Chelsea’s Champions League lifeline was under threat as far back November 23rd, when the concession of two late goals resulted in a 2-1 loss to Bayer Leverkusen at the BayArena.
Defeat in Germany, which came in the Blues’ penultimate group game, put their qualification for the knock-out stages – and the future of then-manager Andre Villas-Boas – very much in the balance.
So had a survey been conducted ahead of Chelsea’s final Group E match, a tricky-looking home tie against Valencia in which defeat was not an option, it is unlikely that even the most die-hard season ticket holder from the Shed End would have backed the Blues to make a return to Germany for the Champions League final on May 19th.
It was a similar story in the last 16, when a 3-1 first leg defeat to Napoli in Italy had the Blues on the ropes once more; how many people would have bet on Chelsea to reach the next round, never mind the final?
Chelsea’s Champions League campaign has been like playing Rafael Nadal on the clay courts of Roland Garros – just when you think you have the Spaniard beaten, he not only retrieves what looks to be an unreturnable winner but puts it back in play with interest.
They looked defensively inept in Naples and not much better going forward, either – Chelsea were, it seemed, hooked up to a Champions League life support machine and Dr Platini, with the help of interns Edinson Cavani and Ezequiel Lavezzi, was about to pull out the plug.
Then of course there is the semi-final. The draw was enough for most people to write off Chelsea’s chances. A man down at Camp Nou, facing the best player in the world and possibly the best team in history, and their prospects were almost non-existent.
Nevertheless, it was Chelsea who made it through and not Barca, although the Blues will have to put in one final, against-the-odds performance to lift the trophy owner Roman Abramovich covets so greatly on Saturday.
The Blues go into the game as 17/10 outsiders to win the cup, with opponents Bayern Munich odds-on favourites at 9/20.
In bwin’s 3Way football betting market, Bayern are 83/100 favourites to win in normal time, the draw is at 3/1 and a Chelsea win in 90 minutes is at 14/5.
Bayern’s passage to the final has been far less dramatic than Chelsea’s.
Fuelled by a desire to appear in a final held at their own ground, the Allianz Arena, the Germans navigated their way out of a group which included Manchester City and Napoli with a minimum of fuss and, a wobble away to Basel aside, progressed to the semi-final stage without drama.
As was the case with Chelsea, Bayern’s sternest test came in the last four, where they were up against much-fancied Real Madrid.
But unlike the Blues, the Bavarians never seriously looked to be in danger of missing out on a place in the final, with even the penalty shoot-out swinging in their favour early on.
The difference between the two teams, then, is that while Chelsea’s passage to the final has been a triumph over adversity, Bayern’s campaign has served to showcase their star quality.
Against this back-drop, and with home advantage, the Champions League is surely Bayern’s to lose.
But to use a tennis analogy, Chelsea’s Champions League campaign has been like playing Rafael Nadal on the clay courts of Roland Garros – just when you think you have the Spaniard beaten, he not only retrieves what looks to be an unreturnable winner but puts it back in play with interest.
So it has proved with Chelsea – perversely, it is when they are near defeat that they are at their best, and they have proved throughout their European campaign that you should write them off at their peril.
And while Chelsea will be short of several key players through suspension for the final, the same could be said for Bayern.
The Germans have also shown signs of weakness of late, not least in losing 5-2 in the German Cup final to Borussia Dortmund.
With this in mind, odds of 14/5 on a Chelsea win in normal time appear to underplay the Blues’ chances of success.
And with a successful £25 free bet on Chelsea winning in 90 minutes in normal time set to return £95, it could yet be worth backing the Blues to overcome adversity once more and claim an unlikely first Champions League title.
New customers can register here to claim a free £25 bet or click here to see all our Champions League odds.
Follow us on Twitter @bwinbetting