The wait for the 2013 UEFA Champions League final is nearly over, with Borussia Dortmund and Bayern Munich set to square off for the title this weekend.
Both teams have been incredibly impressive in the European competition this season, and both boast a number of key players to watch out for this year. The likes of Robert Lewandowski, Mario Gotze, Franck Ribery, Arjen Robben and so many more will all take the field at Wembley Stadium this year, and it's completely understandable to think that it will be their performances that decide the final.
However, as we've seen before, it's often the under-the-radar players that make the biggest difference on the night—not the world-class stars that we expect.
Will the same be true in the Champions League final in 2013? I think so.
Read on to see which under-the-radar players will determine the title this year.
Kevin Großkreutz, Borussia Dortmund
Kevin Großkreutz wouldn't have been on many people's radars as a key player to watch in the Champions League final this year. After all, there were no guarantees that he would even start for the German giants against the reigning champions, but with Mario Gotze officially out of the final (per The Guardian), it seems Großkreutz will start out on the left flank (per Bundesliga.com).
And he could not be more important for Dortmund.
Bayern's right-hand side is particularly strong, and they will likely look to attack Dortmund from that side a great deal throughout the night. They'll look to use the likes of Philipp Lahm, Thomas Mueller, Arjen Robben or whoever else lines up out wide to pressure the Dortmund defense, and then switch the ball infield to Mario Mandžukić or Mario Gomez in attack.
As we've seen this year, it's been a highly successful tactic for Bayern.
Großkreutz must be on his game to counter that threat. And if he can, he has the potential to become a real X-factor going forward for Dortmund in this one.
He was not quite on the same page with Marco Reus in the semifinal against Real Madrid, but the pair were still very dangerous and created plenty of chances—something they'll no doubt look to do again in this one as they try to hurt the Bavarians on the counterattack.
Luiz Gustavo, Bayern Munich
Finding an under-the-radar player in Bayern Munich's star-studded squad really isn't an easy task. Yet if there's one man who doesn't get the recognition he deserves for his crucial role, it's defensive midfielder Luiz Gustavo, who will again play a very key role for Bayern in the final.
With so many attacking players ahead of him, Gustavo might seem like he has it relatively easy when attacking—however, that simply isn't the case against Dortmund.
Jurgen Klopp's side will heavily press Bayern's midfield and try to restrict them from bringing the ball out—which will start with Gustavo. If he can get through that pressing defense, then Bayern will be in a very strong position in their attack; but if not, it could bring lots of pressure on to the German giants.
Gustavo's importance is also the same when it comes to defense.
Jupp Heynckes will likely have his forwards do a lot of defensive work early to try and shut down the likes of Ilkay Gundogan in midfield. That could, in turn, mean that Gustavo becomes responsible for picking up Robert Lewandowski.
Obviously that onus will fall on to Dante and the other defenders at the team, but Gustavo will be the man responsible for breaking up the pass from getting to him in attack. And with Lewandowski in scintillating form this season, there's little doubting just how crucial Gustavo cutting off the Polish striker will be to Bayern's chances.
Roman Weidenfeller, Borussia Dortmund
Without Petr Cech last year, Chelsea would not have won the Champions League. And despite the fact that Borussia Dortmund have been much more attacking-minded this year than last year's champions, the same also rings true for their goalkeeper Roman Weidenfeller, whose performances so far have been crucial to their success in the European competition.
Bayern's Manuel Neuer might be the more reputable of the two shot-stoppers, but there's little doubting that Weidenfeller will be the more important of the two.
Especially against Bayern's attack and the slew of goal-scoring options that they have to choose from.
Weidenfeller made a number of key saves against Real Madrid and Malaga in the knockout rounds of the European tournament and will be expected to do the same here.
As we saw last year, it only takes one save to completely change the match, with Cech's saved penalty on Robben in extra time the biggest save of them all. Will Weidenfeller have a similar impact in the final this year? We'll no doubt know soon enough.
But, as Transfermarkt's statistics show, Weidenfeller's last saved penalty was against Bayern Munich. Even better—it came against Arjen Robben.
Some food for thought, perhaps.
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