Chelsea v Manchester City: When the smarter man won

THERE was more than a hint of arrogance about the way Manchester City coach Pep Guardiola approached the UEFA Champions League final against Chelsea. Some might call it a lack of respect, others might consider it a sign of great respect. 

Was it, “I don’t need a ball winner”, or “We’ve lost twice against this lot, we need to change”?. Guardiola got it wrong and he got it wrong against the wrong opponent. That was the narrative, but basically, the most influential coach of his age came unstuck against a rising force in football management. Tuchel knew how to play City and pointed the way for the Premier League in 2021-22 – become a stone in their shoe and you stop Manchester City!

No panic

It has been a long season for both clubs but they have big squads of star players. They also represent the segment of elite football that will probably be less affected by the pandemic than most of their rivals. These are not clubs owned by conventional businessmen or corporates or influenced by market forces, therefore, the loss of income can be endured without too much panic. It is not entirely out of the question that we shall see both City and Chelsea closing in on the Champions League again in 2021-22.

Chelsea’s victory may put an end to universal “Pep Worship”, the overwhelming appreciation of Guardiola and his methods. If Pep was a coach at most other clubs, continual failure in the Champions League would not be tolerated. If, for example, Mourinho, Conte, Ancelotti or Pochettino made the sort of tactical change that Guardiola surprised everyone with before kick-off and proceeded to lose, questions would be asked. Do people dare challenge Guardiola and his methods or pick away at the mystique?

Tuchel clearly set out his team with a mission, which poses a question or two about the Pep way and its sustainability. Has he actually been found out? Domestically, he has enough armoury and savvy to beat most Premier sides, but on the international stage, where most top sides have little between them in terms of strength and resources, Guardiola’s teams seek out banana skins and slip out of contention in crucial games. 

It is perfectly feasible that a group of top managers spend hours studying Guardiola’s way and work on solutions to combat and overcome his team. For every problem in business and, generally, life, there is a sub-industry that springs up developing remedies. Football is no different. A new, innovative method? We can play against that by neutralising one aspect of the team, pressuring another and, basically, by simply not giving an inch.

A decade ago, José Mourinho had the secret elixir, but he has slid out of the very top bracket, perhaps temporarily. But people know how Mourinho’s teams play and they know how to get under his skin. In the 1960s, Helenio Herrera seemingly had a way that was unbeatable for a while,  then his time passed. Other innovators such as Brian Clough, Arsene Wenger and Don Revie also had their golden period, but nothing lasts forever.

That’s not to say that Guardiola’s time has passed, but there are signs of vulnerability. But he’s still young, still energetic and highly respected. But will he learn from his mistakes?

Tuchel is an acolyte of Jürgen Klopp, who also had Guardiola’s number in key matches. Tuchel is intelligent, a deep thinker and doesn’t seem prone to hysterics. His reaction to an 18-month contract (the first time Chelsea had ever acted like they think) wasn’t to appear indignant, he was realistic and after all, he can read Wikipedia’s list of Chelsea managers. He also knows that if you take the Stamford Bridge job, you have to win trophies and failure is not part of the agenda. 

He doesn’t look like a Silicon Valley CEO presenting the latest gadget, Tuchel opts for a practical Patagonia vest that an IT technician might wear. He looks as though he would work for that black-clad CEO with the trendy stubble. But this is no master and apprentice situation, Tuchel is his own man – the way his team played in Porto demonstrated just that. 

Chelsea deserved their triumph and the game was something of a key moment in European football. The man whose career has been so indelibly linked to the Champions League has not won it for 10 years across three elite clubs. He may yet win it again, but Porto showed that he has imperfections and also a competitor for his crown.

Gargantuan

As for Tuchel and Chelsea, the achievement is no less impressive than the club’s first Champions League success in 2012. Since Roman Abramovich arrived in London, they have won 17 trophies, more than any major club in England as well as Real Madrid and Juventus. Abramovich’s way is simple – Chelsea hire top managers, sign top players and he wants a quick return. The short-termism aspect may not be to everyone’s liking, but it works and by now nobody should be talking about building dynasties or long-term planning. Abramovich may have been the architect of modern football, but nobody is calling for his departure.

He has, after all, spent £ 2 billion of his own money on the club but, until the aftermath of the match in Porto, he hadn’t met Tuchel, one assumes because of his ban from the UK. Nevertheless, Abramovich looked tanned, healthy and was sporting a huge smile to go with his equally gargantuan trophy.

Chelsea fans have grown to love Abramovich because of the success he has brought/bought the club. At one time, the Russian owner coveted Guardiola, but that longing may have gone, the Russian owner probably wouldn’t swap Tuchel and the trophy with the big ears for a basket full of Fabergé eggs.

But it can all change so quickly. The last time Chelsea won the Champions League, they made a mess of defending it and the man who led the team, Roberto di Matteo, was out of a job by November. That was the Chelsea system encapsulated. Tuchel knows.

@GameofthePeople

Photo: ALAMY

Chelsea v Manchester City – the all-England club back in action

FOR the second time in three years, the Champions League final is a clash between familiar foes, the third all-English affair and the 22nd winner of the competition against a side bidding to become the 23rd.

When Bayern Munich won the competition in 2020, some pundits were predicting the start of a new era of Bavarian supremacy. Those same pundits forecast the dawn of a Liverpool era in England, the possible end of the Guardiola age at City and the creation of a dynasty led by Jürgen Klopp. A year on, Pep has rediscovered his mojo, Liverpool have been found to have a lack of strength in depth, Bayern are surprisingly going through a managerial change and the two Spanish giants have financial problems. Real, Bayern, Juventus, Tottenham and Inter Milan will go into 2021-22 with new coaches and Barcelona may also be in the hunt for a new manager. Rarely have the top clubs been in such a state of flux.

And what of this year’s UEFA Champions League finalists? Chelsea sacked Frank Lampard and brought in Thomas Tuchel. The new man has impressed and taken Chelsea to two finals, but they’ve lost one and the Champions League couldn’t be tougher. Manchester City won their third Premier League in four years, but this wasn’t quite the City of 2019.  Equally, it wasn’t a win by default, City were by far the best team and survived transition well. 

This will be City’s first European final since 1970 and Chelsea’s fifth in the Abramovich era. They know how to beat City and they have never lost a European final in 120 minutes. Their only defeat, in 2008, was on penalties after a 1-1 draw with Manchester United.

The popular view is that Pep Guardiola is “Mr Champions League”, but it has been a decade since he last won the competition. Chelsea have won it more recently, beating Bayern Munich on penalties in 2012. 

It is interesting that Porto should have been chosen as the final venue. This is an excellent football city, passionate, sunny, welcoming and very agreeable for those that appreciate the finer things in life. Both City and Chelsea have played Porto on the way to the final, City in the group stage, Chelsea in the quarter-finals. Porto may be smarting from losing the league and cup they won in 2020, but they can still look Europe’s elite clubs in the eye. Porto, the club that launched the Mourinho legend, have been European champions twice.

Chelsea’s road to Porto saw them beat newly-crowned Spanish champions Atlético Madrid as well as their La Liga friends Real Madrid and Sevilla. City disposed of a couple of German sides, Mönchengladbach and Dortmund, and Paris Saint-Germain in the semi-finals.

However deserving both clubs are of a final place, it is unlikely that either will embark on a period of Real Madrid-type domination. The Champions League is incredibly competitive among the very top clubs, there are very few surprises and it is difficult for one club to stand astride European football for a lengthy period. Firstly, it’s not easy to retain the title (although Real’s hat-trick between 2016 and 2018 disproves that theory) and secondly, the cup is the target of so many top clubs and managers in the modern age. Pre-UCL, the European Cup could be won more easily as there were not three or four teams from each of the strong nations. 

For Manchester City, the Champions League represents the final piece of the jigsaw. They have won everything domestically, have a team of all-stars and money is plentiful, even in these difficult times. In the modern game, City’s aspirations as an elite club can only be totally credible if they make an impact internationally. They are very close to achieving that, but it should be remembered that Juventus did not win their first European Cup until 1985 and Barcelona’s first triumph was in 1992. Success used to take a considerable length of time to cultivate.

For Chelsea, the competition is how all the club’s managers are now benchmarked. Ironically, the one man who was not a marque signing, Roberto Di Matteo, was the coach that won the trophy in 2012. Tuchel may find he comes under more pressure in 2021-22 if he loses against City.

On paper, City are a better team, but Chelsea beat them in the FA Cup semi-final and at the Etihad in the Premier League. Although the Blues have lost some of their vigour in recent weeks, Tuchel has shown that he has changed Chelsea’s expensive squad since Lampard departed. Over 90 minutes, Chelsea can match City, that is evident.

Two English clubs in the final again underlines the financial power of the Premier League’s leading clubs. The “new money” clubs are rising to the top – last season, Paris Saint-Germain, the Qatari-owned club, reached the final, and now Abu Dhabi and Russian money have taken City and Chelsea to Porto. It will not go unnoticed that during a financial crisis for football, these teams have shown they are probably more robust than their peers. In theory, it should be a decent final, but do they know each other just a little too much?

@GameofthePeople
Photo: ALAMY

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.

2020-212019-202018-192017-182016-17Pre-2016
DiasRodriMahrezBernardo SilvaGuardiola Sterling
TorresCancelo EdersonGündoganDe Bruyne
Ake  WalkerZinchenkoFernandinho
   LaporteStonesAgüero
   Foden*Gabriel Jesus 
      
Manchester City – when their team arrived

Youth

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. 

2020-212019-202018-192017-182016-17Pre-2016
Tuchel KovacicJorginhoRüdigerKantéAzpiliceuta
Havertz James*KepaGiroudAlonsoChristensen*
ZiyechMount*PulisicHudson-Odoi* Abraham *
Silva    Zouma
Mendy     
Chilwell     
Werner     
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.

Philosophy

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.

@GameofthePeople

Photo: ALAMY