Pep Guardiola’s move to Manchester City was a part of a mega-plan. Reports suggest that preparations for the Catalonian’s arrival began right after current CEO Ferran Soriano’s arrival from FC Barcelona. The motive: making Manchester City the biggest club in the world. It is a well-known fact that no club can gain that tag being […]
Pep Guardiola’s move to Manchester City was a part of a mega-plan. Reports suggest that preparations for the Catalonian’s arrival began right after current CEO Ferran Soriano’s arrival from FC Barcelona. The motive: making Manchester City the biggest club in the world. It is a well-known fact that no club can gain that tag being bereft of the Champions League.
It is safe to say that winning the UCL has been the objective of everyone associated with Manchester City. On the other hand, Chelsea FC has been a consistent figure as far as European footballing affairs are concerned. That being said, nobody expected the London outfit to go all the way to the final this year. But under German manager Thomas Tuchel, things have worked out better than ever. After outclassing the likes of Real Madrid and Atletico Madrid in the previous stages, Chelsea find themselves against Pep Guardiola’s formidable City side, whom they have beaten twice in recent weeks.
It’s the Champions League final: the most anticipated, and to its credit, hyped footballing fixture in the calendar year. As interesting as these games can get, dissecting the ingredients that make this clash a treat invites just as much fascination.
ROAD TO THE UCL FINAL
It won’t be an exaggeration to term Manchester City’s run to the final as flawless. Beating top-class European opposition in the form of Dortmund and PSG, City have earned their place as firm favourites to take the cup home. Phil Foden’s scintillating form, Mahrez’s goal scoring streak and Ruben Dias’s rock-solid defending, are but a few contributors to Pep’s success this season.
Chelsea too, have put up quality performances against both the Madrid outfits as well as Porto. In spite of not being the best team on many occasions, they’ve managed to carve out a win, an attribute that has long belonged to most title winners. Mason Mount and the famously ever-present Ngolo Kante are responsible for Chelsea’s continental success so far. Under the German manager, two of his compatriots have slowly regained form after a below-par season: Kai Havertz and Timo Werner.
Manchester City vs. PSG was considered as a final-before-final when both teams took the pitch at Parc des Princes back in April. After going back through an inch-perfect header by Marquinhos, City fought back by pressing high and getting dangerous balls into the box. That being said, they seemed to lack a finisher, an Aguero-esque player. However, as they’ve done multiple times this season, Manchester City adjusted. Ironically, Kevin de Bruyne’s goal was an attempted cross into the box. As they say, a goal is a goal. Uptil then, the game was quite alive on both sides. De Bruyne’s goal came in the form of just the confidence they needed, and City dominated the Parisians for the remaining half an hour, rewarded by a clever free-kick by Riyad Mahrez.
Another significant performance was that of Ruben Dias,who has been hailed as City’s best player this season. In the second leg vs PSG, Dias made multiple clearances, won aerial duels, making two match-saving blocks, incidentally off Ander Herrera. As desperate as the Les Parisiens were for a goal, their efforts through the likes of Neymar, Di Maria and Mbappe were cancelled out by Ruben Dias’s heroics.
Chelsea had to beat both: the La Liga champions and the runners up on their way to the final. In a game where both teams struggled to create many realistic chances, owing to exceptional defending and a lack of creativity, Chelsea came out on top via a Oliver Giroud bicycle kick. If it weren’t for this goal, this tie could’ve been anyone’s in the second leg, where the Blues outperformed Diego Simeone’s side.
Ngolo Kante’s showing against Real Madrid in the semi final was equally crucial. The French international showed exactly why he is regarded as a complete midfielder. The Frenchman is rightly praised to the rafters for his defensive nous and incredible stamina, but he’s also world-class in the final third these days. The legendary midfield trio of Kroos, Casemiro and Modric had no response to Kante’s brilliance, while the Real Madrid attackers waited for progressive balls to come their way, but to no avail.
It is worth noting that Chelsea beat Manchester City twice in a month. And while the 2-1 Premier League win might have offered few clues about whether they can make it a hat trick in the final, Thomas Tuchel’s side have made sure they go into European club football’s showpiece fixture with, at the very least, a mental edge. Be that as it may, neither team is in tidy form, with Chelsea having lost 3 of their last 5 games, while City have lost 2.
WHERE THE MATCH WILL BE WON OR LOST
Twenty-two world-class players that will take the pitch at the Estádio do Dragão on the 28th. Both teams have incredible depth, and they can rely on their bench to perform when they are called upon. These teams are coached by two of the most intelligent footballing minds in the world right now, and it is hard to say where the game will be won and lost.
That being said, these are the areas where the UCL Final could actually switch on:
1. Defence-Boon or Bane?
Thomas Tuchel’s Chelsea have been defensively solid. Rudiger, Silva and Azpilicueta (or James, Christensen ) have combined to make a reliable back three. Rarely conceding goals, a solid defense has been an integral part of their game plan as they look to build up play from the back. Pep Guardiola’s men on the other hand aren’t the same in terms of creativity as they were a couple of years ago. Pep will have to overcome the challenge of creating a massive amount of chances in order to gain the upperhand. Further, Thomas Tuchel is well-known for employing a conservative approach in cup finals, and he has an abysmal record in cup finals, winning only three out of the seven he has overseen.
2. Tactical aspects
Manchester City will look to play a 4-4-2 or a 4-3-3, and least likely but possibly 3-5-2. Chelsea have been confident going ahead with a 3-4-3 formation. Chelsea will probably try to take advantage of the space left between the midfield and defense by City’s pivots in transition, when one of Kante and Jorginho will look to play an intelligent pass to Mount or Ziyech who’ll drop down in space. An area where City could take advantage of is Phil Foden’s ability to play central when Zinchenko makes forward runs (like against PSG). Foden can tuck in to play as the second false 9, giving De Bruyne a lot of space to operate in. These are just a couple of situations where both teams will look to create chances and capitalise. With Pep Guardiola and Tuchel in the dugouts, this game would be better off on a chessboard than on a football turf.
3. Dearth of goals
Chelsea have struggled to score goals. Since Thomas Tuchel took over the job, they’ve scored more than two goals in a game only once. Pulisic and Mount have been the only two consistent attacking threats for the Blues, while the costly trio of Werner, Havertz and Ziyech are still trying to get back in form. This might pose a problem while going against the Premier League’s best defense. What Chelsea CAN do, however, is maintain possession, keep the ball moving, make intelligent passes down the wing and capitalise on them. City look to play a midblock instead of pressing higher up the field. Chelsea will aim to break this block using Kante and Mount’s all round brilliance from the pivot, Jorginho’s ball-retaining abilities.
4. Duels to watch-out for during the UCL Final:
- Over the course of the previous two games played between these two sides, a few duels have already been established. As is repeatedly said, Mason Mount has been Chelsea’s standout performer this season. He bagged a crucial goal against Real Madrid in the semi-final. As seen in the semi-final, Pep will look to nullify Mount’s threat via Rodri. This has been Rodri’s best season in the Manchester City shirt and he has stepped into Fernandinho’s role with ease. He should get the nod in the holding role, where he’ll look to stop Mount from running up-and-down the pitch or create space for the likes of Ngolo Kante and Jorginho.
- Kevin De Bruyne and Ngolo Kante are indeed the best in their trade. De Bruyne’s natural footballing ability will be put to test against Ngolo Kante’s incredible work-rate. Tuchel will turn to Kante-who he famously termed as a “big gift” to have- to stifle Kevin De Bruyne’s magic. Kante was left out of the Aston Villa game owing to a thigh injury, however he has returned to the training camp, giving Tuchel a huge sigh of relief.
- Antonio Rudiger will have an interesting match-up against Riyad Mahrez. Both of them have arguably been in their best form this season. Rudiger’s strong physicality has been backed by intelligent positional play under Tuchel. In the absence of a striker, Riyad Mahrez has taken the mantle of putting the ball in the back of the net. His left-foot could well direct City to their long awaited Champions League glory.
PREDICTED LINE-UPS FOR THE UCL FINAL
Manchester City: Ederson, Walker, Dias, Stones, Zinchenko, Gundogan, Rodri, Silva, Mahrez, Foden, De Bruyne (c)
Pep’s preference of Fernandinho for the big games is no secret. However, Pep will not want to reduce his attacking options against a defensively solid team such as Chelsea, especially during the UCL Final.
Chelsea: Kepa, Azpilicueta, Silva, Rudiger, Chillwell, Jorginho, Kante, Mount, Werner, Havertz,
Edouard Mendy has opened the goalkeeper spot for Kepa. Tuchel will have a tough time deciding between Jorginho and Kovacic to partner Kante in the midfield. Considering that Jorginho has regularly started the last three games for the Blues, it is likely that he’ll get the nod.
SC’s Prediction for the UCL Final
It might not be a goal-feast and definitely not one way traffic. But the UCL Final will be a treat to watch for any neutral fans. Two brilliant tacticians going against each other with incredibly experienced and talented players at their dispense. It will all boil down to who’s creating that moment of brilliance to get his team over the line.
The Champions League trophy is coming to England, but whether to Manchester or London, only time will decide. In my opinion, Manchester City will end their wait for a Champions League trophy, and there’ll be little to argue whether they deserve it.
Two trophies are already lying in Pep Guardiola’s sack, I doubt he’ll resist grabbing another one. Neither side is with an out-and-out striker, and it will be up to the defenses to deal with the opposition’s fluid attacks, an area City have been incredibly good at.
Our prediction for the UCL Final – 2-1 to City.