With less than 3 days left for the UEFA Champions League final, Manchester City and Chelsea will be setting up their game plans to trump the other. Guardiola’s free-flow attacking football has already been thwarted twice by Tuchel’s controlled gegenpressing this season, and it will be engrossing to see who gets one over the other on the 29th of May when the two clubs face off each other for the 4th time this season.
While the personnel and game-plan will only come to light when the two teams start playing, it will be interesting to see where the game could be won for both teams.
Kevin De Bruyne vs N’Golo Kante:
A battle in the center of the pitch, a war among two of the Premier League’s best midfielders in the last 6 years. Kevin De Bruyne, who has been scintillating this season will look to dominate the final third on Saturday night, an area where he has been most dangerous this season. The Belgian has repeatedly found spaces in between the midfield and defence this season resulting in De Bruyne creating chance after chance for this mercurial Man City side which is evidenced by his 16 assists in all competitions.
However, he will meet his match on Saturday as N’Golo Kante will be trusted with the job of dispossessing De Bruyne every time the Belgian receives the ball at his feet. Additionally, when Chelsea have the ball, Kante could also prove to be a nuisance for De Bruyne as the Frenchman could attack the spaces left void by the Belgian due to his attacking nature.
While De Bruyne dominated proceedings in City’s 2nd leg against PSG, N’Golo Kante did something similar against Real Madrid by pressing the ball relentlessly. This will be a fascinating encounter between the two, assuming Kante will play the game as Chelsea are currently sweating on the fitness of the Frenchman. Regardless, the center of the pitch is one of the most key areas, especially in a final and the two talismanic figures will need to prove their worth if they wish to drive their respective clubs to Champions League glory.
Riyad Mahrez vs Ben Chilwell:
Two unsung heroes of their Champions League campaign, Riyad Mahrez, and Ben Chilwell have played severely underrated roles for their club this season. Riyad Mahrez was sublime over the two legs against PSG as the winger scored 3 out of the 4 goals in the tie, including both goals in the second leg, which ensured City’s place in the Champions League final. Twisting and turning on the right-wing, Mahrez has been key to the way City plays this season as he has time and again stretched the game and has also been brilliant in 1v1’s against full-backs.
Ben Chilwell on the other hand, has quite possibly been the best full-back in the knockout stages of the Champions League this season as he has bombarded down the left-wing relentlessly while also letting in 2 goals in 5 appearances against the likes of Atletico Madrid, Porto, and Real Madrid, with his goal against Porto in the quarter-final becoming the decider of the quarter-final tie between the two clubs. Chilwell also played a key role in the semi-final against Real Madrid as he stopped Vinicius Jr and Fede Valverde from influencing the game from the right-wing. Chilwell will be assigned to stop Riyad Mahrez from progressing on his side, a job he will savor given his pace and attacking instincts.
Riyad Mahrez’s trickery could prove to be too much on the day for Chilwell, however, he too has his attacking forays into the opposition half, and this could also restrict the way Mahrez plays his game. The stakes are high, thus the cautious nature might evoke a chess battle between the two which could ultimately decide the match, and more importantly, the Champions League.
Ruben Dias vs Timo Werner:
A player who was supposed to rip apart the Premier League as opposed to the one who actually did so. Timo Werner and Ruben Dias have had contrasting fortunes this season, however, both have extremely influential in taking their respective clubs to the Champions League final.
Timo Werner’s season has been one of complete misfortune and haphazardness. While at times the forward could have finished better, he has also been equally unlucky with the German being denied 14 goals this season. However, he is making the right runs and getting into the right positions, but the goals are lacking. Werner could yet prove to be a problem maker for Ruben Dias on Saturday night as the German’s pace could restrict Dias from holding a high line, which in turn could falter the way City functions.
Ruben Dias will not be all bothered by this as he has already faced Kylian Mbappe and Neymar in the semi-final this season, however, Mbappe was never fully fit, while Neymar never created any problems for City’s center-backs. Werner is a different animal, however, Dias has thwarted away the best of the best in the Premier League and will be ready for the challenges the German can pose in the final. Ruben Dias, who was the man of the match in the second leg against PSG, but for that, he will have to keep out Werner on the night.
Fortune favours the brave, and this will be a battle of bravery on Saturday. If Werner believes in himself, he could cause serious issues to Dias, however, the Portuguese has been a brick wall this season and will not let anybody pass City’s defensive shackles, no matter what it takes. Both Werner and Dias joined Chelsea and City respectively in the summer to win the big trophies, and they will be playing for the biggest one on Saturday, which just shows how important this battle could prove to be.
The stage is set for the Champions League final on the 29th of May, but it will be these areas that could result in a make or break for either Chelsea or Manchester City.