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In a match that now feels like a distant memory due to the Covid-19-enforced delay, Chelsea were comfortably beaten 3-0 at home to Bayern Munich in late February. Despite a number of important saves from Chelsea’s Willy Caballero, the pace and relentless energy the German champions showed going forward was way too much for the Blues to handle.
Two emphatic finishes from former Arsenal man Serge Gnabry, who scored four goals in a humiliating 7-2 win last October, gave Bayern the lead. Then a strike from Robert Lewandowski wrapped up the win after a lung-busting run from left-midfielder-turned-left-back Alphonso Davies supplied him with the assist.
In the eyes of many, a three-goal deficit heading into a second-leg tie away to one of the most formidable opponents in European football would be considered unassailable. However, there could be some sources for optimism for Chelsea fans ahead of the Saturday evening fixture.
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One of those is the lack of competitive football played by Bayern recently. This is due to the German domestic season concluding with their DFB Pokal final victory over Bayer Leverkusen on 4th July. Meanwhile, Chelsea played competitively - granted a loss to Arsenal in the FA Cup final - last Saturday. In order to try to stay sharp Hansi Flick’s side won a friendly 1-0 against Marseille last Friday, but needless to say, that does not compare to competitive action.
Additionally, Bayern defender Benjamin Pavard is sidelined by injury, there is a cloud lingering over both Thiago Alcantara and Philippe Coutinho regarding their potential moves away from the club and Niklas Süle’s match fitness is in question as he has only just returned from a long injury lay-off. If Chelsea decide to play positive, attacking football against the German side they might be able to pounce on their vulnerabilities.
However, Frank Lampard’s men are not without injury woes themselves. Christian Pulisic left the pitch in tears during Saturday’s final and captain César Azpilicueta went off with a hamstring injury too. Roma-bound Pedro also injured his shoulder while Ruben Loftus-Cheek and Billy Gilmour remain out. Furthermore, Marcos Alonso and Jorginho are suspended, meaning Lampard could be forced into making a number of changes. Whether Willian - who has yet to agree on a new deal with the club amidst interest from Arsenal - will play is also open to doubt.
Combine all those injuries with the fatigue of a long season and Chelsea’s task again looks to be up an uphill battle. On the other hand, their FA Cup final defeat could serve as motivation to decorate their manager with his first piece of silverware since making the transition to the dugout. Furthermore, a potential frontline of Tammy Abraham, Callum Hudson-Odoi and Masson Mount could see Chelsea play with an abandon and freedom that lacked in their cup final performance.
Crazier things have happened in the Champions League and it would be unwise to write off the Blues’ chances just yet. A captivating quarter-final against the winner of Napoli vs Barcelona awaits the victor.