The Champions of Europe for the 2020/21 season will be crowned on Saturday when Manchester City and Chelsea clash in the finals of the UEFA Champions League.
Curtains will officially fall on the 2020/21 season in Europe this weekend with the blockbuster event of the campaign, the finals of the UEFA Champions League, set to take place on Saturday night in Porto. It will be an all-English affair as Premier League champions Manchester City will square off against rivals Chelsea in the showpiece event at Estadio do Dragao.
It has been another magnificent season for Manchester City, who sailed through to the Premier League triumph after a stuttering start to the campaign, while Pep Guardiola & co. also won the Carabao Cup once again. As for their journey in the Champions League, the Cityzens cruised through the group stages, topping Group C without losing a single game (W5 D1).
Manchester City then eased past Borussia Monchengladbach (4-0 on aggregate) in the Round of 16 phase but were made to sweat a little by Borussia Dortmund in the quarter-final, although they prevailed 4-2 on aggregate. The semi-final stage saw Guardiola’s side overcome last season’s finalists Paris Saint-Germain in a tricky affair to reach their first-ever Champions League final.
Chelsea, meanwhile, have had an up-and-down season that saw them go through a difficult patch in the league only to mount an incredible recovery under new manager Thomas Tuchel who took over from Frank Lampard in January. The Blues did have had a few lows towards the end of the domestic campaign, most notably the FA Cup final defeat to Leicester City, while they also needed a favour from elsewhere to secure a top four finish.
But, in the Champions League, Chelsea have been top-notch throughout, winning Group E without a defeat, before dispatching Atletico Madrid 3-0 on aggregate in the Round of 16. The Londoners then saw off a stern challenge from FC Porto in the Last Eight stages before pulling off a sensational win over tournament favourites Real Madrid in the semi-final to set up a date with Manchester City.
The two teams have already met thrice this season, with Manchester City winning 3-1 in the first clash while Chelsea defeated the Cityzens in the subsequent two encounters – once in the FA Cup semi-final (1-0) and once more in the league earlier this month (2-1). Ahead of their latest and most important clash of the season, The Hard Tackle takes a closer look at this blockbuster contest.
Team News & Tactics
— Manchester City (@ManCity) May 27, 2021
Heading into this monumental clash, Manchester City have a clean bill of health, meaning Pep Guardiola can call upon all his players for the finals in Porto. The manager did not rotate heavily during the final league game of the season against Everton, which the Cityzens won 5-0 and there are unlikely to be a host of changes to the side that took the field against the Toffees.
Ederson Moraes, who won the Premier League Golden Glove for 2020/21, is a certainty to feature between the sticks while the rock-solid partnership of John Stones and Ruben Dias picks itself at the heart of the Manchester City defence.
Out wide, Kyle Walker has nailed down his spot at right-back while Joao Cancelo ought to get the nod over Oleksandr Zinchenko and Benjamin Mendy. The Portuguese will operate as a hybrid midfielder-cum-full-back, dropping into the middle of the park every now and then to add more bodies and lend defensive support to Rodri as they look to thwart Chelsea’s counter-attacking attempts.
Kevin De Bruyne is a certainty to feature, with the Belgian acting as the primary source of chance-creation for the Cityzens. Ilkay Gundogan should occupy the third midfield slot, with the German on the prowl to push forward and put the Chelsea defence under pressure. Riyad Mahrez is nailed down to start on the right-wing while Phil Foden should get the nod on the left given his form, meaning Raheem Sterling will miss out.
Guardiola, this term, has often preferred to operate without a natural striker and could follow a similar approach on Saturday with Bernardo Silva slotting in as the false-nine or even De Bruyne, with the Portuguese moving into midfield. Sergio Aguero and Gabriel Jesus will be options from the bench.
Probable Lineup (4-3-3): Ederson; Walker, Stones, Dias, Cancelo; De Bruyne, Rodri, Gundogan; Mahrez, Silva, Foden
Chelsea had been sweating over the fitness of key duo Edouard Mendy and N’Golo Kante heading into the blockbuster encounter on Saturday. However, much to Thomas Tuchel’s relief, the duo is fit and available for selection for the Champions League final, which will be a major boost to their chances in Portugal.
Tuchel, as has been the case since he took over, will set his team up in a 3-4-2-1 setup, with the fit-again Mendy guarding the goal. The German tactician has used Reece James in an unusual right-sided centre-back role of late but is likely to shift him back to his natural right wing-back slot, which in turn should allow captain Cesar Azplicueta to form the three-man backline along with Thiago Silva and Antonio Rudiger.
We're ready! 👌#UCLFinal
— Chelsea FC (@ChelseaFC) May 27, 2021
With Kante fit and available, the Frenchman becomes a shoo-in in the starting XI, with his energy and defensive nous set to come extremely handy for Chelsea in their attempts to stop City. He will be supported by Italian international Jorginho, with Mateo Kovacic offering an option from the bench. Ben Chilwell is a certainty to feature out on the left side ahead of Marcos Alonso and Emerson Palmieri.
Mason Mount is a guaranteed starter in one of the two attacking midfield slots. The England international will have a huge role to play if Chelsea are to stand a chance on Saturday. For the second spot, Hakim Ziyech could get the nod despite him not being a regular of late, owing to the fact that he has scored in the Blues’ both wins against Manchester City.
Timo Werner’s pace could be a major asset if Chelsea decide to play on the break, thus making him a likely starter as the centre-forward ahead of Kai Havertz and Olivier Giroud.
Probable Lineup (3-4-2-1): Mendy; Azpilicueta, Silva, Rudiger; James, Kante, Jorginho, Chilwell; Ziyech, Mount; Werner
- Manchester City are the ninth different English team to reach the finals of the European Cup/ UEFA Champions League, at least three more than any other nation (Germany and Italy, 6).
- In European competition, Chelsea and Manchester City’s only previous meetings came in the 1970/71 Cup Winners’ Cup semi-final – Chelsea won both legs 1-0 to progress to the final, where they beat Real Madrid after a replay.
- Chelsea are contesting their seventh major European final. The Blues’ only defeat in the previous six was in the Champions League final against Manchester United in 2008, decided by a penalty shootout.
- Manchester City have won 11 and drawn one of their 12 Champions League matches this season. One more victory would equal the all-time record of 12 in 17 by Real Madrid in 2001/02.
- Pep Guardiola has won 14 of his 15 cup finals when he has been in charge of a team. His only defeat was over 10 years ago against Jose Mourinho’s Real Madrid in the Spanish Cup final. However, in his entire managerial career, the Manchester City boss has lost more matches against Chelsea in all competitions than any other club (seven).
Player to Watch
Kevin De Bruyne
— Goal (@goal) May 28, 2021
A game of this magnitude with two teams full of world-class players means there are a number of choices for this section. The battle of the English talents in Mason Mount vs Phil Foden is sure to excite people while it will also be Sergio Aguero’s final game in Manchester City colours, making him another player to keep an eye out on. Ruben Dias, Thiago Silva will have key roles to play at the back for their respective teams as well.
However, we are going with Kevin De Bruyne as the main man to watch out for in this contest on Saturday. The 29-year-old is by far the best attacking midfielder in the game currently, which he again proved with a masterclass in the previous game against Everton. His ability to carve out defences with threaded passes or find teammates with whipped crosses make him a huge threat, not to forget the goal threat that he carries himself.
If De Bruyne is in the mood, then there is little stopping Manchester City going all the way. As for Chelsea, if they manage to keep him quiet and cut down his output on Saturday, it could go a long way in helping them lift the Champions League trophy.
Manchester City 2-1 Chelsea
Chelsea have defeated Manchester City twice in a short spell of time recently and there is absolutely no way one can count them out. However, the Blues’ form has dwindled of late, as seen by the recent defeats to Arsenal, Leicester City and Aston Villa, which meant they had to rely on help from elsewhere to hold on to their place in the top four.
While the Cityzens also stuttered a bit after their Premier League coronation was confirmed, they turned on the style against Everton last time out, showing what they are capable of, while also building up crucial momentum. It will be close at Estadio Do Dragao, but it is hard to see this one pan out any other way than a win for Pep Guardiola & co.
The Hard Tackle, thus, predicts Manchester City to win their first-ever UEFA Champions League trophy and round off a memorable campaign by completing a stunning treble.