After what were, in truth, two fairly straightforward semi-final victories, the Champions League final on May 29th will be contested between Manchester City and Chelsea in an all-English affair at the Ataturk Stadium in Istanbul.
Manchester City have reached the final for the first time in their history following a 4-1 aggregate win over Paris Saint-Germain, with manager Pep Guardiola aiming to add to the two titles he won previously as manager of Barcelona in 2009 and 2011.
After beating Real Madrid 3-1 over two legs, Chelsea are aiming for their second Champions League crown following their dramatic 2012 win in Munich but very much go in as the underdog against a City side that have been rampant both at home and in Europe this season.
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With the Premier League all but secured and the League Cup already in the bag, Guardiola is aiming to top the season off with arguably the biggest prize of them all.
But Blues boss Thomas Tuchel, who only arrived at the club in January, is performing well above expectations, also leading his side to the FA Cup Final – beating City in the semis.
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Looking ahead to the huge match, Dotun Abijoh, Justin Cole and Deji Odedina from The Beautiful Game Podcast are not convinced that City will have it all their own way and think Tuchel is well placed to spoil their celebrations in Turkey.
“We have to give Tuchel credit because he’s done excellently so far,” said Abijoh. “We saw Frank Lampard’s team concede a lorry load of goals. The match will be a tight cagey affair. Both managers will stick to their principles, they’ll both try and press the game and manipulate possession but I think Tuchel may have the secret to worry Guardiola and Guardiola will be wary of that.
Chelsea have lost just twice in Tuchel’s 24 matches in all competitions since his arrival at Stamford Bridge, flying up the Premier League table and looking good for a top four finish, as well as an unexpected cup double.
The only side who have amassed more points in the league since Tuchel’s appointment are City, who could secure the title against Chelsea in their next match, the potential dress rehearsal for the final.
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City’s main concern however will be the Champions League which has thus far eluded them to this point. For Guardiola, undoubtedly a managerial great, his decade-long wait to get his hands on the trophy again has led to a lot of unfair scrutiny on him according to Odedina.
“This isn’t ‘last chance saloon’ but he will not have a better opportunity to do this. He’s come to England and conquered everything, and this is like the final black mark against his name for City.
People have been saying he can only win the Champions League with Messi, and he’s managed great Bayern Munich sides. This will mean a lot to him."
Cole agrees that going in as favourites, the pressure is on Pep and City to deliver and the absence of that pressure for Chelsea, will allow them to perhaps approach the game with a more focused frame of mind which they will benefit from.
“Pep can finally wave off that hoodoo of not winning it without Messi and It would be a lovely send off for Aguero but my gut feeling is that Chelsea will do it. Tuchel has a secret ingredient. The chances of Pep over-thinking things is still there. I can see him trying to be too technical and trying to manage the game a bit too much which will ultimately be his undoing.
“The onus and the pressure is on City. For Chelsea, Tuchel has overachieved, he wasn’t expected to reach a Champions League final. He’s turned around the club’s fortunes in a short time. There’s no real pressure on them and all those components make it likely that they might just edge it.
Odedina concurred: “Tuchel isn’t expected to win, he can come again. He’s got a project going on and if he was to win it now, that sort of puts pressure on the rest of his reign. Pep needs to win it.”
The last all-English final in 2019 saw Liverpool beat Tottenham 2-0 in Madrid to lift the trophy for a sixth time.
On that occasion, the Reds were overwhelming favourites, while Spurs came into the game as underdogs but did little to cast off that tag over the 90 minutes.
Abijoh doesn’t expect this year’s final to follow a similar pattern with Chelsea set to show more fight than their London rivals did.
“Going back to Liverpool v Tottenham, I never thought Tottenham were capable of winning the Champions League. Their final was that historic game against Ajax. For Chelsea, it’s different.
They may not be as good as City, but I get that Rafa Benitez feeling about Tuchel. He’s going to be pragmatic, he’s going there to pull off a shock and I think he may do it."
'PSG almost looked like they were playing Sunday League football'
Elsewhere, the panel were disappointed by the poor showings from the beaten semi-finalists, with both PSG and Real coming in for criticism for the way they were dumped out of the competition.
After Riyad Mahrez had put the tie beyond doubt, the French side resorted to trying to kick their opponents off the pitch with Angel Di Maria even receiving a red card for a stamp on Fernandinho.
“PSG completely lost their minds in the second half. Ill-disciplined, terrible tackles, Di Maria’s red card,” said Abijoh.
“They almost looked like they were playing Sunday League football, they completely snapped.
It begs the question as to whether [Mauricio] Pochettino has been found out as a manager. He was brought in to win the Champions League and they look further away than ever.
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With their tie poised at 1-1 ahead of the second leg at Stamford Bridge, Real Madrid had an opportunity to progress to yet another final but barely got going as Chelsea eased to a comfortable 2-0 win.
Odedina was far from impressed by what he saw from Zidane’s team.
“How are you going to win the game? You’ve got [Sergio] Ramos, Marcello, [Toni] Kroos, [Luka] Modric – players who will be in football’s hall of fame - but other than that you’ve got mis-match of average-ness and they were just waiting to be put out of their misery in that second half.
“It didn’t feel like a Champions League semi-final. If not for poor finishing, Chelsea could have won this 5 or 6-0.”
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