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.
A raucous 16,500-strong crowd will take their seats at the Estadio do Dragao for Saturday’s 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 – Pep 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.
It can be argued that Tuchel is still finding his feet in English football after just six months in the role – which makes Chelsea’s run to the Champions League final all the more impressive – but unlike City, the capital side do not have the wind in their sails ahead of Saturday’s showdown.
Indeed, a 1-0 derby defeat to Arsenal on May 12 preceded an FA Cup final loss to Leicester City just a few days later, and despite gaining revenge on the Foxes in front of a roaring Stamford Bridge crowd, Chelsea’s season ended in disappointment with a lowly 2-1 defeat to Aston Villa on the final day of the Premier League campaign.
Three defeats from four before a continental final is not exactly a recipe for success, but thankfully for Tuchel and the ever-demanding Chelsea board, Leicester’s late defeat to Tottenham Hotspur means that the Blues secured fourth spot and a route into Europe’s premier competition should their efforts in Portugal prove futile.
Furthermore, Tuchel’s commitment to solid defensive foundations has seen the Blues also ship just four goals in their 12 Champions League games so far – although Frank Lampard can take some credit for that – and Porto’s inconsequential 1-0 win in the quarter-final second leg is their only defeat in the tournament this season.
With the demons of four consecutive last-16 finishes firmly banished, Chelsea’s trigger-happy hierarchy can surely look ahead to a bright future under Tuchel after his overwhelmingly successful time in the dugout, although the story could have panned out a lot differently had the Blues slipped out of the top four.
Nevertheless, having become the first manager in history to reach the Champions League final two years in a row with two different clubs, Tuchel will undoubtedly be desperate to go one better this time around.
However, whatever transpires over the course of 90 or 120 minutes – or even a 22-strike penalty shootout – at the Estadio do Dragao, one thing is for certain; the Champions League trophy will return home to English soil.
Manchester City Champions League form:
Manchester City form (all competitions):
Chelsea Champions League form:
Chelsea form (all competitions):