The stage is set. After defeating their respective opponents, Manchester City will face Chelsea in the 2020/21 UEFA Champions League Final. The match will commence on Saturday, 29 May. This will be Manchester City’s first appearance in the final while it is Chelsea’s third.
Coincidentally, Manchester City will face Chelsea this weekend on Matchday 35 in the 2020/21 English Premier League. Pundits and fans have already stated that this EPL match will be a dress rehearsal ahead of the Champions League Final. This is further from the truth. There are three reasons why this is the case.
EPL Matchday 17: Chelsea 1-3 Manchester City – Sky Blues Depleted, Blues Poor Form
Manchester City and Chelsea have already played each other twice this season, once in the EPL and once in the FA Cup. During the “first leg” of this season’s EPL matchup, Manchester City won 3-1 at Stamford Bridge. There were many important talking points from this game, however.
First, several of Manchester City’s players did not travel as they had contracted the coronavirus. City’s training facilities were shut ahead of this match, and the players and coaching staff were unable to hold training sessions. Due to these absences, City manager Pep Guardiola had to alter his lineup. Second, then-Chelsea manager Frank Lampard’s club were struggling in the league, where they were sitting in eighth place in the EPL table ahead of this match. Chelsea’s defensive record was poor, and several of their new signings were struggling to make an impact.
Manchester City eventually won the match 3-1, and Lampard was fired shortly after this game. Given City’s depleted squad, and the departure of their manager, this game cannot be used to predict the Champions League Final.
FA Cup Semi-Final: Chelsea 1-0 Manchester City – New Manager, Rotated Sides
Three months later, a rejuvenated Chelsea side took on Manchester City in the 2020/21 FA Cup Semi-Final. Thomas Tuchel was hired as Lampard’s replacement, and the German manager helped revamp Chelsea’s defense. The Blues had recorded a series of clean sheets, conceded a limited number of goals, and were finally getting the most out of their new transfer signings.
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Meanwhile, Manchester City’s compact schedule would see them compete in four different competitions in a span of two weeks. As a result, Guardiola decided to rotate his squad ahead of the FA Cup match. When the team sheets were announced, only five on Manchester City’s starting 11 were regular players in City’s big matches. Similarly, due to fixture congestion on their end, only six of Chelsea’s 11 were regular starters.
What transpired was a very drab affair. Had it not been for Hakim Ziyech’s impressive goal, this match likely would have gone into extra time, and possibly even penalties. Both teams only had three shots of goal, and it seemed as if neither side wanted to win the match. Given this poor display, this match cannot be used to predict the upcoming Champions League Final.
EPL Matchday 35: Manchester City vs Chelsea – League Nearly Won, Scrambling for Top Four
Now, Manchester City will host Chelsea on Saturday on EPL Matchday 35. Much has changed since their earlier EPL encounter on Matchday 17. Assuming Manchester United win their remaining five EPL matches this season, Manchester City will require three points from their remaining four EPL matches to lift the 2020/21 EPL title. City’s final four opponents for the remainder of the 2020/21 season are Chelsea, Newcastle, Brighton, and Everton. Man United, however, will face Aston Villa, Leicester City, Liverpool, Fulham, and Wolves. Given these two differing schedules, it is likely United will drop more points. City also have a higher goal difference than United, meaning City can afford to drop points against Chelsea.
Chelsea, on the other hand, have a very difficult run. The Blues currently sit in fourth place in the EPL table, and they are three points above fifth-placed West Ham United. Chelsea’s final four EPL matches, however, come against Manchester City, Arsenal, Leicester City, and Aston Villa. Chelsea also have the FA Cup Final against Leicester ahead of the Villa match. Should Chelsea hope to qualify for next season’s Champions League, they will need to win three of their remaining four EPL matches. This will be difficult, and Chelsea know they need to beat City on Matchday 35.
Given what is at stake, City can afford to drop points against Chelsea this weekend. Guardiola will be disappointed if his side lose or draw to Chelsea, but he will not be heartbroken as the league is nearly won. Meanwhile, Chelsea need to win the remainder of their EPL games this season to qualify for the Champions League next season. They cannot gamble on winning the Champions League Final in order to book their place for next season’s Champions League. As a result, City may opt to play a weaker side, meaning spectators and pundits will still not see a full-strength Manchester City side against Chelsea until the Champions League Final.
Each Match Is Different
Overall, the circumstances surrounding these three matches are very different. In the first match, City had several players out due to the coronavirus while Chelsea were on the verge of sacking their manager. In the second instance, City and Chelsea had congested schedules, and this saw them rotate their squads. In the third example, Manchester City have nearly won the league and they can afford to lose this game while Chelsea need to win the match. This will also lead to a rotation in squads and differing tactics.
Therefore, the previous Manchester City vs Chelsea matches ahead of this season’s Champions League Final should not be used to predict the outcome of the forthcoming final. The match this weekend is only an EPL match. Nothing more. Nothing less.