As the final whistle went at the Estádio do Dragão in Porto, it was a surreal feeling for Manchester City supporters, but for all of the wrong reasons. Despite being declared prohibitive favorites, being managed by the world’s best coach, and simply having better players man-for-man than their opponents, Thomas Tuchel’s Chelsea had outfoxed City for the third time in six weeks to claim club football’s ultimate prize.
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A lone goal separated the two sides, as Kai Havertz was slipped through a wide-open City defense late in the first half, rounding Ederson and sealing that City’s agonizing wait for European glory would continue. City created almost nothing from that point, and even a late Sergio Agüero cameo couldn’t produce one last ounce of magic. As Chelsea lifted the Champions League, City had been beaten to further emphasize all the classic tropes: Pep Guardiola overthinking, and “Typical City”.
Guardiola objectively got it wrong. He let the previous two defeats get to him, and he tried to outhink Tuchel by playing neither of Fernandinho and Rodri, instead opting for an out-of-form Raheem Sterling, who has notably struggled in big matches throughout his career. Rodri has been excellent all season, shielding the back four as City took a more pragmatic approach with Rúben Dias shoring things up. Instead of leaning on what had finally gotten City to their first-ever final, he threw it out the window in favor of something reminiscent of 2017-18 City: all-out pressing with a high line that gave no regard for opposition counter-attacks, which is precisely what Tuchel’s team thrives upon. In a one-goal game, it directly proved the difference.
For everything that City have accomplished in this last decade, they’ve once again fallen short in their quest for the ultimate prize, this time right at the finish line. Once again, it’s to a team where man-for-man, City have better players. Monaco, Tottenham, Lyon, and now Chelsea. Despite shattering incredible records, winning everything possible domestically, and scintillating football, this will be the story of Guardiola’s City. Very good, but never the best.
Tuchel’s Chelsea evidences the power of organization and he deserves tremendous credit: despite not having elite central defenders, his team has continuously produced clean sheets, wins, and now titles against superior sides. Nevertheless, this was supposed to be City’s moment. Guardiola’s moment to do it outside of Barcelona and without Lionel Messi. Agüero’s emotional farewell. Now, all that remains is a sting that will last for years to come and a wonder of what could have been. Typical City.