What’s next for Man City, Chelsea and UEFA after 2020-21 Champions League final
The European club season ended this weekend, with Chelsea beating Manchester City 1-0 on Saturday to win the UEFA Champions League. We will remember this as the most rambling, surreal, game-cluttered and logistical challenges campaign except for seasons played in wartime. When we look back a decade or two, we’ll be telling tales of two-legged knockout rounds in neutral venues, PCR nose swabs, containment bubbles, fake crowds and empty booths.
But Saturday was a party, starting with the fact that we even had a Champions League final, and one in front of real fans live as well. Now for a break – so to speak, because we still have the endless Spanish second division and the U-21 Euros (Stream live on ESPN + in the US) to keep us busy – then off to Euro 2020 (in 2021 … there is something else we will need to explain to our kids).
With that in mind, here are some thoughts on how Saturday night in Porto leaves the two finalists, as well as UEFA.
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Thomas Tuchel joked that after meeting Chelsea owner Roman Abramovich for the first time on the pitch after winning the final, “from now on things can only get worse!”
He was kidding, sure, but it looked a bit like the new signing who scores a hat trick in his early days and has to remind everyone he won’t be doing it every week. And yet it feels like we haven’t even seen the real Tuchel yet – just the urgency, “grab an ax to break the door to put out the fire”, rather than “build the house in stone so this will not be the “flammable” version.
Let’s not forget, Tuchel hasn’t had any preseason training (not with Chelsea, anyway) and no transfer window to work with. Excluding the international break and the five days before the final, the most time he had between matches was four days; often he only had two. For a guy with a reputation as a tactical savant who loves working on the training ground above all else, now is not the time to do what he really paid for. Not when you factor in travel, days off, and warm-ups.
So in many ways just because he brought Chelsea back into the top four and won the second Champions League in their history doesn’t mean he will get an assist. On the contrary, expectations will be higher because he will finally have time to do what he does best: teaching and coaching football. Saturday – and the results of this season in general – only solidifies his reputation and ensures that he gets even more buy-in from his players.
Beyond that, despite the spending spree last summer before Tuchel arrived, there are huge calls ahead.
The club must work out a succession plan for defenders Thiago Silva and Cesar Azpilicueta. Maybe the solution is internally – Chelsea can still call on Andreas Christensen, Fikayo Tomori and Kurt Zouma – maybe that’s not the case. There is an overabundance of attacking midfielder / winger types (Hakim Ziyech, Christian Pulisic, Callum Hudson-Odoi) to deal with as well, as well as others on loan (Ross Barkley, Ruben Loftus-Cheek). Rotation is fine and all, but at some point you need a hierarchy. Timo Werner and Kai Havertz have shown glimpses of their impressive skills and you obviously stick with them, but there’s still a clear need for a real center-forward (and, apparently, it won’t be Tammy Abraham).
These are big calls to make. Considering it’s Chelsea, you suspect Tuchel will be part of the conversation, but not necessarily leading it. The good thing is. After all, it has worked for them in the past.
Pep Guardiola has built the best team in Europe over the past six months, won the Premier League and the League Cup, and lost the final because of his old pernicious habit of overthinking. That’s the popular narrative, and because we’ve seen it before, especially in the Champions League – Aymeric Laporte left-back against Liverpool in 2017-18, Kevin De Bruyne benched against Tottenham in 2018- 19, the odd setup against Lyon last year – this weekend’s change from “Raheem Sterling to defensive midfielder” will be lumped into this same category.
There is some truth to it, but it’s far too simplistic to say it cost City the Treble. More concerning is how this team paid the price for (essentially) three and a half weeks of being present in their body but not in their mind, playing four (for them) really insignificant games between the semi-finals, the return match and the final of PSG.
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There was a (understandable) drop in intensity and focus that they didn’t regain in time for Porto. This should be as much of a concern for Guardiola as his supposed over-thinking, which is a bit of a tired trope: after all, we’re talking about the most successful manager of his time, who knows his players best because he sees all the days, by making an additional adjustment to gain an advantage against an opponent … precisely what he is paid the big bucks to do.
Craig Burley questions the decisions of Pep Guardiola’s staff for Manchester City in the Champions League final.
Perhaps the most interesting question Guardiola will answer – via his actions, more than his words – is whether he sees the “scorerless” formation that has marked City’s winning streak as his base XI – in which case it is not necessary to do so. add a List A center-forward, as Gabriel Jesus and another energy guy from the bench will be enough – or if he’ll turn things around again, acquiring a big-name center forward to replace Sergio Aguero. The latter would feel a bit like a change for the sake of change, unless, of course, he secures a transformational player like Harry Kane or Erling Haaland.
The disappointment of going this far and falling at the last hurdle may linger for a while, but the truth is that 2020-21 has been a success for City no matter how you do it. They are one of the few parties in Europe to have real economic influence in what is shaping up to be a depressed transfer market, and with few immediate needs they have the luxury of putting their resources to work for the best player available. , whatever its position.
And they have Guardiola: still one of the biggest non-budget draws in the game.
Having avoided the Super League, managed to end the Champions League season, made – albeit in a tortuous and imperfect way – a deal for a new format in the next round of TV rights, having found a new venue for the doubles final – shortly after Istanbul had to be ruled out they can be happy with how things turned out. They even managed to deliver fans for the final.
But they too have challenges to overcome. The lawsuit brought by what remains of the Super League clubs (Barcelona, Real Madrid and Juventus) is raging. If it ever had to go to court and if we ever came to a verdict, the risk is that it will be binary: either the decision will be that UEFA, as a governing body, is free to be both regulator and organizer of the competition (in which case it’s business as usual), or that it’s a monopoly entity (which would blow up the game as we know it).
UEFA’s decision to initiate disciplinary proceedings against the three rebel clubs is also a risk. It is not entirely clear on what basis they would be penalized and, as always, the risk of overturning a Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS) is always present.
The reform of the Champions League – with its “Swiss model” – like many compromise products is likely to displease everyone. There is a desire (real or perceived) for innovation and change: the away goals rule is about to be abandoned, there is talk of a “Final Four” in one place to replace the current semi-finals round-trip and UEFA has called a huge stakeholder convention – but you wonder if, after the pandemic, now is the time to do it.
Having done relatively little in the early years of the Aleksander Ceferin era, it now feels like, perhaps emboldened by the Super League fiasco, they are ready for a drastic change when, perhaps, he would be better to let things get back to normal first.