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Champions League Final Preview, Part I

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In which we analyze FC Bayern's attempts to slow down the Chelsea attack with a make-shift defensive unit. We'll be previewing the final in separate parts all week, including individual looks at the Bayern offense, the coaching match-up, and maybe some special guest stars. But today, we're starting from the back, with the most difficult part of the match for Bayern fans to digest: our defense.

A few things we already know, but that it would behoove us to keep in mind: first, our defense gave up 5 goals to Borussia Dortmund just two days ago in an orgy of mistakes and poor decision-making. Second, we'll be without Holger Badstuber and David Alaba, two of our starting defenders, and Luiz Gustavo, our more defensive-minded starting midfielder. Third, even though their clubs has a few holes, Chelsea retains a pretty threatening offense, with Drogba always a danger near the goal, Juan Mata a versatile play-maker who can create chances from numerous locations, Daniel Sturridge a competent threat who can dribble, shoot, and pass, and even Fernando Torres someone who can punish you if you leave him open.

So, given all that, we'd expect Bayern to get sliced open and give up chances and goals all day, right? Not exactly. Despite the above factors indicating danger on the defensive end, I think there are four equally important factors that will leave our defense in better shape than some people are giving us credit for:

1) Boateng and Lahm still form a very tough barrier on the right side of our defense

Boateng made a few mistakes against BVB, but overall he's been playing well this season. And Lahm has taken to that RB spot; in my mind, he's playing much better there than he did on the left. My understanding is that we're going to go Contento - Tymoschuk - Boateng - Lahm (the other option would be Contento - Boateng - Tymo - Lahm, but I think we'll leave JB where he's been playing).

Lahm has gone up against some of the best wings in the game in recent weeks, and has been able to mostly shut down opponents' dribbling game and also made himself useful getting forward. Boateng, his recent poor game notwithstanding, has been excellent at winning balls in the area and shutting down opposing strikers. He doesn't commit a lot of stupid fouls, he's not easy to beat on dribbling moves, and he's pretty good at clearing the ball. With Badstuber out, Jerome is going to have to take on even more responsibility; based on his body of work this season, though, I think he's up to it.

2) The loss of Ramires really hurts Chelsea

He's not always the first guy you think of when talking about the Blues, but I think Chelsea has been counting on Ramires a lot recently. It was his lightning strike that pulled them off the floor in the second leg of the Barcelona match, and his speed and stamina are enough to constantly worry markers.

Diego Contento would have probably spent most of his time marking Ramires, but he'll now be looking at a possibly easier mark of Kalou or somewhat an out-of-place Mata. Not that those guys aren't good, but neither is as much of a quick-strike threat against our rebuilt flank.

3) We can expect our midfield and offense to take some of the pressure off

I'm going to do a separate break-down of Bayern offense vs Chelsea defense later this week, but the quick preview: they're missing Terry and Ivanovic, and we will hopefully may able to snag an early goal. Ribery and Robben are both healthy and looking sharp - even in that ugly Saturday loss, they both showed flashes of brightness and Ribery had a very nice goal. If both of them can get their dribbling and marker-beating moves going, they could create chances themselves, or force a break-down and leave Gomez in a favorable position.

And the midield of Bastian + Kroos, with Mueller in the hole, will also get a chance at favorable match-ups. Chelsea gave up a lot of chances vs. Barcelona, and probably should have been put away earlier. Considering the midfields that Bayern has played recently (Real Madrid, Dortmund), I don't think we're going to spend the whole time backed up in our own area on Saturday.

4) Neuer will be there to back everything up

Didn't have his best day on Saturday, but Manuel Neuer has a knack for coming up big in Champions League play. Since the knock-out stage started, he's allowed only 3 goals from open play (1 vs. Basel, 2 vs. Real Madrid). He also allowed only 21 goals in 33 league games this season (I believe HJB let up 1 goal in 1 match, and Neuer played the rest), and he came up huge when we needed him. Thinking back to that shoot-out vs. Real Madrid, I remember feeling really confident, and when Neuer began to stuff the whole Real roster, I didn't even feel surprised. It felt like exactly what I might have expected.

I'm not saying any of this means we're going to completely crush Chelsea or anything ... I just have a hunch we aren't going to allow 5 again.

Looking Ahead

As mentioned - going to look ahead at Bayern offense vs. Chelsea defense, then maybe bring in a guest star. There will be non-Bayern fans around this week - please be polite. If anyone is trolling or being disruptive, just flag them and I'll tend to it. Thanks for reading.

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