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Chelsea rose again! What Tuchel did right and what Guardiola did wrong

Chelsea rose again! What Tuchel did right and what Guardiola did wrong

Chelsea rose again! What Tuchel did right and what Guardiola did wrong

It turns out the formula is simple. Sack your coach midway through the season when you’re so far behind the league leaders that the Champions League is the only realistic target, and, at least if you’re Chelsea, you end up winning it. Just as in 2012, when Roberto Di Matteo replaced André Villas-Boas to secure an unexpected triumph in Munich, so it was this season, with Thomas Tuchel stepping in for Frank Lampard and reinvigorating his side.

 

And Saturday’s 1–0 win over Manchester City in the Champions League final in Porto was a victory primarily for Tuchel, who over the past few weeks has become only the second manager in history to beat Pep Guardiola in three successive matches. His side rarely looked threatened and looked consistently dangerous on the break. After Chelsea’s FA Cup semifinal win over Man City and the subsequent results, the suspicion must now be that Tuchel has become one of those coaches who panics Guardiola into overthinking.

Chelsea rose again! What Tuchel did right and what Guardiola did wrong
Chelsea rose again! What Tuchel did right and what Guardiola did wrong

Guardiola’s team selections in the knockout stage so far this season had been relatively unremarkable. The tendency he had shown so often in the past to complicate big games, making changes to his basic shape, had been resisted. But in the biggest game of all, he sprung two major surprises. Raheem Sterling was included on the left, with Kevin De Bruyne as a false nine, which meant Phil Foden fell back into midfield.

 

 


And perhaps even more remarkably, Guardiola picked neither Fernandinho, who has been excellent recently, nor Rodri, who had made 53 previous appearances this season. This was only the second time this season Man City had started a game without either of its two first-choice holding midfielders. The use of Ilkay Gündoğan as the deepest midfielder was presumably part of an attempt to dominate possession, while Guardiola said Sterling had been selected specifically because if Chelsea’s back three, by which he presumably meant hitting the space behind Chelsea’s right wingback, Reece James.

Chelsea rose again! What Tuchel did right and what Guardiola did wrong
Chelsea rose again! What Tuchel did right and what Guardiola did wrong

 

But the changes left City looking uneasy. It lacked its usual rhythm in the first half, with De Bruyne struggling to impose himself, while Sterling looked as out of sorts as he has in recent weeks, a poor touch squandering an early opportunity as he was almost released behind Thiago Silva.

 

At the same time, Chelsea repeatedly got in behind City’s back four—the very vulnerability that City had been so good at protecting this season. Not for the first time, it was left ruing the fact that Timo Werner’s finishing is nothing like the quality of his movement and approach play. But the breakthrough did come two minutes before halftime, with Mason Mount sliding a pass through the space where a holding midfielder might have been and between Oleksandr Zinchenko and John Stones as Rúben Dias was dragged to the right by Werner’s run. Kai Havertz ran on and rounded Ederson to put Chelsea ahead with his first Champions League goal. The 21-year-old had a slow start to the season, in part because of a bout of COVID-19, but that goal alone was probably enough to justify his club-record $90 million fee.

 

 


A block by Antonio Rüdiger—and ensuing collision—forced a tearful De Bruyne off after an hour, and Bernardo Silva was withdrawn for Fernandinho four minutes later, leaving City with a more orthodox 4-3-3 shape—but with Sterling and Jesus, neither of whom have played regularly recently, as two of the front three. The subsequent introduction of Sergio Agüero with 14 minutes remaining felt almost desperate, with Guardiola having eschewed the front five based around midfielders that has become familiar in recent weeks and reduced to throwing on forwards. But the expected surge never came.

 

Chelsea, with N’Golo Kanté reigning supreme all over the field, was able to hold City at arm’s length, and the only effort on target in the whole game for Guardiola’s side was the Sterling opportunity after seven minutes. By the end, City’s main attacking threat were long throws from Kyle Walker and an oddly hit Riyad Mahrez chance in stoppage time that went agonizingly close.

 

Beyond immediate events on the pitch, this was a final that felt like a vision of the future. In part, that is an issue of tactics, the sense that Guardiola and Tuchel are close to finding a way of combining a hard press with a defensive game that means that the high line is not instantly exposed to teams who can play through the press. (Although it should be acknowledged that that sense could be obliterated when football resumes its more familiar rhythms with a little more time for recovery and individual game preparation, the absence of which has hampered the higher-tempo pressing sides such as Liverpool and Bayern this season).

 

But more it is an issue of economics. The advent of the Champions League in 1992 began a process of making the wealthy wealthier so their success became self-perpetuating in a way it had never been before. But the imagined future of the traditional elites cementing their power was shattered by Roman Abramovich’s acquisition of Chelsea in 2003. Sheikh Mansour led Abu Dhabi’s takeover of City in 2008 and Qatar Sports Investment, headed by Nasser Al-Khelaifi, bought Paris Saint-Germain in 2011. Suddenly there were three major clubs whose funding was reliant not on on-field success but on extraordinary wealth derived ultimately from oil and gas resources.

 

 


It was fear of that insurgent force, and the recognition of the inflationary pressures they could bring to bear, that led to the imposition of Financial Fair Play legislation in 2010, but the regulations have been patchily applied, their toothlessness exposed when City, having been found in breach, won its appeal against a suspension from the Champions League at the Court of Arbitration for Sport last summer. The response to that was the proposed Super League, which would have guaranteed all its members a regular source of income largely divorced from on-field performance.

 

PSG didn’t sign up, and City and Chelsea agreed to join only when the plans were presented to them as a fait accompli. Having been the most reluctant members, they were then the first to indicate their withdrawal when the scale of the backlash against the plan became apparent. When Real Madrid president Florentino Pérez, in one of his weirdly paranoid and self-pitying interviews about the Super League, spoke of it being brought down from within, it was clear to whom he was referring, while there are credible reports that the UAE government lobbied U.K. Prime minister Boris Johnson to oppose the plan. The petroclubs simply don’t need the Super League and, both in that it would artificially support the traditional elite and in the reputational damage it became apparent it would do, it was directly contrary to the interests of the petroclubs whose owners are more interested in status and soft power than making money.

 

For City and PSG in particular, the Champions League has been the grail, and given their resources and domestic success, their lack of European achievement has been striking. This season was Man City’s first in which it had gotten beyond the Champions League quarterfinals in the five years Guardiola has been at the helm. PSG, with Tuchel as its coach, reached the final last season but was a class behind Bayern Munich in a competition whose latter stages were delayed and altered by the pandemic. Of the three major petroclubs, only Chelsea had won the Champions league before this season, and that in slightly freakish circumstances in 2012.

 

It was PSG who initiated the present inflationary spiral with the signing of Neymar in 2017 for a fee that more than doubled the previous world record, a scale of increase that had never previously been seen. It was a statement signing that felt almost designed both to assert PSG’s power and to break the market. The huge debts at Barcelona and Real Madrid suggest just what an impact the move had.

 

COVID-19 and the consequent reduction in revenue has exacerbated those problems, and precipitated the Super League proposals. That two of the petroclubs should then meet in the Champions League final just over a month after the Super League collapsed feels highly symbolic, particularly given another one lost in the semifinal. The Spanish and Italian giants are all in financial trouble. Manchester United has vast debts. Arsenal and Tottenham have both taken out emergency loans. Liverpool has acknowledged its transfer budget is restricted. It’s entirely possible that the post-pandemic settlement will see the domination of the three petroclubs.

 

 


The impact this season has been clear. Estimates vary, but European football has lost at least $5 billion because of the pandemic. Everybody has had to cut back, apart from Man City, who spent $120 million net last summer while pushing its total salary up to just under $500 million, an all-time Premier League high. Chelsea, having served a year’s transfer ban, spent $250 million net last summer. The two carried on regardless as all about them were forced to retrench.

 

And that new environment means that there probably will be further chances for City. These two clubs, with their enormous resources and a pair of very fine managers— Guardiola’s penchant for self-destructiveness notwithstanding—should be set for a period of domination.

 

But this was Chelsea’s night, and it becomes the 13th club, the fourth from England, to be crowned European champion multiple times. Chelsea was ninth in the Premier League when Lampard was fired in late January and required a last-day assist from Tottenham just to finish in the top four. But Tuchel’s stabilizing qualities, tactical knowhow and ability to not just match wits with Guardiola, but outmatch him on multiple occasions, have brought Chelsea to Europe’s summit once again.

TEMI BADMUS
Temi Badmus is a Food scientist and an Art enthusiast. Her desire is to give a listening ear to people and to give an opportunity for everyone to be heard. She is a humorous and controversial writer, who believes all form of writing is audible if it's done well. Temi Badmus is research oriented, dog lover; she is currently a mum to three brutal Jack Russell terrier, one male and two female - "Cash, Indie and Tokyo 🐕 🐕 🐕 The future is female... The future is Productive.