With the stage set, we got a brief UEFA Champions League preview of the Finals, and all that’s left to decide the best club in European football is a match between two of the best English teams this year: Chelsea and Manchester City. What surely will go down as a competitive and hard-fought game already has a number of storylines that’ll make it one of the most interesting Champions League finals in recent memory.
Recent restrictions on travel to Turkey by the United Kingdom due to rising cases of Covid-19 have put the location of the final in doubt. While the Union of European Football Associations (UEFA) has continued to advertise Istanbul as the location of the game, discussions between UEFA and England’s governing body of football, the Football Association(FA), on Monday, could lead to the match being played within England.
While England has played host to the match before, most recently in 2013 at Wembley Stadium, never has the matchup between two English clubs been contested in their home nation. While other possible locations are in play, including Lisbon, which hosted the Final last year in front of an empty stadium, an all-English final, possibly contested in front of an English crowd, is certainly an appealing option.
The managers who lead these two sides should also be looked at, especially for the history that could be made with either squad winning. Man City is led by Pep Guardiola, the Spaniard who has led the team since 2016, capturing the Premier League two seasons in a row from 2017 through 2019. No stranger to this stage in the Champions League, as manager of Barcelona from 2008 through 2012, he was able to lead them to two Champions League titles.
If City are able to secure the win, they would be the first English club since Manchester United in the 1998-1999 season to complete the treble, a feat in which a team is able to win their league, their domestic cup competition, and a continental cup competition. Guardiola has led City to victory already in the FA Cup and has all but formally secured the Premier League title. He certainly has the ability to lead this squad to European glory with a Champions League win.
Chelsea’s manager Thomas Tuchel is also no stranger to the biggest stage in European football. He was able to lead French squad Paris Saint-Germaine to the Champions League Final last season in a losing effort to German side Bayern 1-0. Tuchel came to manage Chelsea in January of this year, following the firing of former manager Frank Lampard due to a series of lackluster performances that saw Chelsea ninth in the table. In desperate need of a change in play for any hope of qualifying for Europe next season, Tuchel was appointed as manager.
Fast forward to today, Chelsea is very likely to qualify for the Champions League next season, are positioned third in the league, and playing in the Champions League final for the first time since 2012. Tuchel has been instrumental in this change of play and atmosphere for Chelsea, and to earn the highest achievement in Europe would surely be a deserving accomplishment for Tuchel and his squad.
Familiarity between Chelsea and Man City
Unlike most years of the Champions League, these two sides are very familiar with each other. They’ve faced each other three times, twice in Premier League action and once in the semi-finals of England’s domestic trophy, the FA Cup. While Manchester City has been dominant this season, Chelsea has proven trouble for them, taking two of the three matchups this season, the most recent, an exciting 2-1 victory for Chelsea in stoppage time to deny City from winning the league title for at least another week.
While the refereeing for the match was questionable, with a missed penalty call late in the second half that could’ve given City the lead, Chelsea was able to get more shots on target throughout the game. Both Chelsea wins against City this season have seen the Blues dominate in creating more scoring opportunities, putting pressure on the defenders and goalkeeper, and creating space for their attackers to find the net.
With these observations on the table, it only seems right to predict how the biggest match of the season could play out. City will likely come into this game with a fire that’ll emphasize an offensive tempo and look for them to get on the board first. Were it not for the failed Agüero penalty at the end of the first half, they would’ve been up 2-0 and likely have sealed the game. Were it not for the lack of a penalty call on defender Zouma on a sloppy challenge against City’s Raheem Sterling, City would have been up 2-1 late in the second half and would have had the opportunity to secure the win and the Premier League.
Guardiola’s squad utilized a 3-5-2 formation that one would imagine he’d keep for the Final, as it was able to put pressure on Chelsea’s defenders throughout the entirety of the first half and to keep it competitive throughout the second half. If City can replicate their form from that match, it would not be surprising to see a couple of goals hit their mark in the back of the net for City. As for Chelsea, under Tuchel, they have played a 3-4-3 in both of their matches against City, a 1-0 victory, and then the 2-1 victory this past Saturday.
Though this formation generally stresses maintaining possession, both matches have seen City have a slight advantage in that regard. Look for Chelsea to press the counter-attack, catching the City midfielders and defenders off guard and take what chances they can get in attacking the net and shooting. With the magnitude of such a game, look for the likes of Raheem Sterling and Timo Werner to perform in top form for their respective clubs. I expect a close match but don’t see extra time being necessary. I have Manchester City taking the match 3-2 and taking their first-ever Champions League crown and their first European cup win since 1970.