Inter Milan vs. Bayern Munich
The most anticipated event of any European season, this year’s Champions League final looks set to be yet another intriguing battle both on and off the field, with several fascinating plot lines running through the pre-match build-up to further stoke the fire of what should be a wonderful spectacle and, perhaps more appealingly, a struggle for tactical supremacy between two of the game’s most astute Coaches. As one-time Barcelona manager Louis van Gaal’s Bayern Munich and his former translator, Jose Mourinho’s Inter prepare to face off in the magnificent surrounds of Madrid’s Estadio Santiago Bernabeu, The Equaliser looks at the potential line-ups of both sides and tries to get the measure of the personnel and systems these two prestigious sides may look to use on Saturday evening.
To begin with Bayern Munich, the suspension of Franck Ribery is the only major concern van Gaal has to contend with, the Frenchman’s absence likely to see him replaced on the left (as he was in the second leg of the semi-final) by Turkish midfielder Hamit Altintop. In other injury news, Martin Demichelis has long since recovered from the knock which kept him out of the game in Lyon and will return to the heart of the defence, with Holger Badsturber shifted to left-back and 20 year-old Diego Contento likely to miss out altogether.
If the Dutchman continues to put his faith in the system that has carried his side to the final, then we should see something resembling a 4-4-2, although it might perhaps be
more accurate to describe it as a 4-2-2-1-1 so much deeper do Mark Van Bommel and Bastian Schweinsteiger sit than the two wide players, Altintop and the brilliant Arjen Robben.
Up front, Ivica Olic will lead the line, a role the Croatian has performed admirably throughout Bayern’s European campaign, whilst his support will come in the shape of the young Thomas Muller, one of the success stories of season’s competition, who will likely adopt a slightly withdrawn position and attempt to link the midfield to the attack, bridging the gap between Olic and the deeper pairing of Van Bommel and Schweinsteiger.
One of the key features of Bayern’s football this season has been the prominence of attacking full-backs, and we should expect to see both Phillip Lahm and Badsturber attempting to get forward early on, particularly if Inter sit deep and play on the counter, a tactic that could potentially leave the Bayern full-backs free to roam and potentially, in tandem with their wingers, double up on their opposite numbers and cause what is an extremely solid Inter defense a few problems.
Schweinsteiger may also look to get forward with regularity, leaving his relatively deep starting position when Bayern counter in order to provide an added attacking threat and utilise his substantial shooting ability closer to goal.
Bayern’s is a compact system which, with its easily adaptable nature, is able to change to suit the pattern of the game at will and, as such, may cause even the much-vaunted Jose Mourinho some tactical headaches.
As for Inter, Mourinho is hardly an easy Coach to second-guess, but the Portuguese is expected to go with the overtly attacking system which proved so effective in the second leg of the quarter-final at Stamford Bridge. That system saw two holding midfielders screening the defense behind an attacking bank of three (Samuel Eto’o on the right, Wesley Sneijder in the middle and Goran Pandev on the left), with Diego Milito deployed as the lone striker. This 4-2-3-1 has proved devastatingly effective for Mourinho, although he will be forced into making a couple of adjustments ahead of the final.
The suspension of Thiago Motta should see the ever-versatile Javier Zanetti moved into a holding midfield role, with
Christian Chivu the most likely candidate to step in a left-back, something which would cap a remarkable return from the horrific head injury he suffered earlier this season, a fracture of the skull which had threatened to end to Romanian’s career before making an incredible recovery and returning to action in early March.
Despite Zanetti perhaps not having the physical presence of Motta, Il Trattore continues to possess incredible stamina and positional sense and has more than enough ability to cover an unfamiliar position in a game of this stature.
Inter should be particularly strong down the right side, with Maicon – arguably the world’s best attacking full-back – supporting Samuel Eto’o to form an incredibly fast and powerful partnership. Indeed, with the relatively inexperienced Badsturber at left-back, Inter could get a lot of joy down that side, particularly if Altintop fails to track back and protect his teammate.
If Inter’s previous performances in Europe are anything to go by then Mourinho’s side may look to sit deep early on, countering when Bayern are drawn out of position in advanced areas. Lucio and Samuel have proved themselves more than capable of dealing with all types of attacking threat in the Champions League this season and, if they can keep Robben, Muller and Olic relatively quiet, Inter’s game plan could prove highly effective once again.
Although Inter are the favourites with the bookmakers (Inter are 6/5 with Bet365, with Bayern at 12/5), van Gaal and his Bayern side should certainly not be undersold. This is a talented and disciplined side under the stewardship of a Coach who will be desperate to win the second Champions League title of his career and put “the translator” firmly in his place. This will be a tactical feast, make sure you’re watching.
Bayern Munich probable starting XI: Butt; Lahm, Van Buyten, Demichelis, Badsturber; Robben, Van Bommel, Schweinsteiger, Altintop; Muller, Olic
Inter probable starting XI: Cesar; Maicon, Lucio, Samuel, Chivu; Zanetti, Cambiasso; Eto’o, Sneijder, Pandev; Milito