Twas the Night before the Final
As a new football fan, I’m learning to draw upon the vast discourse of football writing and podcasts to create my own quasi-private experience of hype for Champion League finals– “the rest of the world’s Super Bowl,” a name that sticks even with no El Clasico in the final this campaign. Thank God, I wanted a break from that tyranny.
Last year, we had some dear friends over, made a big pan of paella, drank Porter, and watched the Barça romp. This year, I’ll be home with my toddler. And some IPA. Most of my friends or acquaintances, even here in Sounders FC-soaked Seattle, don’t know, just don’t care, or are slightly (and politely) interested. The NBA playoffs, Mariners’ growing pains, or Seahawks OTAs are the sports topic du jour. So it’s up to me to plug into the soccer hype machine and get excited – a key survival skill for long-distance fandom.
So on the eve of the Champion’s League Final, I’m rooting for Bayern to make us proud. Because of my Bundesliga love, I actually have emotional investment and meaning in the CL final this year, contrasted with last year’s aesthetic appreciation of the sublimity of the Messi and Barça masterpiece series. I have an stake in the final, not just a gaze on the spectacle. I’m just hoping Michael Strahan has improved his soccer talk.
Normally, I quasi-hate Bayern in the Bundesliga. But I can’t bring myself to fully hate them, because we need their success on the European scene and within the Bundesliga itself to provide a competitive foil/antagonist for the darlings, like Dortmund (my own team). In this regard, Bayern is not quite a necessary evil, more like a bullying big brother, whom you define your growth against and whose conquests on the neighborhood street you admire. We need Bayern and their “FC Hollywood” clout and purchasing power for the league’s health and for the success of the Bundesliga’s own compelling narrative.
I’m actually nervous for Bayern. After gleefully watching them get the beating of their lives against Dortmund in the cup final last weekend, I quickly softened my emotions and hoped for a great week of training, psychological recovery, and confidence for Die Roten. Honestly, I don’t think the Dortmund cup thrashing will affect Bayern too much, since Dortmund simply has Bayern’s number right now with that pressing game, which overruns Die Roten. That is, I’m confident that Bayern can bracket away the Dortmund debacle as a symptom of poor matchup dynamics, rather than attribute it to mythical notions like “streaks” or even “form.”
Speaking of nerves, my biggest concern for the match is simply psychological: Bayern is playing at home, which, as Roger Bennett wryly observes might very well be a detriment:
Much has been made of Bayern’s home-field advantage. I believe it may turn out to be anything but. Playing at home can create a crushing pressure born of expectation. The Germans may be heavy favorites but Chelsea’s Champions League odyssey has been giddily odds-defying. Just ask Barcelona and Napoli fans how difficult it was to kill Chelsea off. On the European stage, Didier Drogba, Frank Lampard & Co. have proved to be as tenacious as ragweed.
I acknowledge the validity of Bennett’s observation, yet I think he underestimates the home atmospheres in the Bundesliga, which will be unlike anything Chelsea has encountered in the knockout stages so far. Bayern is normally a very different – and exponentially more dominant – team at Allianz. In Bundesliga play this season, Bayern were 14-1-2 at home and 9-3-5 on the road. I think all us Bundesliga fans know how tough Bayern are at home.
Drawing upon my vast experience as a seasoned soccer fan, I proclaim that Gomez’ goal poaching abilities (or even the threat thereof) is the key for a Bayern victory. Gomez is the imposing striking force that Barça didn’t have a round ago, as Chelsea shut down wave-after-wave of tiki-taka attacks. Besides, Gomez will marked by Chelsea’s centerback bench, who haven’t had a whole season to coordinate the backline. So I think Gomez will cause more damage than Drogba, who should run a bit rampant against Bayern.
My prediction? Bayern 3-1.
And no Champions League for Chelsea in 2012-2013.