Just days after both teams confirmed their place in the biggest game in European club football, Manchester City and Chelsea did battle in the Premier League this past weekend.
It was the second time in under a month the two sides had met, with Chelsea getting the nod the first time in the FA Cup semi-final at Wembley thanks to an excellent display that saw the teams separated by a fine counter-attacking goal from Hakim Ziyech.
This time the stakes were a little different, with City knowing that victory would officially see them crowned as Premier League champions for a third time in four seasons.
Despite that, City couldn’t make the external motivation work in their favour as they suffered a 2-1 defeat to Thomas Tuchel’s side once again at the Etihad Stadium.
Pep Guardiola’s side took the lead through Raheem Sterling in the first half, before Sergio Aguero missed a penalty when he attempted a panenka and failed to fool Edouard Mendy. In the second half Chelsea battled back and turned in a much better performance, equalising via a fine strike from Ziyech again before an injury time winner from Marcos Alonso sealed all three points.
It sparked conversations about the Champions League final coming up in three weeks time, with momentum obviously now on the side of the west London club with two victories over their opponents fairly recently.
Many people seem to think that Tuchel may have Guardiola’s number tactically, with the three-at-the-back system that the German has implemented at Stamford Bridge proving to be incredibly difficult to penetrate for even the best attacks in the world.
But it must be remembered that he is yet to come up against a full-strength City side. In the FA Cup game Pep started without Ederson, Kyle Walker, Ilkay Gundogan, Phil Foden, Bernardo Silva or Riyad Mahrez while Kevin De Bruyne was forced off the pitch with an injury early in the second half.
Then in the league game, Guardiola had them line up in a peculiar 3-3-3-1 formation, with Rodri the only recognised midfielder in the team.
While you mustn’t take away from the quality of performance in the Chelsea team, it’s also worth remembering City have plenty of quality to come into the team to affect their own performance. We’ve seen them drop points when they’ve rotated their team recently and some of their fans have bemoaned the level of performance of some of the players that are coming in on a less frequent basis.
But when they’ve fielded their strongest team, they have looked near unbeatable – especially in Europe. They hold the record for most wins in a single European season for an English team with 11 this season and it’s always worth noting that Guardiola has only ever lost one cup final in his career – in extra time against Jose Mourinho’s Real Madrid way back in 2011.
Tuchel lost in the Champions League final just last season and his overall record against Guardiola from their time together in Germany and also now stands four defeats, one draw and these two most recent wins with an aggregate score of 12-5 in the Catalan bosses favour.
It is worth pointing out though that Guardiola’s teams have scored just once in their last four fixtures against Tuchel teams, with Sterling’s goal at the weekend the sole strike.
The Champions League final will almost certainly be a tight, tactical affair once more but with the added quality that will be in the City lineup from the start it could and probably should be the difference on the night.
Personally, I wouldn’t be saying Tuchel or Chelsea have got Guardiola or City’s number just yet. Maybe the result on May 29th will sway me differently though.
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