In the third installment of Man City Square’s buildup to the UEFA Champions League, this piece will argue why Manchester City will defeat Chelsea in this season’s Champions League Final. (The first part of this series, which discussed Man City’s game against Chelsea in the English Premier League, can be found here. The second part of this series, which argued why Chelsea would win the Champions League, can be found here.)
After a difficult start to the 2020/21 season, Manchester City remarkably turned things around. The Sky Blues went on a terrific run from December 2020 to March 2021. City’s superb form helped them win their fourth consecutive EFL “Carabao” Cup Final, and the EPL title. Finally, City advanced to the Champions League’s Semi-Finals for the second time in their history, and they will now compete in their first Champions League final. With this in mind, why might Manchester City win the 2020/21 Champions League Final?
Manchester City’s Silverware Run During the 2020/2021 Season
Manchester City have already shown that they are capable of winning trophies this season. For example, the Sky Blues won their fourth consecutive Carabao Cup Final. City have now won the tournament on eight occasions, and six of these eight trophies were won over the past eight years.
During City’s Carabao Cup run this season, the Sky Blues faced Arsenal in the competition’s Quarter-Final and Manchester United in the Semi-Final. The Sky Blues defeated their opponents by a combined score of 6-1. Manchester City then faced Tottenham Hotspur in the final, where City won 1-0. While critics will argue that Arsenal, United, and Tottenham have not been at their best this season, City still needed to defeat these three quality opponents in order to win this competition. City’s ability to defeat difficult opponents in knockout competitions demonstrates that they have what it takes to perform in important matches, regardless of the prestige of the tournament.
Finally, Manchester City won the 2020/21 EPL title in remarkable fashion. City started the season poorly, where they dominated several matches but failed to convert these performances into victories. By the middle of December 2020, Manchester City were five points behind then-league leaders Liverpool, and the Sky Blues sat in sixth. An emergency team talk organized by club captain Fernandinho then saw his City side turn things around. The Sky Blues began to grind out results, where they went on an impressive winning run between the middle of December in 2020 and the start of March in 2021. City were defensively sound throughout this period, recorded numerous clean sheets in various competitions, and were winning games without a recognized striker.
Squad Rotation, Tactics, and Well-Rested Players
Due to Manchester City’s dominance during the winter months, the Sky Blues amassed a double-digit lead at the top of the EPL table. This gave City a comfortable cushion at the top of the EPL table, and it allowed the Sky Blues to rotate their squad as they were competing in four different competitions. Manchester City manager Pep Guardiola was also fortunate as he had a relatively healthy and fit squad throughout the season. The continued absence of Sergio Agüero and Gabriel Jesus forced Guardiola to alter his tactics, and this presented an unforeseen opportunity to start players in matches that better suited their playing styles.
For example, when City opted to play a false nine system, Guardiola often played Bernardo Silva, Raheem Sterling, Ferran Torres, Riyad Mahrez, Phil Foden, and Kevin De Bruyne in a rotating midfield. This meant that Jesus (and Agüero when fit) would sit on the bench. Meanwhile, when City opted to play with a recognized forward through Jesus, this meant that Bernardo, Sterling, or Torres would sit on the bench.
Now, having officially won the league at the start of May, several of City’s players have been rested for the remainder of the EPL season. This will mean that City’s players will be fresh and ready to go ahead of the Champions League Final. Guardiola will likely preview his squad for the Champions League final on the last day of the 2020/21 EPL season.
Element of Surprise
Finally, Manchester City will have the element of surprise on their side when they face Chelsea in this season’s Champions League Final. Many fans and pundits nicknamed the recent EPL match between City and Chelsea as a dress rehearsal ahead of the final. This, however, could not have been further from the truth. The same could be said for the recent FA Cup Semi-Final.
In both cases, City fielded a weaker side. In the FA Cup match, City started the likes of Zack Steffen, Aymeric Laporte, Benjamin Mendy, Fernandinho, and Ferran Torres. City also played a 4-2-3-1 system in this game, something that has been rarely used. Meanwhile, Chelsea fielded nine of their regular starters. Similarly, during the EPL game on Matchday 35, City played a 3-5-2 system with two strikers and only six regular-team players. In contrast, Chelsea played eight regular starters. In both cases, Chelsea stuck with their 3-4-2-1 formation.
Simply put, during the previous two encounters between these two sides, Chelsea used their traditional formation and started the majority of their regular players. In contrast, Manchester City played significantly weaker sides and experimented with their tactics. The formation for the final will likely be City’s 4-3-3 system with a false nine, something that was not used in either Chelsea encounter. In other words, while Chelsea won the previous two games against City, the Blues have yet to face the Sky Blues at their full strength.
Overall, despite the blip at the start of the season, Manchester City have been superb. They won two domestic competitions, advanced to the Semi-Final of a third, and advanced to their first Champions League Final. Their defensive composure, ability to score goals without a recognized striker, scoring from primarily the midfield, and their ability on the ball have shown why they are the team to beat in Europe this season. City worked hard to defeat Borussia Dortmund and Paris Saint-Germain in the Champions League’s Quarter-Finals and Semi-Finals, and the Sky Blues are one victory away from winning their first Champions League title.
Will Manchester City make history on 29 May?
Possible Starting XI for the Champions League Final
Ederson; Walker, Stones, Dias, Zinchenko; Gündoğan, Rodri, Bernardo; Mahrez, De Bruyne, Foden