Four questions ahead of CL final
Chelsea owner Roman Abramovich is once again one win away from achieving his objective: winning the Champions League. And how ironic that a caretaker manager, Roberto di Matteo, is at the helm.
Di Matteo has done what the more accomplished quartet of Jose Mourinho, Carlo Ancelotti, Luiz Felipe Scolari and Guus Hiddink couldn't by steering the Blues to within a game of European glory. Another unlikely figure, Avram Grant, was in charge in 2008, when a John Terry slip in the penalty shootout cost Chelsea the title against Manchester United in Moscow.
Like four years ago, Chelsea enters Saturday's showpiece as the underdog. Bayern Munich's pedigree in Europe is more impressive, and the Bavarians seem to have an advantage by playing at home.
Here are four key questions ahead of the final.
1. How will suspensions affect the teams?
Terry, Chelsea's inspirational skipper, only has himself to blame for being ruled out. His knee to the back of Alexis Sanchez in the second leg of the semifinals in Barcelona was as boneheaded a move as one will ever see (though not entirely surprising).
Terry, right back Branislav Ivanovic, and energetic midfielders Ramires and Raul Meireles are Chelsea's absentees. Bayern will be without the services of central defender Holger Badstuber, left back David Alaba and defensive midfielder Luiz Gustavo.
All are key losses.
Two recognized center backs are expected to be fit for Chelsea, David Luiz and Gary Cahill, which is promising. However, Luiz, who alternates between brilliance and schoolboy, hasn't played since mid-April. Cahill hasn't played since limping off against Barcelona in the second leg a week later.
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Jose Bosingwa, Ivanovic's replacement, isn't as steady defensively as the Serb and doesn't possess his height, helping Bayern on set pieces. Terry's presence on corners and free kicks will be sorely missed.
Terry, Ivanovic, Meireles and Ramires scored in this season's Champions League knockout stages, too.
But there are worries for Bayern. Jerome Boateng struggled in the German Cup final, and now he'll have a new partner in the center of defense, likely Anatoliy Tymoschuk, a natural defensive midfielder.
They'll have to contend with bulldozer Didier Drogba, who has some making up to do in a Champions League final after being dismissed in 2008. Philipp Lahm could return to left back, allowing Rafinha to start at right back. If Lahm stays on the right, then the inexperienced Diego Contento gets the nod for Alaba. Contento, who recently turned 22, made his first Bundesliga start of the season at the end of March.
Toni Kroos, who normally occupies the spot behind Gomez, will be pushed into a more withdrawn role, forming an alliance with Bayern's heart, Bastian Schweinsteiger. Thomas Muller takes up the advanced role in the center of midfield, or so the thinking goes.
Who adapts better could go a long way toward determining Saturday's winner.
2. Is it destiny for Chelsea?
Maybe it's written in the stars for Chelsea.
How often does Lionel Messi miss a penalty, as he did in the second leg of the semifinals? Had the Argentine converted to give Barcelona a 3-1 lead early in the second half, the complexion changes. Chelsea is forced to go forward -- the bus moves out of park -- and Barcelona scores two or three more.
Regardless of Messi's gaffe, Chelsea admirably hung on. Makeshift central defenders Ivanovic and Bosingwa looked tidy, aided greatly by Barcelona's lack of aerial presence.
When Terry saw red, not even the most delusional of Chelsea fans gave them a chance to advance.
Upsetting Barcelona was no doubt di Matteo's most noteworthy achievement, but let's not forget that Chelsea, in the aftermath of the negativity that surrounded Andre Villas-Boas' sacking, overturned a 3-1 first-leg deficit versus Napoli in the round of 16.
3. Will playing at home really be advantage for Bayern?
On paper, Bayern has an advantage playing at the Allianz arena. Bayern compiled a 14-2 (loss)-1 record at home in the Bundesliga and was even better in the Champions League, triumphant in all seven games.
"It might be a little advantage," was how Bayern manager Jupp Heynckes put it. But as the worldly Heynckes knows, the natives are bound to get restless if Chelsea opens the scoring early, which would pile pressure on the hosts. Even a scoreless first half hour might be enough for the supporters to voice their displeasure.
Bayern's backers expect a response in the wake of the disastrous 5-2 defeat to its loathed rival, Borussia Dortmund, in the German Cup final.
Heynckes, surprisingly, forecast an open game. Di Matteo won't be as defensive minded as against Barcelona, yet Chelsea will seek to create opportunities on the counter.
Uplifting for Bayern, it last lost to an English team in Munich in 1993 against Norwich.
Better for Chelsea is that English sides have prevailed in the last four European Cup finals when the opposition has been German. No one connected with Bayern will ever forget the 1999 final, when two late strikes by United sunk the likes of Oliver Kahn, Lothar Matthaus and Stefan Effenberg.
4. Who needs the win more?
A loss for Bayern Munich, and it's a treble of woe: Dortmund cruised to the Bundesliga title before adding the cup to its trophy cabinet. Bayern, however, regardless of the outcome Saturday, is assured of Champions League football next season.
But Chelsea must win or face competing in next season's Europa League. Di Matteo, given Abramovich's penchant for changing managers, is sure to depart with a loss. (A win and how can he go?)
Attracting players to Stamford Bridge who are superior to Marko Marin -- as good as the diminutive playmaker is -- will be harder than usual.
Prediction: Bayern 2-1.
London-based Ravi Ubha covers soccer and tennis for ESPN.com. You can follow him on Twitter here.
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