The biggest of big club matches is almost upon us. Club historian Rick Glanvill and club statistician Paul Dutton preview our Porto-hosted final game of the season…
Saturday night’s Champions League clash between Chelsea and Manchester City will be the planet’s most-watched club football match of the year. The protagonists first clashed in a final 35 years ago – ironically, the Full Members’ Cup competition had only been set up because of a European ban.
It is unlikely we will have a repeat of that nine-goal thriller, edged 5-4 by the Londoners at Wembley in 1986. The only other showdown between England’s most successful clubs of the past decade, the 2018/19 Carabao Cup final, was decided by penalty kicks after extra time failed to break the stalemate.
Half a century ago the Blues beat the Citizens 2-0 on aggregate in the Cup Winners’ Cup semi-final – the only previous European encounter. Now the two teams reconvene at the home of the dragon on the banks of the Douro for the third all-England Champions League finale.
The first, in 2007/08 between Chelsea and Man City’s rivals Man United, was also decided from the spot – the Blues’ only defeat in six previous European final appearances. Saturday brings our second showpiece event in a fortnight and the 22nd of under the ownership of Roman Abramovich.
Sealing our seventh piece of European silverware (with the Super Cup thrown in) would place Chelsea in the top 10 of all-time UEFA trophy winners. The Londoners are already one of just five clubs to have won all three of UEFA’s major titles.
Chelsea have also had the edge over our Sky Blue rivals recently, winning three of the past four meetings. In those games the Blues have ended the Citizens’ dreams of winning the Premier League and the FA Cup; now the Londoners can thwart the Mancunians’ quest for a maiden Champions League title in their first appearance at this level.
There is no match experience quite like the Champions League final, no high-wire so exposed, but some will attain immortality on Saturday night. Chelsea have won our last three European finals and, as we invoke the spirit of Didier Drogba and Petr Cech, we wish the best of luck to Thomas Tuchel and his squad.
Chelsea team news
It may not be surprising to learn that Europe’s top prize will go to either one of this campaign’s two tightest defences. Chelsea and Man City have conceded just four times in the dozen games to date and managed eight clean sheets.
The Blues have beaten the Citizens in three of our past four meetings, and nearly all the goals scored have come from beating their press, finding space behind or wide, and centring for the finish. Pace has a played a major part, too, while both finalists pounce on (as well as occasionally paying the price for) defensive errors.
Yet again at Villa Park, Thomas Tuchel saw his team produce attacking and defending numbers that should have won the game but did not. Like Thiago Silva, the Bavarian is back for a second bite after last season’s Champions League final.
A rare free midweek has allowed the head coach to prepare his players emotionally as well as physically and tactically. He will have been buoyed by the return to training on Wednesday of key midfielder N’Golo Kante and first-choice goalie Edou Mendy.
Another psychological factor on Saturday evening could be personal battles won in those recent match-ups, such as Kante versus Rodri, Cesar Azpilicueta against Raheem Sterling, Reece James and Benjamin Mendy or Oleksandr Zinchenko, or Timo Werner getting the better of Ruben Dias. Had all the German’s ‘goals’ ruled out for offside or hand-ball counted, he would have 27 to his name in all competitions.
The Blues must replicate the intensity and confidence that succeeded before. Usually against the Citizens, the Blues’ wing-backs have stayed high and wide, with forwards such as Christian Pulisic and Hakim Ziyech tucked in, slightly deeper, finding pockets of space. The Moroccan has netted in his last two matches against the recently crowned champions.
Further back Chelsea’s defensive midfielders have to be especially resistant to feisty pressing by the Mancunians, who are so adept at winning possession just outside the box and quickly finding the net.
The Blues, who are just two goals away from 100 in all competitions this season, have netted eight times in the final quarter-hour of European games, the most of any team. Olivier Giroud (17) is one goal shy of third-placed Fernando Torres (18) in Chelsea’s all-time European highest scorers list.
Guardiola’s guessing game
Manchester City coach Pep Guardiola rarely fails to rotate his starting 11 from one game to another. Having the luxury five options available from the bench will also show the extent of each club’s squad depth when fully available.Like Real Madrid in the semi-finals of this competition, the Citizens experimented at home in the league earlier this month by matching the Blues with a back three/five. They came unstuck, though, losing 2-1 with a smaller proportion of possession and shots on target than the visitors.
Perhaps more likely is the flexible, aggressive 4-3-3 line-up the Catalonian fielded for their semi-final at Paris Saint-Germain. Kevin De Bruyne played as a false nine and scored, also pressing heavily along with Phil Foden on the left. Any of City’s frontmen are capable of quickly conjuring chances by winning possession around the edge of the box.
In central midfield, Ilkay Gundogan and Rodri have previously gone man-to-man against Chelsea, though that can make their centre-backs reluctant to push up to make the press work, for fear of being outnumbered or exposed for pace.
The usual key to defeating City is beating their press, as illustrated by N’Golo Kante in recent exchanges. In those encounters pockets of space appeared between midfield and defence, and the flanks behind their raiding full-backs have invited runners.
Guardiola sometimes adjusts his midfield in response, with the likes of Mahrez and Foden helping out while the full-backs remain wide.
How to watch the Champions League final
BT Sport are making this match free to view in the UK on cable/satellite channels and through their app. To find the relevant broadcaster where you are elsewhere, see UEFA’s TV guide
Chelsea TV’s programming on the 5th Stand app, Facebook Live, and the official YouTube channel will start today (Friday) with live coverage of the Blues’ open training session at Estadio do Dragao between 5pm and 7pm UK time.The atmosphere will start to build on Saturday from 6.30pm with a host of guests, previews, and analysis of the starting 11, plus reports pitch-side from Portugal.
Man in the middle
Antonio Mateu Lahoz has handled two previous Chelsea matches, both in the group stage and in Portugal: our 1-0 win at Sporting in September 2014, and a 1-2 defeat to Porto at tonight’s host venue. The Spanish official sent Pep Guardiola to the stand in this competition during a quarter-final against Liverpool in 2018.
Champions League final regulations
Both sides will wear their regular first-choice strip. Coaches are permitted to select 12 substitutes and introduce five of them in three different spells (plus half-time) throughout the course of the match. The Video Assistant Referee system will be used and viewing the pitch-side monitor is more prevalent than in the Premier League.If the scores are level after 90 minutes, the champions will be decided by 30 minutes of extra-time and, if necessary, penalty kicks.
Chelsea have scored 13 of the 17 penalties awarded across all competitions this season (76 per cent), while City have managed seven of their 11 (64 per cent) – including Aguero’s ‘Panenka’, saved by Edouard Mendy earlier this month.
This is Manchester City’s first ever Champions League final but Chelsea’s third in 14 years, lifting the Blues above Forest (who won in 1978/79 and 1979/80) on the all-time list. The Blues have now reached the last two of Europe’s elite competition three times more than any London rival.
European Cup/Champions League finals reachedLiverpool 9Manchester Utd 5Chelsea 3Nottingham Forest 2Aston Villa 1Arsenal 1Leeds 1Manchester City 1Tottenham 1