18 May ~ After a disastrous performance in last weekend's German cup final, Bayern Munich will be hoping to make home advantage count by overcoming Chelsea in the Champions League final tomorrow night at the Allianz Arena. The team and coaching staff seemed at a loss when asked to explain the poor performance in Berlin. Philipp Lahm was right to say Bayern had played well in the first half, but to assert that his team had been better over 90 minutes was contradicted by the manner in which they conceded five goals. Confronted with an incisive and aggressive Dortmund side, the Bayern defence that had been so miserly in the Bundesliga was made to look ponderous as Shinji Kagawa tore them apart.
Roberto di Matteo, who attended the final, may now have a few more ideas about how to set his team up. One thing is certain, though. Those Bayern players who experienced the Champions League final defeat against Inter two years ago will be even more determined to turn in an improved performance against Chelsea. They may be aided by the unavailability of two of the weaker players against Dortmund, Holger Badstuber and Luis Gustavo, who are suspended and cannot repeat the mistakes that cost the team so dearly on Saturday.
Bastian Schweinsteiger does not want to taste defeat again, especially after fighting his way back to the first team in a season interrupted by injuries: "The Champions League final means more to me than the Bundesliga or the cup. If you have the final in your own back yard, you want to get there and you want to win it. May 19 is going to be a big, big day."
Club president Uli Hoeness also views tomorrow night's game as the one of the biggest occasions in the history of the club, though he has warned that playing at home is not automatically advantageous: "It is an ideal situation that will probably remain unique, but it could easily go wrong. Chelsea have a lot to prove and if anyone thinks we just need to turn up to win the final, they're wrong."
Whatever happens, the match will be analysed in minute detail – 2,000 journalists have applied for accreditation and the game will be broadcast live in over 200 countries. The stadium could have sold out many times over. Goalkeeper Manuel Neuer claims to have stopped reading the newspapers but it will become increasingly difficult for the Bayern squad to avoid the hype surrounding the final.
More fans appear the Sabener Strasse training centre each day, looking for a glimpse of the team's preparations. But in-form striker Mario Gomez is doing his best to focus on the bigger picture, rather than the two goals that would take him to the top of the Champions League scoring charts: "Of course you think about certain situations a lot more than before a normal game, and we all realise that this is a special occasion."
Worries about the fitness of Arjen Robben have proved unfounded, as the Dutch winger returned to training on Wednesday and will definitely be available for selection. The feud with Franck Ribery appears to have been laid to rest, and both players will need to be on top of their game if Bayern are to prove national team coach Jogi Low right: "They'll be up for it. I just have a gut feeling that they're going to win it." John Van Laer