For the last time this season, we get to hear that oh-so-glorious string arpeggio: the Champions League final is here. The match, originally slated to be played in Turkey, will now take place at the Estádio do Dragão in Porto, Portugal where Manchester City are heavy favorites to win. Best of all, there will even be traveling fans present in the stands.
You can watch the game on CBS and in Spanish on Univision on Saturday May 29 at 3:00pm EST. Here are a few things to know ahead of the game:
Manchester City have their first ever chance at the title against Chelsea.
Should they win, it would be a “mission accomplished” for their manager Pep Guardiola and the team owners. The Spaniard took both his past clubs, FC Barcelona and Bayern Munich, to the title and was brought to Manchester by deep Saudi pockets in 2016 to do the same. He’s led them to 5 domestic Premier League titles, three in the last four years, but have yet to clutch La Orejona. They would also accomplish the elusive treble: winning a domestic league, a domestic cup and an international title in the same year—a feat Guardiola accomplished at both his past clubs.
There isn’t much of an argument against him, but a third treble in a third league would likely consolidate Guardiola as the best manager of all time.
Chelsea seem to have their number
Manchester City defense is sublime and nearly impenetrable. Led by 24-year-old portuguese brickwall Rúben Dias—who made Neymar and Kylian Mbappe of PSG look like my friends in a recreational league at the semi-finals this year, City has allowed only four goals throughout the tournament. Additionally, they’ve only lost 7 times this season.
Yet, Chelsea got the better of Guardiola’s squad twice since their new manager Thomas Tuchel took the reins. In the FA Cup semi-finals, Chelsea beat City by the minimum, and in the Premier League earlier this month where they won just 2-1; Chelsea proved they could break down Cities defense with three goals called off-side.
At a press conference, Guardiola responded to that concern: “Congratulations for Chelsea, the two games they beat us. This is another competition,” he said.
There will only be a Brazilian display of South American talent & only two are expected to start.
After Sergio Agüero’s exit from City and introduction to free-agency (he will most likely land in Barcelona to share the attack there with his pal Lionel Messi), Brazilians will be the only Latinos on the field this year.
As water is wet, Guardiola will start Ederson in goal. Look out for him to take the deciding fifth penalty if it goes to a shootout. But we may see Gabriel Jesus—the man with the most worried eyebrows in the game—on the pitch as a sub, supersub at that, to connect with the midfield and bully Chelsea’s defence late in the game if it’s getting away from City. Fernandinho is very unlikely to see the pitch as he has fallen out of favor for Rodri and Ilkay Gündoğan in the midfield.
On the other side, veteran Thiago Silva is likely to command the defense for the Blues as he does for the Brazilian national team. Chelsea will have to wait patiently for the counter attack, looking to catch City’s wingers at a high position.
Cash rules everything around it.
The tournament and this final are all in the shadow of the European Super League. The sporting world’s villain of the year lost the last battle but not the war. Real Madrid‘s president Florentino Pérez, said it wasn’t dead in the water. This match sets up the next year of discussion around the aborted tournament, regardless of the outcome.
The pandemic cost Europe’s top leagues nearly $10 billion in losses, the majority of it borne by the perennial top European clubs, Real Madrid, Barcelona and Juventus. There aren’t many arguments to expect a profitable year this year either.
City and Chelsea, objectively newly minted champions, are both bankrolled by independent billionaires; Chelsea, by billionaire Russian owner, Roman Abramovich and City by the infinite wealth of the Emirate of Abu Dhabi, Sheikh Mansour bin Zayed al-Nahyan. Although not exempt, they are not suffering the great losses. In fact, Chelsea nearly spent more last summer (yes, mid-pandemic) than all 18 Bundesliga teams combined.
The injection of profit from winning the tournament will only make it hard to compete against these teams and their deep pockets. Florentino’s point that protecting the economies of the old guard clubs may stick next season.