After an unpredictable Champions League campaign the competition is down to its final two participants. Jose Mourinho and Louis van Gaal have their date with destiny in the Santiago Bernabeu and the tactical decisions they make will decide the destination of the 2010 Champions League.
In a showpiece final Mourinho is likely to adopt a variation of 4-5-1 with Diego Milito leading the line. In Franck Ribery’s absence, after he lost his appeal against suspension, van Gaal has a decision to make. Ivica Olic will start, but with Mario Gomez waiting in the wings will van Gaal start with two up front or will he stick with the 4-5-1 formation which has served Bayern well in Europe this season?
The Inter boss will be the more cautious coach, but talk of an all-out defensive display as claimed pre-match by Arjen Robben is wide of the mark. The Portuguese tactician will be eager for this players to exert their influence early in the game and he will not want his team to be pushed onto the back foot.
Over in the German camp, pre-match thoughts will be centred on ensuring Arjen Robben can get into the game and influence proceedings. Importantly, van Gaal must also have a ‘Plan B’ if Mourinho, the coach who managed to stop the seemingly unstoppable Lionel Messi, can prevent the Dutch international, who he knows well from his Chelsea days, from making his presence felt.
Arjen Robben vs. Javier Zanetti
The Inter captain will need all his years of experience to cope with the in-form Dutch winger if he starts in his normal right wing position with licence to cut in on his left foot. Mourinho will be all too aware of the Dutch winger’s threat and he could set Inter up tactically so the pacey Samuel Eto’o is in front of Zanetti to offer extra cover, a strategy which proved effective against Barcelona. The former Camp Nou forward will also be able to track the runs of attacking full back Philipp Lahm.
There is huge responsibility on Robben’s shoulders in Ribery’s absence. Van Gaal may look to allow his star man to play in a free role if he feels the former Real Madrid player is being marked out of the game.
Mark van Bommel vs. Wesley Sneijder
Two Dutch internationals hold the key to the midfield battle. Mourinho likes a goalscoring midfielder who can break forward and Wesley Sneijder has been excellent for Inter in that role this season. Sneijder’s compatriot van Bommel is Bayern’s midfield general, a ball-winning midfielder who allows the more creative players around him to perform. The former Barcelona midfielder will be under instruction to keep a close watch on his international team-mate. Van Gaal will want to ensure any runs that Sneijder makes are tracked.
Sneijder’s role is a key component of Mourinho’s tactical strategy. If van Gaal can stifle the former Ajax midfielder’s ability to get forward unmarked Mourinho may look to push the Dutchman further up the pitch in order to get him away from van Bommel’s sphere of influence.
Diego Milito vs. Daniel van Buyten
Milito was a lone figure in Inter’s two legged rearguard against Barcelona in the semi-final. The Argentine’s determination to chase lost causes and retain possession was as much a factor in Inter’s success as the tactical discipline shown by his team-mates. With Mourinho likely to adopt a cautious approach, the onus will be on Milito to hold up the ball, so his team-mates can get forward in support. In van Buyten, the former Genoa striker will have a worth adversary. The Belgium international is a towering figure in the Bayern backline and he will look forward to a physical battle with Milito.
It is crucial for Inter that Milito is able to retain possession. If van Buyten can win his personal duel with the Argentine striker Inter will struggle to exert any pressure on the Bayern goal and Mourinho may be forced into a tactical switch.