By Oluwamayomikun Orekoya
Blue is the colour for this year’s Champions League final, as Manchester City and Chelsea board their flights to Porto seeking to end the strangest of seasons with the biggest prize of them all.
Pep Guardiola’s men advanced to the showpiece event after dumping Paris Saint-Germain out in the semi-finals, while all-time greats Real Madrid were no match for Thomas Tuchel’s Chelsea.
Manchester City have already sealed Premier League and EFL Cup titles this season but are competing in their first-ever Champions League final.
For Chelsea, they go in search of their second win in this competition, having made their third final since 2008.
A raucous 16,500-strong crowd will take their seats at the Estadio do Dragao the showpiece event, as City endeavour to win the tournament for the first time while their opponents aim to channel the spirits of the 2012 luminaries.
Barcelona, Bavaria, Manchester- Guardiola has conquered them all. On the European stage, however, the Catalan coach has flattered to deceive since taking control of the reins at the Etihad Stadium.
City’s dominance of the EFL Cup scene is unparalleled, their fifth Premier League title win was all but wrapped up a couple of months ago, and having tried and failed four times previously to break the quarter-final curse, Guardiola will finally lead his Sky Blues out for the Champions League final.
Despite taking their foot off the gas in the Premier League since the start of the month – which hardly mattered at all in the grand scheme of things – Guardiola’s men have been almost unplayable in Europe, with Borussia Monchengladbach, Borussia Dortmund and Paris Saint-Germain all falling victim to the Citizens’ superiority in the knockout rounds. After Riyad Mahrez’s intelligent free kick gave City a 2-1 first-leg advantage in their semi-final with PSG, the admirable Algerian was up to his old tricks once again in the second leg, netting in either half to secure a 4-1 aggregate triumph for Guardiola’s side en route to Portugal.
A goalless stalemate with Porto – whose stadium is hosting this year’s showpiece event amid never-ending coronavirus controversy – represents the only minor blip during City’s inspiring continental run, as they have secured victories in 11 of their 12 games in the tournament this year, including each of their last seven.
The astute acquisition of Ruben Dias and marked improvement of John Stones at the back has also led to City shipping a mere four goals in the 2020-21 Champions League – although three of those have come in their last four outings – and the Premier League champions signed off in style on the final day of the Premier League season at the weekend.
Indeed, Everton’s defence was breached at will by Guardiola’s merciless crop, who eased to a 5-0 success over the Toffees courtesy of strikes from Kevin De Bruyne, Phil Foden, Gabriel Jesus and record-breaker Sergio Aguero (two) in front of the returning Etihad faithful.
Guardiola’s name is already etched into managerial folklore, but having led Barcelona to Champions League triumphs in 2009 and 2011, he could join the elite crowd of Bob Paisley, Carlo Ancelotti and Zinedine Zidane with a third winners’ medal, and the 50-year-old needs no added incentive to get the job done in Portugal.
The City manager was born nearly nine months after the Sky Blues last added a European trophy to their glistening cabinet – the 1970 Cup Winners’ Cup – and with the prospect of a domestic and European treble still on the line, their familiar opponents must produce 90 minutes of near-perfection if they are to prolong City’s continental misery.
Like his adversary, Thomas Tuchel is a man who knows all about European heartache, having come so close yet so far with PSG last year, and one can only begin to imagine the stakes if the German was to come up against his former employers in the showpiece event. However, while the club that relieved him of his duties was being nullified by Man City’s impenetrable defence, Tuchel focused on the task at hand against perennial champions Real Madrid, whose talisman Karim Benzema rescued a 1-1 draw in the first leg of their semi-final following Christian Pulisic’s opener.
Even in the absence of the impassioned Stamford Bridge crowd, Chelsea did all of their talking on the pitch in the second leg as they secured a richly-deserved 2-0 success over Los Blancos, who first conceded to Timo Werner’s close-range effort before Chelsea’s Player of the Year Mason Mount made sure of the win on the 85-minute mark.
The stage is set for a blockbuster end to the season as we get to see two teams from England fight it out in Europe’s premier tournament as Manchester City take on Chelsea in the Champions League final today. These clubs have already met each other thrice this year but it was the Blues who emerged victorious in two of the three previous meetings. Pep Guardiola will want to turn that tide around (the Blues have taken the last two) and help his team win their first Champions League.
This match is going to be a tactically intriguing battle with two intelligent managers looking to outsmart the other. So which players will have the biggest say on the outcome of this momentous clash?
It’s almost a cliché to cite the Belgian Kevin De Bruyne as City’s key player, but it goes to show just how vital he is to this team. Not only is his passing a threat, but the playmaker is also capable of scoring and Chelsea will have to be wary of that.
During the time that Thomas Tuchel has been in charge of the Blues, he has made them defensively strong. This was seen in both his victories over City, where they didn’t give the Cityzens much room to attack. This is where the vision and talent of De Bruyne will come into play. Ahead of him there are going to be some pacey wingers in Riyad Mahrez and Raheem Sterling. If the midfielder can find them on a regular basis, Guardiola’s men will find it easier to get behind the Chelsea defence. He is certainly someone who can swing the match in City’s favour.
With N’Golo Kante a doubt for this game, there will be more responsibility on the Englishman’s shoulders. But as witnessed in the semi-final against Real Madrid, he is capable of handling the pressure. He scored the game winning goal, set-up beautifully by Christian Pulisic. The Anglo-American attacking alliance of Gen Zs will be key in this one.
What makes Mason Mount so dangerous is his ability to make driving runs through the defence. This is especially helpful when dealing with the opposition press. And with Chelsea’s propensity to hit teams on the counter, this skill becomes even more valuable.