Neuer cautious but confident
He was the hero of the hour as Bayern Munich secured their golden ticket to a Champions League final on home soil with a thrilling penalty shoot-out win against Real Madrid at the Bernabeu, yet Manuel Neuer accepts the pressure will be on his side when they take on Chelsea this Saturday.
While the 'favourites' tag is firmly chained around the necks of every Bayern player, Neuer has warned that the visitors from West London will be a potent threat to their dreams of capturing the great prize in European club football in front of their own fans at the Allianz Arena.
How much of an advantage will playing on home soil give Bayern this weekend?
I'd be lying to suggest it does not make a difference. We're playing on our own pitch in an arena and we know intimately and the chances are that we'll have more supporters there. We don't have to travel miles by plane to the match and can make all our preparations in an environment we feel comfortable, so clearly this gives us a certain edge over Chelsea.
So do you follow the theory that overcoming a depleted Chelsea side should be an easier task than it was to find a route past Real Madrid in the last round?
Easier is the way I would describe it. We realise that it will be anything but straightforward against Chelsea because they have not got this far in the Champions League by accident. Any team that knocks out Barcelona has to be respected and the Chelsea players must feel that they can do no wrong at the moment. After beating Barcelona against all the odds, they will be saying to themselves that their name is on the Cup.
Were you surprised to see Chelsea beat Barcelona?
I was shocked. Everybody has got used to Barca wiping the floor with the opposition, but they seemed to run out of ideas in that semi-final. Chelsea rode their luck a little in both legs, but what you can't deny is the effort they put in, their courage, their physical strength, their great organisation and the clinical way they took their chances. Some of Chelsea's older players had been written off, but here was the reply from Drogba, Lampard, Cech and Cole. They were on a mission and sadly for Barcelona, it was not their day.
Do you think Chelsea will employ with the same defensive game plan in the final?
It is best for us to be open-minded on this subject. It could be that Chelsea will stick to what worked against Barcelona - sitting back in numbers and looking to use the ability of Drogba and Mata on the counter. Another part of me wonders if Chelsea might try to surprise us and force the issue. English sides aren't normally lacking in belief and anyway Chelsea are not exactly a team of amateurs. They have as many big name players as any team in Europe.
Both sides have several key players suspended on Saturday, so are UEFA's disciplinary rules a little too harsh?
This is not for me to judge. All I can say is it's a real shame that both teams have been decimated by bans. I feel for those guys who've been doing their bit all season and then all of a sudden are deprived of their big moment. Both ourselves and Chelsea have to reshape our back fours and naturally a final is not the best time to have to do that, as we all know you have to get it right defensively in these big games. Who adapts the best to the new situation will be on the road to victory.
Would you fancy another penalty shoot-out to decide this final?
Why not? I have a good record in shoot-outs. In such moments I'm always confident of making at least a couple of stops; I always feel the taker is under more strain. Worrying is the kicker's job as he's expected to score, while I have nothing to lose.
Is it fair to say Bayern are overdue another success in the Champions League?
Hopefully the wait is not so long now. Bayern are a club where success is demanded and second place isn't particularly appreciated. We have a history and culture to respect. This is a club that has won several European titles and there's been a long wait since the last one (2001). We have the chance to write history and will do everything we possibly can to make it happen.
Have you been dreaming of a Champions League final in Munich right from the start of the campaign?
Personally, no. At the start of the season, I didn't even rate us among the main contenders for the competition. Barcelona, Real Madrid and Manchester United looked like the ones to beat, but we have grown in confidence and effectiveness through the competition and although we needed penalties to beat Real in the semi-final, I think we were the better team over the two legs. It took guts to fight back at the Bernabeu after going two goals down early on. We showed character, we were focused and went on to regain control and it was a huge achievement for us to come through.
For the second season, Bayern have lost out to Borussia Dortmund in the race for the Bundesliga. Will victory in the Champions League make up for domestic disappointment?
Yes and no. Winning the Champions League would be wonderful, absolutely incredible, we'd be in heaven. However, I'm not sure if it will gloss over the fact that we are currently not the best in the Bundesliga. Bayern's first mission has to be to stay ahead of the field in Germany. As impressive as Dortmund are, we're saddened to have come up short. Now we must look to to next season.
Finally back to this weekend, why do you believe it will be Bayern's turn to lift the Champions League trophy once more?
We're hungry and we're at home. They are two good reasons and we should not look on the home advantage as a burden that brings extra expectation. The key is to look at this match as a privilege and an honour, not a burden. We have the opportunity to win the Champions League at the ground we call home and there could no better script for us. If we come out on top, the celebrations will be spectacular.