Champions League Preview: A Blockbuster for FC Hollywood?


How Bayern Munich can return the trophy to Germany

By Michael Ligot, Bundesliga Correspondent

By their lofty standards, Bayern Munich flopped this season. They went two Bundesliga title-less campaigns for the first time since the mid-’90s, to repeat champion Borussia Dortmund.

They also got blown out in the German Cup final 5-2 against, yes, Dortmund. If a historical juggernaut (21 championships since the Bundesliga’s 1963-64 relaunch) could ever feel insecure, it’s the Bavarian standard-bearers.

Well, winning the Champions League final Saturday over Chelsea FC will turn those frowns upside-down. And, pray tell, where will that final be? Why, at the Allianz-Arena, Bayern’s digs. “FC Hollywood” and their fans certainly deemed playing the final in their stadium a dream scenario, but a more-than-convincing European run made that dream deservedly come through.

The Bavarians won their group (which included Napoli and eventual EPL winners Manchester City) with a game to spare, destroyed FC Basel and Olympique Marseille in the playoff rounds, and knocked off runaway La Liga winners Real Madrid on penalties in the semis.

Now, the four-time European champions and eight-time finalists make the big stage for the second time in three years. If they beat Chelsea, they will match Liverpool for third-most Europe titles (behind Madrid and AC Milan) and bring home their first international trophy since 2001, when they beat Valencia on penalties at Milan’s San Siro Stadium. Oh, and they can have something to rub the noses of their Dortmund nemesis in.

How can Munich topple the West Londoners? Here are some keys.

Europe’s best young goalkeeper? Much-lauded Manuel Neuer wasted no time showing why the Bavarians spent big money signing him from Schalke. After an opening-match howler against Borussia Mönchengladbach, the 26-year-old national team keeper reeled off eight straight clean sheets.

Neuer rarely gets lit up; Bayern conceded three goals or more just twice in the domestic season, and were only blown out once (5-2 in the German Cup final). If a big save is needed, Neuer will deliver, and he rarely gives up bad goals.

South German stinginess. Teutonic parsimony doesn’t stop at Eurozone austerity directives. Although Neuer’s addition certainly helped, Bayern’s outfield sentinels turned things around from last year. The Bavarians allowed just 22 goals, fewest in the 34-round Bundesliga and 18 less than last season’s shaky group.

Holger Badstuber is suspended for the final, but those numbers suggest German national team member Philip Lahm, and Jerome Boateng should be strong enough to hold Chelsea’s rationed attack at bay. Hard-tackling Bastian Schweinsteiger provides excellent cover for the back four at defensive midfield, too.

In Part 2 tomorrow, Michael Ligot looks at Bayerns’ potent offensive which he believes will unsettle Chelsea.


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