English Domination in the Champions League

A preview of the 2021 Champions League final as two teams from Big Four prepare to face each other in the third all-English UCL final in history.

Reading Time: 5 minutes

Two teams from the Big Six (which consists of Manchester United, Liverpool, Arsenal, Chelsea, Manchester City, Tottenham Hotspur) are yet again the top contenders for the Champions League title. English teams Manchester City FC and Chelsea FC will vie for the prestigious trophy in the Estádio do Dragão stadium in Porto, Portugal, on May 29. Both teams have had their fair share of struggles during the COVID-19 pandemic but managed to impress this season. City ended up losing to Liverpool FC in the Premier League title race in the 2019-2020 season after having won two titles in a row. However, City manager Pep Guardiola and his players have improved during this season, winning the Premier League and the EFL Cup. Chelsea has also been through tough times under the reign of soccer legend Frank Lampard, who was sacked in January 2021 after a run of defeats. Manager Thomas Tuchel quickly took over and by strengthening Chelsea’s defense, has helped the club qualify for the FA Cup final and move to fourth in the Premier League. With two brilliant managers, many skilled players, and avid fans, the 2020-2021 UCL final is sure to be an unpredictable one.

This season, Manchester City has remained undefeated in the Champions League, with 11 wins and one draw. The club was first in Group C and advanced to the knockout stages of the competition with ease, beating FC Porto, Olympique de Marseille, and Olympiacos FC. In the tournament phase, City remained dominant, defeating Borussia Mönchengladbach 4-0 aggregate in the Round of 16 and Borussia Dortmund 4-2 aggregate in the quarter-final. In the semifinal, the Citizens were up against Paris Saint-Germain (PSG), which had made it to last year’s Champions League final. Though many were expecting PSG to reach the finals with the likes of superstars Kylian Mbappé and Neymar Jr., it was Manchester City that emerged victorious, defeating the French club 4-1 aggregate. Both fans and players alike of Manchester City celebrated as it was the club’s first time reaching the UCL final.

There is a lot of praise toward star players Phil Foden and Riyad Mahrez, who displayed their quality and goal-scoring ability in these decisive matches. Foden has had an amazing season so far, with 14 goals and 10 assists in all competitions. The 20-year-old English international has established himself in the starting 11 with a creative eye and an exquisite left foot. Likewise, Mahrez has had his best season yet at the Manchester club, finding his place back into the squad. The 30-year-old winger has been crucial for City in the knockout ties, scoring a penalty to win against Dortmund and scoring three times across both legs against PSG. Additionally, City has benefited from outstanding play from attacking midfielders Kevin de Bruyne and İlkay Gündoğan, alternating wingbacks João Cancelo and Kyle Walker, and defensive duo John Stones and Rúben Dias.

Though City may be at a disadvantage having lost twice against Chelsea this season, Mahrez doesn’t believe so. The Algerian international said, “Chelsea [doesn’t] have the psychological advantage. All games are different. But the Champions League Final is not the same.” In terms of the lineup, Guardiola certainly has many options and ideas on formation. It’s common knowledge that Guardiola is an experienced and world-class manager. In fact, back in his FC Barcelona days, he won the Champions League twice in 2009 and 2011. He’ll likely look to disrupt Chelsea’s defensive structure by keeping possession of the ball and with well-timed passing in the final third. Keep in mind, it is Manchester City’s first time making it to the UCL final in its history, and Guardiola should make sure that he doesn’t overthink his game plans in preparation for match day. City has already wrapped up business in the Premier League, and the players will be sure to give it all in the UCL final in hopes of a treble.

Chelsea's record is inferior to Manchester City’s in the Champions League this year. With only one loss to Porto in the second leg of the quarter-final, Chelsea holds eight wins and three draws. The squad started off in Group E, where it quickly rose to first place, surpassing Sevilla FC, FC Krasnodar, and Stade Rennais FC. Chelsea breezed past Atlético Madrid, the top club from La Liga, in the Round of 16, winning by an aggregate score of 3-0, and proceeded to struggle past FC Porto 2-1 aggregate score in the quarter-final. In the semifinal, the Blues were next up against the only Spanish club remaining in the competition, Real Madrid, which they beat 3-1 over two legs. Chelsea had made it to the Champions League final for the third time in the club’s history.

Coincidentally, for all three UCL runs in which Chelsea has reached the final, the club sacked its manager mid-season. This past season, Chelsea sacked Lampard and replaced him with Tuchel in late January. The decision was understandable. Lampard had led Chelsea to ninth in the Premier League and was running the club into the ground with the worst points-per-game record compared to any other manager under Roman Abramovich, the owner of Chelsea FC. Tuchel had previously managed Paris Saint-Germain and shot the club into the 2020 UCL final against FC Bayern Munich. He made manager history when he led Chelsea to the final as well, bringing two different clubs to the UCL final in consecutive years. Tuchel is known for his effective player development and tactics, and his track record in the Champions League makes him an excellent coach for the UCL final against Manchester City, which has never reached the final before.

Tuchel has been quite successful, particularly in strengthening the backline at Stamford Bridge and keeping clean sheets. On attack, he has relied on counter attacks to put in goals, which did not work well against Arsenal and Leicester City in recent games. Doubts began to surround Chelsea and Tuchel after a 1-0 loss to Arsenal and a 1-0 loss to Leicester in the FA Cup Final. Despite Chelsea’s two victories over Manchester City over 21 days, fans and critics alike became skeptical over Chelsea’s ability to beat Manchester City in the UCL final based on recent luck. After the FA Cup final, however, Chelsea proved itself in a second matchup against Leicester City, in which the squad defeated Leicester 2-1, solidifying its prowess and ability to emerge victorious against Manchester City. In the recent victory against Leicester, top Chelsea players Kai Havertz and N'Golo Kanté sustained injuries, but Tuchel hoped to have them back for their last game of the EPL season against Aston Villa on May 23.

The 2021 UCL final will be the third all-English final in history but the second in the past three years. There has been a clear shift in the Champions League as the Premier League not only continues to dominate European soccer financially, but is also taking over continental tournaments, knocking out the top teams from other nations. The English triumph makes sense as top Premier League teams have access to more resources from the television deal revenue advantage over other nations’ clubs, and their physicality and clever tactics continue to surpass those of other squads. While Chelsea heads to the Champions League final as a clear favorite looking for its second Champions League win, the 2021 UCL final will be a must-watch matchup as Manchester City vies for its first Champions League title in its club history.