A game of layouts – Newspaper Kommersant No. 90 (7052) from 05/28/2021

by time news

In the Saturday Champions League final in Porto, two English clubs will meet, each of which can be said after him that he very honestly deserved this victory. Manchester City have had a wonderful season and years of agony in search of a way to claim the top title. Chelsea had a great second half of the season and a timely replacement in a key position in the team.

Any cursory analysis of British media, with enthusiasm waiting for the next purely English Champions League final (the previous one happened quite recently: in 2019, Liverpool defeated Tottenham in it), will easily prove: the opinions of people who played football at a high level of those who have the favorite status in Porto are divided approximately equally. Ruud Gullit, the legend of Dutch football, in his column for the BBC generally preferred not to focus on this intrigue, but simply speculated about the future of the newly revealed young and, apparently, terribly talented players, which both of them have. Gullit chose Phil Foden from Manchester and Mason Mount from London. And what about the outcome of the final? Well, you have to understand that God knows what he will be like.

Indeed, the dispute over odds in Porto between those who are partial to Manchester City and those who are dearer to Chelsea is not difficult to imagine. Everyone will have iron arguments in favor of a cute version.

One will say that this season neither in England nor in Europe as a whole there has been a team stronger than Manchester City. Power, stability, no disruption. A convincing triumph in the English Premier League, with Chelsea in third place far behind. Convincing movement along the distance in the Champions League with a victory in the semifinals against last year’s finalist PSG, who looked pale against the background of an opponent. Under coach Pepe Guardiola, the Manchester people used to be considered almost the standard of style, and now their football has even played with new colors, adding strength to the defense. How can you object to this?

Another will notice that it is possible. If we take the season as a whole, without breaking it into segments, then, of course, Manchester City is the best. But the thing is that such a division before the Portuguese final is just relevant, because Chelsea in the second half of 2020 and Chelsea in the first half of 2021 are like two different teams. Londoners at the start of the season are a crisis club, not knowing what to do with their expensive acquisitions like Timo Werner and Kai Havertz, with a raw game, always ready to stumble. Londoners after the January replacement of their mentor – Frank Lampard by Thomas Tuchel – are completely different. Their sour leaders come to life, and the productivity curve goes up sharply, as if thrown by a tight spring. The result is a spurt from ninth place in the championship to third, reaching the FA Cup final and the Champions League play-off march, in which Chelsea had a chance, for example, to deal with two of the strongest Spanish teams – Atlético and Real Madrid.

And the perfect illustration of the adjusted alignment in a pair of finalists – yes, here it is, right at your fingertips. It so happened that Manchester City and Chelsea had a chance to cross three times this year. In January, at the height of their crisis, right before Lampard’s resignation, the Londoners lost 1: 3 to the Manchester, and they certainly didn’t pull the match. But already in April, gaining momentum, we dealt with them in the FA Cup semi-finals – 1: 0, and then, in early May, took revenge in the championship, winning 2: 1. That is, in fact, in face-to-face confrontations, Chelsea has an advantage.

However, a Manchester fan will immediately notice that his club was not fighting in the lost matches. In May, for example, without Kevin De Bruyne and Riad Marez, and Ilkay Gundogan appeared on the field only in the middle of the second half. So nothing indicative. As in the observations about the freshest performances of the finalists. Manchester City, having secured the gold of the championship, conceded three goals each from the unpretentious Brighton and Newcastle, and the attack of Chelsea was strangled, not allowing to score a single goal, Leicester in the cup final and Arsenal in the national championship …

The fruitlessness of the dispute, of fencing with obvious arguments, for sure, as often happens on the eve of great finals, will make you look for the truth in the irrational. A devoted fan of Manchester City will scream that the club, which has been investing colossal money in development for more than a decade, is taking the right steps in general, but for some reason it cannot reach the most prestigious trophy and deserves good luck. The loyal Chelsea fan will smile slyly at this, remembering how Londoners won their only Champions League victory so far. Then, nine years ago, they also tumbled, painfully overcame the crisis, but in the spring of 2012, before the end of the season, they decided to change coach Andre Villas-Boas for Roberto Di Matteo. And it turned out that this is exactly what is needed for a continental triumph. So here too, I suppose, is a draw.

Alexey Dospekhov

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