Win the midfield battle, win the final
It’s a special week here in Munich. You can just feel the pride and the excitement that people here have over the Champions League final, and they are thrilled that their hometown team is in it as well.
I’ve been speaking with the Chelsea folks on the inside and I can tell you that people are very positive about the game and quietly confident as well. They’ve spent the week prepping hard and everyone there knows what it means to the club. I know there’s a lot of focus on the finances, but the fact is a player just wants to be able to lift a major trophy. Being a European champion is more fulfilling than any purse of gold. However, injuries are affecting Chelsea that will have to be overcome: David Luiz is coming along well, but Gary Cahill is not. He’s going to be a last-minute decision but I think he is a gamble worth taking.
On the other side, Bayern’s players are feeling a lot of pressure. While we saw the team look very cool and calm at training, it’s clear there are a lot of expectations, both from the people in this city and from the team putting them on itself. Bayern wants to match Liverpool’s total of five European Cups, and they want to do it at home. They are of course the first team to have a chance to win it on their home ground in the modern era.
Many folks wanted to see a Spanish “dream final” between Barcelona and Real Madrid, but I actually think that this could be a better game. I think it can be more open, as neither team is overwhelmingly dominant. And I think both coaches have to feel their sides can win it. Both teams also showed a lot of guts just to get to this point: Bayern were in the group of death, and Chelsea overcame all kinds of obstacles — including the defending champion.
We took a walk about the stadium the other day, and I can tell you it will be an intense, hostile atmosphere for Chelsea. As a player, the fans are right on top of you and it’s really a magnificent setting for a game of this magnitude. I don’t think that will faze Chelsea at all — I expect them to come out and play a typical away game: organized, disciplined in the back and exciting on the break.
Key for them will be Petr Cech. Brad Friedel is with us this weekend, and we were chatting about how much he means to the Blues. They rested him the last few games, and that’s a sign of how much they have to have him in this game. A lot of folks were saying he was past it, but he’s only 29 years old, has had a slew of big games, and has so many years left. I think he’s been outstanding here in the back half of the season. I’ve been watching a lot of hockey lately, and just as the LA Kings have been riding the performance of goalie Johnathan Quick to success, I think Chelsea will need Cech on Saturday.
Then you have go straight to Didier Drogba. He is one of the very few men in the world that can win you a game single-handedly. Bayern have problems in the heart of their defense and, with David Alaba and Holger Badstuber suspended, I think you will see Drogba really able to dominate that back line. We saw that against Barcelona and I think we will see that again here.
Midfield for me is critical: we always talk about keepers and strikers, but this is where Bayern can win the game. Frank Lampard has to have his troops together, even though they are missing some mobility with Ramires and Raul Meireles out. The suspended players have combined for eight of Chelsea’s goals, and that’s a big loss. The two who come in to replace them — Florent Malouda, Jon Obi Mikel, Michael Essien — have to come together, squeeze the play and get to grips with what Franck Ribery, Arjen Robben and Bastian Schweinsteiger can throw at you. I think Chelsea have a deeper squad and can handle this, but the fact is if Chelsea cannot control this area, they cannot win the game.
The other big game on Saturday is happening in my hometown. The Championship playoff final is a magnificent occasion and the prize is the promised land of the Premier League. Now, I’m a bit split on this game: I won my first medal as a 12-year-old on the field at Upton Park so I have an affection for West Ham. But Blackpool’s Ian Holloway was a coach of mine at QPR – he’s a raving lunatic but a great guy! – so I’m torn. I do think Big Sam has done a good job at West Ham and they’ve had a great bounce, so I think they will just barely tip the Seasiders at Wembley.
I do want to give one quick shoutout to my team, my still-unbeaten San Diego Flash. I’ll not be coaching them this weekend because I am here, so I want to tell them: stay top of the California division of the NSPL and good luck!