Champions League Preview

Bayern Munich’s path to today’s Champions League final in Madrid reflects the German club’s status as the competition’s team of destiny. Their passage from group stage to the semifinals had a touch of miracle just about every step of the way. But Inter has been on an unprecedented upward trajectory in 2010 and their game reflects the new culture at the club instilled by Mourinho. If Inter simply plays with the same level of determination as it did in the Chelsea or Barcelona ties, it is difficult to see them losing today. However, the Germans, who worried deeply about Barcelona, will relish the underdog role once again and come into the match without fear on Inter.

Last November Bayern’s prospects looked awful, having stumbled badly in the Champions League, their manager Louis van Gaal was very close to being sacked. Somehow Bayern overcame improbable odds to leap-frog Juventus, then got past Fiorentina with Robben, a lot of luck and a ridiculously off-side goal in Munich. Next came Man United, a strange home and away encounter that was greatly determined by two enormous, opportunistic Olic goals and a Rooney injury. Lyon was there for the taking, having relieved the Germans from a possible date with Real Madrid.

For their part, Inter looked completely over-matched by Barcelona at group stage, but the paramount transformation for this team and the club came in the Chelsea ties. Never has Inter displayed so much aggressive fighting spirit, so much unity of purpose as in the Chelsea, first, and then Barcelona ties. Each and every Inter player has embraced Mourinho’s style and tactical game-plan and it shows. With the emergence of Wesley Snejder as a magnificent play-maker, Diego Milito as an irrepressible goal-scorer, Samuel Eto’o, Pandev and Maicon providing the threat on the flanks, Inter’s firepower should make the difference. Thiago Motta is Inter’s big absence today, a player who Mourinho loves and who exemplifies Inter’s new, scrappy, fighting spirit.

Bayern will be without French winger Ribery, a big loss that leaves his replacement Altintop with a lot of responsibility and relieves Mourinho of one huge headache. Effectively, if Inter shut down Robben and possibly Mario Gomez, it is hard to see where Bayern’s goals will come from. Marc van Bommel is a great captain, but on the whole Bayern’s five offensive players do not match up to Inter’s.

Both clubs have reached the final against the odds. Both have already sealed their domestic league and cup double, enjoying tremendous seasons and bringing all the positive momentum into today’s match. Yet only one team will make history in Madrid’s Santiago Bernabeu. It is an encounter worthy of the occasion.