The climax to the biggest tournament in club football takes place on Saturday, with Premier League champions Manchester City meeting Chelsea in the Champions league final. Pep Guardiola is looking to secure City’s third trophy of the season and second treble in three years, while Chelsea are aiming to get some silverware from a tumultuous and slightly disappointing season.
This all-English final sees two managers in Thomas Tuchel and Pep Guardiola hoping to win the highest honour in club football and, whatever the outcome, the result will be something of a first. City have never won the competition, and after becoming one of the leading names in world football as a result of hefty investment, this could be their year.
If Chelsea were to lift the trophy, something they achieved for the first and only time in 2012, it would be the first time in Tuchel’s managerial career that he has ever got his hands on a winners medal. Tuchel has revitalised Chelsea after the sacking of club legend Frank Lampard and will be trying to avoid a repeat of last year’s final, where his Paris Saint-Germain side were beaten by Bayern Munich.
The match is set to take place at the Estádio do Dragão in Porto, having been moved from Istanbul’s Atatürk Stadium due to Turkey being placed on Britain’s Covid ‘red list’. To the delight of both clubs, this move allows 6,000 spectators from each side to attend.
Chelsea have gotten the better of City in their recent encounters, beating them twice already this season. However, when making predictions for the final, it is impossible not to consider the league position and current form of the teams. Chelsea will play the Champions of a competition in which they themselves finished fourth and narrowly avoided missing out on Champions League qualification for next season.
Conversely, on the final day of the Premier League season City hammered tenth place Everton 5-0 in a game which saw them arrive at the Etihad already as Champions. Chelsea, meanwhile, fell to a miserable 2-1 defeat to Aston Villa at Villa Park, showing worrying signs of being rusty before the biggest game of the season.
Spectators will see a full-strength City side, with Guardiola’s selection not being hampered by any injuries or suspensions. The in-form İlkay Gündoğan has been cleared to play despite doubts and João Cancelo returns from suspension.
Tuchel has a slightly more challenging job, with goalkeeper Edouard Mendy doubtful after injuring his ribs on the final day of the Premier League season. World cup winner and footballs nicest man, N’golo Kante, is also doubtful due to a hamstring injury.
Should Mendy and Kante not be deemed fit to play, Chelsea would undoubtedly miss them, and with an attack like City’s they will need all the defensive help they can get. Fortunately, captain César Azpilicueta will be allowed to play despite receiving a red card in the dying minutes of their final day loss to Villa, as European games do not enforce domestic suspensions.
The final will be an emotional one for City fans, as it will be talismanic striker Sergio Agüero’s final game in the sky-blue jersey which he has made iconic. Agüero holds the record for the most goals for a single team and has created so many iconic moments for City, helping transform a team that once lost 8-1 to Middlesbrough into one of football’s biggest powers; English football will undoubtedly miss him.
The 32-year-old is unlikely to start the game despite scoring a brace against Everton, as Guardiola is hardly one for allowing sentimentality to slip into his team selection. However, I’m sure the footballing world would love to see him play his final minutes in English football.
Whether Agüero plays or not, City are understandably favorites to leave Porto victorious. The form of Guardiola’s side and the strength of their star players cannot be ignored. Chelsea, of course, are underdogs but they do have the ability to cause City some serious concern. Tuchel has whipped an underperforming side into genuine contenders for the greatest honour an English team can achieve, and a side which has gotten the better of favourites City twice already.
Regardless of the result, the final is always a good game for the neutral and has all the makings of a fantastic warm up for the Euros this summer.
Image: Zero via Creative Commons