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Validation for valiant Chelsea, as Champions League crowns new victors

Sunday 20th May 2012
The crème de la crème of European football has come and gone for another year. It is often said the best team of the season doesn't always find their way to the Champions League final, let alone win the title. Many pundits were labeling the unlikeliest of finals as one of destiny – destiny for Bayern Munich, who walked out onto their home pitch beneath a banner which read: our city, our stadium, our trophy. Bayern, with four Champions League titles under their belt, against a severely undermanned Chelsea that was yet to win its first, seemed unlikely to let this one slip away. Bayern Munich had 35 shots last night. Chelsea only managed nine. Remarkably, it was the team from England that came out victorious. Destiny? What else.

As many expected, both teams employed the tactics that got them to the final. Bayern pressed from the starting whistle, attacking at every opportunity and holding the ball in their attacking half. Thomas Müller and Toni Kroos sat outside the box, essentially as wingers, giving Frank Ribbery space to feed balls in to Arjen Robben, who was the game's leading shooter with 15 shots. However, the Dutch striker, normally so lethal in front of goal, was wasteful, with only six shots on target. Chelsea's defense was imprisoned in its own penalty area, dropping deeper and deeper with every Robben and Ribery press, assuming what essentially became a 4-5-1 formation to absorb Bayern's relentless pressure.

When a Thomas Müller volley, poorly dealt with by Petr Cech, finally broke the deadlock in the 83rd minute, the game opened up. Di Matteo made an immediate attacking substitution, bringing on Fernando Torres for Salomon Kalou. Hitzfeld made a defensive one, taking off the goal scorer, Müller and bringing on defender, Daniel Van Buyten. The impact was instantaneous. The game started to open up, and Chelsea earned their first corner kick won by Torres on the right. In a defensive mistake, Bayern left their smallest defender, Phillip Lahm to tag Didier Drogba, who netted a brilliant goal from a brave header in the 88th minute to send the game to extra time.

Chelsea's hero looked set to bring their downfall three minutes into extra time, when Drogba clumsily tripped Ribbery in the area. A spot kick was awarded. Arjen Robben took the penalty – a poor one – Cech guessed right, managing to save it. Bayern would go on to have the better of the second half of extra time, with a great chance going to Olic at the back post, who dragged his cross-shot inches wide of Cech's goal.

The title would be decided on penalties; brutal for the players, but brilliant for the fans. Lahm, in true captain's courage, took Bayern's first, to get them on the board. Juan Mata was less fortunate, with Manuel Neuer guessing right to make a simple save. The next four players would go on to score – Gomez and Neuer for Bayern and Luiz and Lampard for Chelsea. Cech then saved from Olic to level the scores at 3 a piece. In a remarkable turn, Ashely Cole scored to give Chelsea back the lead, with Bastian Schweinsteiger missing.

It came down to this: 34 year old, Didier Drogba, stepping up to the penalty spot to face a sea of Bayern Munich fans and the tall, imposing figure of Manuel Neuer. But as he so often does at the clutch moments, on the big stages, Drogba, in what could be his last kick in a Chelsea shirt, found the back of the net. In a low strike to his left, Drogba sent Neuer the wrong way, in the process etching his team's name onto the Champions League trophy for the first time in the club's history.

As Lampard and Terry hoisted the trophy, one could only put this unlikeliest of victories down to destiny. Chelsea were written off in Naples, and told to give up hope in Barcelona. Bayern finally breached their defense in what looked sure to be the last 7 minutes of their fairytale campaign. But somehow, here we are.

Two months ago, Chelsea had just lost to West Bromich Albion for the first time since 1979 and Andre Villas-Boas, after only eight months in charge, was shown the door by Roman Abramovich, a door which the Chelsea owner had shown to six other world class managers before AVB.

Abramovich, in a move that was surely welcomed by Europe's political leaders, decided to embrace the times of economic frugality. Rather than making a risky investment in an inexperienced or too experienced million dollar manager, he instead decided to cash in on his safest stock and promoted Assistant Coach, Roberto Di Matteo to see the team though to the end of what was, at that time, looking like becoming a disastrous season.

Then something extraordinary happened. Chelsea started winning. Torres started scoring. Today, Chelsea FC will wake up to find they are the envy of European football with the FA Cup, the Champions League Trophy, and immediate qualification to next year's tournament secured, at the expense of Tottenham Hotspur.

Regardless of Chelsea's win on Saturday, Di Matteo deserves the permanent role at Chelsea. The Italian has shown that flair, drama and an infamous name is not what's required to be the right manager for Chelsea. What the club needs now is stability from a manager they have faith in. The players and fans have embraced Di Matteo and Abramovich would be doing the caretaker manager a great injustice if he did not award him with the permanent position.

“Football, like life, is unpredictable and crazy. Nobody could have predicted the last three months. To finish like this is incredible. Whatever the future holds for me, I'd be happy”, said Di Matteo.

Didier Drogba was succinct in his post-match reflections, simply saying, “This was our destiny”. He needn't say a word more.
Ella Wardlaw

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