Champions League final: Tuchel's Chelsea revel in his boldest moment, Guardiola's Man City undone by own intelligence and more

Under Thomas Tuchel, this Chelsea team have come a long way of self sabotage. A team who were punctuated by heavy wallets, me-first attitude on the dressing room that laid waste to the career of many top managers (ask Rafael Benitez, Scolari, Villas Boas, Antonio Conte), with constant ego clashes, looks to have finally congealed to a unit again.

Srijandeep Das May 30, 2021 12:39:30 IST
Champions League final: Tuchel's Chelsea revel in his boldest moment, Guardiola's Man City undone by own intelligence and more

Thomas Tuchel played the underdog card to perfection as he held his hand close to the chest. The preparation of this match was done equally in the mind, on the tactics board and on the training pitch. AFP

A very good afternoon to you. The football season is officially over in the larger consciousness of the European football followers. The punctuation mark at the end of the protracted sentence is usually marked with an exclamation point — The Champions League final, one that transpired last night between two English giants.

But even as Chelsea won 1- 0 against Manchester City in front of 16,500 people inside the Estádio do Dragão, the ending to the season had left a trail of ellipses and more pointedly, a question mark.

Firstpost takes a look at the talking points:

Chelsea’s proudest moment, Tuchel’s boldest

The last time Chelsea won the Champions League it was a glorified hack job. Chelsea fans would be first to admit that.

This was different.

Thomas Tuchel played the underdog card to perfection as he held his hand close to the chest. The preparation of this match was done equally in the mind, on the tactics board and on the training pitch.

Having personal one-on-one tactical sessions with each member of the squad since the FA Cup final loss to Leicester boosted the belief across the length and breadth of the squad. It was more more comprehensive than intensive. Tuchel understood perfectly the strain of fighting on three fronts has done to the jangled nerves and jaded legs of the team. The workload at the gym was instructed to pulled back in favour of a longer recovery sessions.

Tuchel, according to Timo Werner’s post match interview with German radio SPORT, brought a light hand to grasp the sails, following that crucial defeat at the hands of Brendan Rodgers’ team. The team was allowed to approach the final without dragging around the weight it entails. It was the pressure that undid them at Wembley. Intimidation was replaced with joyous anticipation. The young team responded in kind.

This approach could have gone terribly long. It was barely five months ago that Tuchel was relieved of his post at PSG for not being able to manage the egos of Neymar and Mbappe, and PSG as a whole. He seems to have learnt his lessons.

This was Thomas Tuchel’s boldest moment as manager to lay back a little; one that inspired Chelsea’s best in club history.

The briskness in their step as opposed to the heavier feet of Manchester City was on full display for the first and only goal of the match.

Chelsea pounced on a transition, and, atypically, instead of pinging it out right away, played it around in contentment. City were lulled into a false sense of security and then suckerpunched by the sudden surge of energy, one that was conserved through their light session leading to their final one.

Mendy’s ball to Chilwell on the far left resulted in Mason Mount finding himself in oodles of space. Havertz’s dynamic running carved open the wide left channel further. Werner’s self sacrificing decoy run left Kai with a stunned Ederson being sucked into action and out of goal.

While Kai’s goal was effortless to a degree with the ease he rounded up the City goalkeeper, it is to be noted that it was Werner’s selfless running that made the goal happen.

Under Tuchel, this Chelsea team have come a long way of self sabotage. A team who were punctuated by heavy wallets, me-first attitude on the dressing room that laid waste to the career of many top managers (ask Rafael Benitez, Scolari, Villas Boas, Antonio Conte), with constant ego clashes, looks to have finally congealed to a unit again.

This was Chelsea’s proudest moment, one of youthful rejuvenation one of unfaked mutual respect among player and manager. Without the underlying cynicism of Jose Mourinho lead Chelsea. Those wounds look to have healed.

Can this last?

Undone by own intelligence

Pep Guardiola looked skittish like frantic praying mantis in a class cage. His tactical shape over-compensated for Chelsea.

Champions League final Tuchels Chelsea revel in his boldest moment Guardiolas Man City undone by own intelligence and more

Manchester City couldn’t keep the beat on their mental metronome from breaking down when they received their share of possession. Momentum was dampened, as the team rarely got into a stride that was almost a dance in the way they usually play football. AFP

Chelsea did not oblige to the minutiae of Guardiola’s expectations. One team looked like they relished the final, the other was brought down by the weight of it. Pep’s was the latter.

The Holy Grail went by as he walked past the trophy with the runners-up medal, wondering what could have been had he instructed City to play their own game instead of complicating matters where the players visibly looked overcooked with tactical instructions, constantly caught in a half step, looking over to the touch line for reassurance.

This is the price one has to pay for micromanagement to ad nauseam. The inert intelligence and swagger City played with was abandoned for second thought, instincts that were hardwired across the pitch in sky blue, were asked to be overridden. For Pep it seemed, it was a match he wanted to win a bit too much for ulterior reasons.

Dropping Fernandinho was like taking the lock of their door out, and leaving it ajar. The presence the defensive midfielder set the tone for this romping City side, without one, it was like a ship with a broomstick lodged at the captain’s wheel. Going on a course without accounting for the changing waves of in-game Chelsea tactics. The balance was shot, the direction was compromised.

Manchester City couldn’t keep the beat on their mental metronome from breaking down when they received their share of possession. Momentum was dampened, as the team rarely got into a stride that was almost a dance in the way they usually play football.

It’s no surprise that this trophy means most to this football club and its board members, and the pressure to win it has been at the forefront of Pep’s thoughts, but it carried with it a needless burden that they could have done without. In short, Pep made the mistake Chelsea and Tuchel consciously avoided.

Question is, can Pep Guardiola get out of his own head when it comes time for the next Champions League final?

A sign of things to come

I suggest you change your diet/ It can lead to high blood pressure if you fry it/ Or even a stroke, heart attack, heart disease/ It ain't no starting back once arteries start to squeeze— MF DOOM

Is football ossified from high levels of cholesterol?

What does this Chelsea-Manchester City 2021 Champions League final mean for the underdog romance of cup football or football in general?

What it signifies in this moment of human history, is a question we must grapple as journalists, as fans, react to paradigm shifts, not shying away from calling it that, and calling ourselves witnesses.

It would be tone deaf to miss out on what kind of bugle blare this Champions League final was. And when the final whistle blew it was not so much a conclusion, but only the beginning of an inquiry.

The feeling was akin to the opening scene of Julius Caesar. The free republic of Pompey is dead. Caesar returns from the battlefield, for the Feast of Lupercal, with democracy in tow. Rome has the guise of a republic — a festive tunic thrown over the hidden blades of absolute power — with tribunes Flavius and Marcellus opposed to the idea of absolutism. This Champions League Final was football’s Feast of Lupercal. We must be the vigilant tribunes, noticing patterns and the unease in the air despite the fireworks and the ticker tapes.

However, having two teams backed by hypercapitalistic oligarchs, in the biggest game in club football calendar, is, believe it or not, very on-brand for the times we live it. Expository, even. It’s like trying to hide a horse with a flower pot.

All this is amidst a time where UEFA are contemplating doing away with away goals, and FIFA tinkering with the idea of hosting the World Cup once every two years. There’s also a Champions League redesign in the offing, and the UEFA Cup again being rebranded, this time into a conference. All in attempt to increase the number of matches, and thus billable hours. Thus placating the demands of the breakaway clubs but through compounded interests.

Moves proposed to appease those in the VIP boxes, while those on the field will have their careers shortened by the sheer workload, and those on the stands will have their saving leeched into in the name of loyalty. And all this in the middle of a global pandemic, when the humane thing would be to do is to the opposite.

Paying attention to the background score to this final is of equal importance as football hurtles to a miasma of over-commodification. It’s that soothing kerosene smell that disguises carbon monoxide poisoning in one’s own garage.

As Kai Havertz rounded up Ederson in a nice box with tie on the 42nd minute, and prodded the ball into a vacant net, UEFA offices were still doling out proceedings and procuring advice from lawyers on how to punish certain clubs for the attempted coup of a breakaway league. Namely, Barcelona, Juventus and Real Madrid.

Noticeably, there were no mention of the two English finalists who were also accomplices in the crime of trying to corner the free market capitalism of football. The reality of free market (which is a misnomer in many ways to begin with) is a few monolithic conglomerates owning many. Not too dissimilar to football then, when interests of the money making machinery of the few can displace the need of the many. Or in this case, even backstabbing among the executive football elites.

Was it an erasure or an understanding of the proprietary chokehold the top English clubs have on the arteries of UEFA? Perhaps both. with any failed coup, scapegoats need to be made behest of the more powerful.

All of this is to say, be prepared, fellow reader. Look forward to next season, yes; but when not if it comes down to it, be prepared to pull down your banners like Flavius did once upon a time. Don’t be complicit in football’s undermining of its footballers and its fans by accepting the terms offered.

Like Ryuichi Sakamoto’s eponymous track, the ‘happy ending’ to a season has to be earned. But can it be earned...?

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