Champions League - Early Doors: The final that no one expected
After 210 minutes of absorbing, exhausting, exhilarating football, the Champions League this week delivered, with wonderful unpredictability, the final that absolutely no one expected.
Prior to the start of this week a bold prediction would have stated that one of Spain's titans would be slain, but not both. Not both of the teams that have made La Liga their personal playground, and certainly not with the world's best players, two of the greatest and most prolific in the long history of the game, missing crucial penalties to see their teams eliminated.
It may have become a cliché, but it is certainly apt when discussing the subject of a Champions League final: football eh? Bloody hell.
Counter to all reasonable expectation, Chelsea will now face Bayern Munich in the Germans' home stadium on May 19 after Jupp Heynckes's side overcame Real Madrid in a dramatic penalty shootout at the Bernabeu last night.
This, unmistakably, was a fantastic result for Chelsea, who were probably cheering Bayern on in champagne-stained suits following their epic triumph over Barcelona the previous evening. Apart from Branislav Ivanovic that is: Early Doors has it on good authority he is seeking counselling in the wake of Geoff Shreeves's post-match interview.
ED is not so naïve to overlook the quality of Bayern: they are a tremendous side, who with a performance of class, composure and no little threat in the Spanish capital arguably surpassed the gloriously gutsy display of Chelsea at Camp Nou the previous evening. Remarkably, they had the better of possession in Madrid and enjoyed more shots on goal than the hosts, who with 109 goals are enjoying the most prolific season in the history of La Liga.
Certainly Bayern were far more adventurous in one of Europe's most imposing arenas than Chelsea were at Camp Nou and furthermore did not rely heavily on luck, even if they did have the relative luxury of having 11 men throughout. Thankfully for Bayern, their captain Philipp Lahm resisted the temptation to join John Terry in emulating Father Ted and kicking anyone up the a**e.
The result means that Heynckes, fired by Madrid after winning the Champions League in 1998, now has the chance to join Mourinho, Ernst Happel and Ottmar Hitzfeld in becoming only the fourth man to win the European Cup with two separate clubs.
Though brushed aside by a vibrant Borussia Dortmund in the Bundesliga this season, Bayern demonstrated on Wednesday night why they are rated one of the finest sides on the continent, with Arjen Robben, Bastian Schweinsteiger and Toni Kroos all in impressive form and Mario Gomez a constant menace in the box, even if his finishing reverted to Euro 2008 type.
But despite the obvious quality Bayern possess, ED would argue this is absolutely the final Chelsea were praying for, and not just due to the fact that Madrid are a superior side to Bayern - arguably the best on the planet in fact given they will win La Liga this season, barring a spectacular collapse that Didier Drogba would be proud to call his own.
This is Chelsea's dream final largely because it means the club are spared the trauma of coming up against Jose Mourinho, the most successful manager in their history and a man who knows intimately the ageing, cranky yet resolute core of the Chelsea team.
Who better to hatch a plan to nullify Didier Drogba than the man whose departure from Stamford Bridge in September 2007 reduced the giant striker to tears?
Chelsea and Mourinho clearly still have an umbilical link and there must be great relief around the London club that their task is not to prevent the Special One from becoming the first manager to win the Champions League with three different clubs, and in the process secure for Madrid the 10th European Cup that has become an obsession for the club.
Now Bayern are their opponents, there will be no lengthy treatise on Mourinho's time at Chelsea in the press, no scrutiny of the rupture and then repair of his relationship with Roman Abramovich, no awkward questions as to whether he could return to London to replace Roberto Di Matteo in the summer.
However, we should not forget it is also a dream final for Bayern, who will be rightly confident of beating Chelsea in their own Allianz Arena.
Though both clubs have players suspended for the final, Chelsea have been hit far worse by disciplinary problems. Bayern will rue the absence of Luiz Gustavo, David Alaba and Holger Badstuber, yet deprived of John Terry, Branislav Ivanovic, Ramires and Raul Meireles, Chelsea are more emasculated than the Germans.
Mourinho, ever the Chelsea loyalist, made clear which team he would be supporting when speaking after Madrid's shootout defeat, and it wasn't the side that had just ended his Champions League hopes for another season.
"Chelsea mean a lot in my life and I would like them to win the final," he said. "John is missing, but Chelsea is there, which is the most important thing. But I just hope it's a good final. Of course I want the Blues to win, but with all respect for the Reds. I think Chelsea boys were heroes yesterday, absolute heroes.
"I know some people think they [Barcelona] are the masters of the game and will criticise Chelsea like they criticised Inter two years ago, but they know nothing about character, about effort, about a team with 10 men resisting tactically, physically everything. That's why I have in mind the heroes of Inter and the heroes of Chelsea in this match. Chelsea deserve to be there."
The Special One clearly still casts a long shadow over the club - his name was sung by supporters in the dark days of Andre Villas-Boas's reign - and his absence from the final gives Chelsea more clarity of thought, more of a singular focus.
It also gives them the best chance of winning their first ever Champions League trophy.
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FOREIGN VIEW: The race for the Serie A title looks set to have a dramatic conclusion with Juventus, still unbeaten after 34 games, sitting three points ahead of Milan at the top of the table following Wednesday's round of fixtures. Juve defeated Cesena 1-0 while Milan also secured a narrow victory over Genoa.
COMING UP: It is the turn of the Europa League semi-final, second legs tonight as Valencia host Atletico Madrid hoping to overturn a 4-2 deficit from the first leg and Sporting visit Athletic Bilbao aiming to hold onto a 2-1 advantage. Both games kick off at 8.05pm.
Michael Cox of Zonal Marking fame runs a tactical eye over the weekend's Premier League football, Never Mind the Ballacks update us on events in Germany and we also publish the second part of our three-part interview with former Newcastle and West Ham manager Glenn Roeder.