Champions League final preview
A day of destiny awaits at the Allianz Arena as Chelsea and Bayern Munich stand on the brink of European glory.
By Lewis Rutledge
Last Updated: 18/05/12 5:09pm
A day of destiny awaits at the Allianz Arena as Chelsea and Bayern Munich stand on the brink of European glory after another remarkable year in the UEFA Champions League.
The continent's No.1 club competition has produced some extraordinary drama since the first round of qualifying last June and Saturday's showpiece promises to deliver a thrilling climax to the season.
A fascinating story will unfold either way in Munich, as Bayern have the chance to lift the trophy at their home stadium and Chelsea are going in search of their first European crown.
It has been Roman Abramovich's dream to win the Champions League since he took control of the club in 2003 and he has been ruthless with those managers that have failed to bring success.
Roberto Di Matteo is the eighth boss to have worked with Abramovich, having replaced Andre Villas-Boas in early March at a time when Chelsea's campaign appeared to be heading towards a dismal conclusion.
What has followed over the past couple of months could have been straight from the script of a footballing fairytale, with Chelsea now just one game away from the happiest of endings.
The Blues had already had a narrow escape to make it out of the group stage by the time Di Matteo replaced Villas-Boas, but they have since pulled off two of the all-time great European comebacks.
Trailing 3-1 against Napoli at the halfway point of their last-16 tie, Chelsea triumphed 4-1 in the second leg on a famous night at Stamford Bridge.
Having seen off Benfica in the quarter-finals, Chelsea then stunned reigning champions and tournament favourites Barcelona at Camp Nou as they somehow prevailed 3-2 on aggregate even after having captain John Terry sent off before half-time.
Chelsea have since gone on to beat Liverpool in the final of the FA Cup to ensure they will finish the season with some silverware, but it is Saturday's clash with Bayern that could prove to be the ultimate job audition for Di Matteo.
Having only been appointed on an interim basis until the end of the season it remains to be seen who will be handed a permanent deal for the start of next term, but if the Italian can mastermind a victory in Munich it is likely to make Abramovich's mind up for him.
Chelsea have been here before, of course, having lost to Manchester United in the most agonising fashion in 2008's Moscow final, when Terry missed the opportunity to be a hero in the penalty shoot-out.
The Blues need to beat Bayern to make sure they will get back into the competition next season after finishing a disappointing sixth in the Premier League this term.
Tottenham Hotspur claimed the coveted fourth spot but have had to endure a difficult week of waiting and will only discover on Saturday if they will be returning to Europe's top table.
Harry Redknapp and his men are sure to be among the most interested spectators, therefore, as they will miss out on Champions League qualification if Chelsea win.
Bayern Munich have enjoyed a more straightforward route through to the final, inspired by the prospect of walking out at their own ground in the showpiece.
Bayern's home form has been a key factor behind their march to Saturday's final, having won all six of their games at the Allianz Arena.
There was a 2-0 win over Manchester City in the group stage, a 7-0 crushing of Basel in the last 16 and a 2-1 victory against Real Madrid that laid the foundation for their semi-final triumph.
Bayern ultimately edged out Real on penalties at the Bernabeu and, like Chelsea, may feel that fate has decreed it is their moment to claim glory.
Manager Jupp Heynckes, who won the Champions League with Real in 1998, has seen his Bayern side lose out to Borussia Dortmund in both the Bundesliga and German Cup this season.
However, he does still have at his disposal a glittering array of talent, including former Chelsea winger Arjen Robben, French playmaker Franck Ribery and Mario Gomez, who has scored 12 Champions League goals this term.
While both semi-finals will live long in the memory, they did come at a cost as seven players altogether will be suspended for Saturday's match.
Terry is unavailable for Chelsea after being sent off for kicking out at Alexis Sanchez, although he will be allowed to lift the trophy and plans to share that honour with captain for the day Frank Lampard if they get the right outcome.
There was an effort from the international players' union, FIFPro, to get the bans overturned for the six other players, who miss out after receiving yellow cards in the semi-finals.
Branislav Ivanovic, Ramires and Raul Meireles will watch on nervously for Chelsea and Di Matteo has had to consider his alternatives.
A potential defensive crisis appears to have been averted, though, with Gary Cahill and David Luiz recovering from hamstring problems that have kept them on the sidelines and set to forge a centre-back partnership against Bayern.
John Obi Mikel will have an important role to play alongside Lampard in midfield and Juan Mata is also a certain starter, but Di Matteo faces a big decision in attack as he ponders the possibility of playing a rejuvenated Fernando Torres alongside Didier Drogba, who could be playing his final game for the club.
For Bayern, Luiz Gustavo, David Alaba and Holger Badstuber are the players unlucky enough to be suspended for the biggest game of their lives.
Rafinha is an option to come in at full-back but Daniel van Buyten may not be fit to slot into defence and Anatoliy Tymoschuk could have to play alongside Jerome Boateng.
Toni Kroos and Bastian Schweinsteiger are likely to play in central midfield, with Thomas Muller slightly further forward and Robben, Ribery and Gomez providing the main attacking threat.
Portuguese referee Pedro Proenca will take charge of the match.