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Champions League Final: Both Clubs' CBs Race for Fitness

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An interesting sub-plot to the upcoming UEFA Champions League Final: both FC Bayern Munich and Chelsea FC are nervously awaiting daily fitness updates on injured defenders. Anytime you have a good CB injured, whether a starter or even just a reliable sub, it's going to be a big boost to get him back ahead of a huge match. But the fitness reports on Bayern's Daniel van Buyten and Chelsea's Gary Cahill and Davis Luiz take on an added importance when considering the fact that both teams are already short-handed through suspensions.

Starting at the top: Bayern and Chelsea will meet in the final on May 19. Each side has several valuable players suspended: for Bayern, Holger Badstuber, David Alaba and Luiz Gustavo, and for Chelsea, John Terry, Branislav Ivanovic, Raul Meireles, and Ramires. In total, 5 of the 7 absences are players who typically play in a defensive/back-line spot (Ramires and Meireles, both for Chelsea, being the exceptions).

This puts both managers in a huge bind as far as fielding a good defense. Considering the speed, skill, and touch that both sets of forwards will bring, it's terrifying going into a game of this magnitude with a diminished defense. Help could be on the way, though, as all 3 of the injured defenders are said to be making strides towards fitness.

Chelsea first: David Luiz was injured 3 weeks ago in a match vs. Spurs, and Gary Cahill hurt himself in the second leg of the Barcelona tie. I didn't see the Luiz injury, but I know that Cahill managed to walk off under his own power, and even played for a minute or two after he first went down. So it wouldn't be a surprise to see him ready by May 19. For Chelsea, getting both of these guys back would be a huge boost and would greatly reduce the pain of losing Terry and Ivanovic. Getting one of the two back would be nice, but would still leave them a little shaky in the back (I believe Ryan Bertrand would get a run?). Both are said to be rehabbing individually with Chelsea team trainers - their availability is unclear, but barring setbacks, they are feeling hopeful.

For Bayern, the situation is a little more complicated. Daniel van Buyten hasn't played in months. Unlike Cahill and Luiz, there's no chance he'd be starting even if healthy if it weren't for the suspensions. He's also been exposed in this same match before, and I doubt he's gotten any faster in the last 2 seasons. Nonetheless, our options are limited. Not only is Badstuber, who's been playing extremely well, set to miss out, but Gustavo's absence is doubly painful: the lack of the tackling and stopping power he usually brings to the midfield will put more pressure on the CBs, and we also lose a guy who could competently fill in at CB himself. Aside from DvB, our options are either Tymoschuk at CB, moving Bastian back, moving Contento inside, or going with a 3-man back line in a formational toggle (never a good idea before the biggest match in the world). If Daniel is fit, I have to think he's worth some consideration.

In both cases, the fitness question will be determined not just by whether the players in question can get ready by May 19, but by whether they can get ready ahead of time. It's really hard to throw a guy on the pitch when he hasn't played in weeks or months, especially against excellent forwards in a game of enormous magnitude. Chelsea has several matches coming up, including a May 13 home fixture vs. Blackburn where CFC might have nothing at stake as far as league goals. This would be a good time for them to let Luiz and/or Cahill play for a few minutes, to work on their timing and make sure everything feels 100 percent ready to go. Bayern's next matches are at at Köln and then in Berlin for the DFB final. That DFB final is so important in its own right, it's hard to view it as a chance to work in a long-injured player and let him get some valuable practice minutes. Still, if either side is winning by multiple goals late in the match, maybe Jupp Heynckes will let Daniel play the last 10 minutes. If he can do so, and seems to have his timing down and to be running smoothly, I have to admit I prefer him to Tymo at that CB spot.

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