensus best club team in the game, they shackled the sport's best player, Lionel Messi.
Chelsea also boast their fair share of drama — John Terry's woes alone could fill a tabloid — but they have become an oddly sympathetic underdog that has people forgetting they are, in fact, a wealthy and widely despised side that was for a time synonymous with the nouveau riche of the sport. It's a makeover that would be laughed off the Tyra Banks Show. And, yet, here they are, with the one-time poster child for bad behavior, Didier Drogba, leading out the troops.
If you want drama, well, say hello to Bayern. Immensely talented, yet continually tortured. This is a team that is best compared to a group of sulking teenagers. Just last week, their star, Franck Ribery, apparently hauled off and slugged their other star, Arjen Robben. At halftime. Over a free kick.
It gets better. Bayern are top-heavy with egos, and I'm not talking about the locker room. In the telling of "Der Kaiser," Franz Beckenbauer, Bayern isn't close to what they used to be — in other words, back when he was the star. Karl-Heinz Rumminegge, the team's chairman, is mildly better, but he too is given to reminding anyone within earshot that he scored a lot of goals in his day.
The thing is, this Bayern team is pretty good — but because they have already conceded the Bundesliga for the second year running, the club is at panic stations. As most people saw, even a team that boasts some callow defenders in the likes of young David Alaba and Holger Badstuber can play the classically taut German style of containment. And with Ribery and Robben, the Germans also can throw two of the deadliest wingers in the game at your goal.
Key for Bayern is Bastian Schweinsteiger, the unnervingly metronomic distributor. When he plays, Bayern is a team able to break up the flanks at speed, confident their runners will receive the ball on their laces. Philipp Lahm is the man who wears the armband, but make no mistake, it is Schweinsteiger who makes the team tick.
Suspensions have gutted both these teams, and several key figures will be in the stands after picking up cards in the semifinals. Chelsea will be missing Terry, Raul Meireles, Ramires and Branislav Ivanovic, while Munich must make do without Alaba, Badstuber and Luis Gustavo. If anything, these absences should open the game up even further.
So, don't weep over a final without Messi, Xavi or Cristiano Ronaldo. Chelsea and Munich will offer all the excitement any fan could ask.
Jamie Trecker is the senior editor for FOXSoccer.com covering the UEFA Champions League and the Barclays Premier League.
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