Bayern v Inter, Champions League Final -1: The Preview

We made it, we actually made it. I never in my wildest imagination thought I would be doing a preview for the Champions League final. It is not that I dont think Inter is a good enough team, but that playing up that potential in Europe was just not something Inter did. Not for years and years and years. To the point where I just wrote it off. Now I find myself utterly emotionally unprepared for the reality of this game. Sure, we have already had an incredible season - a success by any measure. We have already won the Coppa Italian (the baby bear), the Scudetto (the mamma bear), but now we have the huge, mac-daddy pappa bear of all the club tournaments staring us in the face. It sort of gives a person pause. Not only that, but the clubs are actually quite evenly matched (talent-wise), as is almost always the case at this level of competition. Both teams want it, both teams have the same dream, but someone is going home empty handed. Fingers (and toes) crossed that it wont be Inter.

What: Bayern Munich v Inter Milano
Where: Santiago Bernabéu Stadium, Madrid
When: Saturday, May 22, 8:45 local time (11:45am pacific, 2:45pm eastern)
How to Watch: This is on Fox - like regular, free over the airways Fox. In addition, Fox Soccer Channel is having a pregame show starting at 10am pacific, 1pm eastern. If you dont have access to the TV, you can watch this ppv at UEFA's web page ($9.95), or find a stream (MyP2P, Rojadirecta, Ustream, and ATDHE.net).

Dont forget, everyone, I will be hosting a liveblog here on the Inter board starting 15 minutes before kick off. Look for the Cover it Live applet on a new page at about 11 am pacific, 2pm eastern.
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Ok, so there is not a whole lot left to say. By now, we all know the formation Mou likes. Except for a couple quibbling details, we all pretty much know his starting 11 (with Thiago Motta out, I think Chivu will start as leftback and Zanetti in the midfield. Pandev vs Balotelli is a toss-up), there is nothing left to do but for Inter to take the pitch. There are probably literally hundreds of previews for this game floating around out there. Really, take your pick. All or any of them are probably more insightful as to the technical aspects of this game than anything I could write. For me, the more pressing matter is sussing out Bayern. Since I dont know squat about them, Luke from the Bayern board was nice enough to answer some questions for me:

The press is making a big deal of Bayern losing Ribery for the final, is this really a big a loss as they make it out to be?

It's hard to quantify these things, but: it's probably not as dire as it seems to members of the media who haven't been following Bayern all season. For one, Ribery has not played quite up to the stratospheric level he's capable of this season; but also, Bayern supporters are disappointed but confident on the whole I would say, because Bayern have won big matches all season while facing a variety of suspensions and injuries. The best example of course is beating Man Utd. in the first leg without Robben and Schweinsteiger.

Is there an indispensable Bayern player?

The fact that I can't just say Robben and move on, is the reason Bayern are in this final. Certainly, Robben's been on an incredible tear of clutch goals. The stats for the Champions League season on the whole would tell you the answer is Olic. And the stats don't tell you how instrumental Schweinsteiger has been to the success this season. It's less of a one-man team than highlight reels would indicate.

Which Bayern player(s) should Inter be most worried about? Which is the weakest link?

Here, I can say without qualification, the answer is Robben. Even when teams have rolled 3 players over to him to cut him off, he has found ways to beat them. This is no surprise to anyone I think, and how Mourinho decides to approach containing Robben will dictate a lot of other moves. As far as weakest link, I still think Martin Demichelis is Bayern's most error-prone player. Both Bayern CB's (Demichelis and Van Buyten) are capable of being left in the dust by quick attackers and maddening displays of ineptitude with very little warning. The good news for Bayern fans is that we've been seeing less and less of that, and really not at all in the semi-final against Lyon.

Which Inter player(s) do you think will make the most trouble for Bayern?

Personally, I think that's going to end up being Eto'o. Bayern's left is a concern because Hamit Altintop will most likely be filling in for Ribery at LM, but has hardly ever played there. The most likely starter at LB is Holger Badstuber, who is more of a natural CB, and had a lot of problems with Antonio Valencia against Man U. To make matters worse, Badstuber and Altintop have not played those positions at the same time in any match this season. I think Eto'o will win many challenges if he is deployed wide, and I expect Inter to threaten much more frequently from their right. If Bayern start the less experienced but more dynamic Diego Contento as LB, the overall effect is less predictable.

How would you characterize Bayern's style of play?

Bayern still maintain the fundamental 4-4-2 that they've played for some years now, but under Louis van Gaal it is less static and much more attack-oriented. I think it is fair to say that Bayern are sometimes able to paper over their defensive frailties through sheer effort of the upfield players (best embodied by Olic) and skilled passing. Bayern almost always maintain possession dominance, and will not commit many giveaways. They are a team that always appears to be in better condition than their opponents as a match goes on, and will try to run the opponent ragged-they are indisputably a 2nd half team. A final important aspect often overlooked, is that there is a great deal of versatility in the starting 11-Schweinsteiger, Müller and Van Buyten in particular will at times morph into a completely different type of player if the situation calls for it.

I probably could (should?) have paraphrased it and worked it into some prose of my own, but this way you get it straight from the Bayern-fan's mouth. Once again, thank you Luke for your perspective. And boy, am I glad I dont have to remember how to spell all those German names... Schweinsteiger? Yikes!

Hey look, over there, it's glory coming for us.
It is all down to them, now...

Moving on

In the lead up to this game there have been countless interviews with coaches, players, staff members, and various hangers on. What I seem to read a lot is that for some reason, Bayern has got it into their heads that Inter only play defense. Which is sort of nutty, I think, but a preconception that I can live with, especially as it means they are totally underestimating us. For their part, clearly the Bayern we will be playing tomorrow is not the same team who should have been knocked out by Fiorentina. They have found their pace and that makes them dangerous - probably more so than the bookies are giving them credit for. Not that we cant take them, though.

One analogy that I found particularly interesting was from some Bayern hanger-on or other (maybe a staff member), Paul Breitner. He said that only Barcelona could compare with the imposing and dominant Bayern we are seeing right now: "We've taken a huge step forward in recent months – we are always attacking and trying to score. There is just one team similar to us and that's Barcelona." And that works for me. After all, we already know how to take out Barcelona.

Milito and Sneijder pre CL final
Eyes on the prize, Ragazzi, eyes on the prize.

And that right there may be our biggest advantage for the upcoming match. We have met great European teams and knocked them out. The fact that our road was long and arguable harder than Bayern's has shown the squad that they can take on these greats and beat them - even away from home. That has built a well of confidence that may prove to be that little something extra that carries the day. If we can manage to play this game like we did against Barcelona at the San Siro (without Maicon's brain fart, thank you very much), or the Chelsea game at Stamford Bridge, we just may have a shot.

Jose Mourinho pre Champions League final
This is the face of a man who know he can win.

In the end, I am pretty proud of the team for getting to this game in the first place. Sure, I will be disappointed if we dont win tomorrow (it is always better to win), but I will still be proud of the accomplishment of reaching this stage in the first place. Besides, now that we know it is possible, we might just find ourselves here again in the coming years. For now, though, everything is possible - the dream still lives - and as long as there is a hope, I am there. I am sure that if Inter play like they can, they will win... but I will still say a little extra prayer to the calcio gods tonight. Every little bit helps!

We stand at the edge of history

FORZA INTER

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