Analysis

The Debrief: Dominance on the flanks and unbeatable defence provide foundations for Champions League glory

Chelsea lifted the Champions League trophy for the second time in our history thanks to a performance full of fighting spirit and determination, as shown by the key statistics from the match.

Chelsea are champions of Europe following last night’s 1-0 win over Manchester City in Porto, with Thomas Tuchel once again coming out on top of a tactical battle against Pep Guardiola.

The Spaniard suffered his first final defeat with City and he must be sick of the sight of Chelsea and Tuchel. He has now lost eight matches to the Blues, more than against any other club in his career, and been beaten in three consecutive games by Tuchel. No manager has had a better run against Guardiola since he was in charge of Barcelona’s ‘B’ team.

Wing-backs key again

Since coming to Chelsea in January, Tuchel has now faced Guardiola’s City team three times in three competitions and won them all. Just like the previous two victories, this one owed much to the Blues' wing-backs, on this occasion Reece James and Ben Chilwell.

With the forward players keeping the two Man City full-backs occupied, James and Chilwell were able to focus on their one-on-one individual battles against wingers Raheem Sterling and Riyad Mahrez. The degree to which they nullified their attacking threat is remarkable. Usually two of the most dangerous players around when running with the ball, in Porto neither of them managed to successfully dribble past an opponent even once.

It is no surprise then that James attempted more tackles than any other player on the pitch (nine), with Chilwell the next highest for Chelsea (five). James’ seven successful tackles were twice as many as anyone else in Porto, with N’Golo Kante, Kai Havertz and City’s Olexandr Zinchenko the next highest with three each.

It was also clear our two wing-backs knew where to take the risk of diving in to try and win the ball quickly and where to play safe and patient by staying on their feet. James and Chilwell committed the joint highest number of fouls, three each, along with Jorginho and City’s Ilkay Gundogan, but Chelsea didn’t concede a single free-kick in our defensive third of the pitch all night.

That is the kind of statistic you expect from a team of experienced campaigners, which speaks volumes for the maturity of a relatively young side winning our first trophy under our current manager and competing in our first Champions League final as a club for nine years.

Targeting the right area

It was notable even before kick-off that Guardiola had opted for an attacking line-up. Much has been made of his decision to go without a defensive midfield player, but it was the inclusion of converted winger Zinchenko at left-back that Chelsea arguably exploited with the most success.

A massive 53 per cent of all our attacks came down our right flank, compared to 24 per cent on the left and 23 per cent through the middle.

The responsibility for those attacks down the right fell primarily to James and Havertz, explaining why those two attempted four dribbles each, more than any other Chelsea players, as they tried to get at Zinchenko to exploit his defensive weakness and pin him back in his own half.

The way Havertz and Timo Werner frequently switched positions, especially during the first half, was also crucial, as they produced a tag team to keep Zinchenko and the other City defenders guessing and run them into the ground. The duo alternated between Werner’s pace and runs in behind, and Havertz’s impeccable control and desire to come inside with the ball, as well as creating space for each other.

That was particularly evident for the decisive goal, as Werner drifted all the way across the pitch, taking the centre-backs with him, allowing Havertz to charge past the already tired-looking Zinchenko and into the gaping space created through the middle to meet Mason Mount’s perfectly weighted pass.

That goal was also notable as Mount became the first Englishman to register an assist in a Champions League final since Manchester United’s Wes Brown did so against Chelsea in 2008, while Havertz is the first person to score his first Champions League goal in the final since 2013, when Gundogan, now with City, did so for Borussia Dortmund.

Solid at the back

A one-goal lead in final as big as this can often seem like a precarious position, but so assured was our defending that Chelsea rarely looked troubled in Porto. In fact, Man City officially managed only one shot on target, and it is debatable whether that was even a shot. Sterling seemed to be trying to cut the ball back across goal from the line after an excellent recovering tackle from James pushed him wide and Edouard Mendy dived in to block the ball at close range.

The extent to which we kept City, widely acknowledged as one of the world’s most potent attacking sides, at arm’s length is underlined by the fact that of the 37 tackles made by Chelsea players during the match, not a single on came inside our own box.

Although they were doing most of their defending outside the penalty area, our back-three were still crucial and had plenty of work to do. That is shown by the fact the trio of centre-backs who finished the game for Chelsea made a total of 11 clearances between them, compared to just seven by all 14 Man City players combined.

No players made more blocks than Cesar Azpilicueta and Antonio Rudiger, either, with two each, as four out of City’s seven attempted shots were blocked by a Blues player. Perhaps just as importantly, not once were any of our centre-backs dispossessed by an opponent.

Special mention should also go to super-sub Andreas Christensen. While that phrase is usually reserved for attacking players making a decisive intervention for a goal, the Danish defender fully deserves it after his vital contribution from the bench. The pressure, coming on 39 minutes into a Champions League final and knowing any mistake could be hugely costly, must have been huge, but if he felt it he certainly never showed it.

Despite Christensen’s late start, no Chelsea player made more interceptions than him (two, joint highest with Mount), and only James made more than his four clearances.

Of course, all of this is nothing new, as a sturdy defence has been the cornerstone of our Champions League campaign all season, as shown by Mendy equalling the competition record with his ninth clean sheet of the season, matching the tally set by Santiago Canizares with Valencia in 2000/01 and Real Madrid’s Keylor Navas in 2015/16.

Fighting for every ball

Right from the start of the match, the Blues looked determined not to let this opportunity slip away, competing fiercely and winning second balls all over the pitch.

As previously mentioned, we were smart about channeling that aggression, though, as we made more tackles than City (37 to 17), but committed less fouls (13 to 14). We were certainly more effective with those tackles too, successfully winning the ball with 21 of them, compared to just eight by Man City.

That means the seven successful tackles made by James is only one less than City’s entire team combined, with Zinchenko the only player in their side to have won the ball more than once.

As is so often the case, N’Golo Kante played a massive role in our ability to win back possession all over the pitch. Through tackles and interceptions, the Frenchman won the ball more times than anyone else (10), all without giving away a single foul. More surprisingly, given his stature, Kante also won more aerial duals than any other Chelsea player, showing just how determined he was to claim every single ball.

To underline how much we managed to disrupt Manchester City’s usual fluid passing and possession, Mendy played more passes (28) than three of the outfield players in the City starting line-up.

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