(Ashley Cole will need to be at his best to deal with Bayern's wingers)
Chelsea and Bayern Munich face up in the Champions League final this Saturday at the Allianz Arena after they saw off Spanish super giants Barcelona & Real Madrid respectively in their semi-finals. But the victories came at a price for them as both sides are missing influential players for the show piece event. Chelsea have a number of notable problems in defence with suspensions to captain John Terry & Branislav Ivanovic and the fact that David Luiz & Gary Cahill have missed the end of season games injured. Both players have declared themselves fit but it will is a problem for Roberto Di Matteo have to start both knowing their lack of match practice. Despite all the plaudits for Chelsea's defensive performances in the competition (especially in the Camp Nou) against Barcelona it will be a different & much harder challenge facing them this time. Barcelona played without any real wingers which allowed the Blues to sit back with two banks of four & suck up all the space in the middle of the park as everything was played in-front of the centre halves whilst Bayern will look to use their dynamic wingers in Franck Ribery & Arjen Robben to exploit the wide areas & get behind Chelsea's backline to provide the balls to prolific striker Mario Gomez. Ashley Cole is an excellent fullback but with Jose Bosingwa likely to start on the right Bayern will know that there is a real weakness to be exposed & clearly have the players to do it.
Another major blow for Chelsea is them missing arguably their player of the season in Ramires. His work rate, no stop running & knack of scoring critical goals can't be matched anymore by his likely replacement Michael Essien who has sadly struggled to capture anything like his best form since a number of long term injuries. Frank Lampard's performance is also dragged up by Ramires doing the running that he can no longer do & it would be no surprise to see the Chelsea great age before our eyes with Bayern's midfield swamping him & Bastian Schweinsteiger is definitely a younger & arguably superior version of Lampard.
In striker Didier Drogba though Chelsea have a player who rises to the big occasion & on his day can simply be unplayable. We know this by looking at his Wembley record where he has scored on every occasion he has played with the latest being goal number eight in the FA Cup victory over Liverpool.
Bayern know it's key to their chances of victory to keep Drogba very quiet but like Chelsea are suffering from a number of selection dilemmas with centre half Holger Badstuber & left back David Alaba both suspended, so manager Jupp Heynkes has the choice of Ukrainian Anatoliy Tymoschuk or ex-Premiership Daniel Van Buyten to play at the back, and decide whether to play Rafinha at right back & switch the imperious Philipp Lahm to left back or play Diego Contento in Alaba's position.
(Bastian Schweinsteiger can put in a five star performance)
With this in mind Bayern's best form of defence is attack & they certain have the players to punish Chelsea. The midfield of Bastian Schweinsteiger, Toni Kroos, Franck Ribery & ex-Chelsea Arjen Robben looks too strong for Chelsea & they will look to pull the strings & striker Mario Gomez is having an outstanding season having scored 41 goals in 51 appearances & 13 in as many games in this season's Champions League. We really rate Schweinsteiger & he could have a great game in this one without Ramires to stop him, he's as short as 6/1 to be Man of the Match so Sportingbet's offer of 10/1 should be backed.
Chelsea have to win it in Bayern's 'backyard' or face the prospect of having no Champions League football to look forward to next season but sadly we expect Bayern to take advantage of Chelsea's suspensions & defensive weaknesses & enable Heynkes to become the fourth man to win the European Cup with two different clubs & can win in 90 minutes at the general price of 5/6.
(Mark Noble is a Hammer through & through & could bag a goal here)
Both sides finished the season strongly with West Ham picking up 17 points & Blackpool 15 points in their last eight league games before their two semi-final victories over Cardiff City & Birmingham City respectively. West Ham go into the match with the favourites tag & on paper they have the big name players with the spine of the team made up of Robert Green, James Tomkins, Kevin Nolan & Carlton Cole. They kept two clean sheets against Cardiff & have been scoring with regular ease lately with two or more goals in all but one of their last eleven games with duo Carlton Cole & Ricardo Vaz Te striking up a profitable partnership.
(Can the evergreen Kevin Phillips have yet another day in the sun?)
There's no doubt in our minds that with the money they've spent & the players that they have that West Ham should've got automatic promotion & probably the Championship title this season, it would be a crushing disappointment if they couldn't succeed here & with the good memories they have of their two impressive wins over the opposition so far this year the Hammers should be backed to win the game at a very reasonable price of Evens. West Ham will have the bulk of the support in the stadium with many of the neutrals unlikely to be that neutral & that will help, Blackpool's defence hasn't been good enough on their travels & they are running into West Ham at the wrong time as they look to have stepped up a couple of gears once the prize was in sight. An interesting extra bet can be had by backing Mark Noble to score at anytime at tasty odds of 5/1, he's West Ham's penalty taker & with things likely to get nervy for players & officials a spot kick could be on the cards, 16/1 for him to be first scorer also looks overpriced so back it.
Bayern Munich to beat Chelsea in 90 minutes at 5/6 (various)
Bastian Schweinsteiger to be Man of the Match at 10/1 (Sportingbet)
West Ham United to beat Blackpool in 90 minutes at Evens (general)
Mark Noble to score first at 16/1 & at anytime at 5/1 (Ladbrokes)