Manager Thomas Tuchel promised a more open and positive Chelsea effort heading into Saturday’s Champions League final.
The Blues held true to his word. They’re heading back to London with the trophy because of it.
Kai Havertz’s goal shortly before halftime was the difference as Chelsea beat Manchester City 1-0 in Porto and won the Champions League for the second time in club history.
Chelsea’s Christian Pulisic made history himself by becoming the first American male to play in a UEFA Champions League final when he replaced Timo Werner in the 66th minute. Zack Steffen, City’s backup goalkeeper and the United States national team’s No. 1, did not make it off the bench.
Havertz sunk favored Manchester City, which was -250 to win per BetMGM, in the 42nd minute off a splendid ball forward from Mason Mount, dinking around City keeper Ederson and slotting into the back of the net:
Chelsea’s Ben Chilwell kickstarted the play with an impressive touch toward Mount, and that provided a neat summation of the match’s most crucial tactical chess play. Chilwell and Reece James, nominal fullbacks who also caromed into the attack, helped suffocate the wide areas this City team has exploited much of the season, while N’Golo Kanté was his typically disruptive self in the middle. The Blues could function with three defenders while going forward, and then double that when City retook possession as Chilwell and James dropped back.
In fact, manager Pep Guardiola, whose brilliance helped City win the Premier League rather comfortably, ended up making a mistake by overreacting to the appearance of five defenders in Chelsea’s lineup. By opting to play the attack-minded İlkay Gündoğan in the central midfield and leaving his defensive midfielders like Rodri and Fernandinho on the bench, Guardiola inadvertently played into Chelsea’s hands.
Guardiola brought on strikers Sergio Agüero and Gabriel Jesus in the second half to chase an equalizer, which isn’t ideal, since striker-less formations propelled much of City’s success this season. The club also lost star Kevin de Bruyne after a blindside clash with Antonio Rüdiger.
The tying goal never came, and Chelsea won the Champions League for the first time since their miracle victory against Bayern Munich in 2012.
That title also came during a season in which Chelsea fired its manager mid-campaign, and Tuchel’s work in the place of Frank Lampard, who was sacked in January, first drove the Blues back into the top four of the Premier League and now has them back at the summit of Europe.
Perhaps nowhere is it more evident than defensively. Edouard Mendy has become a stalwart in the net, and Chelsea has posted 19 shutouts across all competitions under Tuchel, including Saturday’s final.
The organization in the back flustered a City attack that has rocked most opponents it’s faced this season. Most, of course, besides Chelsea, which beat City three times in four meetings since January, including in the FA Cup semifinals in April.
Guardiola drops to 14-2 in cup finals, and still hasn’t won the Champions League since leaving Barcelona in 2012, despite commanding Bayern Munich and now City, two of Europe’s most talented sides. The narrative that Guardiola overthinks things in knockout competitions isn’t going away, not after Saturday’s capitulation conspired to deny City its first European title ever.
That’s one way to look at it, at least. The other is to credit Chelsea and Tuchel, who got things absolutely right.
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