KUALA LUMPUR, MALAYSIA - JULY 21: Ryan Bertrand of Chelsea in action during warm up before the pre-season friendly match between Malaysia and Chelsea at Bukit Jalil National Stadium on July 21, 2011 in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia. (Photo by Stanley Chou/Getty Images)
The internets are currently abuzz with the rumour that Roberto di Matteo might do something crazy and start Ryan Bertrand at left wing against Bayern Munich at the Allianz Arena. With Florent Malouda looking likely to miss out thanks to the injury he picked up last weekend and Ramires suspended, Chelsea have just one defensive winger option - Salomon Kalou, who will start on one of the flanks.
That's a problem, because Bayern are exceptionally dangerous out on the flanks, and with two offensive fullbacks plus the Franck Ribery-Arjen Robben duo on the wings, Chelsea are likely to be doing quite a of defending out there. Neither Daniel Sturridge nor Fernando Torres* will be particularly helpful in that regard. I thought that we were basically going to be out of luck in that regard.
*Remember his performance at left back against Barcelona?
Bertrand was always an option at left wing, of course, but I was under the impression that di Matteo wasn't particularly likely to hand a 23-year-old his Champions League debut in the final. But maybe he will! It's certainly worth talking about, at any rate.
Why would we play Bertrand up top? Well, as a left back, he can defend - he'd be much better at tracking back than either Sturridge or Drogba, and that will help Chelsea avoid getting murdered by Bayern's overlapping fullbacks. Secondly, he's actually a reasonably competent attacking wide player. We got to see this during the Blackburn Rovers game last weekend - Bertrand started as the left back but moved forward when Malouda went off with an injury in the 43rd minute. As you'd expect, he provided great width and good crossing, and while his play wasn't all there, it was impressive for a first performance.
What will Chelsea need from their left winger for the final? First of all, they'll have to deal with Philipp Lahm on both the sides of the ball, tracking him when he goes forward and then trying to get past him when Chelsea are on the ball. We'd normally be looking for our wide players to cut inside and cause trouble, but with Anatoliy Tymoshchuk likely to be unable to deal with Didier Drogba's aerial threat, the ability to stay wide and cross could be extremely useful.
I see Bertrand as being capable of dealing with Lahm defensively and certainly capable of staying wide and crossing, but I have serious doubts about his ability to take on Lahm one on one. In his defence, I'd have serious doubts about anyone on this team being able to do that except Ramires (or possibly Juan Mata), so it's not like it's a serious failing. That's probably enough to get him in the frame for an emergency start, although I'm still not convinced that di Matteo will actually do it.
I suspect the primary reason Bertrand's being talked about right now is because of his second-half position against Blackburn, which rather gave the impression that his cameo out wide was planned. It's not clear that it really was, though - it was a change forced by an injury rather than an obviously premeditated one. The lineup Chelsea deployed last Sunday should probably treated as essentially the opposite of the starting eleven di Matteo plans to use in the final.
So, no, I don't really buy the rumour. But it is intriguing nonetheless, and I certainly wouldn't mind it being tried out.