In the 8th minute, Raheem Sterling latched onto a long, raking ball from Ederson. His touch was not as clean as he would have liked and the back heel he eventually resorted to was not ideal. This was still positive, Sterling had gotten in behind Reece James, surely he would have another stab at it before long. Well, he did not; and neither did any of City’s danger men. It was Kai Havertz racing through in the 42nd minute who had the freedom of the Estádio do Dragão to roll in the first and the decisive goal of the game.
Manchester City were at their brilliant and devastating best as they stuck a large nail into Frank Lampard’s coffin, beating Chelsea by three goals to one and putting the rest of the league on notice. This was in the midst of a historic winning streak that took the Cityzens from 13th to an unassailable position at the top of the league in a few months. Since then though, Guardiola has come up frustratingly short on two occasions against a Chelsea side revitalised by the appointment of former PSG boss Thomas Tuchel.
City’s losses in both encounters would have been strongly justified by any Manchester City enthusiast as games that they had little to no interest in. That came back to haunt to City as they were not able to get going in any way for the most important game of their season, and perhaps of the Abu Dhabi era. After 90 minutes, City had just one shot on target, a testament to their inability to break down what was a very solidly constructed Chelsea defence.
The five-man backline for the Blues were strong in their individual duels, Reece James and Ben Chilwell nullifying Raheem Sterling and Riyad Mahrez in the wide areas while Kevin de Bruyne found himself far way from the play on too many occasions, and crowded out by Chelsea’s midfield whenever he did get on the ball. Phil Foden and Bernardo Silva were absent for most of the game, especially in the first half and Oleksandr Zinchenko often found himself on the ball with no viable forward options.
There were multiple Manchester City attacks that slowly and painfully broke down because the combinations and superiorities that City have so effectively created for most of the season had no space to come to life. The longer it went on, the more out of sorts City’s frontline looked which suited Tuchel’s men perfectly. The German manager had arrived with a very clear vision for how he wanted Chelsea to play. This was predicated on a strong defensive structure and a fluid frontline, capable of stretching opposition teams.
These principles were on full display as they hassled, harried and disoriented City’s talented group of attackers, all the while threatening to strike on the break. The Blues actually had the better of the opening exchanges. Timo Werner ending his season as he has played the majority of it, with a couple of offsides, a couple of missed opportunities and a brilliant off the ball run which opened up the City defence for Kai Havertz to waltz through and put Chelsea in front.
There were a number of key performances for the Blues, N’Golo Kanté won the man of the match award for an amazing two-way display, breaking up attacks and carrying Chelsea up the field; James and Chilwell were imperious on either wing and César Azpilicueta led the team by example. Overall though, the Chelsea standard was so high, every single player seemed to play above and beyond himself and that is what you need to win the biggest prizes especially when a quality difference is practically non-existent. The plan was executed to perfection and Chelsea are deserved European champions.
What does this mean going forward for both teams now. For Guardiola and Manchester City, “The ambition now is rest,” Pep clarified in his post-match interview and after this gruelling season that would be a wise decision. In the immediate aftermath of such a huge defeat – especially within the context of how much Manchester City as a club desire this trophy, the final validation of their grand project, things can look quite bleak.
Zooming out though, this season has been quite impressive, City bounced back from a shaky start, underwent a slight – but very effective – stylistic shift and absolutely swept all before them in the league. They won one domestic cup as well and reached the semi-final of the other. Signing De Bruyne and Guardiola himself to new contracts are all positives. With the quite extensive managerial reshuffling going on around Europe and quite a bit of uncertainty around a number of possible contenders, City are still in a very strong position to make another run for it next season.
Chelsea are also looking very well set up for next season, none of their summer signings have hit the heights they are capable of and Thomas Tuchel will be excited to try and prise some more high-level performances from his squad. It is looking very likely now that Tuchel will receive a contract extension and the next step will be putting up a stronger challenge on the domestic front. It will be interesting to see what shape the Blues’ squad takes once next season starts but that will be a little further down the list of priorities for the now two-time Champions of Europe.
By: Wepea Buntugu
Featured Image: @GabFoligno / Darren Walsh – Chelsea FC