City Chelsea Champions League
English football giants Manchester City and Chelsea are set to square off in the Champions League final in Portugal today.
(Photo by Alexander Hassenstein – UEFA/UEFA via Getty Images)

2021 Champions League Final Preview: Manchester City vs Chelsea

Ladies and gentlemen, the day has finally arrived. The Champions League winner will be crowned tonight as Chelsea is set to square off against Manchester City in an all-English final. Manchester City and manager Pep Guardiola are seeking the club’s first ever Champions League trophy, while Thomas Tuchel and Chelsea are hoping for a little bit of magic in Portugal as the Blues look for their second UCL trophy in nine years.

As a Chelsea fan through and through, I am quite nervous for tonight. For those who may not watch the sport regularly, this youthful Blues squad is quite the underdog, despite two convincing wins against Guardiola’s side in the past few weeks. City has one of the top footballers in the world in central midfielder Kevin De Bruyne, in a side that also boasts young talent like Phil Foden and Rúben Dias.

Two very different styles of play will clash tonight as Guardiola’s City side hope to push the ball forward, dictate play, and attack from every angle on the pitch. Chelsea will press high, with hopes of controlling possession through their midfield pivot and attacking City’s defense along the wings. Tonight’s result will be determined by who concedes the first goal because the game will be wide open after it happens, regardless of who’s winning.

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Predicted Starting XI for Both Sides

Manchester City

I should start this by saying that no one really knows what Guardiola is going to do. He rolled out a weird 3-3-3-1 formation in the last match against Chelsea, and that was another indication of the Spaniard’s pension for overthinking in a match. However, it is likely that Guardiola goes with his preferred 4-3-3 or 4-4-2 for the match today. For this prediction, I’m going to say he goes with the 4-3-3 as that allows for a greater attacking presence and still provides control in the midfield and defense against Chelsea’s high press.

In goal we’re going with Ederson – that shouldn’t come as a shock. The pair of central defenders are going to be Dias, the best player in the Premier League this season, and a reenergized John Stones. At left back, Guardiola will slot either Oleksandr Zinchenko or João Cancelo – likely Zinchenko – and Kyle Walker should get the start at right back.

Now onto the midfield. Guardiola does not lack options as City’s depth is quite apparent here. He has an endless list of names he can fill in. Fernandinho will get the start as the defensive midfielder in hopes he will deal with Chelsea’s N’Golo Kante and Mason Mount’s control in deep possession. Despite the injury scare yesterday, City has acted as if there is nothing to be worried about, and I believe them, so İlkay Gündoğan gets the start. He’ll be paired in the attack with none other than De Bruyne, City’s best player and the one most crucial to the team’s success.

The front three is just as tricky to guess as the midfield. In the same sense that De Bruyne gets the start at CAM (central attacking midfielder), he could come into the front three and the defensively inclined Rodri slides in as the third midfielder. Regardless, I think the front three will be comprised of Bernardo Silva, Phil Foden, and Riyad Mahrez, with the trio exchanging positions and moving freely with the ball whenever they are in the attack.

Again, as I said in the intro, no one really knows what Pep Guardiola will do in a Champions League final, so we could certainly see a number of changes to my predicted XI. Attackers Sergio Agüero, Raheem Sterling, Gabriel Jesus, and Rodri could all start for City and they would be a side just as intimidating. Chelsea will have their hands full regardless.

Chelsea

Tuchel will likely go with his preferred 3-4-2-1 formation. Mendy, despite the knock last weekend, will be in goal for the Blues tonight. Sorry, Kepa. Antonio Rüdiger will play his traditional left center-back role with Thiago Silva anchoring the backline as the central center-back and César Azpilicueta slotting in as the right center-back. I should note that Andreas Christensen could see the field here at RCB if he’s fit, but Tuchel will not forget that Christensen’s hamstring injury came from a mistake made against City just a few weeks ago.

Chilwell will play as the left wing-back and seek to cause havoc up the pitch, with James filling in at right wing-back and looking to do the same thing. Despite his recent mistakes, Jorginho will get the start for the Blues in the pivot with Kante as the always buzzing Frenchman is back in the squad. And as someone on Twitter put it, an 80% Kante is better than no Kante.

The front three is where it gets tricky to predict. Mount will get the start – he’s been Chelsea’s best player all season. Timo Werner should also be in the starting XI. That leaves one final slot, and I think it goes to forward Kai Havertz. Havertz will likely play as a false nine, with Werner moving to the left and Mount over to the right. Hakim Ziyech could also see a start on the right, with Havertz coming off the bench in the second half. And for all my American friends, don’t worry, Christian Pulisic should be subbed on somewhere around the 65th or 70th minute.

The Ideal 2021 Summer Window for Chelsea

Ultimately, the stage is set, both squads will be locked in, and frankly, shit hits the fan once the ball is in play. Expect either a high-scoring affair or a methodical, drawn-out game in build-up play. As a football fan, the former is more exciting, but as a Chelsea fan, the latter suits Tuchel’s style of play. Either way, let’s enjoy this moment because the Champions League is back and fans will be in the stadium.

Prediction: Manchester City 2 – Chelsea 1.

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