Football - Kings of Europe
The Dark Blues v The Light Blues could refer to the annual boat race between Oxford and Cambridge along the River Thames through West London, but the trophy concerned this time stays in England's capital city as Chelsea won a second Champions League title, beating Manchester City for the third time this season. Chelsea's first Champions League win was in 2012, defeating Bayern Munich, in addition to losing the 2008 final on penalties to Manchester United.
Kai Havertz's goal after 42 minutes, following a superb pass from Mason Mount, banished some memories for manager Thomas Tuchel, himself a loser of this game a year ago with Paris St Germain. He was also of course, a loser in this season's FA Cup Final, but if you are going to arrive a club mid-season (in January), yet end it with two major final appearances, it helps to win one of them. City are no strangers to cup finals, even though this was their first Champions League showpiece.
Pep Guardiola was brought to Manchester to win this competition, or so it is said, and he has already been at City longer than elsewhere, winning everything there is to win in England - but still he must wait for the big one. He and his club will be back to contest this game again however, as the Spaniard is not one to leave business unfinished, despite not winning the Champions League with Bayern Munich, having done so twice with Barcelona.
His was a dignified stance in defeat to Tuchel's Chelsea but Guardiola's record as a winner is unsurpassed so he will be hurt by this loss. Committed to a fifth season at City (he had four at Barcelona, three at Munich), already plans are being made for the next. Guardiola's task will be made harder however by his opponents in England; a resurgent Liverpool will want more of what they have recently had, as will Manchester United. And Chelsea?
Below: Kai Havertz hits the winner
Thomas Tuchel knows very well that he works for a club that fires its successful managers - the last one to win the Champions League was Roberto Di Matteo in 2012 (he also won the FA Cup that year) yet he didn't last another season, being sacked in November 2012 after just eight months in charge. Avram Grant was in charge in 2008 and he was gone at the end of that season.
Chelsea's demands are such that their league position, at all times during all seasons, must be permanently in the top four - anywhere else means the manager goes, regardless of however far along the season may be. The club's 'hire and fire' policy has worked for them over the past twenty years up to a point, but only up to a point. Given the quality of opposition, the usual suspects, including both Manchester clubs as well as Liverpool, means that, with the exception of Manchester City a year ago, the 'big four' aren't going to win everything in England all the time. Somebody has to lose sometimes.
Even though it is hard to look past those four clubs, Manchester City, Manchester United, Liverpool and Chelsea currently, one immediately thinks of Arsenal and Tottenham Hotspur as challengers for top-four places, but are they both now too far behind to realistically compete? And what of Leicester? Not to mention West Ham. Both clubs will be in the Europa League next season and its not difficult to predict another all-English set of finalists for both competitions again. The top European clubs are all in a transitional stage currently so the doors are open. But whoever loses, could also lose their manager as well.
Simply playing well, competing but not actually winning anything isn't enough these days, as Jose Mourinho and Frank Lampard can testify, along with a huge number of other managers across Europe. So for Tuchel, tonight's win will probably not be enough if it is not replicated next season.
Below: Kante takes the ball from De Bruyne
For now however he can reflect on a good night's work. The game was bright and fluid throughout the first half, culminating in the strike from Havertz. The second period saw sustained City pressure, although Chelsea goalkeeper Mendy was rarely called on to exert himself, such was the quality of the London club's defending. Chelsea looked capable of danger on the break and Christian Pulisic missed an opportunity to double Chelsea's lead on 72 minutes. Throughout the game, City saw little return from Sterling, superbly marshalled by Reece James, with Ben Chilwell equally effective on the left. An early injury to Thiago Silva saw him replaced by Christiansen but it made no difference for Chelsea, with Rudiger also outstanding.
The deal-breaker for Chelsea was N'Golo Kante, who was deservedly man of the match for not only breaking up City's attacks but also being up and down the pitch supporting his own forward's movement. City missed Kevin de Bruyne when he also went off injured after a clash with Kante, although there was no question of a foul - the Belgian landed awkwardly and that was his game done. Still City had their moments, Foden had a shot blocked and Mahrez shot just over the bar, but for all their possession and pressure, found Chelsea stubborn and resolute.
Chelsea found a way, City didn't so the London club probably deserved the win. Manchester City will be back however and one of the potential beneficiaries of this game will be England manager Gareth Southgate. Although this was an all-English club final, that can be taken with a pinch of salt, given the number of foreign players both clubs have (not to mention their ownership) but talented young English players are being seen more and are more influential. Reece James, Mason Mount and Ben Chilwell were prominent, Phil Foden will be a better player for this experience, and there are others. England could be well-placed for the next few years. Provided of course, that these young men play regularly and compete in finals regularly.
Regardless of who the managers are.
Manchester City: Ederson, Walker, Dias, Stones, Zinchenko, Gundogan, De Bruyne (C), Bernardo, Mahrez, Sterling, Foden.
Substitutes: Steffen, Carson, Ake, Jesus, Aguero, Laporte, Rodrigo, Torres, Mendy, Fernandinho, Cancelo, Garcia.
Chelsea: Mendy; James, Thiago Silva, Rudiger; Azpilicueta, Kante, Jorginho, Chilwell; Mount, Havertz, Werner.
Substitutes: Kepa, Caballero, Alonso, Christensen, Pulisic, Zouma, Kovacic, Giroud, Hudson-Odoi, Ziyech, Gilmour, Emerson.
Referee: Antonio Mateu Lahoz (Spain)
© Kevan James 2021
Pictures from BT Sport