It turns out that the formula is simple. Fire your manager mid-season when you’re so far behind the league leaders that the Champions League is the only realistic goal and, at least if you’re Chelsea, you end up winning. As in 2012, when Roberto Di Matteo replaced André Villas-Boas to secure an unexpected win in Munich, so it was this season, with Thomas Tuchel replacing Frank Lampard and reinvigorating his squad.
And Saturday’s 1-0 win over Manchester City in the Champions League final in Porto was a victory primarily for Tuchel, who in recent weeks has become the second manager in history to beat Pep Guardiola. in three consecutive games. His side was rarely threatened and he looked constantly dangerous at halftime. Following Chelsea’s FA Cup semi-final victory over Manchester City and the subsequent results, the suspicion must now be that Tuchel has become one of those coaches who scare Guardiola into overthinking.
Guardiola’s team picks in the knockout phase so far this season had been relatively unremarkable. The tendency he had shown so many times in the past to complicate the great games, by making changes to their basic form, had been resisted. But in the most important game of all, he had two big surprises. Raheem Sterling was included on the left, with Kevin De Bruyne as a false nine, which meant Phil Foden fell back in midfield.
And perhaps even more remarkable, Guardiola chose 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 that Man City had started a game without either of its two first-choice retention midfielders. Ilkay Gündoğan’s use as the deepest midfielder was presumably part of an attempt to dominate possession, while Guardiola said Sterling had been selected specifically because Chelsea are behind three, by which he was presumably referring to hitting the space behind him. Chelsea right back Reece James.
But the changes left City restless. He lacked his usual pace in the first half, with De Bruyne struggling to prevail, while Sterling looked as bad as he has in recent weeks, a bad touch wasting an early opportunity as he was nearly freed behind Thiago Silva.
At the same time, Chelsea repeatedly got behind the backs of the City four, the same vulnerability that City had been so good at protecting this season. It is not the first time that the fact that Timo Werner’s shot is nothing like the quality of his movement and approach play has been ruled out. But the breakthrough came two minutes before halftime, with Mason Mount sliding a pass through space where a 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 kept running and circled Ederson to overtake Chelsea with their first Champions League goal. The 21-year-old had a slow start to the season, in part due to a COVID-19 bout, but that goal alone was likely enough to justify his club-record $ 90 million fee.
A block by Antonio Rüdiger, and the ensuing collision, forced a tearful De Bruyne out after an hour, and Bernardo Silva was removed by Fernandinho four minutes later, leaving City with a more orthodox 4-3-3, but with Sterling and Jesus. none of whom have played regularly recently, such as two of the three forwards. Sergio Aguero’s subsequent introduction with 14 minutes to go felt almost desperate as Guardiola avoided the five forwards relying on midfielders who have become familiar in recent weeks and was reduced to throwing forwards. But the expected increase never came.
Chelsea, with N’Golo Kanté reigning across the field, was able to keep City at arm’s length, and the only shot on goal in the entire game for Guardiola’s side was Sterling’s opportunity after seven minutes. In the end, City’s main attacking threat was long shots from Kyle Walker and an oddly successful shot from Riyad Mahrez in injury time that was terribly close.
Beyond the immediate events on the field, this was a final that felt like a vision of the future. Partly that’s a matter of tactics, the feeling that Guardiola and Tuchel are close to finding a way to combine heavy pressure with defensive play which means the high line is not instantly exposed to teams that can play through. the press. (Although it must be recognized that this sense could disappear when football returns to its more familiar rhythms with a little more time for recovery and individual preparation for the game, the absence of which has hampered faster-paced teams such as Liverpool and Bayern. this season. ).
But more is a question of economics. The advent of the Champions League in 1992 started a process of enriching the rich, so its success was perpetuated like never before. But the imagined future of the traditional elites who cemented their power was shattered by Roman Abramovich’s acquisition of Chelsea in 2003. Sheikh Mansour led the Abu Dhabi takeover in 2008 and Qatar Sports Investment, led by Nasser Al-Khelaifi, bought Paris Saint-Germain in 2011. Suddenly, there were three major clubs whose funding depended not on success on the field, but on extraordinary wealth ultimately derived from oil and gas resources.
It was the fear of that insurgent force, and the recognition of the inflationary pressures they could exert, that led to the imposition of the Financial Fair Play legislation in 2010, but the regulations have been applied in an irregular manner, its toothless exposed when the Ciudad, having been found in default, won his appeal against a Champions League suspension in the Court of Arbitration for Sport last summer. The answer to that was the Super League proposal, which would have guaranteed all its members a regular source of income largely divorced from performance on the field.
PSG did not 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 the first to signal their withdrawal when the scale of the backlash against the plan became clear. When Real Madrid president Florentino Pérez, in one of his strangely paranoid and self-pitying interviews about the Super League, spoke of it being taken down from within, it was clear who he was referring to, although there are credible reports that the Emirati government The United Arabs pressured British Prime Minister Boris Johnson to oppose the plan. The petroclubs simply did not need the Super League and, both in the fact that it would artificially support the traditional elite and in the reputational damage that it became apparent it would cause, it was directly contrary to the interests of the petroclubs whose owners are most interested. In state and soft power to make money.
For City and PSG in particular, the Champions League has been the grail and, given their resources and national success, their lack of European achievements has been surprising. This season was Manchester City’s first in which it made it past the Champions League quarter-finals in Guardiola’s five years at the helm. PSG, with Tuchel as coach, reached the final last season but were one class behind Bayern Munich in a competition whose final stages were delayed and altered by the pandemic. Of the top three petroclubs, only Chelsea had won the Champions League prior to this season, and that under slightly bizarre circumstances in 2012.
It was PSG who started the current inflationary spiral with the signing of Neymar in 2017 for a fee that more than doubled the previous world record, a scale of increase never seen before. It was a statement signing that felt almost designed both to affirm PSG’s power and to break the market. The huge debts in Barcelona and Real Madrid suggest the impact the move had.
COVID-19 and the consequent reduction in income has exacerbated those problems and precipitated the Super League proposals. The fact that two of the petroclubs meet in the Champions League final just over a month after the collapse of the Super League feels very symbolic, particularly given that another lost in the semi-final. The Spanish and Italian giants are all in financial trouble. Manchester United has great debts. Arsenal and Tottenham have obtained emergency loans. Liverpool has acknowledged that its transfer budget is restricted. It is quite possible that the post-pandemic settlement will see the dominance of the three petroclubs.
The impact this season has been clear. Estimates vary, but European soccer has lost at least $ 5 billion due to the pandemic. All have had to cut back except Man City, which spent $ 120 million net last summer while raising its total salary to just under $ 500 million, a Premier League record. Chelsea, having served a one-year transfer ban, spent $ 250 million net last summer. The two continued independently, as they were all forced to withdraw.
And that new environment means there will likely be more opportunities for City. These two clubs, with their enormous resources and a pair of very fine managers – despite Guardiola’s penchant for self-destruction – should be set for a period of domination.
But this was Chelsea’s night, and it becomes the 13th club, England’s fourth to be crowned European champion on multiple occasions. Chelsea was ninth in the Premier League when Lampard was fired in late January and required a final day assist from Tottenham just to finish in the top four. But Tuchel’s stabilizing qualities, tactical knowledge and ability to not only match Guardiola’s ingenuity, but surpass him multiple times, have brought Chelsea to the top of Europe once again.
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Eddie is an Australian news reporter with over 9 years in the industry and has published on Forbes and tech crunch.