When Thomas Tuchel was given the task of reviving Chelsea at the end of January, he wanted to bring Chelsea back to the Champions League next season via a top-four spot in the Premier League. The idea that he could actually win the thing for just the second time in club history was ludicrous. No more. On a night of glory for him and his team, the manager applied the final brushstrokes to his Renaissance masterpiece, outwitting his friend and rival, Pep Guardiola, and watching Kai Havertz score the decisive goal. just before half-time.
Chelsea defended like demons to smother Manchester City, but it was a perfectly calibrated triumph, built on a structured offensive approach, picking the right moments for the transition, and illuminated by the smoothness of Havertz’s technique.
The pressure had been exerted on City, on Guardiola, to deliver the trophy that Sheikh Mansour had dreamed of since his takeover in 2008, but it was an opportunity for the manager to find a new way to lose, to explore new depths. of frustration.
Guardiola, who last won the Champions League in 2011, started without a defensive midfielder and a recognized striker and saw his heavy midfield roster struggling to implement a complicated game plan. For long stretches City banged their heads against Chelsea’s well-organized lines and the result was the end of their push to complete a hat-trick. Chelsea’s joy knew no bounds.
It was a night that many of the city’s supporters believed they would never and certainly not see until they met Sheikh Mansour. But it was one for those who had traveled to savor it – along with their Chelsea counterparts – and what a pleasure to finally feel an atmosphere inside a stadium for a Champions League game during this season of more singular.
The subplots were plentiful and, yes, the money was part of it. Under the Sheikh, City spent £ 1.7bn on signings and their most recent accounts showed a payroll of £ 351m – a Premier League record. For Chelsea the overall figure is £ 2bn on signings since Roman Abramovich’s buyout in 2003 and that includes a net spend of £ 152m last summer – the biggest of any club in Europe .
This centerpiece was truly the beauty and excitement of what these funds helped to create; all talking points about these high-caliber players and, for City in particular, there could be plenty of talk about Guardiola’s starting lineup.
The pre-match expectation was that he would be faced with a question between Fernandinho and Rodri in the defensive midfielder. In this case, it was neither. As expected, there was no recognized number 9 and so we had the full Pep – a roster loaded with attacking midfielders and wingers.
It was a battle to try to classify the City formation, especially as Oleksandr Zinchenko went from left-back to midfield. But for long stretches of the first half, Phil Foden buzzed around Kevin De Bruyne up front – with Riyad Mahrez and Raheem Sterling providing the breadth. Bernardo Silva has been asked to move up and down to the right of Ilkay Gündogan, the deepest midfielder.
It was fast, furious and open, with Chelsea finding gaps early on as Tuchel hoped – and creating great chances. Timo Werner will want his time on the first two again. As always, the striker’s movement was a threat but, in those early openings, he inflated his lines.
There was a nice low cross from Havertz who encouraged Werner, who was in a good position, only for him to swing and miss with his left foot, then a withdrawal from Ben Chilwell on the same side who did the same. Werner never seemed balanced and he was unable to invoke power or precision on the finish. Ederson saved. Werner would also shoot into the side net at a tight angle.
City had some hesitation at the back in the first quarter – which both Rúben Dias and John Stones were caught off guard – and it was amazing how easily Chelsea played through them for the deciding goal. The movement started with Edward Mendy and, when Mason Mount looked up after a layoff from Chilwell, the pass was activated for Havertz. Werner’s run had created the space and Havertz arrived before the rushing Ederson, catching a small break from the goalie before rolling him into the empty net.
City’s best first-half moment came midway through when De Bruyne fed Foden only for Antonio Rüdiger to embark on a life-saving challenge.
Sterling had almost hit a long ball in the eighth minute just to take a bad touch and there were some crosses that almost found their mark. Almost was the word.
Had Guardiola been influenced by what he had seen of Tuchel’s Chelsea in those FA Cup semi-final and league defeats; by the need to try something surprising? What he needed in the second period was greater collective cohesion or a flash of inspiration somewhere because the first period had not been good enough.
Havertz oozed class on the ball, watching every inch of the high-end addition, while City knew they had to find a way to get past N’Golo Kanté before they hit the stingy backline of Chelsea, who has absorbed the loss of Thiago Silva to injury on 38 minutes. Reading Kanté’s match, coupled with his speed and determination, was a pleasure to watch.
Guardiola needed a rethink and his hand was forced when De Bruyne was sent off in the 58th minute after a Rüdiger check. The town captain’s face was swollen and tears came to his eyes when it became clear that he couldn’t continue. It was a heartbreaking moment. Gabriel Jesus arrived up front while Guardiola also traded Silva for Fernandinho’s defensive presence in midfield.
Chelsea sank in, putting their bodies on the line, and they could have sealed it off when Havertz played in substitute Christian Pulisic, only for him to aim for a wide finish. Having started with no center forwards, Guardiola finished with two, Sergio Agüero presented for Sterling and, amid the rarest form of tension, it was a question of whether Chelsea could hold on. When Mahrez flashed on death, Chelsea’s celebrations exploded.