MUNICH, GERMANY - MAY 15: General view at the Allianz Arena ahead of the UEFA Champions League Final between FC Bayern Munich and Chelsea on May 15, 2012 in Munich, Germany. The final takes place at the Allianz Arena, which will he named the Fussball Arena Muenchen for the final on May 19, 2012 in Munich, Germany. (Photo by Alexander Hassenstein/Bongarts/Getty Images)
It hasn't sunk in quite yet, has it? On Saturday, in a little over 48 hours from the time of publishing this post, Chelsea will be playing in their second-ever Champions League final. And I still can't quite believe it.
Consider how we felt after the 2-1 loss to Bayer Leverkusen, which meant we needed to beat a good Valencia side at home to be sure of advancing past the group stages. Or after our loss to Napoli at the Stadio San Paolo, where we knew that we'd been cut down at the second hurdle by Ezequiel Lavezzi and Edinson Cavani. Or when Javi Garcia scored against us at Stamford Bridge and we knew things were about to fall apart. I don't need to remind you of the utter terror that comes with facing Barcelona, either.
In other words, this has been a distinctly improbable run, and I have essentially no idea how we've made it to Munich despite the impressive odds and hilarious calamities stacked against us. And yet here we are. This is the big one.
Chelsea Vs. Bayern Munich, Champions League Final
Date/Time: Saturday, May 19, 7:45 PM BST (2:45 PM EDT).
Venue: Allianz Arena, Munich, Germany.
TV: Sky Sports 1 (UK), FOX (USA).
Suspensions are the big news for both teams. In the second leg of Chelsea's semifinal against Barcelona, Chelsea picked up four suspensions, including three to guaranteed starters. Captain John Terry is out thanks to an impossibly stupid knee to Alexis Sanchez (who also misses the Champions League final on account of the fact that his team lost!). Ramires and Branislav Ivanovic were booked for dissent, which makes me want to cry. Raul Meireles saw yellow for scything down Javier Mascherano late on.
The Blues are also nursing several injury concerns. With the first and fourth choice centre backs missing, Chelsea desperately needed both David Luiz and Gary Cahill to return from their hamstring problems suffered last month. News looks good on that front, but being forced to start a rusty centre back pairing against the likes of Bayern probably isn't good news. Florent Malouda's also a doubt, which severely restricts Chelsea's ability to defend wide positions. That's bad, even though I suspect he was unlikely to start.
Bayern have three key players missing from the final. David Alaba is a brilliant young left back who I'm very glad to see the back of. Holger Badstuber is their most commanding centre half (which, as Robert Lewandowski showed us this weekend, isn't saying much). Luiz Gustavo might be the best defensive-minded midfielder not named Sergio Busquets that we've encountered this season*.
*Except we won't encounter him this season, and that sentence was stupid.
Replacing that trio will be Diego Contento, who is bad, Anatoliy Tymoshchuk, who is a second choice pivot midfielder and Toni Kroos, who is brilliant in the hole and... less brilliant in the pivot. This is roughly the equivalent of replacing Ashley Cole with Paulo Ferreira, John Terry with Oriol Romeu and Frank Lampard with a taller version of Juan Mata. Oh and their best player, Bastian Schweinsteiger, is playing on a bum ankle and looks like it too. That's not awful news.
I'll have a full tactical preview up sometime later today - I had thirty Bayern matches to get through and I'm not quite done with that yet, but there's some good general reading by Rafa Honigstein already linked on the site to whet your appetites.
In general, we should consider this about as good a chance of raising the European Cup as we'll get in a long, long time. Bayern are a good team, and they're not going to be easy opposition, but we have every chance of winning on Saturday. It's time to kill off some old ghosts. Let's do this.