Written by Arjit & Daniel
Ok Football Aficionados ! Let’s Discuss Football ! Let’s Talk Some Champions League !
UEFA Champions League 2020/21
It’s that time of the year again. The biggest spectacle in European football. The day that’s carefully earmarked in the calendars of football fans around the world isn’t far away now. The stage is all set at the ‘Estádio do Dragão’ for a titanic showdown between the two best teams in Europe this season, a special European night under the lights in the ‘UEFA Champions League’. On 29th May 2021, it will be an all-English affair as Chelsea and Manchester City will fight for the prestigious ‘two ear trophy’ and the right to be called ‘the king of European football’. As always, it’s been full of entertainment and will come to a close in the best possible way, with the two best teams remaining in the tournament facing each other for the famous throne. City will be looking for their first-ever UEFA Champions League trophy whereas Chelsea will be looking to repeat their heroics of 2012 when they beat the competition favorites Bayern Munich. As neutrals, we should be excited at the prospect of an open entertaining game of football with both managers known for their attacking tactics. Must be a great watch and we can’t wait.
Without much further ado, let’s dive right into the 2020/21 UEFA Champions League final preview.
Current Form — WLLWL
Road To The UCL Final
Chelsea topped their group ahead of Sevilla, Krasnodar, and Rennes. They went unbeaten in the process under former manager Frank Lampard. The Blues were then handed a tough draw to negotiate against the notoriously stubborn Atletico Madrid. By this time, a coaching change had been made as Lampard was sacked and replaced by the former PSG manager Thomas Tuchel, who had himself been dismissed earlier following the French club’s defeat at the hands of Bayern Munich in the previous season’s Champions League final. Despite the daunting task, Tuchel guided Chelsea to a rather comfortable aggregate victory (3-0) over Simeone’s side. The quarter-final draw was more straightforward as Chelsea disposed of Porto (2-1) for a place against 14 times European champions Real Madrid in the semi-finals. After a first-leg draw, Chelsea turned on the style at home to beat Zidane’s team (3-1), a hugely impressive win for the Blues, and a ticket to the final.
Current Form — WLWLW
Road To The UCL Final
Manchester City continued to ride their luck with the draw as the Cityzens were once again handed a pretty straightforward group to negotiate with. As expected, Guardiola’s side went unbeaten and topped the group ahead of Porto, Olympiacos, and Marseille. In the next round, City faced Borussia Mönchengladbach, a tricky opponent on evidence of their superb domestic campaign under Marco Rose. Despite some early nerves in both legs, City cruised to a comfortable aggregate victory (4-0) over the Germans. In the quarter-finals, City faced yet another German litmus test, this time against Borussia Dortmund. Despite the late scare by the Germans at Signal Iduna Park in the second leg, the Cityzens prevailed on aggregate (4-2), booking a place in the semi-finals against the previous season’s finalists PSG. Guardiola facing an old foe in Mauricio Pochettino, an interesting storyline in the tie. In the end, PSG proved to be their own worst enemies with two costly red cards, with City taking full advantage and running out winners (4-1) in the tie, making the final in pursuit of their first-ever Champions League trophy.
Tuchel Vs Guardiola
Thomas Tuchel and Pep Guardiola are widely recognized amongst the best managers of the modern era. The ‘tiki-take perfectionist’ Guardiola almost reinvented the modern game with his all-conquering Barcelona side, which also proved a huge catalyst behind Spain’s domination at the international stage. The ‘meticulous tactician’ Tuchel has also come to the fore recently, rising from the shadow of his predecessor Jürgen Klopp at both Mainz and Borussia Dortmund. The German has since managed 2 back to back finals, aiming to avenge last year’s disappointment with a sweet victory this time. Both managers are tactically astute and vastly experienced at the top level of European football, which will surely make for an interesting watch as 2 brilliant teams vie for the most coveted club trophy at the European stage. Only one can win the final, yet an enthralling battle awaits us nonetheless.
Guardiola has typically fielded a fluid and dynamic (4-3-3) which can easily transform into (4-4-2) or (4-2-3-1) based on the opponent as well as game situations. This makes City pretty unpredictable in the way they approach the match. Guardiola likes to condense the middle with inverted full backs, leaving more space to maneuver for the forwards with more 1v1 situations as close to the opposition goal as possible. Foden, Mahrez, Bernardo Silva, and De Bruyne interchange positions in forwards areas which makes them difficult to mark for the opposition. One of Rodri or Fernandinho will sit in front of the defense, which affords Gündoğan the license to make darting runs in the penalty area. Ederson acts as an added weapon with his remarkable distribution to release the forwards, designed to catch opposition off-guard in certain moments. Guardiola has found the perfect balance in the squad, benching Agüero in favor of a fluid and dynamic frontline perfectly capable of breaking down the opponent in different ways. However, there’s a chink in the armor in the form of a very high defensive line which could leave them exposed to Chelsea’s quick counter-attacks. A little wrinkle to work out for Guardiola on the training field as City prepare for a historic European final.
Tuchel has typically deployed a solid and flexible (3-5-2) which transforms into (3-4-2-1) or (3-4-1-2) depending upon the opponent as well as match situations. It’s fair to say that the German tactician has changed the Blues’ fortunes since taking over the reins from Frank Lampard mid-season. He’s proven a natural fit for the West London club at a delicate time and helped them seal an automatic Champions League qualification via 4th place finish in the league. Under Tuchel’s tutelage, Chelsea have become a formidable force with a clear identity based around high intensity and aggression with and without possession. The Blues normally line up with a back 3 with the veteran Thiago Silva in the middle flanked by Rüdiger and Christensen on either side to cover the half-spaces vacated by the 2 advancing wing-backs in Azpilicueta and Chilwell. The tireless Kante sweeps up everything in the middle partnered by either one of Jorginho or Kovačić. Mount and Havertz rotate behind Werner for a dynamic front 3, Mount playing as a connecting midfielder with Havertz joining Werner in advanced positions. Tuchel likes quick transitions with precise combination play to exploit 1v1 situations in wide areas. Chelsea’s Achilles’ heel being low ‘xA’ and ‘xG’ from open play.
Kante Vs De Bruyne
The most important duel that might just decide the outcome of the match. City’s play revolves around the ‘passing maestro’ De Bruyne whilst Kante’s predominant role in Chelsea rests on breaking up opposition’s rhythm with his exceptional ‘positional play and defensive acumen’. It’s not a secret to anybody that De Bruyne makes City tick with his superb vision and passing range, and that’s evident by the staggering amounts of assists the Belgian racks up each season. He’s capable of threading the pass through a needle as we say and that’s the key to City unlocking Chelsea’s stubborn defense. Chelsea must be particularly wary of the Belgian’s first-time pass disguised like a cross that perfectly lands at the feet of the forward. N’Golo Kante is as important to Chelsea but in a very different way. The Frenchman holds down the fort in the middle of the field almost single-handedly. He has an engine that never tires with an uncanny ability to cover spaces and sweep all over the pitch. The French destroyer acts as a security blanket for his side, paving the way for his teammates to showcase their attacking talents. He will be handed the difficult task of nullifying De Bruyne’s threat on the ball and at the same time launch Chelsea counter-attacks with simple yet quick passes to the forward line. An absorbing battle between two very different players and one that might just end up deciding the outcome of the game.
Mount Vs Gündoğan
A pivotal duel between two ‘space orchestrators’ for their respective sides. This isn’t the case where one player must neutralize the other’s threat but rather two superb players with identical skillsets for either team and who impacts the match in a more meaningful manner to propel his team to the ultimate glory. Gündoğan has been remarkable this season, often picking up the slack in De Bruyne’s absence. The German possesses the superb vision, intelligence, and spatial awareness to break opposition lines which creates space for his teammates to exploit in dangerous attacking zones. This can often be the difference between a (0-0) and (1-0) scoreline. The German also combines quality with quantity as evident by his 20 goal contributions in all competitions this season. Mount is a similar player for Chelsea as he often manufactures space for his teammates and keeps everybody ticking. The England international also has a knack for making well-timed runs into the box to score important goals when the team needs most. He’s been a ‘go-to’ player for Tuchel as evident by his 9 goals and 6 assists this season.
Foden Vs Azpilicueta
An intriguing contest, the youthful exuberance of Foden against the vastly experienced Azpilicueta. Foden is the undoubted ‘jewel’ of English football courtesy of his spectacular displays, particularly in the Champions League. The young English prodigy seems to be in the form of his life and enjoying his football under the tutelage of Guardiola. His vision, dribbling, and close control that allows him to wriggle out of tight spaces have added a different dimension to City’s play. He’s found perfect harmony with fellow attackers in Mahrez, De Bruyne, and Bernardo Silva, collectively causing chaos in the opposition’s half with their chemistry and movement. Azpilicueta has been a loyal servant for Chelsea for many years now. He’s been the club captain and a constant presence at the back despite the carousel of coaches under Roman Abramovich over the years. The Spaniard has a fantastic positional sense and great ability in 1v1 defending. Although he isn’t the threat going forward as he used to be in his younger days, Tuchel will still trust him to shadow Foden for much of the game and prevent him from having a major influence. Given his experience, Azpilicueta will surely relish the challenge.
ONES TO WATCH
The Algerian has been the clutch and standout player for Guardiola’s team this campaign, especially in the Champions League knockout rounds. He’s regularly scored either equalizing or match-winning strikes for the Cityzens which has been pivotal in them securing a place in the Champions League final. Goals win games and the Algerian wizard has been scoring plenty of them recently with 4 goals and 8 assists across all competitions. Guardiola has further improved Mahrez from his Leicester City days in terms of being more tactically mature and decisive in front of goal. On top of that, Mahrez has the uncanny ability to glide past his opponents with ease and that will be a concern for Tuchel’s Chelsea. Mahrez possesses great mastery in 1v1 situations by drawing the opponents towards him only to beat them within seconds with his quick feet and mesmerizing dribbling ability. Mahrez is a dangerous weapon for Guardiola and there’s no better stage than the final in the Champions League for him to finally showcase his prodigious talent.
The former RB Leipzig striker has been a real paradox for the west London club ever since making the move from Germany. The forward’s athleticism and direct running at an incredible pace make him a massive threat to the opposition yet his indecision, poor first touch, and wastefulness in front of the goal make him a liability at times for his own team. Nonetheless, Guardiola will be wary of the striker’s ability to stretch defenses via running in behind which can open up spaces for other players like Mount, Havertz, and Pulisic to exploit. The German has been a hit and miss for the majority of his first season in England, but the threat still remains, and Dias and Co. may need to be careful in dealing with such a pacy and tricky customer. Werner may not be great with the holdup play like Giroud but he possesses many other qualities which can benefit Chelsea, especially in transition and on the counter-attack. Tuchel hasn’t been able to maximize the potential of Werner quite yet, but that could well be about to change on the biggest European stage.
FULL TIME REMARKS
The UEFA Champions League final. We all look forward to it every year with great eagerness and enthusiasm. This year’s an all-English final, and that’s even more exciting considering the fact that Chelsea and Manchester City have been the most dominant English sides in the last decade. It promises to be a final of great quality and intensity as discussed in the preview. We have two sets of players brimming with quality, coached by two marvelous managers of the modern game. normally, these kinds of games can be a bit cagey to start with as the two teams feel each other out, but this one might be a full-throttle affair from the very get-go considering the attack-minded approach of both teams. There will be important duels across the pitch as discussed already and these might as well decide the match as the margin for error is not much. It’s a matter of a strong offense going up against a strong defense. Players like De Bruyne, Mahrez, and Foden for City, whilst Kante, Mount, and Werner for Chelsea will be the ones to unlock the game in all probability. The 3 man defense versus a conventional 4 man defense will be another interesting tactical battle. Guardiola is a purist and likes to play his normal passing game, and so it will most likely be Tuchel who will need to adjust his tactics to counter City’s threat. Guardiola’s side will play their normal possession style while Chelsea might have to defend patiently and take their chances on the counter. Both sets of fans might be nervous, but as for us neutrals, it has all the makings of an amazing European final.
Chelsea Starting XI ( 3 – 4 – 2 – 1 )
E. Mendy, A. Christensen, T. Silva, A. Rüdiger, C. Azpilicueta, B. Chilwell, Jorginho, N. Kante, M. Mount, C. Pulisic, T. Werner
Manchester City Starting XI ( 4 – 3 – 3 )
Ederson, K. Walker, J. Stones, R. Dias, O. Zinchenko, B. Silva, Fernandinho, I. Gündoğan, R. Mahrez, K. De Bruyne, P. Foden