THE SPARK HAS already been lit. At the very least — and very literally — by the Bayern Munich fans.
As the team went through their last training session for tomorrow night’s Champions League final, the considerable contingent of watching fans at Saebener Strasse — way from the main Arena — lit flares. It only added to the sense of boisterousness and excitement off the pitch, which was actually in contrast to the rather serene scenes on it as Bayern quietly went about their last pieces of business.
Of course, the fans expect a much more energetic display tomorrow. And, predictably, the big issue at Bayern’s pre-match press conference was home advantage: the very fact they were able to also prepare at their own training ground only emphasising that. Indeed, there’s been a seeming sense of destiny about the club and this season since the venue was announced.
The city simply believes.
But it also gives rise to a bigger question. Rather than catch fire, will Bayern freeze on the night due to all the associated pressure?
Certainly, manager Jupp Heynckes — aiming for a second European Cup as a manager himself — sought to box a little more cleverly.
“I don’t share the euphoria you can feel outside that we are definitely champions. We’d be very wise to be humble and modest. It will be a tiny little advantage because we have our own dressing room. We know every bit of grass.”
His captain, Philippe Lahm, wasn’t quite so reticent. Indeed, he almost personifies the city’s hopes.
“It’s definitely a positive thing to play in our own stadium. We know everything here so it has a positive effect on us. Being in your own stadium gives you a feeling of safety and security.
“It was our dream to make it to the final and here we are. We haven’t quite finished yet, we want to win this cup and we have a tough job ahead of us but it’s great to be here on home turf. I was born in Munich, I grew up in Munich and I joined Bayern at the age of 11, so this is definitely my home. When you look round the city, everybody is happy. There’s great anticipation.”
And expectation. Not just of victory. But also style of performance. Given Chelsea’s number of suspensions and how it essentially constrains their gameplan, the feeling is that the Londoners will play just as conservatively as they did against Barcelona in getting here.
Heynckes didn’t believe so though, while also making sure to pay tribute to his opposite number, Roberto Di Matteo.
“I don’t think Chelsea are going to be ultra-defensive against us as they were against Barcelona,” he said. “He [Di Matteo] is an intelligent and cool person. Chelsea needed somebody who would restructure the team and make them more compact. He has brought Chelsea to the final.
“You can see he’s a very cool person. He was able to create harmony. I think he’s done a marvellous job. I don’t think that there should be consequences tomorrow whether they win or lose.”
Bayern, of course, don’t have a clean slate themselves given the absence of two of their back four in David Alaba and Holger Badstuber as well as Luiz Gustavo.
“Luis has become a very important player and we’ll miss him,” Bastien Schweinsteiger said. “We’ll also miss Holger and David, but we have different solutions.”
As well as a different option in attack. In the 2010 final against Inter – which still hurts Bayern – they were missing Franck Ribery and offered a hugely tentative display. This season, he’s available to play in his first ever Champions League final. Lahm believes that, certainly, will make a difference.
“He is an outstanding player… someone who decides matches. It’s going to be important to have him but it’s important all players live up to their performance level. We have the hunger and the desire but all the players need to chip and I’m sure Franck will play his part.”
As — Bayern hope — will home advantage.