The 2011/12 Champions League is to come to what will, hopefully, exciting conclusion on Saturday 19 May, when Bundesliga giants Bayern Munich host Chelsea at the Allianz Arena in Germany. The final match of the competition does not, perhaps feature the two teams most people wanted to see; the prospect of a Champions League finals El Classico - the two biggest football clubs in the world, fighting for the biggest prize in club football after a domestic season in which, more than ever, Real Madrid and Barcelona laid waste to all challengers - was mouthwatering.
However, the Chelsea-Bayern Munich tie promises its own share of excitement and controversy. For one thing, both clubs will be aching to win the title as payback for defeats in the 2008 and 2010 finals (Chelsea and Bayern Munich lost to Manchester United and Inter Milan, respectively). For another, the game could be played against the backdrop of Chelsea owner Roman Abramovich rooting his club to lose!
According to a report by The Sun, former Dutch international Ruud Gullit (who was Chelsea's first foreign coach), believes if the Blues win the tournament on Saturday, it could spoil Abramovich's plan to fire interim manager Roberto Di Matteo; after all, he can't very well fire the manager who gave him the one trophy he has wanted all this time, can he? Gullit also said he believed somebody had already been lined up to replace Di Matteo but questioned the unidentified manager's willingness to take on the team if Chelsea should win.
"I think there is somebody already in line. But will he still want the job if Chelsea win the Champions League? Would even Jose Mourinho want to come in and replace Robbie, knowing he could not top what his predecessor had achieved? If Robbie wins the Champions League, it would suddenly put a lot of pressure on the next guy. So maybe the owner doesn't even want to win the final," Gullit was quoted as saying.
Meanwhile, veteran midfielder Frank Lampard has hailed the team's miraculous turnaround after losing 1-3 to Napoli in the first leg of the two teams' Champions League Round of 16 match.
"We were struggling in Naples, you could see that. You wouldn't have looked ahead of yourselves and seen this now. You're experienced enough to know things can change. But, on that night, I don't think any one of us thought it. We were despondent in the dressing room afterwards and it took a big effort in the three weeks between the games to turn things around. The home game was a massive turning point in our season - in fact, the major turning point in our season. But we always knew as a group we had the quality," Lampard stressed, while admitting the squad was not at its best under former manager Andre Villas-Boas.
"Possibly. Maybe it was one of the lower times, yet you learn through these things," the midfielder added.
There will be pressure of another sort on Chelsea in Germany. The Blues finished a disappointing sixth in the league this season, meaning they have not qualified for the Champions League next season. they can rectify that however, if they win on Saturday. They will then be given direct entry to next season's race, as the defending champions.