TNT Sports Reload - Episode 13Oct 10
Thomas Tuchel can make it three wins from his first three games against Manchester City since being appointed Chelsea head coach when the two sides clash in Saturday night’s all-English Champions League final.
Following victories in the FA Cup semi-final in April and in the league in early May, one might assume that Chelsea would be the favourites to lift the trophy at Porto’s Estadio do Dragao this weekend.
Instead, it looks as though pulling off a season hat-trick of wins over Pep Guardiola may prove to be the biggest test of Tuchel’s career.
Guardiola v Tuchel
19/10/13: Bayern Munich 4-1 Mainz - Bundesliga
22/03/14: Mainz 0-2 Bayern Munich - Bundesliga
04/10/15: Bayern Munich 5-1 Dortmund - Bundesliga
05/03/16: Dortmund 0-0 Bayern Munich - Bundesliga
21/05/16: Bayern Munich* 0-0 Dortmund - DFB Pokal
17/04/21: Chelsea 1-0 Man City - FA Cup
08/05/21: Man City 1-2 Chelsea - Premier League
Guardiola wins: 4
Tuchel wins: 2
*Bayern Munich won 4-3 on penalties after extra-time
The former Paris Saint-Germain coach got off to a flyer following his appointment back in January, reversing Chelsea’s worrying decline under Frank Lampard almost instantly.
A creaking, disorganised back line was transformed into a league-leading defence almost overnight, providing the platform for an amazing 14-game unbeaten run until a freak 5-1 mauling by relegation-battling West Brom in early April.
Undeterred, Chelsea rediscovered their momentum, continuing to grind out results at a crucial time in the season, culminating in arguably their best performances of the year during a two-legged tie against Real Madrid.
Tuchel’s Blues dominated Madrid over both games of the Champions League semi-finals, cruising to victory 3-1 on aggregate in a score line that, in truth, flattered the Spanish giants.
But within that tie – and across the season in general – the signs of a growing problem were there for all to see: Chelsea do not score enough goals.
Not many could have predicted the Blues would find themselves in this situation when Timo Werner’s signing was announced last summer.
However, the German forward has failed to make the impact many, including he himself, would have hoped after leaving RB Leipzig, scoring just 12 in 51 appearances including only six in the league.
A similar charge could be levelled at Werner’s countryman Kai Havertz, whose best position remains a mystery to many despite more than 40 appearances for Chelsea this season.
But it is with Tuchel that the responsibility ultimately lies to get his team back firing; just as the 51-year-old deserved the plaudits for tightening up Chelsea’s defence, he deserves to be scrutinised for what his team produce at the other end of the pitch.
How to watch the Champions League final
Click here for all you need to know to make sure you don't miss a second of Man City v Chelsea on Saturday night.
He has not shied away from the big decisions in this regard, choosing to freeze Tammy Abraham out of the Chelsea first team picture entirely rather than give the England striker a chance to prove his worth.
The 23-year-old was the team’s top scorer in the league last season with 15 and scored as many goals this season (12) in all competitions as Werner, despite making 19 less appearances.
It looks certain that Abraham will leave Stamford Bridge this summer which, given Olivier Giroud also appears to be heading for the exit door, leaves Tuchel even more hamstrung by Chelsea’s ongoing prolificacy.
To compound the complexities heading into Saturday’s final in Porto, there remain question marks over the fitness of two of Chelsea’s key performers in goalkeeper Edouard Mendy and tireless midfield enigma N’Golo Kante.
Mendy was withdrawn during Chelsea’s defeat to Aston Villa on the final day of the Premier League injury complaining of a rib injury after colliding with the frame of the goal, while Kante has been managing pain related to an ongoing Achilles complaint for a number of weeks.
While Tuchel has already suggested Mendy would be his first choice to start the Champions League final, Chelsea have an adequate replacement in Kepa Arrizabalaga, who started in the FA Cup semi-final win over City, ready to step in.
But there is no like-for-like replacement for Kante in world football, never mind at Chelsea.
The Frenchman has been in sensational form in the Champions League so far this season and was the best player on the park during both ties against Real Madrid.
Combining masterful positional intelligence with lung-bursting athleticism, the 30-year-old swarmed an ageing Madrid midfield rendering them largely ineffective during a particularly dominant performance at Stamford Bridge.
Were it not for a dip in form at precisely the wrong time that leaves Chelsea limping into the Champions League final off the back of three defeats in their last four, the Blues may have been much more fancied to snatch the spoils in Porto.
As it is, they go into Saturday’s showdown as the underdog against Guardiola’s indomitable City.
Premier League champions by 14 points and on the cusp of European history, this iteration of Guardiola’s City side look like the most complete outfit he has assembled since taking charge in 2017.
In the four years since his arrival from Bayern Munich, Guardiola’s City sides have been plagued by defensive inconsistencies but the impact of Ruben Dias since his arrival from Benfica last summer has been nothing short of transformational.
Pep in major finals
Record: P15 W14 D0 L1 GF34 GA5
2009 Copa del Rey: Barcelona 4-1 Athletic
2009 Champions League: Barcelona 2-0 Man Utd
2009 FIFA Club World Cup: Barcelona 2-1 Estudiantes (AET)
2011 Copa del Rey: Barcelona 0-1 Real Madrid (AET)
2011 Champions League: Barcelona 3-1 Man Utd
2011 FIFA Club World Cup: Barcelona 4-0 Santos
2012 Copa del Rey: Barcelona 3-0 Athletic
2013 FIFA Club World Cup: Bayern Munich 2-0 Raja Casablanca
2014 DFB Pokal: Bayern Munich 2-0 Dortmund
2016 DFB Pokal: Bayern Munich 0-0 Dortmund (AET, 4-3 pens)
2018 Carabao Cup: Man City 3-0 Arsenal
2019 Carabao Cup: Man City 0-0 Chelsea (AET, 4-3 pens)
2019 FA Cup: Man City 6-0 Watford
2020 Carabao Cup: Man City 2-1 Aston Villa
2021 Carabao Cup: Man City 1-0 Tottenham
The 24-year-old won the Football Writers’ Association Player of the Year award, fortifying City’s defence with grit and determination but never lacking the composure and finesse required of Guardiola’s centre-backs.
He has played an instrumental role in the rejuvenation of John Stones’ career too, forming arguably the best partnership in the league to help the former Everton man finally realise his potential as England’s most technically gifted defender.
Phil Foden enjoyed a breakout year too, with Guardiola often turning to the ‘Stockport Iniesta’ over Raheem Sterling or Bernardo Silva at various points in the season.
The 21-year-old has scored 16 times while laying on 10 for his team-mates in 49 appearances this season, making him the second top scorer behind Ilkay Gundogan and the joint-second best playmaker alongside Sterling.
With such strength in depth anywhere across the pitch, Guardiola knows the pressure is on to live up to the weight of expectation placed on his squad.
Ten years since his last victory at this stage in the competition, the 50-year-old will not have a better chance to secure a third Champions League title; in doing so, he would join Carlo Ancelotti and Zinedine Zidane as the most successful coaches in the tournament’s history to leave the trio tied on three wins.
However, in his entire managerial career, Guardiola has lost more matches against Chelsea than any other club.
Will history haunt him once again on Saturday evening – or can City claim their first ever Champions League crown?