TUCHEL OUTWITS PEP: HOW CHELSEA OUTSMARTED MANCHESTER CITY TO WIN THE CHAMPIONS LEAGUE
On Saturday, Chelsea lifted their second Champions League in Porto at the expense of Pep Guardiola’s Manchester City.
Kai Havertz’ second half goal was the sole goal in a game that many described as boring and savourless.
However, it was actually one of the most intriguing games this season tactically and one to be analysed for years to come.
While it can be argued a majority of Champions League finals do not quite meet the expectations set out pre-game or the level played in the semi finals (example: 2019), Tuchel’s plan to win this game is a thing of beauty and should be taken into account when looking back at this game.
For the first time this season, Guardiola set up his team without a proper number 6, whether that be Rodri or Fernandinho. Seeing his success rate with a 6 this season, you could think this was a totally lunatic move, having won the Premier League and the Carabao Cup quite comfortably with a 6. However, looking a bit further, it is easy to understand why Pep chose to not play either of his sitting midfielders.
In previous meetings with Chelsea this season, particularly the league and cup games in 2021, Tuchel’s tactical organisation with a compact block in midfield, leaving very little space for opposition midfielders to run it, meant that Guardiola had to innovate. Having lost both of the games this calendar year, he considered that adding another creative player would enable his team to beat the press, the first line of pressure, and get into the final third in order to create more chances. And to an extent, it worked in certain situations.
With Kanté and Jorginho being the only real pressers in Chelsea’s line up, whenever they weren’t perfectly organised in the press, both would end up very high on the pitch, leaving space behind them. In true Guardiola fashion, Bernardo Silva and Foden would then slot into the half spaces and the acres of space left between Chelsea’s midfield and defensive line. Unfortunately for Guardiola, this rarely happened and even if they were in space, getting the ball to them was a challenge only achieved by using rugby like up and under kicks into Porto’s night sky. Very unlike Guardiola’s style of play.
The Catalan’s plan was an attacking failure, with wide players struggling to get to the central creators (notably because of great organised pressure and man marking). However, the biggest downfall for Guardiola’s plan was defensively. With no holding midfielder, the defence’s protection was very limited. While Pep probably expected to have the ball throughout the game, as his teams usually do, he could have also planned for Chelsea’s counters, which have hurt so many teams this season.
With a solid backline and a high intensity tempo, Chelsea’s team was great at picking up the ball high up the field with an organised pressure, before exploding on the counter with Mount playing balls into the space. Overwhelming the midfield without the ball and making wide runs when in possession, Tuchel’s team was often able to bypass City’s pressure and find themselves in superiority against the likes of Diaz or Stones. With no Fernandhino or Rodri to stop the attacks, whether that’s through a clean tackle or a tactical foul, City were far too exposed to the counters and that is eventually how they conceded the goal.
Guardiola’s plan relied on intelligent movement from his attacking players who can, as per usual, interchange positions and confuse opposition. However, without finding the creative players in midfield, it was really difficult to create clear cut chances. This adds to an overall poor performance from the City players individually, with the likes of Foden and De Bruyne being fairly transparent throughout the game. With little attacking output, no striker to finish off the rare chances and a diminished defensive cover, Guardiola’s team failed in a lot of areas.
Even with Fernandinho coming on near the end, with Guardiola somewhat admitting he made a bad decision, this City team was very far from what we are used to. Yet again, Pep Guardiola overthought this game, like he did last season against Lyon or other big games he has lost in his City years, and it led to his team’s defeat. On the flip side though, Chelsea was incredibly well organised and didn’t win the game with City’s wrongdoings but also through their own successes.
Tactical Tuchel masterclass
Setting up in his usual 3-4-3, Tuchel’s team relied on high intensity and close man marking to stop any potential City attack. James, Azpilicueta, Chilwell and any of the three centre backs all played impeccable games, both defensively and offensively for the wing backs, it was very hard to find the likes of Mahrez and Sterling in space. Never far from their attacker, also strong in the challenge and rarely caught out by the usual tricks, the Chelsea defenders were on their toes from the first to the last minute and rose to the occasion.
The rare mistakes from one would be covered by another, like Azpilicueta’s late clearance in the box. Kanté and Jorginho covered every blade of grass, and arguably so did Mason Mount, spending a lot of his game defending as deep as his own penalty box. The collective and individual defensive performances from the whole Chelsea was top class, meaning Mendy barely made a save all game. Against Manchester City, that is quite an achievement.
However, as mentioned previously, Chelsea’s success also came from their counters. As much as Werner’s attacking performance was disappointing to many Chelsea fans, his darting runs into space tired out the defence but also created space for others to run into. Which is exactly what happened with Havertz’ goal. Similarly to Dembélé’s goal in the Lyon game last summer against City, the centre backs were so widely spread out that they left a motorway for Kai Havertz to run into.
A quick ball after overturning possession from Mason Mount high up in his half put Havertz in the best conditions to have a run at Ederson 1-on-1. The dribble around the Brazlian keeper was great, making the finish simply in an empty goal, but Werner’s run to take Diaz away from Stones created acres of space for his German teammate to run into.
While not creating hundreds of chances, Chelsea most definitely had more clear-cut chances than their opponents. Due to Pulisic and Werner’s inefficiency, the score stayed closer than it should have been. Chelsea recorded a 1.59 XG while City was far behind on 0.52, creating far better-quality chances. This reflects how well Chelsea attacked but also defended. With more efficiency up front, the Blues could have put this game away a lot earlier but in the end, they still ran off with the cup.
9 years after Drogba scored a late equalizer and the winning penalty in Munich, Kai Havertz scored the winner in Porto. Thiago Silva and Tuchel went from losing last year’s final a few kilometres away in Lisbon and both were instrumental to Chelsea’s win this year.
Aguero leaves without the ultimate club trophy, City fail at the last hurdle and will be looking to rebuild, again, next season. Guardiola overthought or was outsmarted, either way, the European Cup is back in London. An incredible way of wrapping up a very long season.