"It's always tough to play against City, Bayern or Barcelona when Pep is on the sideline. He creates huge belief and success and has a huge winning mentality," Chelsea boss Thomas Tuchel hailed Guardiola on the eve of the final game of 2020/21 season. "Maybe at the moment, City are the strongest team in Europe, in the world, and they have built a huge gap between us in the league...," he continued. But the German did not shy away from reminding the world of their recent back-to-back wins against the Premier League winners - "...but we closed the gap for 90 minutes at Wembley and closed the gap again in Manchester."
For the ninth-placed side in the Premier League at the start of this year, incoming coach Tuchel's sole job was to lift the Blues back in the race for the next season's Champions League. And the team indeed bounced back under the former PSG boss, and despite their loss to West Brom, Arsenal and Aston Villa in the fag-end, Chelsea managed to cling on to the final spot for European Championship. They made further strides, reaching the FA Cup final, where they lost to Leicester, and defeated Atletico Madrid, FC Porto and Real Madrid to reach the Champions League final.
Tuchel's Chelsea will now be up against the all-conquering superteam and outright favourites Manchester City, who have reached the Champions League final for the first time, while it will be the third for Guardiola, reaching the final last in the 2010-11 season with Barcelona. Can Chelsea make it three in a row against City? Here we look at some of the factors which will determine the game in Chelsea's favour.
Tuchel to stick to his prefered formation
The German, for one thing, has been consistent with his 3-4-2-1 shape since his arrival at Stamford Bridge and is likely to stick with the shape for the biggest game of the 2020/21 season. Chelsea have been fretting over the fitness of N’Golo Kante and Edouard Mendy, but fans heaved a sigh of relief with both being declared fit for the clash in Porto.
Mendy will hence don the gloves on Saturday night with the trio of César Azpilicueta, Thiago Silva and Antonio Rüdiger. Reece James and Ben Chilwell at wing-back and Kante and Jorginho will handle the midfield matters.
Lack of goals will be Chelsea's primary concern heading to the final with Tuchel calling for "more composure and more precision in the decision making and finishing itself." Timo Werner did trouble City with his pace and movement, but the German international struggled to convert his chances. But Hakim Ziyech, Chelsea have the perfect option, who had scored in both the matches where Chelsea defeated City. Besides the two, Mason Mount will wrap up the lineup.
City’s high defensive line
Manchester United did this earlier this year and so did Chelsea in their FA Cup semifinal win. It has long been the problem of Guardiola's style of football - a high-press game equally holds chances of falling vulnerable when the attack goes haywire. And Chelsea have the pacy Werner and Ziyech to exploit those chances.
How Chelsea can withhold City attack?
Azpilicueta is likely to return to his original spot after Tuchel used him as a right wing-back against Leicester and Villa as a surprising strategy to counter Jamie Vardy's speed with James. Moreover, James will be key in offering width on the right plank given that Riyad Mahrez will keep Chilwell occupied on the left. Another aspect that Chelsea should keep in mind is City's build-up to the first goal in the recent League game where Ferran Torres fell deep to drag out Rüdiger, hence creating the empty space which the Premier League winners capitalised on.
Although Ziyech played a key role in Chelsea's twin win over City, Tuchel can look to start with Werner and Pulisic upfront and Mount as a floating mid-fielder which will disrupt City's defensive plans, pulling them out of their positions amid Kante's menace.
Guardiola has a measure of Chelsea's tactics
In a recent interview with BT Sport, ahead of the Champions League final, Guardiola explained Tuchel's strategy to Rio Ferdinand. "Why Chelsea play so good... because they have three central defenders close, the two holding midfielders who move in relation are close, the pockets are close, the striker and the two [others in attack] are so, so close," he explained.
"The distances are so close, and at the same time they are so wide with the wing-backs, they are so good with the ball in behind.
"That's why you cannot be close because they push you [out wide] and they have a lot of good players in the middle.
"That's why it's difficult to face teams who want the ball and want to play with the ball. We've tried to do it since day one."
“We are here to win the trophy. Maybe as the slight underdogs, but this does not change anything and we want to leave Porto with the trophy,” said the German on the eve of the final.