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May 21, 2010

Soccernet Preview: Champions League final

Saturday night in the Santiago Bernabeu will offer one coach the chance to write themselves into the history books by winning an historic treble with their side. Both Bayern Munich and Inter Milan have enjoyed incredible domestic success this season, winning both the league and their main cup competition. One more glittering prize awaits.

• Forum: How will the UCL final end?
• Lomas: The final countdown
• Bidwell: Inter duo with score to settle
• Adams: The Treble club
• Palmer speaks to Van Gaal
• Bidwell: Bayern pair in confident mood

The focus for both clubs has been on the Champions League for some time. Bayern, during an expensive stint of rebuilding, made it a priority to reach their first European final since 2001 with the signings of Ribery and Robben. Meanwhile, Inter brought Jose Mourinho to the club with the stated aim of bringing them success in a competition whose final they had not graced since 1972.

Now the pupil has the chance to become the master as Mourinho faces up against his mentor from his days at Barcelona: Louis van Gaal. Few could have expected either side to have progressed this far after watching some of their group games (Bayern's 2-0 home defeat to Bordeaux and Inter's draws with Rubin Kazan and Dynamo Kiev to name a few), but now the stage is set for one of these teams to secure the best moment in their proud histories.

Bayern player in focus: Arjen Robben. The flying Dutch winger looks a completely different player to the one often seen on the sidelines at Real Madrid and Chelsea. A player of deep potential, Robben's goals have been a crucial part of Bayern's success in reaching the final and his pace, guile and trickery on the flanks will provide the Inter defence with their toughest test.

Inter player in focus: Wesley Sneijder. Dumped by Real Madrid in the summer, Sneijder has made the best of his move to Italy and emerged as one of the best players in Serie A. A great passer, his creative touch has made the difference for Inter in the competition and he provides a goal threat from outside of the box via his trademark free-kicks.

Key battle: Martin Demichelis vs. Diego Milito. While there are intriguing battles across the pitch, the central one appears to be two Argentines who managed to make it into Diego Maradona's World Cup squad. After claiming he was homesick for his homeland in January (following a period out of the team), Demichelis has emerged as a central figure at the back for Bayern and will have to be at his best to stop the scoring-machine that is currently his opponent. Milito netted the goal that won Serie A for Inter and has bagged 22 in 35 games this season to become one of the leading strikers in Europe. His pace and strength will cause Bayern problems all night long.

Tactics: A lot has been made of the two different styles of the coaches, as Van Gaal claims to play ''beautiful football'' with ''attacking style'' against Mourinho's negativity. Van Gaal likes a 4-4-2 with flying wingers and a lot of width, helped by the presence of Robben and full-backs like Philipp Lahm and Holger Badstuber, while Mark van Bommel and Bastian Schweinsteiger sure up the central areas. Mourinho will continue with his 4-2-3-1, keeping the game relatively narrow with two patrolling defensive midfielders and looking to counter with the pace of Samuel Eto'o and Milito. The battle of the four full-backs could be key, especially if Robben is given space to run at Javier Zanetti.

Quotes: Louis van Gaal jokes about his future: ''We have given the ultimate answer to those who said I was not doing a good job, but maybe I will have to leave Bayern anyway this summer whatever happens in Madrid. If we beat Inter and prove ourselves the best in Europe this season, I'll probably have to resign as you can't improve on that''.

Jose Mourinho on the Champions League final: "This game is the most important in the world. It is even bigger than the World Cup because the teams in it are at a higher level than national teams, who can't buy the best players."

In the news: To stir up the war of words before the game Bayern Munich coach Louis van Gaal claimed that he ''educated'' his Inter Milan rival Jose Mourinho and helped his former assistant rise to prominence in football. Of course, there was the jibe about playing ''beautiful football'' in there as well. Bayern were also hit by the news that CAS had rejected their appeal over the suspension of Franck Ribery.

Most of the Inter news has been surrounding coach Mourinho, as he courts a potential move to Real Madrid in the summer. The Portuguese usually sacrifices himself to keep the media glare away from his players and this time is no different with his statement that he will manage Real ''one day'' keeping everyone busy.

Bayern team news: Franck Ribery will miss the final after his suspension for being sent off against Lyon was repeatedly upheld. Hamit Altintop is likely to deputise, although van Gaal could call on the versatile Muller to make room for the likes of Miroslav Klose or Mario Gomez.

Inter team news: Thiago Motta is also missing due to the red card he picked up against Barcelona and former Portsmouth man Sulley Muntari will come in. Mario Balotelli looks likely to be benched for such a big game, with Goran Pandev called in to play in a front three while Zanetti will continue his conversion into a left-back.

Probable Bayern team (4-4-2): Butt, Lahm, Demichelis, van Buyten, Badstuber, Altintop, Schweinsteiger, van Bommel, Robben, Olic, Muller.

Probable Inter team (4-2-3-1): Cesar, Maicon, Lucio, Samuel, Zanetti, Cambiasso, Muntari, Sneijder, Eto'o, Pandev, Milito.

Soccernet prediction: When the Mourinho factor is taken into account, Inter may be the ones to come away with the glory. It could be a tight affair though and don't rule out the chance of penalties to decide it.

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