Chelsea head into their first Champions League final since 2008 against Bayern Munich on Saturday knowing that injuries and suspensions could be just as key on the final outcome of the game as those who take to the pitch in Munich.
Roberto Di Matteo's side progressed to the final after knocking out reigning champions and favourites Barcelona in two drama-filled legs where they preyed on their opponents on the break.
Jupp Heynckes' team dispatched with Jose Mourinho's Real Madrid on penalties at the Bernabeu to seal a place in the final on their own home turf.
With the likes of John Terry, Ramires, Raul Meireles and Branislav Ivanovic all ruled out for the final through suspension, and Bayern missing Luis Gustavo, David Alaba and Holger Badstuber for similar disciplinary reasons, both sides are going to be forced to dig deep and utilise the rest of their squad instead.
But how can Chelsea pull off one of the biggest upsets in the competition's history to date? Below, Goal.com UK deputy editors Jonathan Birchall and James Goldman, chief UK correspondent Wayne Veysey and UK correspondent Greg Stobart each give us their take on the side that Di Matteo should select for the final.
|4-5-1 - Mata in the middle
Jonathan Birchall | Goal.com UK Deputy Editor
With both squads hit by suspensions to crucial players ahead of the final at the Allianz Arena, this threatens to be a final of imbalances, and as such, Chelsea must look to exploit those deputising for Bayern.
Diego Contento is expected to start at left-back for Jupp Heynckes' side as a result of David Alaba's suspension and therefore ensuring that Chelsea have attacking strength down the right could be crucial for Di Matteo. The pace and trickery of Daniel Sturridge, coupled with Juan Mata's creativity in a slightly more central role, could pay dividends.
However, Bayern's worst affected area ahead of Saturday's clash is centre-back, where Anatoliy Tymoshchuk will start in place of both Holger Badstuber and Daniel Van Buyten. The 33-year-old Ukrainian, who stands at less than six-foot tall, will struggle to contain Didier Drogba, who deserves to start ahead of potential impact sub Fernando Torres.
Despite the Bavarian outfit having been weakened, the pairing of Phillip Lahm and Arjen Robben on the right flank remains as one of the most dangerous in Europe, and Di Matteo must ensure that Ashley Cole is supported by the Blues' midfield. Salomon Kalou's industry and willingness to track back would make him preferable to Florent Malouda.
|4-3-1-2 - Torres & Drogba start in attack
James Goldman | Goal.com UK Deputy Editor
A safety first approach proved to be a risky yet correct course of action against Barcelona, but Chelsea should not feel as inhibited against a Bayern Munich side who were torn to shreds in last weekend’s German Cup final.
Defensively Bayern were all at sea as Borussia Dortmund eased to a 5-2 victory, their fifth consecutive win against Jupp Heynckes’s side, and are likely to be further destabilised by the absences through suspension of defenders David Alaba, Holger Badstuber and protective midfield screen Luiz Gustavo.
With that in mind, despite it being a combination that has never worked in the past, Chelsea should look to harness the power of Didier Drogba and Fernando Torres in attack, with Juan Mata floating behind.
Bayern will be vulnerable on their left-hand side without Alaba, who impressed in the semi-final second leg against Real Madrid, but Chelsea lack a reliable right winger to exploit this weakness, with Daniel Sturridge’s form having tailed off since Roberto Di Matteo took over from Andre Villas-Boas.
Drogba is capable of occupying two centre-halves at once, leaving Torres with enough space to operate in and feed off the ammunition supplied by Mata and Frank Lampard.
Michael Essien must attempt to compensate for the loss of Ramires by rediscovering the energy and aggression that made him one of the most revered midfielders in world football, before injuries took their toll, while Chelsea must hope both David Luiz and Gary Cahill recover from hamstring injuries, otherwise the grim prospect of Jose Bosingwa patrolling Mario Gomez would become a reality.
|4-2-3-1 - Torres on the right
Wayne Veysey | Goal.com UK Chief Correspondent
Assuming Gary Cahill and David Luiz come through training unscathed and are fit to start at the back, the dilemma for Roberto Di Matteo is whether to go for three central midfielders or two.
Although the caretaker manager selected three players in the midfield heartlands in both legs against Barcelona, Di Matteo can afford to be more gung-ho against opponents who are vulnerable defensively and will not hog the ball in the same way as the Spanish giants.
Juan Mata has been less effective in the last few months, as the rigours of a debut English campaign catch up on him, but he has the touch and vision to orchestrate events from the central playmaking role he prefers.
Given the unavailability of Ramires, who would have been a shoo-in on one of the flanks if he was available, I would go for Fernando Torres as a wild card option on the right.
During his recent mini-renaissance, Torres has been particularly effective in the right channel, where his pace and movement has moved defenders out of position.
He set up Chelsea's goal away to Benfica following brilliant work on the right and I would go for him ahead of the more selfish Daniel Sturridge or cumbersome Florent Malouda.
|4-2-3-1 - Sturridge on the right
Greg Stobart | Goal.com UK Correspondent
The big concern for Chelsea is, of course, the fitness of David Luiz and Gary Cahill, but the defence picks itself if both are fit to play. Cahill in particular will have to be wary of covering for the shaky Jose Bosingwa up against Franck Ribery.
John Obi Mikel must start at the base of the midfield protecting the back four, particularly given the form and fitness concerns surrounding Michael Essien. I wouldn't start the Ghanaian and Frank Lampard has shown this season that he is capable of playing deeper than his favourite attacking midfield role.
Lampard can start counter-attacks and use the pace out wide in the form of Daniel Sturridge and Saloman Kalou, while Didier Drogba is a battering ram and the man for the big occasion. Juan Mata will float between the lines as the link player, but I expect Chelsea to play a direct style, similar to the first leg of their semi-final win over Barcelona.
That leaves the likes of Florent Malouda and Fernando Torres as useful substitute options to take advantage of some weary Bayern legs in the closing stages.
|HAVE YOUR SAY
Do you agree with our panel? How should Di Matteo line up his side to deal with the threat of Barcelona and ensure Chelsea secure their place in the Champions League final? Let us know your thoughts in the comments box below!
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