A tactical confrontation of epic proportions lies in store tonight when Chelsea face Manchester City at Porto’s Estadio do Dragao for the right to be crowned European champions. It is the third all English Champions League final after Manchester United v Chelsea in 2008 and Liverpool v Spurs in 2019. Stamford Bridge supremo Thomas Tuchel and Etihad Stadium football alchemist Pep Guardiola are known to frequently exchange football notes, having first established discourse in 2008 when both were still cutting their coaching teeth at Mainz and Barcelona. Guardiola has since established himself as a leading mind within the game by winning nine of the last thirteen domestic titles in Catalonia, Bavaria and Manchester.
Although Tuchel only has two French Ligue One titles from his time at Paris Saint Germain, he has won admirers by guiding the Parisian moneybags and Chelsea to Champions League finals in consecutive seasons. Notably, the former Borussia Dortmund coach has already beaten Manchester City twice this season; derailing Pep’s quadruple dream 1-0 in the FA Cup and edging the Premier League champions 2-1 during the season’s home straight. In both games, Guardiola rested key players, so the results have scant bearing on what fans can expect in Portugal tonight.
Chelsea have reported no fresh injury concerns after midfield dynamo Ngolo Kante and keeper Edouard Mendy both shook off minor niggles while treble chasing City’s Ilkay Gundogan suffered an injury scare following a collision with captain Fernandinho. Germany international Gundogan is as vital a cog in the 4-6-0 striker-less formation favoured by Guardiola in big games, as Kante is to the 3-4-2-1 system usually deployed by Tuchel. With City installed as bookmakers favourites to win their first ever Champions League crown, the Chelsea boss is expected to deploy a compact formation to stifle the creativity of Riyad Mahrez, Bernardo Silva and Kevin de Bruyne.
Guardiola, who won the last of his two Champions League titles in 2011 with Barcelona, is itching to shake off allegations he has morphed into a choker in recent years by failing to overcome continental paperweights like Monaco, Tottenham Hotspur and Olympique Lyon. The Catalan tactician will take heart from the struggles Chelsea have been facing in front of goal since they eliminated Real Madrid in the semis. Tuchel is expected to stick with misfiring lead striker Timo Werner because the German’s workrate and pace on the break are critical to his game plan.
2012 champions Chelsea’s principal hope of upsetting the applecart lies in exploiting City’s vulnerability to pace on the counter that has given neighbours United’s managerial novice Ole Gunnar Solkjaer an unlikely superior head to head record with Guardiola who will be under pressure to field record 260-goal hero Sergio Aguero game time in his last hurrah. French international Olivier Giroud could get a cameo in his final appearance for the Stamford Bridge club.