Champions League Final: A Game of Two Minds

A psychological analysis from Bayern’s perspective

Schweinsteiger brimming with positivity

25th April: Bastian Schweinsteiger steps up to the penalty spot to win the match for Bayern. He slams in the penalty, rips off his shirt, and marauds around the stadium with all of the aplomb of a conquering warrior. Fast forward over three weeks to exactly the same scenario. Schweinsteiger is again at the penalty spot, except this time he looks tense, he stumbles in his run up, approaching the ball as if it were an alien object. His half scuffed shot is hit with a huge degree of uncertainty, and Cech saves the effort. Schweinsteiger had feared the moment was coming, for he immediately regresses and tries to hide from the world inside his football shirt.

The question is, what had happened? Why had Schweinsteiger experienced such an epic transformation in mentality from one match to the next?

The Champions League Final of 2012 was memorable for many reasons, (Salomon Kalou’s spider haircut one of them) and the psychological battle was just as intriguing as the goals themselves. Here is a breakdown of the key pivotal moments from the match that may have swung the balance of power from Bayern to Chelsea.

Pre-match: Chelsea UP; Bayern UP/DOWN

The banner said it all. Unser Stadt, Unser Stadion, Unser Pokal. This was Bayern’s moment, they owned all the rights. But how does setting such a high bar of expectation affect the mindset of Bayern players? Well, pressure affects people in different ways. In any given situation, there is just as much opportunity to succeed, as there is to fail. The trouble with expectation is that it can warp this sense of balance.  High expectation tends to lead people to view the outcome of an event as less of an opportunity, and more of a necessity. Conversely, low expectation can have the opposite result, making individuals hungry without carrying the burden of responsibility if it all goes wrong.

These contrasting ideologies were typified by the language of the players themselves in the pre-match build up. Frank Lampard declared “Bring it on!” whereas Arjen Robben faced the task of fending off a full blown media conference, talking about the ins and outs of Chelsea’s recent run of form.

In the build up, then, it’s not always easy to spot who has the psychological advantage.

First 20 mins: Chelsea DOWN; Bayern UP

The match begins, and Bayern have all of the possession, bossing the Chelsea players around who try to counter attack with too much haste. A sense of anticipation builds for the home supporters, while similarly the away fans grow quiet. It looks like the match is going to follow the script.

21 mins: Chelsea UP; Bayern DOWN

Robben slithers into an opening and unleashes a shot that ricochets, first off Cech’s leg, then the edge of the post. It could have gone anywhere. Suddenly, Bayern begin to become frustrated. Their ample possession (64%) and better play is not being rewarded. Chelsea have had no shots on goal.

34 mins: Chelsea DOWN; Bayern waiting

A rare set piece for Chelsea, and Mata dispatches the free kick into the crowds. Bayern, although unsuccessful in their sallies so far, have no counter pressure to trouble them.

37 mins: Chelsea UP; Bayern DOWN

Immediately after just failing with another attempt, Bayern find themselves on the receiving end of a lightening Chelsea counter attack, ending with Kalou’s swerving shot at the near post. Suddenly the pressure mounts. Chelsea get a whiff of belief, Bayern are now weary of leaving themselves exposed.

39 mins: Chelsea UP; Bayern DOWN

Ribery’s sat nav goes haywire and he sends a shot across the face of the goal. Gomes duly mistimes and completes the clearance on behalf of the Chelsea defense. Frustration starting to turn to disbelief for the Bayern fans. One of these should surely have gone in?

42 mins: Chelsea UP; Bayern DOWN

That sense of disbelief is compounded when Gomes finds himself open in front of goal. Instead of hitting the expanse of goal in front of him, Gomes opts to send the ball towards Stuttgart instead.

Half-time: Chelsea UP; Bayern DOWN

Here is where we have a bit of a turning point, and it comes in the form of another one of those human psychological traits: fate. Fate is very important in sports psychology because it lessens the burden of responsibility. If fate has decided you will lose, then all of your failed efforts seem less pathetic. If it has decreed that you will win, then inspiration can be found and a self-fulfilling prophecy soon materialises. Whatever the opinions of the players themselves, it would be fair to assume that since Bayern had 16 goal attempts compared to Chelsea’s 2; 8 corners compared to Chelsea’s 0; Bayern would have felt that fate was starting to work against them, whereas Chelsea sense a very real chance to steal glory.

57 mins: Chelsea UP; Bayern DOWN

Remember that feeling of injustice that had been brewing in the first half, along with a mounting sense that “it wasn’t to be”? Well how about this for an emotion slapper – Ribbery scores only to have the goal disallowed for being off-side. All the pent up emotion in the stadium must remain bottled for that long awaited magic moment just a bit longer.

59 mins: Chelsea UP; Bayern DOWN

Robben, this time is denied through a sliding block from Ashley Cole. Chelsea perk up. Same scenario unravels on 70 mins as Luiz prevent Kroos.

83 mins: Chelsea DOWN; Bayern UP UP UP UP!

Ah, the moment has arrived, albeit a little clumsily. It doesn’t matter though. Muller looks as if he is about to spontaneously combust, and all the other Bayern players throw themselves on top of him to stop the fire from spreading. Game over.

88 mins Chelsea UP; Bayern DOWN DOWN

Time to roll out the beer and organise the home victory parade. What’s this? Chelsea have a corner, their first of the match? BOOM. Drogba levels. That wasn’t in the script.

Extra time

After such an emotionally draining few minutes, Bayern find themselves fighting for the title that they must have felt they had already won fifty times over. As the bodies tire with exhaustion, and players begin to drop like flies with cramping muscles, this now becomes a battle of psychology. What is the toll on the Bayern players? Well, Robben’s penalty perhaps summed up how such an intense match had fatigued their mental condition. Schweinsteiger chose not to watch, and even went so far as to join Neuer for company at the other end of the pitch. Robben meanwhile, hit an unconvincing shot, and was notably absent from the shoot-out that followed thereafter.It is worth noting that Neuer remained focussed during this moment, and throughout the rest of the night.

Penalties

Luiz’s thunderbolt turns the tide

First blood to Bayern, and at 2-0 up, there only seems to be one winner on the cards from here onwards. But then something strange happens. Luiz comes charging across the field in what looks set to be another Sergio Ramos moment, only for the ball to somehow stay within the boundaries of the goal. Amazing, Sideshow Bob has scored, and he has done so emphatically. And so the tide turns. Lampard and Cole rifle their penalties away with similar confidence, while Olic, capitulates. Could it happen? Could Chelsea really do this? In such a short space of time, enthusiasm of the Allianz arena turned to fear, and poor old Bastian had to shoulder it all, having just run over 15km and endured 120 minutes of emotional exhaustion.

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