Kai Havertz crowns Chelsea as kings of Europe and shatters Man City’s Champions League dreams

Kai Havertz crowns Chelsea as kings of Europe and shatters Man City’s Champions League dreams

 

  • Chelsea win their second Champions League
  • Havertz scores the winner
  • Tuchel defeats Guardiola for third time in six weeks

Nothing less than a revolution against the Pep Guardiola hegemony in the English game in what was one of the great nights in Europe, a thrilling, relentless Champions League final in which the tide of Manchester City was turned back at the gates of their final triumph.

Thomas Tuchel, appointed Chelsea manager in the deep midwinter, emerges into summer having taken his place among the greats of English football management. He has won the second Champions League trophy for Chelsea in nine years, and he won it four months into the job. Not only that but it was prised from the grasp of what was assumed to be the perfect football machine. The great Guardiola plan was cut-off, blocked, turned back against itself and ultimately defeated in a final in the warm Porto evening.

The dynasty of English football that was supposed to conclude its sweep of the European game was halted, and now 2021-2022 feels like it has some new themes. For Guardiola it is the second straight season when there are awkward questions about his team selection in the big European games. This time he picked neither Fernandinho nor Rodri in the defensive midfield position, and it was through the ghosts of City’s defensive midfielders that Chelsea passed for the winning goal for Kai Havertz late in the first half.

Again, a City side without a recognised No 9, as Guardiola handed total creative control to his midfield conjurors only for them to fall short. In the closing stages he seemed to try to unwind the mistakes, sending on Fernandinho, Gabriel Jesus, even eventually Sergio Aguero, the latter at full-time a brooding, unhappy man who seemed caught between anger and regret. There were moments of misfortune, especially a collision that saw Kevin De Bruyne go off in the second half with his eye swelling and darkening having turned blind, straight into Antonio Rudiger. It was an ugly moment that the German was booked for having seen it in time to protect himself. Yet Chelsea could point to the departure of Thiago Silva with a groin jolted out of shape when he landed awkwardly in the first half. Their team felt right in all departments and nowhere more so than when the world’s greatest defensive midfielder, N’Golo Kante, took charge.

He was the game’s outstanding player, although you could also make a case for Reece James at right-back – a locked door to the recalled Raheem Sterling. Kante demonstrated what City lacked in the core of their game – a stability, a guarantee – and they looked so much better when Fernandinho arrived. It felt like Guardiola’s selection was designed to make the game into something no-one was expecting, and in a way that was what happened. He said later that his team had dominated but “couldn’t be perfect” and maybe perfection was what he was striving for on this night. He has the conviction to follow his instincts, to tear down traditional structures and, in some cases, bring an abrupt end to famous careers. That instinct has served him well and he wanted to win the game his way, with De Bruyne at No 9 and no-one guarding the back door. Ultimately, the man who has redesigned football called it wrong. Instead it was Tuchel, the Chelsea manager for just four months and three days, who focussed on a way to win. His mobile, hard-pressing, adaptable team contained, countered, pressed and then eventually prevailed. It was a great contest, a game so perfectly sprung between the expansive demands of a Guardiola side that want the ball all the time, in every position, in all moments. Then a Chelsea team that wanted to live – and thrive – in the spaces between those great rolling sequences. From the start you could see that Tuchel wanted the security that came with his 5-2-3 system, but he was not here just to defend. The pace of it was remarkable. The tension was exquisite. One could feel in the stadium that the mood was, from the mid-point of the first half, perhaps earlier, that it was not unfolding as City had planned. There was to be a twist in this last chapter of the season, and the coronation of the English champions, the outstanding European team of the season, was in doubt.

There was the riskiness of Guardiola’s attacking line-up but also something harder to identify – a ghost in the City machine that made for a stodginess in their touch. The passing flow one expects never quite materialised. Tuchel said later that he asked Rudiger and Azpilicueta to step out with the ball and Chelsea were prepared to risk hard-won possession in immediate attacks. Kante was ready at all times to step into the tackle and drive forward with what he won. He even had a header narrowly wide in the first half, a limited-edition match event if ever there was one. Phil Foden always felt surrounded, and the moment when he did have a sight of goal Rudiger came from out the frame to block it. De Bruyne was just not quite in the right places. Only at the very end of the game, deep in the seven minutes of injury-time, did Edouard Mendy leave a shot – from Riyad Mahrez – to fate, watching as it drifted just over the bar. What a football life for Mendy, from Ligue 2 to European champion in three years. Back at the start of this epic there were the inevitable missed chances for Timo Werner. Yet even through that and the Silva injury Chelsea grew. The goal was so simple, from Mendy to Ben Chilwell and then to Mason Mount. He played his pass through the line perfectly, slowing it just in time for Havertz to beat Ederson in the race, elude the goalkeeper and score. In the second half, Guardiola repented. Fernandinho, in place of Bernardo Silva, who had one of the least effective nights of his career, changed the game again. The old Brazilian general passing and fouling and passing as he saw necessary. It was desperate on a few occasions for Chelsea – a great clearance from Azpilicueta, a chance on the counter that the substitute Christian Pulisic, on for Werner, pulled just wide. On the touchline, Tuchel sunk to his knees. By the end he would be in a frenzy through seven minutes of time added on and the effort from Mahrez. Then the game was over and so too four astonishing months in the life of Tuchel and Chelsea.


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