It was just two years ago when two English clubs squared up in the UEFA Champions League Final, with Liverpool gaining the edge over Tottenham Hotspur. Now in 2021, two completely different English clubs will be facing off, as Chelsea and Manchester City have bested the rest to make it all the way to the final. Here is our tactical preview of the 2021 Champions League final.
chelsea – 3-4-2-1
Chelsea will likely line up in their usual 3-4-2-1 formation, which has recently been mistaken by many to be 3-5-2. At times the formation adapts into 3-4-1-2, as Mason Mount drops in between the lines and Timo Werner and Kai Havertz float in and out of the striker role. But it is firmly 3-4-2-1, in both build-up and pressing phases. While Thomas Tuchel has experimented with his team throughout his time in charge, things are looking more settled now. With an injury to mobile midfielder Mateo Kovacic, Jorginho and N’Golo Kante have become Tuchel’s favourite midfield duo and will likely start the final even if the Croatian is fit in time. Kai Havertz and Timo Werner have also linked up well in recent UEFA Champions League fixtures, although Christian Pulisic has also done enough to warrant a start. Reece James could also be a selection doubt, but will likely only be replaced if Andreas Christensen is fit in time to push Cesar Azpilicueta into the wing-back role instead. Finally, Marcos Alonso could start on the left ahead of Ben Chilwell, but the former Leicester man has been Tuchel’s preferred choice in recent Champions League matches.Embed from Getty Images
While normally possession-based sides can’t cope with City, Thomas Tuchel’s 3-4-2-1 system has all the makings of a formation capable of troubling Pep Guardiola’s 4-3-3. Tuchel’s team have been particularly well set up to defend in transition, where their central midfielders are often capable of winning back the ball before their opposition can gain any ground. This should be key up against players who like to run with the ball like Kevin de Bruyne and Phil Foden. At the other end, Chelsea have recently improved their ability to attack at speed and play on the break. This is the best way to break City down, although the Sky Blues have also massively improved in defensive transitions this season. The dynamism and speed of players like Timo Werner, Christian Pulisic and Mason Mount is enough to trouble any defense, no matter how well the likes of Ruben Dias and John Stones have done this season. Chelsea will therefore need to look to attack quickly when opportunities to do so arise, as attempts to maintain long spells of possession and deliver crosses will likely be cut out. Their verticality in attacking transitions will be particularly key, just as it was against Real Madrid.
While City’s formation sometimes narrows in possession to compact central areas, Chelsea will utilize loads of width. This could leave room for the likes of Ben Chilwell/Marcos Alonso and Reece James/Cesar Azpilicueta to exploit the wide areas and take advantage of City’s inverted fullbacks. City’s fullbacks will need to be on top of their game in order to mitigate Chelsea’s use of width in possession, and this may be where Pep Guardiola has his biggest selection headache as a result.
A final area of the field in which Chelsea may be able to gain traction is in the right central midfield channels, as N’Golo Kante will be battling a high-positioned Ilkay Gundogan. It’s possible Guardiola will restrict the German’s movement in the final, but since he hasn’t done that all season and since Gundogan is such a threat in attack, he would probably be unwise to do so. This means that if City’s midfielders hang up the field too high, which they usually do, the likes Mason Mount and N’Golo Kante could easily exploit that space on the break. All in all, Manchester City will likely find it incredibly difficult to break down Thomas Tuchel’s 3-4-2-1 if all goes to plan. But the same could probably be said going the other way with Manchester City’s 4-3-3.
manchester city – 4-3-3
Pep Guardiola has been incredibly consistent with his formation this season, playing 4-3-3 throughout and rarely experimenting beyond that. Often criticized for over-thinking the big games (yawn), Pep Guardiola has done the exact right amount of thinking to lead his team to the UEFA Champions League this season. Although the majority of the side could theoretically be locked in, Guardiola will have a few selection headaches to make ahead of the match. At false nine is one of the biggest, where Bernardo Silva, Kevin de Bruyne, Raheem Sterling and Phil Foden have all rotated in and out throughout the season. Raheem Sterling could also secure a place in the team despite Foden’s recent resurgence, while Kyle Walker may edge out Joao Cancelo at right back due to his experience. Cancelo might not lose his place altogether though, but he will need to compete with the excellent Oleksandr Zinchenko to claim a place in the eleven. Finally, Rodrigo and Fernandinho will battle it out to be the lone defensive midfielder. While Fernandinho’s one of the most experienced heads in the team and the type of player to frustrate Chelsea’s attackers, Rodri’s been the favourite throughout the season and offers slightly more in possession.
Now in Guardiola’s 4-3-3, there should be room to pose a few tactical dilemmas for Chelsea. The gap in between wing-back and outside-centre-back will be the first key gap to exploit and Riyad Mahrez and Phil Foden should be prepared to run riot around those areas of the pitch. If Marcos Alonso is to play in the final, that gap may become even greater, as seen in Saturday’s FA Cup Final match. The problem with this is that Kante, Jorginho and Kovacic all do an excellent job at shuffling across and shutting down wide areas. To combat Chelsea’s defensive superiority in that regard, City may need to rely on quick switches of play from one side to the other. They can do so quite effectively due to the wingers always maintaining that width, and the general capability of players like Mahrez and De Bruyne to hit long passes.Embed from Getty Images
On another tactical note, City’s inverted fullbacks shouldn’t pose too much of a threat to Chelsea, given the Blues’ 3-4-2-1 shape and the eagerness of players like Mount and Werner to press high up the pitch and remain tucked in when defending. Meanwhile, the movement of Ilkay Gundogan into dangerous areas could also theoretically be mitigated by the astuteness of N’Golo Kante, and the experience of Thiago Silva. The one major issue that Chelsea could have is in stopping the individual brilliance of players like Mahrez and De Bruyne, who can change a match on the drop of a dime. It’s plausible that Thomas Tuchel and his team will be doing everything to solve the riddle of how to stop those two men in particular, but only so much work on the training ground can be done when these players can be such a cut above the rest on their day. All and all, we are heading towards a very even final.
CONCLUDING THOUGHTSEmbed from Getty Images
To sum it all up, it appears Chelsea have a few more tactical complications for City to contend with, but the individual brilliance of players like de Bruyne and Mahrez could pose the greater threat and have enough to break the Blues’ resilient, robust defense. Thomas Tuchel has claimed victory in both of their meetings so far this campaign, but there is no reason to think that Chelsea are nailed on victors or anything of the sort when it comes to the final. Pep Guardiola’s pulled out two masterclasses in UEFA Champions League finals of the past, while Thomas Tuchel previously lost his last attempt with PSG. Whatever the result, the 2021 final is set to be one of the very best, and will certainly be one that lives long in the memory of City and Chelsea fans. It’s also an analyst’s dream, with two of the best tacticians in the modern game going head to head in the biggest club competition in world football. Everyone here at TheMastermindSite.com simply can’t wait.
So there it is! A tactical analysis of Chelsea and Manchester City‘s upcoming UEFA Champions League final. Be sure to check out more of our tactical analyses, and follow on Twitter @mastermindsite and @DesmondRhys. Thanks for reading and see you soon!
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