Ryan Bertrand on the left wing and Ross Turnbull on the bench. Not quite what you expect from a Champions League winning side, but then again this Champions League final between Chelsea and Bayern Munich was a poetically absurd masterpiece.
Chelsea had had a mixed season. Despite victory in the FA Cup against Liverpool, their league campaign had seen them finish in a disappointing sixth place.
Andre Villas Boas, dubbed as a Jose Mourinho protege having been the special one’s assistant at Porto, had struggled since his appointment in pre-season. He eventually faced the sack in March, with Roberto Di Matteo coming in to replace him.
Di Matteo in fact actually managed to take Chelsea down a place in the league, but his success in the Champions League finally fulfilled Roman Abramovich’s desires.
They did so, however, in the strangest fashion – during a write off season with a disappointing league finish after their dominance in the 2000s. After the brilliant Premier League record breaking side that had been built during this time, helmed by Mourinho at his peak.
After a scintillating few years at the top of English football, the early 2010s had seen a stalled start to the decade with a few remnants of their previous side. The 2011/12 season however culminated in Chelsea finally winning the Champions League.
To compound the ridiculousness of the situation further, they did so against a brilliant Bayern Munich side in their own stadium.
They were spearheaded by Mario Gomez, with Arjen Robben and Frank Ribery on fire as inverted wingers and Thomas Muller at his brilliant best in attack. They were supported in midfield by Bastian Schweinsteiger and Toni Kroos, with Phillip Lahm at full back and Manuel Neuer in goal at his sweeping best.
It was a Bayern side on the rise in parallel with German football on the whole. Spain had dominated the past four years internationally and at club level, with Barcelona claiming two out of the previous three Champions League titles. But Germany had been the brilliant young side at recent international tournaments and despite Spain winning Euro 2012 that year, the stage was set for Die Mannschaft to claim the World Cup in two years time.
The transition in the Champions League would have to wait another year courtesy of Chelsea, although symbolically both sides would vanquish the two Spanish giants – Real Madrid and Barcelona – in the semi finals in dramatic fashion. Bayern on penalties against Real and Chelsea after an epic defensive performance over two legs against Barcelona.
Despite their incredible semi final performances against Barca, Chelsea were still rank underdogs that night in Germany. They were likely inspired by their remarkable upset in the semis, the Blues played the role perfectly and were able to frustrate Bayern for almost the entire 90 minutes.
Di Matteo’s intentions for his side to frustrate were clear as soon as the teams were announced. His decision to play the aforementioned Bertrand – a young left back who was yet to make a Champions League appearance – on the left wing was a clear attempt to sure up that flank against Robben.
It was a move that echoed Mourinho’s decision to play Christian Chivu on the left wing in Inter Milan’s semi final second leg against Barcelona in 2010.
The German champions were dominant, managing 28 shots during normal time – although only six of these were on target. It’s remarkable when watching back over the match to see how many shots were hit somewhat in hope and often scuffed or sliced. Chelsea’s resilience did seem to get to Bayern, as well as the pressure of playing in their own stadium.
The Germans dominance did eventually tell in the the 83rd minute as Schweinsteiger collected the ball on the edge of the Chelsea’s area. His beautifully weighted cross curved towards the giant frame of Gomez at the far post, whose presence drew in David Luiz and Ashley Cole. Who they didn’t spot was Muller creeping in and as the ball floated over Gomez’s head, Muller was there to head the ball into the ground and past Cech into the roof of the net.
The Bayern team piled on top of Muller in joy and relief that they had finally broken down Chelsea’s stubborn resistance. They had surely sealed the Champions League.
That was until Chelsea won their first corner of the match five minutes later in the 88th minute, courtesy of skilful and dogged work from the recently introduced Fernando Torres.
Juan Mata stepped up to take it, and drilled his in-swinging corner in flat towards the near post. Frank Lampard lost his marker Gomez, and barrelling past him with a helpless Jerome Boateng trailing in his wake came Didier Drogba. Lahm couldn’t climb high enough, and Drogba bulleted his header over the head of a stunned Neuer, who couldn’t get his hand to the ball quick enough to turn it over.
Extra time had been forced and while there were 30 more minutes of pressure for Chelsea to withstand, from that point the creeping sense of inevitability had set in. An inevitably that seemed to infect Robben as Drogba clumsily brought down Ribery in his own area during the first half of extra time to concede a penalty.
Robben stepped up to face Petr Cech who, despite his all round brilliance as a goalkeeper, had little reputation for stopping penalties. The ball was drilled low and hard but not quite in the corner. Cech guessed correctly to his left and was down just in time to send the ball spinning away from the goal line.
Chelsea clung on and despite a few scares, hauled themselves over the line to take the game to a penalty shootout.
Bayern had dominated the match, been within minutes of winning it and missed an extra time penalty. It had been a agonising day for them and they were about to experience the pain of losing on penalties.
Lahm scored first and Mata saw his effort saved by Neuer. 1-0 to Bayern, and it looked like finally, the Bavarian side would be able to get their hands on the trophy.
Subsequently though, Ivica Olic missed missed Bayern’s fourth penalty and Schweinsteiger their fifth, paving the way for Drogba to once again be the hero. He stepped up and coolly sent Neuer the wrong way, giving Chelsea their first ever Champions League.
It was a comical way for them to win it. This side that generally disappointed following the great Chelsea team of just a few years previous. They were able to do it against all odds, conquering Barcelona in the semi finals and a superior Bayern Munich side on their own turf.
Most remarkable of all, however, they did it with a Di Matteo masterstroke of Ryan Bertrand on the left wing.