Manchester City vs. Chelsea: 2021 Champions League final bold predictions, live stream, how to watch online
What will be the key tactical battles and players that will decide the Champions League final?
The biggest prize in club football will be decided on Saturday. And then, after the Championship playoff final ends with one of either Brentford or Swansea City earning their spot on the Premier League gravy train, there will be the small matter of crowning Europe's best team. Chelsea and Manchester City have been perhaps the two best teams in Europe since the start of 2021, particularly since the former changed manager, and their meetings so far this season have been nothing if not tactically absorbing contests.
It is only natural that the build-up to Saturday's final should be dominated by talk of the last two meetings between these sides. Twice in the last six weeks Thomas Tuchel and Pep Guardiola have matched wits and on both occasions, tactically and in the final scoreline, it has been the Chelsea manager who has got the better of Manchester City.
Doubtless that will give a fillip to the Chelsea dressing room in the Estadio do Dragao ahead of kick-off but neither side seems to be getting too carried away with what happened in the previous meetings. Asked by CBS Sports what he had learned from his previous meetings with Saturday's opponents, Guardiola's answer was brief "How good they are. Congratulations on the two victories. We will see you on Saturday." He betrayed no fear, quite the opposite. Guardiola is not alone in feeling that way. There has been an ease around the City camp in the build-up that suggests those other two games count for very little in their mind.
Raheem Sterling summed it up as well as anyone. "The more you win things, the happier the team morale is and I think the boys have been brilliant this year," he said. "We have another opportunity in the final against Chelsea to create something special again. As I said, once you win trophies, you just want to win more so hopefully that carries on into the weekend."
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That ease may just come from one simple truth. Guardiola and his players know that Chelsea have beaten a City team but perhaps not this City team, the one that will take to the pitch on Saturday at full strength and in its best system. In the other two recent games between these two you could sense that the English champions were just holding something back, not giving away their full plan. That was particularly evident in the Premier League fixture that came after both sides' wins in their Champions League semifinals.
On that day Guardiola effectively matched systems with Chelsea, using a back three of Ruben Dias, Aymeric Laporte and John Stones. In possession the look and feel of it was not that dissimilar to how City attack from their more standard shapes: a three man defense, the duo of Rodri and Joao Cancelo further ahead and five players free to do what they do best in the final third. Yet in personnel terms it is hard to imagine that quintet will include Benjamin Mendy, Gabriel Jesus and Ferran Torres from the off, even if their manager does have a habit of springing surprises in the biggest games.
Even in an FA Cup semifinal, with the chance to win an unprecedented English quadruple on the line, Guardiola did without the likes of Ilkay Gundogan, Phil Foden and Ederson whilst playing a two-man midfield shield of Rodri and Fernandinho. That rather limited City's ability to hem Chelsea in with their press, something they did with great efficacy against Paris Saint-Germain in the second half of the semifinal first leg. That was this team operating at peak efficiency with all its key cogs in position. Tuchel's side have not seen that yet. No wonder City are in such relaxed mood.
Kante proves to be Chelsea's key attacking weapon
Breaking that press proved to be beyond PSG in the semifinal but then they did not have a midfielder as dynamic as N'Golo Kante. Often narrowly defined by what he can do without the ball this season's Champions League has been a reminder of the damage the France international can do to opposing defenses.
Against Real Madrid in particular, Kante was the release valve that allowed Chelsea to break the spells of possession built up by the Spanish giants and swiftly turn defense into attack. According to Opta's sequencing data no player moved the ball further per possession than the 30-year-old, who advanced the ball an average of 26.7 meters towards goal in the second leg. One would hardly confuse him for Kevin De Bruyne in the final third but he still ended that game with three chances created, more than any of his teammates.
N'Golo Kante's action bins in Champions League knockout games this season, showing a player who has largely been involved in the attacking half of the pitch. TruMedia
This has been the year of front-footed Kante, particularly under Tuchel. His action bins above show a player with greater license to roam upfield, particularly into the right channel where he led so many of the counter-attacking charges against Real Madrid. He ranks 16th among all players in the competition for take-ons attempted with 30, only three fewer than Phil Foden. His 70 percent success rate is bettered by only one player above him in the rankings, Jens Cadjuste of Midtjylland.
At least in part that is because Jorginho has taken on the role of being a leader of Chelsea's defensive lines. "He asks me to organize the midfield, to be close every time, to have short connections with the other players so we can have a good balance from high," the Italian international told CBS Sports earlier this week.
The Italian and Kante have proven to be a strong match in the middle of Tuchel's 3-4-3. Whilst one is most comfortable sitting and distributing the other is rarely more effective than when he is able to move. "It is unbelievable, the energy [Kante] brings to the team," said Jorginho. "He gives everything he can, that's massive. He doesn't surprise me, I know him and train with him every day. I know his quality, his [best] positions."
If Chelsea are to replicate their successful gameplan from the FA Cup semifinal, rapid transitions will be key. Though in the league match the possession stakes were more equal at Wembley Tuchel's side, masters of keep ball for most of his reign, sat deep and looked to charge up the field with purpose, looking to unlock the pace of their frontline. Kante was at the heart of that and will be again if Chelsea are to be successful again in Porto.
Manchester City vs. Chelsea: Champions League final live stream, TV channel, how to watch online, news, odds
The English giants meet for the title on Sunday
The UEFA Champions League trophy will be awarded Saturday as Manchester City and Chelsea meet in the final in Porto. The all-English final sees two dominate defenses go head to head with City as the favorites, but the Blues will hope to repeat their last performance against the Cityzens, knocking them off in Premier League play earlier in the month. City, led by a heavily funded project and coach Pep Guardiola, look to win their first ever European crown in their first ever appearance. The Blues, the only team in London to ever win the UCL, are looking for their second title in what will be their third trip to the game.
Man City vs Chelsea live stream: How to watch Champions League fixture online and on TV
The second all-English Champions League final in three years takes place in Portos
Manchester City and Chelsea will do battle on Saturday night in the Champions League final in another all-English clash, just two years after Liverpool and Spurs duked it out in Madrid.
The match has been moved from Istanbul to Porto due to travel restriction issues, with up to 16,500 supporters set to be present for the game.
Pep Guardiola’s Premier League champions are going in search of a first Champions League trophy in the club’s history, while Chelsea are hoping to replicate what they achieved against Bayern Munich back in 2012.
It promises to be an intriguing contest given Thomas Tuchel’s side have beaten Man City twice in the last couple of months.