Bayern Munich v Chelsea, 19:45
It seems as though there has rarely, if ever before been a Champions League final as big as this for so many reasons. Just the semi-finals cost Europe’s top club their visionary boss after Pep Guardiola proved he doesn’t cope quite as well with defeat as victory, and after several months of speculation that this would be an all-Spanish affair the Real/Barca bandwagon was halted. Now, two sides guilty of spoiling every 12 year-old FIFA fanatic’s day come face to face in what could be a fantastic event.
Bayern are as much playing at home as any side can be in a major final, even if a lot of their season-ticket holders will not be in the ground due to UEFA allocations, and the necessity of greasing palms. They are missing less important players than Chelsea, both in number and influence, and almost certainly have the better side on paper, but a lot of that was also true about Barcelona and the Londoners managed to defeat them, so don’t rule Roberto di Matteo’s side out.
Chelsea caretaker manager Roberto Di Matteo is “very hopeful” Gary Cahill and David Luiz will be fit to start the final while Florent Malouda will train on Friday night after a hamstring problem of his own but seems further from full fitness. John Terry, Branislav Ivanovic, Ramires and Raul Meireles are all suspended, as are Bayern’s Luiz Gustavo, David Alaba and Holger Badstuber.
Bayern come in at 4/5 with PaddyPower as winners, with Chelsea 19/5 with 188Bet, but it’s the 8/1 with VictorChandler on a 2-1 Munich win that I’d be tempted by. I don’t rule Chelsea out, as they showed they can beat anyone on their day, but I’d really struggle to back them for this game.
West Ham v Blackpool, 15:00
It looked for most of this season like West Ham were going to have little or no trouble getting out of the Championship, such was the solidity of their defence and consistency of their form, but as things tightened up the Hammers fell away and they are now in a one-off, winner takes all match to get back to where they once belonged. You’d think a lot of Hammers fans would be disappointed about this, and it will be very interesting to see what the fallout is if they fail.
In Sam Allardyce the Hammers have a fairly divisive leader, even amongst the Upton Park faithful, and the same is true for Blackpool boss Ian Holloway. For every person who found him amusing during his spell in the Premiership there was another fan that couldn’t stand the West Country burr and stretched clichés, but his side were a good addition to the Premier League, with an attacking ethos and good spirit, and no-one would be sad to see them back.
Midfielder Jack Collison has handed West Ham a major fitness boost ahead of the Championship play-off final with Blackpool on Saturday. The 23-year-old has recovered from the dislocated shoulder he suffered in the semi-final second leg against Cardiff, leaving both managers with basically fully fit squads to pick from.
Favourites West Ham are available as winners with BetFred at 20/21, while Blackpool are definite underdogs, best priced with BoyleSports as a 16/5 shot. I can see this one going to penalties personally, with BlueSquare offering 14/1 on a 2-2 draw. Blackpool are a good side going forward, but will need to be aware of the threat players like Collison and Carlton Cole will cause.