As the countdown starts to the Champions League final in Munich on Saturday 19 May, we will be looking at some of the key battles on the pitch and areas where the match might be won and lost. First up are the goalkeepers.
In the blue corner, Petr Cech. Signed by Italian Claudio Ranieri in 2004, the giant Czech goalkeeper never played under 'The Tinkerman', instead forming a burgeoning reputation as one of the world's best keepers under 'The Special One' Jose Mourinho. He won the first of three European Goalkeeper of the Year awards in his debut season in England. A damaging blow - no pun intended - to Cech's career came in October 2006 during a Premier League game against Reading. Leaving his goal to gather an over-hit through-ball, Cech was severely clattered by Irishman Stephen Hunt, which left him hospitalised with a fractured skull. The incident put him on the sidelines for three months but, in reality, it set his career back years. He now plays wearing a protective 'rugby scrum' headguard, seemingly as much for confidence as medical reasons. Despite maintaining a high standard, it is only this season that he has rediscovered the sensational form that marked his first season at Chelsea.
At 1.96 m (6 ft 5 in), Cech is naturally strong at crosses and has excelled this year, producing a string of crucial saves, most notably in the semi-final against reigning champions Barcelona. Cech also saved a Cristiano Ronaldo penalty in the 2008 Champions League final shoot-out. Allied to his agility, he is also a dynamic distributor of the ball, either with his favoured left foot or from throws. Turning 30 the day after the final, Cech has played in the Champions League in each of his eight seasons at Chelsea. His experience and stature make him a reassuring and commanding presence in goal for Chelsea.
In the red corner, Manuel Neuer. Despite his appearance as the new kid on the block, it is worth noting that Neuer is already 26. After starting his career at home town club Schalke 04, Neuer left Gelsenkirchen on a high, being named 'Best Bundesliga Player' in 2011. That season was also notable for a best-ever performance from Schalke 04 in the Champions League, reaching the semi-finals before being dispatched by Manchester United, with only Neuer's incredible performance keeping the scoreline to single figures. Manchester United manager Sir Alex Ferguson waxed lyrical after the match: "In my time at United it's the finest display of goalkeeping against us. He was incredible."
Verdict: Almost too close to call. This is the area of the pitch that neither team needs to worry about. Although Cech has the experience, the slight edge must go to Neuer - especially if it goes to penalties on his home ground.
They say things come in three's - good or bad - and for the purposes of this article, I'll focus on the good. There's horse racing's Triple Crown, there's American baseball's Triple Crown. The Three Musketeers. Triple word score in Scrabble. I'm sure we can go on all day, but there's one special 'three-some' everyone in Munich is focusing on these days. On Saturday, FC Bayern Munich will be looking to make history and join an elite group of European football clubs if they are to win the UEFA Champions League Final against Inter Milan.
Three titles, or as most football fans say, the "treble",...
Munich, May 23 - There will be a list of items going through each Bayern fan later this afternoon as they cheer their team one last time this season: Madrid. Milito. Mourinho. Milan. I would like to add one more for Bayern "missed opportunities" but there just wasn't a lot to discuss about that during Inter Milan's 2-0 victory in the UEFA Champions League Final in Madrid last night.
There's something about playing a Final in Spain that is becoming a major obstacle for Bayern. From the start, they played well; dominating possession and it looked like their game plan would continue to create...
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