Jurgen Klopp lost Mario Gotze through injury earlier in the week so caused no surprises by picking Kevin Grosskreutz in his place, allowing Marco Reus to play more centrally, and effectively putting Dortmund in a 4-4-1-1 shape to counter Bayern’s threat in wide areas.
Bayern Munich boss Jupp Heynckes’ chose Jerome Boateng over Daniel Van Buyten as Dante’s partner in central defence and otherwise lined the team up as expected in their 4-2-3-1 shape. With Toni Kroos still injured, Thomas Muller started the game centrally, as he did in the semi final against Barcelona, giving Arjen Robben a chance to start again.
- It took three touches. One to get away from the defender, one to position himself for the shot and one to pass the ball into the back of the net, and shortly past 930pm in North West London, inside Wembley Stadium, Arjen Robben could finally forget about Johannesburg 2010. For 88 minutes it looked like it was going ‘the Robben way’. His team were entering the final moments of a game, not winning and haunted by a number of misses from the Dutchman. Then from a free kick, deep inside their own half, Franck Ribery controlled the ball brilliantly, again brought Dortmund players towards him, before sending Robben through on goal. He leaned heavily on his left foot, once again, and one, two, three touches later it became Robben’s final.
- Ribery and Robben had combined 28 minutes earlier to put Bayern ahead when three Dortmund defenders (sound familiar) flocked to the Frenchman who found Robben to his left, before the winger sent a ball across for Mario Mandzukic to nod Bayern into the lead.
- It was a lead that they narrowly deserved having been the better side for the final 15 minutes of the first half and the opening 15 minutes of the second.
- Typically, though, electric Dortmund dug deep and got a break when Dante used his wrong leg in a challenge against Reus, one Mr Miyagi would have been proud of, to concede a penalty. Ilkay Gundogan, a man who grew into a star in this year’s competition, converted the spot kick with ease to set up such a dramatic finale.
- It will easily be forgotten now but the manner in which Bayern played, at 1-1, with the game on the line in the late stages was courageous. A team whose own players said they can be known as ‘losers’ if they didn’t win on this night could have gone into their shell, played nervously and tried to take the cautious approach for a winner. Instead, they reacted like a champion and now great, world class players like Manuel Neuer, Philipp Lahm and Bastian Schweinsteiger quite rightly are looked at as winners.
- The use of Robben centrally during that crucial period was pivotal, not only in the game’s winning goal but in their overall attacking flow. Thomas Muller did not have a great game (failed to link better with midfield; was indecisive in front of goal) but his ability to stick closer to the touchline stretched Dortmund’s back four more than they would have liked, Ribery got stronger as the game went on and Robben thrived in the space afforded to him.
- Muller, David Alaba and Bastian Schweinsteiger all came close to scoring in that period and the central midfielder, in particular, was enjoying how the game’s pendulum had swung having played a key part in it during the first half.
- Dortmund came as advertised, pressing their opponents early, starting in top gear and pushing Bayern deep for the opening 25 minutes of the game. It was a fascinating period to see how Bayern would cope, as they still dominated possession but couldn’t play their way to their front four in the usual manner. Schweinsteiger dropped deep to ensure they could at least treasure the ball while losing the territory battle, often splitting the full backs to maintain composure at the back. Only when Bayern got into their gameplan did he start to venture further forward.
- Schweinsteiger was not the only one making adjustments at this stage. As all great teams do, all 11 Bayern players worked tirelessly during a difficult moment for them. In the 16th minute even Robben was in his own box to make a significant clearance and eventually they grew into the first half, which was dominated by brilliant saves by both goalkeepers, with three stops on Robben being the ones most remembered.
- Until that final minute that is. Robben won a major final, playing centrally in a match where both midfields struggled to insert their dominance, in a tournament where central midfields have been essential to success. Mark it down, folks. It was as unusual as a Robben pass. Robben, and Reus, effectively saw two teams playing with just two central midfielders, using width more than most, which effectively meant the game for the neutrals was a wide-open entertaining affair.
- It is fitting that it be Robben who takes this current Bayern Munich team to the promised land before Pep Guardiola takes over next season. The Dutchman is not a Guardiola player and it is very likely this performance will keep him at the club next season, but he will struggle to get a lot of playing time before moving elsewhere. And with that Bayern will get better. Many will wonder this evening what the Spaniard can possibly do to make them even stronger but a club should not always be defined by trophies. There is still plenty to improve on. Next season Bayern may not win the Champions League (it is a cup competition after all) but they will become more efficient in their passing and, with the return of the exceptional Toni Kroos, will have a central midfield trio that can rival any side in the world. Players like Muller and Ribery, for all of their strengths now, can get better and will be pushed by the likes of Mario Gotze and Kroos going forward to do so.
- This is clearly just the beginning of Bayern’s greatness but going forward it will have a different look and charisma about it than the one that won the 2012/13 Champions League. Robben’s three touches took care of that.
Bayern Munich: Neuer 8, Lahm 6, Boateng 7, Dante 5, Alaba 6, Martinez 6, Schweinsteiger 7, Ribery 7 (Gustavo 90), Muller 6, Robben 8, Mandzukic 7 (Gomez 90).
Borussia Dortmund: Weidenfeller 8, Piszczek 6, Subotic 7, Hummels 6, Schmelzer 6, Blaszczykowski 7 (Schieber 90), Bender 6 (Sahin 90), Gundogan 6, Grosskreutz 6, Reus 7, Lewandowski 7.