16 Conclusions: Man City 0-1 Chelsea

Date published: Monday 31st May 2021 1:13 - Will Ford

Chelsea Champions League

Pep Guardiola gave Thomas Tuchel a gift before kick-off and he and Chelsea gratefully unwrapped it to win the Champions League.

 

1) It was so comfortable.

That’s a statement you thought could only be made after a Manchester City win. They’ve got the best coach in the world, they’ve got the best squad in the world, they finished 19 points clear of the team they were playing in the Premier League.

It was a game lost on the field, but one swayed hugely before any boots touched the grass. Guardiola did another nonsense, Tuchel stuck to his principles and the favourites became the underdogs when the teams were announced.

No holding midfielder? It was baffling.

 

2) City had one shot on target, in the eighth minute. Save a couple of crosses across the face of Chelsea’s goal and two blocked Phil Foden shots, they created nothing.

Chelsea defended expertly. The back five, the two holders and the three forwards were so tightly packed, forcing City into wide areas towards the Blues full-backs, who were impeccable.

But still, we expected far more. Yes, Guardiola will be blamed and rightly so, but Riyad Mahrez, Bernardo Silva, Kevin De Bruyne and Ilkay Gundogan were all way off it, while Chelsea – to a man – were brilliant.

 

3) Frank Lampard, Steven Gerrard – the Champions League final has a rich history of very good English midfielders. But none of them are like Mason Mount and Phil Foden: these boys are a new breed.

The aforementioned were – and this is admittedly a bit of a generalisation – box-to-box midfielders. Some qualities were more pronounced than those of their counterparts, but they were the best of your typical English midfield general. Power, grind and effort were their enviable qualities, while praise for intricacy and touch was reserved for those from a more southerly latitude.

Before Xavi or one of his millions of Paul Scholes-based spokespeople gets in touch, the Manchester United man was a bit different – less blood and guts; more finesse. But even Scholes didn’t have the attacking influence that Mount and Foden have on Chelsea and Manchester City. Without them, it – whatever it is – simply doesn’t work.

It’s amazing enough to be playing in a Champions League final as a kid from the academy of one of these teams: among the most free-spending in the world. But for Man City and Chelsea – whose starting lineups cost £453million and £307million respectively – to turn to this pair, who cost precisely £0, to win them the very biggest of games, is truly incredible.

English midfielders used to make football look like a war, but for these guys it’s a game. And what a pleasure it is to think of people from across the Channel watching them and worrying, not that they’ll be outfought by them, but outplayed.

 

4) ‘No DM’ was the trend, an indication of the key talking point ahead of kick-off, rather than a mass effort from one half of Twitter to prevent the other half from sending unwelcome X-rated messages.

Guardiola has been predictable enough this season to make the decision not to start Fernandinho or Rodri a genuine surprise. This was just the second game of 60 this season in which neither of them has started – the other was against Olympiacos.

Joleon Lescott was perplexed in the BT Sport studio and Joe Cole became more cockney with excitement at what he – and surely all Chelsea fans – suspected was a welcome increase in their odds ahead of kick-off.

“You have to shake,” Pep Guardiola said in an interview with Rio Ferdinando, referring to the need to adapt to grow over a period of time rather than his penchant for unexpected tactical decisions. This “shake” made City look shaky.

 

5) Timo Werner should have scored twice in the opening 15 minutes. He was excellent in everything until the key moment, as is his wont. He snatched at and completely missed a pull-back from Ben Chilwell, before getting the ball caught under his feet to spurn another great chance moments later.

But he got in behind Kyle Walker and Oleksandr Zinchenko continously. That ball was always on and Ruben Dias and, in particular, John Stones, did not look comfortable being pulled so frequently from the middle of the pitch.

And Werner’s run was a huge factor in the goal. Dias went with the German’s wide dummy run, to open up a massive gap between him and Zinchenko. Kai Havertz’s run was nothing special, in fact it was downright simple.

It was really poor from Zinchenko, who could see Havertz the entire time and did nothing to get goalside of him, leaving the Chelsea man to round Ederson and stroke into an empty net. It was the classic combination of a moment of real quality from one side and negligence from the other.

 

6) The quality came from Mount. He had far too much time and space, and finding  it was too easy – more on that shortly – but there is no Chelsea player better equipped to play that pass. There may not be another Chelsea player able to play that pass.

What a season he’s had. This is the customary point at which credit is given to Frank Lampard. And yes, he took him to Derby and put him in the first team at Chelsea. But is anyone really watching Mount right now thinking he would not have made it were it not for Lampard?

His rise may have been boosted slightly and Mount himself will no doubt feel he’s indebted to his former manager. But Tuchel saw it almost immediately, as any manager would. He is one of the best midfielders in Europe and credit shouldn’t be doled out willy-nilly when it’s Mount himself who’s had to battle through the academy to get to this stage. Splitting the merit diminishes what is almost solely his achievement.

 

7) What must Gundogan have been thinking as Guardiola put up the teamsheet? I’m going to get my pants pulled down here? Or something less PG.

The plan was for him to be the deepest midfielder, to enable Manchester City to have as many between-the-lines footballers on the pitch as possible, in the knowledge that the gaps between those lines would be paper thin.

But putting more bodies in those central areas doesn’t widen those gaps and through playing Gundogan over either Fernandinho or Rodri in that role, City were not only left with a lack of defensive solidity, but also suffered through their top goalscorer being nowhere near the opposition goal.

Fernandinho eventually came on for Bernardo Silva – who was useless – to enable Gundogan to push on, but it was too late. Chelsea were in front and had firmly retreated into their shell, which has proven to be impenetrable time and again under Tuchel.

 

8) The way through was blocked; the way round was the only option. Reece James and Ben Chilwell were very good, but City did get in on both sides a couple of times, through those neat one-twos and the speed of Sterling and Kyle Walker.

But this team has an understandable reticence to play in that manner. The two occasions the ball was passed across the six yard box, there was no-one on the end of it.

Chelsea covered those spaces brilliantly, but if there was ever a game that City missed a proper striker, this was it. Their six attacking midfielders, wingers, no.10s – whatever you want to call them – were almost laughably ineffective.

Chelsea were almost urging them to take the ball and pass the ball in those tight spaces, in the knowledge that N’Golo Kante would be there to nip it away from them, or Antonio Rudiger, Andreas Christensen and Cesar Azpilicueta would be a couple of metres away if Kante failed.

Ha, Kante failing, what an absurd notion.

 

9) The guy is ridiculous. Chelsea’s former diminutive Frenchman, Claude Makelele, had a position named after him. That would be a pointless exercise with Kante. No-one else does or is likely ever to be able to play ‘the Kante role’.

His hit-rate for tackles is sensational, his energy, of course, knows no bounds and his speed with and without the ball is remarkable. He’s a sniffer and a snuffer: working out where the ball is going to go and taking the best path to win it back. It felt like he was man-marking all six of City’s forward players.

He was supposedly injured in the lead-up to this game, FFS. And English fans watching this, buoyed by the performances of Mount, James and – to a lesser extent – Foden, ahead of Euro 2020, would do well to remember that it’s really the only big trophy left for Kante to win. And who would bet against him snaffling that one up, like he does everything else.

 

10) The goal was lovely from Chelsea. Mount’s pass, Havertz’s finish, Mendy’s initial floated ball out to Chilwell and the left-back’s cushioned lay-off for Mount. It was all very neat, very tidy, with – as said already – one moment of magic.

But back to poor Gundogan and the lack of a midfield buddy. Mount is an expert in finding space to operate in, but he needed none of that expertise. He just collected the ball after two touches from Mendy and Chilwell, looked up and saw no-one around him.

Stones half went with Mount and then realised his absence from the backline was a problem. It wasn’t great from him, it wasn’t great from any of them. But what did Guardiola expect? They don’t know how to play this way and he chose the biggest game in the history of the football club to what?! Try it out? If I was in that Manchester City dressing room after the game, I would be angry with one man, the manager. It’s his fault they lost.

 

11) What is it with Guardiola? Arrogance? A desire to be heralded not purely as a genius, but a flawed, troubled one?

He was very gracious in defeat and was understandably not keen to talk tactics after losing the game. But it would be great to hear him explain himself at some point.

It’s not as though Chelsea’s forward players have clearly defined roles. If anything, Tuchel’s front trios are famous for interchanging their positions, making it very difficult before the game for an opposition coach to point to Mount, Havertz or Werner and assign them to one player or another.

That’s why you have to play a defensive midfielder. Rodri has been great all season and Fernandinho was superb in the semi-final win over Paris Saint-Germain. Even if Guardiola does explain, there is nothing he could say that would make that decision seem anything but downright daft.

 

12) Raheem Sterling was also a surprise starter: he had played just ten minutes across the four quarter-final and semi-final legs.

But his worth was made clear very early on. With the ball at Ederson’s feet, Sterling ran in front and behind Reece James, who wouldn’t have caught him had the forward’s control been better.

It was a really entertaining battle between Sterling and James. It was clearly a ploy for City to test the young right-back; a lot of the probing – particularly in the first half – came down that side.

But James ensured the probing never became full penetration. Whenever it looked as though Sterling had got the better of him, James outmuscled, outpaced or outplayed him. If the Chelsea right-back wasn’t already in Gareth Southgate’s starting XI, he probably is now.

 

13) And on the other flank, Ben Chilwell put in his best performance in a Chelsea shirt. Apart from a couple of his dramatic, pathetic falls to the ground at the slightest touch, he was excellent.

Linking up with Mount, getting forward whenever possible and dealing with Mahrez with a stunning minimum of fuss. The Man City winger is one of the trickiest customers around, but other than his last-minute fluffed shot which had Chelsea hearts in mouths, he did nothing of note.

It could easily be a Chelsea full-back pair for England.

 

14) If there was a surprise selection from Tuchel, and as surprises go it would be akin to a balloon popping unexpectedly compared to Pep driving a car through the wall of your front room, it was Havertz’s place in the side over Christian Pulisic or Hakim Ziyech.

The German didn’t start the FA Cup final or the recent Premier League games against West Ham, Man City or Leicester, i.e. the big games.

His talent is unquestionable and he is such a gliding, effortless joy. His spatial awareness is really wonderful and he takes one touch to beat a man where others would take three or four. He’s deceptively quick, decent in the air and runs a hell of a lot.

That goal is worth the £72million alone, of course, but Chelsea will get a hell of a lot more bang for their buck next season. He’s 21 and very, very good at football.

Havertz Chelsea

 

15) Thomas Tuchel had lost four and drawn one against Pep Guardiola before he joined Chelsea. And even though he had won both of the previous games against him this season as Chelsea boss, team strength caveats were fairly pointed out by the detractors, to make what were very impressive wins not as impressive as they could have been.

Four of City’s front six on Saturday – Ilkay Gundogan, Bernardo Silva, Riyad Mahrez and Phil Foden – didn’t start either of the two previous games. Yes, Chelsea won, but it wasn’t the real City.

And it’s possible to claim – due to their sub-par performance level – that this wasn’t either. But this was at least supposed to be the best of Manchester City, the best team in Europe. And Tuchel’s team were so much better than them.

“If you sign for Chelsea you sign for the hunger of titles,” Tuchel said in his first Chelsea press conference. “You sign for being absolutely competitive in every competition you play.”

And that “hunger” is so evident in him but also in his players. They didn’t have that under Lampard. They didn’t really have tactics or a game plan either, which Tuchel implemented almost immediately and is now totally ingrained in the team and the whole squad, but it’s the desire that’s most impressive.

His squad is nearly as good as Manchester City’s and what will be scary for Guardiola, Ole Gunnar Solskjaer and Jurgen Klopp is the fact that many of Chelsea’s forward players have got nowhere near their potential this season. The ceiling for this club under his management is very high indeed. What an unbelievable job he’s done.

 

16) It was a horrible final for City. Losing is tough; not turning up is devastating.

But what a moment for Chelsea, who again sacked their manager mid-season – a club legend at that – in their insatiable search for silverware. And what a night for the Chelsea fans, who get a second taste of European glory, one very different to the first.

2012 was the end of an era – the end of John Terry, Frank Lampard and Didier Drogba. But what a way this is to start another one. This was the making of Mount, the coming of Kai. Welcome to Tuchel time.

 

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