If Chelsea and Bayern Munich both came into the UEFA Champions League with no suspensions, the quality of the match would probably be immense. With both first choice defenses and midfields on the pitch, both teams would have to work very hard to create scoring chances. Instead, because of suspensions, there might be a lot of goals that come off the back of sloppy defending.
Chelsea is missing Ramires, John Terry, Raul Meireles and Branislav Ivanovic. Central defenders David Luiz and Gary Cahill have been injured recently, but are expected to be fit to start the final. In any event, Chelsea is without their captain and their first choice right back, and they will be playing two central defenders who will not have started a competitive match in nearly a month.
Bayern Munich's problems are considerably worse. Luiz Gustavo, Holger Badstuber and David Alaba are all suspended for the Bavarians. That's their first choice left back, left central defender and defensive midfielder. One of Bayern's starting fullbacks will either be Rafinha or Diego Contento, neither of whom is terrific at defending. One central defender will be either defensive midfielder Anatoliy Tymoshchuk or aging, recently injured defender Daniel Van Buyten. All of their options are terrible.
Last week, Chelsea took it easy in the Premier League while Bayern Munich contested a cup final against Borussia Dortmund. They were outplayed to some degree in the first half of the game, but it's not terribly relevant to the Champions League final for two reasons. One, they were a bit unlucky. Two, Gustavo started the game. The second half instantly became relevant to the final and analysis of the final when Jupp Heynckes subbed off Gustavo for Thomas Müller, moving Toni Kroos back into the double pivot alongside Bastian Schweinsteiger. This put the midfield and attack on the pitch that most believe Bayern will field in the final. It went very, very poorly.
Kroos hasn't spent a lot of time in the double pivot of Bayern's attacking 4-2-3-1 formation this season, but he hasn't been good when he has been played in that role. This is a case where stats don't tell the story; his passing accuracy, tackles and interceptions compare favorably with Gustavo and Schweinsteiger. His positioning does not compare favorably to either player, however, and that's the kind of thing you can only learn when you watch games. The reason Gustavo and Schweinsteiger don't match Kroos for tackles and interceptions is because they're in such good places that no one attempts to pass the ball into their general vicinity.
Borussia Dortmund scored twice in the second half of the DFB-Pokal final, eventually defeating Bayern 5-2. Kroos and Schweinsteiger were really hilariously poor in the center of midfield in the second half. If they were bad players, we wouldn't make fun of them, but it's worth poking fun in this instance because they're obviously a lot better than they showed in this game. Kroos, specifically, was really bad. Here's a screenshot from a counter-attack that probably should have led to a Dortmund goal, but did not.
That giant space is the general vicinity in which Toni Kroos should be placed. In reality, he is well out of the picture, almost level with the central defenders. This gives Shinji Kagawa a ridiculous amount of space to run into and start an attack. This ended with Jakub Blaszczykowski and Robert Lewandowski having a bit of a miscommunicaton, and Bayern were let off the hook. A couple of minutes later, Kroos got caught out of position again. This time, Bayern paid for it.
Oh boy, Toni. What on earth are you doing? When Ilkay Gündogan or Sebastian Kehl made a forward run from the Dortmund midfield like Schweinsteiger does in this screenshot, the other one always got back into a position to cut off a potential counter, in case Dortmund lost the ball. Schweinsteiger and Kroos apparently do not have this kind of understanding. It's worth noting that Kroos and Schweinsteiger have played more games together and have been on the same team for a longer period of time than Gündogan and Kehl. Here's what happens five seconds after Kehl's block.
Whoops! Well, it's a good thing Chelsea don't have a player who is anything like Shinji Kagawa in position, playing style and talent, right?
This is a screenshot of Juan Mata just before Chelsea's opening goal in the FA Cup final against Liverpool. In this match, Chelsea were playing with a lone striker, a couple of pacy wingers, and Juan Mata in the hole. Liverpool, dealing with injuries, were forced to play a makeshift double pivot that did not include a true defensive midfielder. Jay Spearing and Jordan Henderson didn't really look up to the task.
The good news for Bayern is that Mata played a through ball to Ramires in this instance. With his blistering pace, Ramires blew by the Liverpool defense and scored, just like he scored one goal and set up another against Barcelona. Chelsea will be lacking that in the final, and even though both Daniel Sturridge and Solomon Kalou have plenty of pace, neither is quite as fast as Ramires, nor are they as skilled. Running at one of Rafinha or Contento, though? They might look like Ramires. They might look a lot like Ramires.
Unless Kroos learns how to be a holding midfielder or two of Tymoshchuk, Van Buyten and Daniel Pranjic have an absolutely ridiculous game, Chelsea have a lot of inherent tactical advantages in the final. However, there's a very good chance that they could all be made completely irrelevant.
Chelsea are without two first choice defenders and Bayern Munich's attacking players are some of the best in the world. When on form, Arjen Robben, Franck Ribery and Mario Gomez are just as difficult to contain as any of the best players on Barcelona, Real Madrid or either Manchester Club. Because their league matches don't get the same kind of television exposure as La Liga and the Premier League in the United States and United Kingdom, the Anglocentric footballing world doesn't seem to regard them as one of the best attacking units in the world.
David Luiz's best tackles and interceptions are jaw-dropping. At his best, he looks like he is superhuman. At his worst, he looks like, as Gary Neville remarked, a defender controlled by a 12-year-old playing Playstation. David Luiz has occasional flawless games, but at least every other game he seems to be good for one truly ghastly mental error. Against a player like Gomez, that's going to lead to a goal more often than not.
The prospect of Jose Bosignwa attempting to shut down whatever is thrown his way on Bayern's left is a nightmare as well. He'll mostly be dealing with Ribery, but Bayern's line of three attacking players behind Gomez is usually very fluid, so he will see plenty of Robben and either Kroos or Müller as well.
Chelsea proved in the second leg of their Champions League semifinal that they can defend against an elite attacking team, even without John Terry, but Bayern are a different kind of team than Barcelona. They are not as good as Barcelona at their best, but they are infinitely more versatile. They can play one-touch football on the ground, play a direct style, or get the ball wide and swing crosses into the box. There is no one way that Bayern attacks, and there is no simple way to defend them. A team can plan for the way Barcelona is going to play, but the same is not necessarily the case against Bayern Munich.
So, how is Bayern going to solve their midfield dilemma?
They're probably going to play a Kroos-Schweinsteiger double pivot and hope it goes a hell of a lot better than the second half of the Pokal final did. If they have a full week in training together, working on their communication and positioning, it should probably work out better, but the prospect of Kroos trying to prevent Mata from getting a hold of the ball is a really scary one if you're a Bayern supporter.
And how will Chelsea account for the absences of Ramires and Terry?
They can't really account for the absence of Terry, just like Bayern can't account for the absence of Gustavo in their current situation. Just like Bayern are hoping that Kroos starts playing better, Chelsea are hoping that Cahill and David Luiz are on top of their game. John Obi Mikel and Frank Lampard will probably sit very deep to help them, but at some point, they're going to have to make some quick decisions and some last-ditch tackles.
As for Ramires' absence, that's a bit more of a mystery. At least one of Solomon Kalou and Daniel Sturridge is going to have to start. Both of them might start. Fernando Torres might end up starting on the wing. There's no obvious like-for-like player to bring off the bench. There's a really massive drop-off in defensive ability from Ramires to any of the other options Roberto Di Matteo has, and he might have to make his selection with fitness and defensive capabilities in mind. Ribery is going to make Chelsea's right winger work.
We'll have updates throughout the week in our 2012 UEFA Champions League Final StoryStream. For more on Bayern, head over to Bayern Munich blog Bavarian Football Works. For more on the Blues, check out Chelsea FC blog We Ain't Got No History. For more on the entire world of football, follow @SBNationSoccer on twitter.