The Estadio do Dragao in the Portuguese city of Porto is set to play host to Saturday’s Champions League final backlash between English rivals Manchester City and Chelsea, following a last-ditch decision by European football’s governing body UEFA to move the game away from its original venue of Istanbul, Turkey.
Pep Guardiola and his City side are finally only a win away from lifting the trophy they have desired for such a long time and they will come into this one riding high on confidence, especially on the back of their successful run to the Premier League and League Cup triumphs this season.
But standing in their way is Thomas Tuchel’s Chelsea, who have remarkably turned their season around since the German’s appointment in January.
To think that they were languishing in ninth position in the Premier League and desperately struggling for form under previous manager Frank Lampard at the turn of the year makes you realize what an awfully long way the west London club has come this season. They will once again try to make it as difficult as possible for their opponents tonight.
Chelsea under Tuchel have beaten Manchester City twice in the last six weeks; in the Premier League and FA Cup. That’s enough to give any team some confidence heading into a cup final, but on the flip side of that is a City side – whose losses to Chelsea have been attributed by many a pundit to Guardiola’s resting of key players – desperate for more and more success under a manager who demands the highest possible level all the time, or nothing else.
Despite enjoying a lot of domestic success in recent years, the eastern ends of Manchester have been under the shadows of their rivals down the western ends for the past several years in Europe and I’ll leave you to imagine what winning it at their first final attempt would do to their fanbase’s bragging rights!
A bit more background information
This game will mark the third time in the history of Champions League football that the final has been an all-English affair, and the second time in just three years.
Only a couple of decades ago, a European Cup final being contested by these two would have been thought of as a pipe dream, but the influx of mega-rich foreign owners to both clubs this past decade has altered the status quo forever, even as the Premier League continues to expand its already buoyant revenue generating prowess.
Roman Abramovic paid £140m to take ownership of Chelsea in 2003, while City’s Abu Dhabi takeover took place five years later in 2008. Since then, these two combined have won more silverware than the rest of the park in England.
Chelsea are the team with more experience at this stage, and with a bit more pedigree, having reached the final twice: first a penalty shootout loss in the hands of Manchester United in 2008, before turning the tables around in 2012 to beat Bayern Munich, also on penalties.
They have also have two Europa League titles to their credits since then.
City, meanwhile, have come this far for only the first time in their history.
13 years of building and investment from the oil-rich Gulf shores is finally on the verge of birthing something special.
The club have enjoyed remarkable success over the past decade, but only domestically. Pep Guardiola, two-time Champions League winner with Barcelona, was hired mainly to take them a nudge higher to achieving success in Europe.
“We are quite a similar team to what we were in the past when we were knocked out. The margins and little details this year fell down on our side whereas before it was the opposite,”said Guardiola, whose last taste of European silverware goes as far back as a decade ago when he was in charge of Barcelona.
Following another successful domestic campaign in England, in which they have bagged a third Premier League title in four years, as well winning the League Cup and having some of the most talented players on offer on their roaster, City come into this game as firm favorites.
But as mentioned earlier in this article, Chelsea – despite finishing the domestic season with three defeats in four games including the FA Cup final against Leicester City – still have those two wins over City in six weeks to look back upon for some much needed confidence boost, and Guardiola is not turning a blind eye.
“I could not expect a tougher opponent,”said the Catalan-born manager.
Tuchel has also been speaking ahead of the final:
“We have arrived here. This is an incredible achievement and once you arrive you want to be on your very best, but it’s City with Pep on the other side who are maybe at the moment the best in Europe, maybe in the world”.
The content of the German’s speech here suggests he also acknowledges how much of a threat he and his team will be up against under the lights in Portugal tonight.
“It is on us again to close the gap for 90 minutes and the good thing is we did it already,” he continued.
“In football everything is possible and in a final everything is possible.”
CHELSEA: The Blues have been given a boost as goalkeeper Edouard Mendy and midfielder N’Golo Kante who had been carrying knocks, returned to training on Wednesday.
MANCHESTER CITY: Ilkay Gundogan was said to have limped off in City’s final training session before the final, but could yet feature. Apart from that, the manager should have a fully healthy squad to pick from.
This game’s original venue was the Ataturk Olympic Stadium in Istanbul, but Covid-19 restrictions in England meant fans could not travel to Turkey as a result of the country being placed on the red travel list by the UK government.
It was a similar scenario last year as Turkish fans were denied the chance to see the game happen right in front of them in Istanbul, with another Portuguese city Lisbon – like Porto have done this year – stepping up to rescue the situation in the last minute.
As of today, Portugal has so far seen an influx of about 16,500 spectators; including 6,000 supporters of each club, with authorities in the country allowing the Estadio do Dragao to be filled up to 33 per cent capacity.
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Mubarak Mohammed Zakari He prefers to be known not as just a Sports Journalist; but as a "modern broadcaster" because of his ability to create content for visual, audio and print media. He co-hosts a football podcast with a growing audience from 17 countries across the globe.