Chelsea manager Thomas Tuchel started his tenure at Stamford Bridge with a spectacular 15-game win streak and ended his first season as a Champions League winner, outmaneuvering Manchester City manager Pep Guardiola in Chelsea’s 1-0 final win.
Chelsea’s Christian Pulisic became only the second American international, after Borussia Dortmund forward Jovan Kirovski in 1997, to lift the Champions League trophy.
Guardiola opted to embrace the Premier League winner’s formidable attack with his starting lineup, dropping defensive midfielders Rodri and Fernandinho in favor of an all-out attack. Consistent with his tendency to tinker with his squads in big games, Guardiola chose Raheem Sterling, Phil Foden and UCL semifinal hero Riyad Mahrez to lead the line with Kevin De Bruyne and Bernardo Silva in behind, with only İlkay Gündoğan in holding midfield.
Both Americans were named to the bench with Steffen backing up City keeper Ederson while Tuchel preferred Kai Havertz over Pulisic on the wing. Chelsea’s N’Golo Kanté has overcome injury to start while goalkeeper Edouard Mendy has also been passed fit after limping off in the season-ending loss to Aston Villa.
In front of a roaring crowd of 16,500 spectators at the Estádio do Dragão, City started off with a high line that Chelsea tried to take advantage of early. Havertz created the first dangerous chance of the match with his drive into the box following a Timo Werner run, but his ricocheted pass ended up in the hands of Ederson in the fourth minute.
Ederson used a brilliant ball over the top to stretch the Chelsea defense as Raheem Sterling seemed nearly through on goal, but Mendy was there to stop the chance just in time after Sterling’s misplaced touch.
Havertz and Werner combined again, this time down the left wing in the 10th minute, to give Chelsea a premium chance in front of goal, but Werner failed to connect on a low pass at his feet and scuffed the chance.
Werner seemed to have the lion’s share of the scoring opportunities early on with his best chance coming in the 14th minute on a Chelsea counter attack, but the German couldn’t corral the ball at his feet properly before sending a rushed shot directly at Ederson.
After 20 minutes, City appeared to settle into its possession-based gameplan following the frenetic pace set by the Chelsea counter attack. Still, Chelsea found plenty of pockets to maneuver with Kanté drawing a foul in the 25th minute to create a dangerous free-kick opportunity for Chelsea, which was eventually cleared by City’s standout center back Rúben Dias.
De Bruyne finally got involved in the action against his former team in the 25th minute, creating City’s most dangerous chance yet. The Belgian international opened up space down the left wing and slid a perfect pass for a goalbound Phil Foden, but Antonio Rüdiger’s perfectly timed, sliding challenge prevented the point-blank shot from testing Mendy.
Five minutes later, Kyle Walker intercepted the ball down the right wing in Chelsea’s defensive third and sent a dangerous pass into the area. But the cross was just inches out of the reach of a crashing Mahrez, which drew groans from the boisterous City fans in attendance.
Tuchel was forced into the first change when Thiago Silva limped off in the 38th minute with what appeared to be a groin injury. Andreas Christensen came on for the Brazilian, who was playing in his second Champions League final of the last nine months after captaining PSG in the 2019-20 final in August.
Chelsea’s counter attack paid dividends just before halftime when Mason Mount sent a through ball that unleashed Havertz up the pitch. The former Bayer Leverkusen star took the pass in stride and ran past a charging Ederson before easily finishing for his first goal in 20 Champions League appearances.
Manchester City held more than 50 percent of possession in the first half, but could only manage one shot on target. Chelsea clearly created the better chances with Tuchel organizing his team to perfection.
Despite the injury to Thiago Silva, Blues rarely looked unnerved by City’s all-out attack, instead allowing Guardiola’s side to push its numbers forward before taking control on the counter attack.
City opened up the second half with a free-kick in the Chelsea half after Sterling drew a foul, but Foden’s poorly hit a low set-piece cross that was easily cleared by Kanté in the 48th.
As expected the second half started slowly as Chelsea withdrew into a tighter formation in its own half, relying on two Kanté tackles to stop City’s attack in the first 10 minutes.
Rüdiger and De Bruyne were involved in a collision that forced the latter out of the match in the 58th minute with an apparent facial injury. With Gabriel Jesus running on, De Bruyne left the pitch in tears with a swollen eye after his head crashed straight into Rüdiger’s shoulder, which earned a yellow card for the German.
City was denied its handball cries in the 60th minute when Sterling’s shot hit Reece James between the arm and chest, leading to a quick and inconclusive VAR check while the game carried on.
Pulisic entered the match in the 65th minute, becoming the first male American international to feature in a Champions League final. Meanwhile, De Bruyne was seen on the City bench with an icepack held against his severely bruised left eye as second-half sub Fernandinho led the midfield in place of Bernardo Silva.
Chelsea had to deal with another defensive injury when Cesar Azpilicueta went down with a knee injury following a collision, just moments after the captain cleared a sharp cross into the box that was en route toward Gündoğan. However, the Spaniard was able to continue following on-field treatment.
Pulisic nearly became the first USMNT player to score in a final with his chance in the 73rd. Kanté and Havertz did the hard work once again, with the German drawing two defenders for Pulisic’s run, but Pulisic couldn’t find the back of the net after chipping his open shot just wide of the post.
As De Bruyne gingerly left the bench to receive more treatment in the dressing room, Chelsea looked set on winding the game down with by holding the ball up as Mateo Kovačić coming on for Mount in a defensive-minded substitute.
In the 85th minute, City put together one of its best chances of the second half when second-half substitute Sergio Agüero took a pass down the left of the penalty area and appeared to chip his shot toward goal, only for the chance to end up in Mendy’s hands.
It was Thiago Silva’s replacement, Andreas Christensen, who proved to save Chelsea in the 90th minute with his block of Foden’s shot from inside the area after latching onto Mahrez’s pass.
Despite the seven minutes of stoppage time, Chelsea held strong at the back as City frantically looked for an equalizer. In the 97th minute, Mahrez came within inches of the equalizer with his header. But in the end, Tuchel avenged his final loss from last season, turning around Chelsea in the new year with a tactical masterclass to end the season.
Source: SI Soccer.