In continuing our preview of Saturday's showdown between FC Bayern and Chelsea, we decided to go to the well for some assistance. Below is our interview with Graham MacAree, the world's foremost Chelsea blogger. Dive in and check it out - my questions to G-Mac are in bold, his answers are in regular text.
Graham writes and manages We Ain't Got No History, SB Nation's Chelsea blog. If you have a minute, go over there and check out their house - they've got a bunch of great stuff up about the Final and about Chelsea in general. Your SB Nation ID and password should allow you to comment over at WAGNH, too, though you might need to wait for approval.
Also, Graham is the head of soccer blogs for SB Nation, and therefore my boss. So be nice, and don't start trouble or act inappropriately to the Chelsea fans. Though you can feel free to tell him I need a raise.[Phil says:] So, the last time we had a long email exchange was in October, when we were trying to decide whether Chelsea would be able to get anything past that brick-wall QPR defense. Incidentally, they could not. Does that fill you with confidence ahead of Saturday's match against the best 'keeper in the world?
[Graham says:] I'm going to go ahead and assume that we're not going to have two players sent off in the first half for this game. That would probably be helpful. Also, I thought Bayern Munich knocked out Real Madrid on penalties... so why are you asking me about Iker Casillas? Anyway, my impression of Manuel Neuer is that he's a brilliant player and he rarely gets beaten except by himself, which he does a little too often for my tastes. All I'm hoping is that he didn't use up his supply of silly errors last weekend. The rest of the defence (save Philipp Lahm, of course) doesn't frighten me one bit.
P: As we all know, Chelsea is missing four players to suspension. Ivanovic and Raul are quality, but not irreplaceable; Ramires and Terry, however, will definitely be sorely missed. If you could bring just one guy back for this match, who would it be? I mean, I know, Captain Big Man, and all ... but Ramires probably brings more to the table, right? Especially considering Cahill + Luiz is a pretty solid CB combo anyway?
G: Oh, it's definitely Ramires. He's turned into one of the more complete wingers in the league of late, working hard, defending and providing a vicious outlet on the counterattack. His crossing could probably be better, but now he's learning to shoot he's an unholy terror and we're going to miss him badly. In order of 'worst' suspensions to 'best', I'd go Ramires, Branislav Ivanovic, John Terry and Raul Meireles. The downgrade from Ivanovic to Jose Bosingwa is absolutely huge.
P: I imagine Chelsea's owner is probably hitting the WWII metaphor harder than anyone this week, right? Think about it.
G: Alas, Roman does not share his metaphors with lowly bloggers. I imagine he's mostly bathing in caviar and cackling while surrounded by beautiful, gold-plated android women. On a yacht on one of Titan's methane lakes.
P: I wanted to get your opinion on something: Gabe from Managing Madrid and I were talking about this, and a few other Bayern bloggers as well. How much do you think "motivation" plays a role when the competition gets to this point? A lot of people, for instance, were saying that Bayern would be extra motivated before the semi-final vs. Real, because we were effectively out of the Bundesliga race before it started, and the CL was our only hope. Or, to take another example, people might say that Chelsea will be extra motivated this weekend because this is also their only chance to stamp their ticket to the Champions League next year, or because of their recent Champions League heart-break from the past 5 seasons.
My feeling, though, was that this was a little overblown. Maybe before the match starts, the players are thinking about that. But once that first whistle blows, I think they're just trying to win balls, make good passes, and avoid mistakes.
Any thoughts on "motivation?" Do you really think Chelsea has any need for more motivation beyond just "winning the Champions League?"
G: I'm with you on that one. I'm not a professional athlete, of course, but you'd imagine that to perform at a high level every player on the field would have to just be in the zone whenever there's a game. You do hear about off-field stuff interfering with players sometimes, but I'd imagine that'd be more like messing with preparation and so on. Every single player on the pitch is going to want to win, and everyone will be just as focused on getting that win.
P: How have you been watching most of the Champions League matches so far, and what do you have on tap for this weekend? As far as actual viewing logistics, I mean. For literally every Champions League match up to this point, I've been watching at a bar on Connecticut Avenue downtown (I work in an office, and can't really go home and watch the match and then come back, but I can duck out for a bit and run down the block). I'm not sure whether to watch it at home with some friends and a pony-keg, whether to watch it at home alone so I can really focus on the football, or whether to go back down to the bar for fear of screwing up what always seems to work for Bayern. Are you and the Mrs. taking this one in at home? Do you get SB Nation to comp you catered lunches and everything? How can I get down on that?
G: I am watching from home, like I always do. My wife has literally fled to Bosnia for this match, apparently assuming that the Balkans will be more stable and less violent than the immediate vicinity of me. I haven't watched a game in a bar for a very long time - football's more like work for me than something to do for fun or socially - so I'll just have it on the television, which is currently sharing a desk with three monitors (all of which have had Bayern Munich games on this week). And no, no free lunches, although I'll have to see if I can write off the [several] bottles of gin I'll consume as an expense.
P: I always have to remind myself that Arjen Robben is an ex-Chelsea guy. He's been alternately thrilling and infuriating Bayern fans for three years now, and I actually saw him play with Madrid when they visited DC, but I don't really have an recollection of him with the Blues. Seems like he was oft-injured but showed flashes of brilliance. Sounds about right.
Any Robben-at-Chelsea memories to share?
G: My favourite Robben-related memory is actually just before he joined Chelsea. Like, right before. I think the announcement had just been made and the USA and the Netherlands were playing a friendly. I watched with a Manchester United fan, who was already annoyed that he'd missed out on getting him - United were the other team supposedly in the running - and Robben absolutely destroyed the USA. He was the best player on the pitch by a long way that day and I just sat there giggling the whole time.
P: Boy, if I could read lips, I might think that John Terry was a real asshole.
G: Obviously if the incident that you're talking about turns out to have been what the lipreaders claim, I'm not going to support Terry, and I'd hope the club doesn't either. But since I don't know what happened, I'm withholding judgement until I do.
P: Conventional wisdom would probably be Drogba up front, with Kalou - Mata - Studge behind him. Torres would be the first guy off the bench. What's the likelihood that we see a surprise come Saturday afternoon? Any chance RDM tries to work Torres and Drogba both into the starting line-up?
G: I suspect we'll actually see Fernando Torres rather than Daniel Sturridge. Sure, Torres would then be a centre forward playing out of position and wouldn't be particularly helpful on the defensive side of things, but that's basically the definition of Sturridge anyway, so I'm not sure what you'd lose. If Florent Malouda is injured (and all signs seem to be indicating that he is), Torres is basically Sturridge without being in the middle of a huge slump. I can't believe I just wrote that Torres wasn't in the middle of a slump, but there you have it. I'd much, much rather have Ramires on that flank, but I imagine that y'all would much rather have David Alaba on that side too. We can't always get what we want, eh?
P: Who wins in a 5-km footrace: Usain Bolt or Theo Walcott? Ask Schmidt, too. This question is boring a hole through my various real-life circles of friends, with both candidates having supporters who say it wouldn't even be close.
G: Theo Walcott, if they can run in any direction that they like. If they have to run to a specific point, does anyone seriously think that Walcott would NOT just dash off somewhere completely different?
P: Your prediction for the match:
G: Panic. Terror. Joy. Tears. Devastation. Pain. Goals (maybe?). Anger. Blame. Hatred.
So there you go. Graham predicts anger, blame, and hatred. We've already got plenty of that in the Bavarian Football Works comment section, so I hope we don't find Saturday underwhelming.
As always, direct questions to email@example.com. If you've tried to sign up for an account and can't get it to work, e-mail me directly and we'll straighten you out. Thanks for reading, and our thanks to Graham for checking in.