Thomas Tuchel masterminds Chelsea victory in Champions League final
Heartbreak for Manchester City as Kai Havertz nets the only goal in Porto
If Chelsea could savour the sense that history was repeating itself, Thomas Tuchel could enjoy the contrast with his past.
In 2021, as in 2012, Chelsea changed managers mid-season, came into a Champions League final as underdogs and conquered Europe. The first manager to lead different clubs into consecutive Champions League finals, Tuchel leaves Portugal with a different colour medal from last year.
Beaten with Paris Saint-Germain, a victor with Chelsea, he left his imprint on his second final.
Kai Havertz certainly did not feel guaranteed to start, but Tuchel’s faith in his compatriot was richly rewarded. Havertz has not always justified his reputation as a generational talent in a debut year in England pockmarked by coronavirus, injury and a goal drought, but a decidedly mixed campaign had the happiest of endings.
He exerted a huge influence even before he became the first Chelsea player to score the winning goal in a European Cup final. Christian Pulisic had scored in the semi-final, Hakim Ziyech in two previous games against City but Tuchel chose Havertz instead of either and he applied the crucial touch in an outstanding display of counter-attacking menace and defensive resolve.
But for Pep Guardiola and Manchester City, there was only heartbreak. The Champions League trophy remains the only one to elude them, their first European final in 51 years – a record in itself – proof they have got closer, but the silverware remained agonisingly out of reach.
It was a traumatic night for Kevin de Bruyne, poleaxed in a challenge by Antonio Rudiger and substituted as he looked concussed; for others, the pain was not physical but emotional.
Perhaps City’s attempt at boldness backfired. Guardiola sprang a surprise by naming a side without either of his main holding midfielders, Rodri and Fernandinho, for only the second time this season, and incorporated Raheem Sterling in an attacking line-up.
The winger was charged with running in behind the Chelsea defence, a tactic that almost reaped an early dividend when Ederson found him with an inch-perfect 70-yard pass and Reece James and Edouard Mendy made vital interventions.
City began at pace as Guardiola’s choices made for an open game, with Chelsea able to break. If some predictions were that it would be a game of tactical chess, at times it resembled basketball instead. These were not sides looking to cancel each other out.
But Guardiola’s line-up meant City started without a defensive midfielder and Chelsea were able to get at their back four, which was afforded less protection than usual. It could have brought an earlier goal. Timo Werner’s misses have been a theme of Chelsea’s campaign. There were two more in the opening quarter of an hour, an embarrassing miskick and then a shot he stabbed at Ederson. Yet, as is also often the case, his pace and persistence posed problems. Werner’s magnificent movement helped bring the breakthrough, even without him touching the ball.
He dragged City’s centre-backs out of the way with a decoy run, Mason Mount supplied a through pass, Havertz burst beyond Oleksandr Zinchenko, evaded Ederson, who had left his box and slipped his shot into the unguarded net.
After Werner was withdrawn, Pulisic made for a speedy substitute and ought to have doubled their lead on a swift break that stemmed from the all-action N’Golo Kante winning the ball back.
But much of his finest work was defensive. Chelsea had less of the ball, but this was about organisation, determination and concentration.
Tuchel has built from the back and Chelsea’s latest clean sheet was all the more laudable as they lost Thiago Silva before half-time, the distraught Brazilian suffering a groin strain and being replaced by Andreas Christensen.
There had been some fine individual interceptions, whether a goal-saving Rudiger challenge on Phil Foden or a sliding clearance from Cesar Azpilicueta to deny Ilkay Gundogan a tap-in, but it was a triumph of the unit, a triumph of the tactics Tuchel introduced for his first match.
Both wing-backs were terrific, with the elusive Ben Chilwell troubling City on a series of raids. James, used as a centre-back in the FA Cup final, showed his precocity in his preferred position. City claimed in vain for a penalty when a Sterling shot hit him.
Meanwhile, Guardiola sought to alter the flow of the game with Fernandinho, as he finally turned to a defensive midfielder, either side of the arrivals of Gabriel Jesus and Sergio Aguero, whose 390th and last City game was the biggest in their history.
But there was no fairytale farewell for him, no third Champions League for Guardiola. Instead, he suffered a third defeat in a few weeks to Tuchel.
He joins the 2012 hero Roberto Di Matteo in Chelsea folklore after having an astonishing impact. Chelsea were 10th in the Premier League before Tuchel’s first game. Now they are champions of Europe. Again.
Updated: May 30, 2021 12:42 PM