Building Chelsea & Manchester City’s Champions League teams

MANCHESTER CITY’s latest Premier League title success has been labelled the first triumph by a “new-look” team, although many of their first choice side have been on the winners’ podium before. 

City’s all-star line-up has mostly been assembled since Pep Guardiola joined the club, but Sergio Agüero, Fernandinho, Raheem Sterling and Kevin De Bruyne were all at the Etihad before he arrived from Bayern Munich. Since winning the title in 2019, City’s side has changed due to the addition of four players who cost over £ 200 million. Given Chelsea have spent in excess of that amount in 2020-21, the UEFA Champions League final really is a clash of the monied titans.

Since 2016-17, City have spent £ 845 million and recouped £ 285 million in the market – a net outlay of £ 560 million. Similarly, over the past five years, Chelsea have spent £ 805 million and received £ 542 million. 

In Guardiola’s first campaign, City paid out £ 193 million on new players, including John Stones (£50m), Gabriel Jesus (£ 28m) and Leroy Sane (£ 47m – now Bayern). 

The following season saw his team start to take shape, with the arrival of Bernardo Silva (£ 43m), Ederson (£35m), Kyle Walker (£45m) and Athletic Bilbao’s Aymeric Laporte, who cost City £ 57 million. The club’s spending came in at almost £ 300 million, although they managed to sell a number of players to reduce the deficit by £ 175 million.

City gained more flair with the capture of Riyad Mahrez from Leicester City in 2018-19, paying £ 61 million for the Algerian international. At the same time, City said farewell to the likes of folk hero Yaya Toure. 

With such a strong group of players already secured, City only needed to add selectively to their squad and in 2019-20, Rodri of Atlético Madrid and João Cancelo of Juventus both joined in £ 60 million-plus deals. David Silva, who had become something of a legend, departed in 2020 for Real Sociedad.

DiasRodriMahrezBernardo SilvaGuardiola Sterling
TorresCancelo EdersonGündoganDe Bruyne
Ake  WalkerZinchenkoFernandinho
   Foden*Gabriel Jesus 
Manchester City – when their team arrived


While City [and indeed, Chelsea] have the financial muscle to buy anyone they wish, they have had very little home grown influence in their side. Phil Foden had been earmarked some years ago as one to watch, but it has taken time for him to claim his place. In 2020-21, he was one of the players of the year and is now an England regular.

Only 5.3% of City’s squad – in terms of playing time – can be considered “club trained” according to CIES Football Observatory. Furthermore, j79% of City’s squad comprises expatriate players.

Unlike City, almost a quarter of Chelsea’s squad has been home grown, although very few of them will appear in the UEFA Champions League final. Again, the squad is very “global” with 75% expatriates.

City added to their number in 2020-21 with the signing of Rúben Dias from Benfica for £ 62 million, an inspirational acquisition. Nathan Ake, a surprise addition, cost the club £ 40 million from Bournemouth and Ferran Torres was a £ 20 million signing from Valencia.

By contrast to City’s steady build-up, Chelsea’s current squad has received a major injection of talent in 2020-21 with spending of over £ 220 million and a net outlay of £ 170 million. This is not uncommon for Chelsea, since Roman Abramovich bought the club, they have had spending sprees and seasons where they have taken something of a break in the market. 

Tuchel KovacicJorginhoRüdigerKantéAzpiliceuta
Havertz James*KepaGiroudAlonsoChristensen*
ZiyechMount*PulisicHudson-Odoi* Abraham *
Silva    Zouma
Chelsea – when their team arrived

Chelsea paid £ 72 million for Kai Havertz from Bayer Leverkusen and close to £ 50 million apiece for Timo Werner of RB Leipzig and Leicester’s Ben Chilwell. Their last bout of retail therapy was in 2018-19 when they signed Jorginho, Kepa Arrizabalaga and Christian Pulisic. 

Kepa, who cost Chelsea £ 72 million, making him the world’s most expensive goalkeeper, has now become the most costly understudy after a bad run of form prompted the club to buy Édouard Mendy from Rennes for less than a third of the price. With the exception of César Azpilicueta, most of Chelsea’s current starting eleven have arrived over the last three years.


Both Chelsea and Manchester City are market leaders, but the philosophies of the two clubs appear to be very different. For instance, Pep Guardiola has been coach of City since 2016 and in that time, he has won three league titles, one FA Cup and four League Cups – eight trophies. Chelsea have not had a manager in his job for five consecutive years since Dave Sexton between 1968 and 1974, a truly staggering statistic. Since Guardiola moved in at the Etihad, Chelsea have had four different managers and they’ve won three trophies. 

ChelseaManchester City
Premier League & FA Cup runners-up (Conte)2016-17 
FA Cup (Conte)2017-18Premier League & EFL Cup (Guardiola)
Europa League (Sarri)2018-19Premier League, FA Cup & EFL Cup (Guardiola)
FA Cup runners-up (Lampard)2019-20EFL Cup (Guardiola)
FA Cup runners-up (Tuchel)2020-21Premier League & EFL Cup (Guardiola)
8-3 to City: Honours won over past five years

Given that City have had the same man in charge for half a decade, the team that represents the club really is the house that Pep built, whereas at Chelsea, the team has a multitude of short-term influences. Guardiola has left an imprint on the club, his methods reflected in the way the squad has been shaped and acquired. At Chelsea, constant change, which has proved effective in terms of trophies won, also means the wheel has to be reinvented over and over again as one manager departs and another takes his place.

But can this go on forever? Chelsea have not been title contenders for four seasons and if they do not win the Champions League, it will be two consecutive years without a trophy. Only three players, Alonso, Kanté and Azpilicueta now remain from the 2017 Premier title-winning team. 

Two barren years is unprecedented under the Abramovich regime. Chelsea managers have to win trophies and if they do not then they generally go. Of the 16 major trophies won under Abramovich, seven have been won by José Mourinho, while four have been won by interim coaches (Roberto Di Matteo, Rafa Benitez, Gus Hiddink). Two of the coaches, Luiz Felipe Scolari and André Villas-Boas, never got the chance. As for Frank Lampard and Avram Grant, they had a chance but didn’t win key finals. Thomas Tuchel has lost one final, if he loses another, he may come under some pressure. Good men lose jobs at Chelsea.

The Champions League final is a battle between two clubs with lofty ambitions, but is it also a meeting between a club whose leadership credentials have been usurped by the current masters of the game? Or Is it all about systemic building and continuity versus the practice of making short-term gains? Creativity versus creative tension. Two teams, contrasting methods, very different coaches, but one aim.


Photo: ALAMY

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