Chelsea defeated Premier League champions Manchester City by a lone goal in the final of the 2021 UEFA Champions League season.
The Blues went into the game as underdogs and put in a resolute performance that saw them land their second Champions League trophy -having claimed the 2012 edition in dramatic fashion. While there have been a lot of reactions from the players and managers involved in the game, here are five things ABZ learnt from the historic tie
Don’t doubt Thomas Tuchel
Thomas Tuchel was criticized for not winning the UEFA Champions League with PSG who had stars like Kylian Mbappe and Neymar in their ranks. When the German tactician left the Paris club earlier this year to join Chelsea who were going through a rough patch under the management of Frank Lampard, many expected him to turn things around.
However, the former Mainz manager has done more than turn things around, he is well on his way to becoming the greatest manager in the club’s history. His tactical influence on the team since he took charge cannot be over-emphasized, and it was obvious in the win (or wins ) over City this season.
He has found a way to make Chelsea solid defensively while getting the best out of players like Jorginho, Kovacic, and the indomitable Ngolo Kante. While he has some work to do in the attacking department, he has a summer window to prepare, analyse, and sign players that will help Chelsea challenge for the Premier League next season.
Hate him or love him, you can’t leave Werner out
Timo Werner has gotten a lot of criticism this season for his performances for Chelsea. The German winger has missed a lot of chances and his goal-scoring returns have not been particularly impressive. Chelsea fans and pundits alike have called for the winger to be dropped but these calls have fallen on deaf ears. This is not surprising.
Chelsea’s style of play under Thomas Tuchel requires them to be solid in defence, efficient in midfield and devastating on the counter-attack. While Werner’s finishing cannot be considered as devastating, his counter-attacking ability is second to none in the Chelsea team. He runs faster than most defenders, he holds the ball, he wins fouls and contributes to attack.
He was a constant thorn in the flesh of the City defenders in the Champions League final and there was no way they could stop him. For the only goal of the game, the City defenders were more worried about Werner’s run that they kept Havertz onside and through on goal.
Kante should be considered for the Balon d’or
Yes, why not? What else does he need to do to prove that N’golo Kante is one of the greatest midfielders in the history of the game? The French midfielder picked up the man of the match award for the final, his third consecutive accolade of the same nature in this season’s Champions League.
While Manchester City could have prepared for the individual talents and collective brilliance of the Chelsea players, there is no way to prepare for the juggernaut that is N’golo Kante. The French World Cup winner covered every blade of grass, won tackles cleanly, intercepted possession, and controlled the midfield of the game.
This is not the first time that the former Leicester City man has performed so efficiently this season, or in his career. He is undoubtedly the player of this season’s tournament. He is set to join with the French National team in a few weeks as they prepare for the European Championship for which they are favourites. Winning the tournament would give him a better chance at claiming the golden ball but he deserves a shout because of his performances for Chelsea alone.
Havertz was not a waste of money, but he has not justified his fees
Chelsea fans were of the opinion that the club had spent a lot of money on an untested player when the club announced that they had purchased Kai Havertz from Bayer Leverkusen for almost 80 million euros last summer. The youngster had a rough start to life in London picking up injuries and the COVID-19 disease in his early Chelsea days. This led a section of the fans to tag him as “a waste of money”
However, recent performances -not excluding the Champions League winning goal from Saturday night, has proved that the talented German has a lot more to offer than just slick passing and elite movements off the ball. Havertz tracked back to win tackles, dictated play from his false 9 position and scored the winner.
Chelsea fans should be pleased that they have got such a gem in their ranks. Thomas Tuchel has deployed Kai Havertz in the number 9 position, the same position he plays for the German national team more often than not. While Chelsea may be in the market for a natural striker this summer, they can be delighted to know that Havertz can be used in that position, or in a midfield role where he can cause more damages with Kante, Mount, and Jorginho.
Pep Guardiola is not special
Perhaps, Guardiola is not as special as he used to be would be more appropriate. However, the Spanish football manager is still yet to win a Champions League title without the team that was considered by many as the greatest that has ever been.
Pep led Barcelona to two Champions League titles in 2009 and 2011 but had failed to reach the final since that night at Wembley until 2021 where he was outclassed by Thomas Tuchel. What’s more? This was the third loss to Tuchel in the season showing that he had nothing up his sleeve to beat the German tactician.
Manchester City won the Premier League title again, so Pep can be happy for a successful campaign. However, the Champions League is the trophy that City fans want to win and it continues to elude them and Mr. Guardiola. The former Barcelona boss has not won the biggest trophy in European club football in decade and he must begin to wonder if and when he would ever win it again.