Yesterday, we looked at FC Bayern's defense vs. Chelsea's offense, and came away modestly optimistic (although Chelsea will certainly not be easy to shut down). Today, we're flipping the field around and examining the Bayern attack against Chelsea's defense. Climb aboard.
Like Bayern, Chelsea will be without some of their defensive usuals: captain and starting CB John Terry is suspended with a straight red card, and versatile anywhere-back Branislav Ivanovic will be out through accumulated yellows. As we've mentioned previously, Gary Cahill and David Luiz both look as though they will likely be ready to go once Saturday rolls around. So the Chelsea back line will probably consist of Bosingwa - Luiz - Cahill - Cole, with Petr Cech minding the net.
Not a bad defensive quartet, but I think Bayern's strike force is going to have chances. For the past few weeks, the thought has been that Tymoschuk would move back to CB, Kroos and Schweinsteiger would play at the CDM spots, and Thomas Müller would play in the hole. But with Daniel van Buyten having played for Bayern II on Friday night, it's conceivable that Tymoschuk would be available to play in a CDM role (either next to Bastian, with Kroos moving up, or next to Kroos, with Bastian hitting the bench).
Hmm .... I'm as big a van Buyten fan as anyone, but that's a little risky, considering he hasn't played in a game with the senior squad for months. We'll keep monitoring the situation, but for now, I'm under the assumption that Kroos and Schweinsteiger are playing next to each other at the two CDM spots.
Either way, it's clear that Ribery and Robben will be on either wing, with Gomez at the top of the line. Gomez and Robben were limited in practice yesterday, according to the club's official site, but Jupp Heynckes expects both to be ready to go on Saturday evening. So we're looking at our normal attack, very reliant on dribbling and passing from both wings, against the above described Chelsea back 4 plus Lampard and maybe Mikel as defensive middies. Ribery and Robben have to be considered the favorites in their individual match-ups; even in our ugly loss to Dortmund, those 2 both looked energetic and will provide a threat from either side. Additionally, Lahm and Robben have been a dangerous combination on the right side, as Lahm gets forward and cuts out over-lapping runs very effectively (we saw that at the end of the first leg of the Real Madrid tie). The question is, if Chelsea is forced to double-team or roll their defensive coverage out against Ribery and Robben, can Gomez, Kroos and Müller (especially Gomez) do something with the extra space in the middle of the pitch?
We all know Gomez can smash home chances if you put that ball at his feet. But he's had problems operating further away from the 6-yard box, and if opponents shut off the flow of passes into the area, he tends to drift. So the important points to focus on are: (1) can Müller, Ribery, Robben, and everyone else feed Gomez and create some chances for him, and (2) if not, can he help the offense in other ways? Will he show some initiative off the ball? Can he take zig-zagging runs to shake a defender and break down the structure of the defense? Can he and Müller play off of each other, trading spots and making space for each other? If not, and Mario is sitting in front of the goal waiting to be fed, then we're back to the slow and stagnant offense that plagued us in the mid-season slump.
Behind it all, Chelsea will be relying on Petr Cech to keep us out of the net. Cech is a tough customer who has played really well in Champions Leagues past. In the 2008 final, he made 3 or 4 great saves to keep Chelsea in the match (if it weren't for him, they probably would have been down by multiple goals after 35 minutes). He also stuffed a Cristiano Ronaldo penalty and probably would have been the Man of the Match if Chelsea had hung on to win.
If I had to choose one, I think I'd take Neuer over Cech right now. But Cech is right up there with the best in the world - he's a tall, agile guys who reads the build-up very well and gets from post to post quickly. With a re-calibrated but still stout defense in front of him, this is going to be a tough obstacle for Bayern to crack. But I think we're capable of doing it, if our middies and wings can play like they have for most of this season, and if Gomez can show some initiative up front.
Part 3 of the preview will be up tomorrow. We'll be posting plenty more between now and Saturday, so check back in and stay tuned to out twitter feed at http://twitter.com/bayern_offside to be kept up to date. Also, if anyone has tried to sign up to comment and can't get approval, write me directly at firstname.lastname@example.org and I'll straighten it out. Thanks for reading.