The Champions League final will take place between Arsenal and Manchester City on Saturday, June 3 at 20:45 local time (19:45 UTC), at the Stade de France in Saint-Denis, France. Champions League winner Arsenal will meet Europa League victor Chelsea, with the victor earning the right to play the winner of the final between Real Madrid and Liverpool in the UEFA Super Cup.
Man City, Chelsea and UEFA will all be focused on the 2021-22 European Champions League, with Jose Mourinho’s side looking to emulate Frank Rijkaard’s famous Real Madrid side that won the competition in 2002. To do so, City will need to make big changes to their squad, while Chelsea will have to re-establish themselves as the dominant force at club level after a lack of success under Sarri.
The European club season came to an end this weekend: Chelsea beat Manchester City 1-0 on Saturday to win the UEFA Champions League. We will remember this campaign as the most disjointed, surreal, crumpled, logistically complicated, except in wartime. When we look back in a year or two, we’ll have stories of fights on two legs in neutral halls, PCR swabs in the nose, restrained bells, fake audience noise and empty bleachers. But Saturday was all about celebrating, starting with real fans reaching the Champions League final. Now a break of sorts, as we have another endless Spanish second division and Euro U-21 (live on ESPN+ in the US.) to keep us busy, and then Euro 2020 (in 2021…. That’s another thing we have to explain to our kids). With that in mind, here are some thoughts on what awaits the two finalists and UEFA on Saturday night in Porto. – ESPN FC Daily Stream on ESPN+ (in the US only) – ESPN+ Kijkwijzer: Bundesliga, Serie A, MLS, FA Cup and more
When he first met Chelsea owner Roman Abramovich on the pitch after the final victory, Thomas Tuchel joked that things could only get worse from here! He was joking, of course, but it was like a new player scoring a hat-trick on his debut and having to remind everyone that he won’t be doing that every week. And yet it feels like we haven’t seen the real Tuchel yet – only the emergency option of breaking down the door with an axe and putting out the fire, not the option of building a brick house so it doesn’t catch fire. 2 Connected Let’s not forget that Tuchel had no pre-season training (at least not with Chelsea) and no transfer window to work with. If you don’t count the international break and the five days before the final, his longest break between games was four days; often he only had two. For a man who has a reputation for being a tactical polymath and, above all, loves working on the training ground, this is not the time to do what he is paid to do. Not if you factor in travel, weekends and warm up time. Just because he brought Chelsea back into the top four and won the second Champions League in their history doesn’t mean he gets a free pass. Instead, expectations will be higher because he will finally have time to do what he does best: Teaching and coaching soccer. Saturday – and the results of this season as a whole – have only enhanced his reputation and provided even more support from his players. Read all the latest news and reactions from ESPN FC editor Gabriele Marcotti. And despite the big spending last summer, there are still important things to do before Tuchel arrives. The club must come up with a plan to replace defenders Thiago Silva and Cesar Aspilicueta. Maybe the solution lies in the squad – Chelsea could still use Andreas Christensen, Fikayo Tomori and Kurt Zuma – or maybe not. The attacking midfielders/wingers (Hakim Ziyech, Christian Pulisic, Callum Hudson-Odoi) and loaned players (Ross Barkley, Ruben Loftus-Cheek) also need to be addressed. Rotation is fine, but at some point you have to have a hierarchy. Timo Werner and Kai Havertz have shown their impressive abilities, and of course you stick with them, but there is still a clear need for a true centre striker (and it clearly won’t be Tammy Abraham). These are important calls. Being Chelsea, one suspects Tuchel will be part of the conversation, but not necessarily leading it. And that’s a good thing. After all, it has worked for them in the past. For Man City (left) and Chelsea (right), the Champions League final provided food for thought and also highlighted the big decisions facing both teams this summer. Kaz Photography/Getty Images
Pep Guardiola has spent the last six months putting together the best team in Europe, winning the Premier League and League Cup and losing the final due to his age-old addiction to thinking too much. It’s a popular theory, and given that we’ve seen this sort of thing before, particularly in the Champions League – Aymeric Laporte at left-back against Liverpool in 2017-18, Kevin De Bruyne on the bench against Tottenham in 2018-19, the odd formation against Lyon last year – replacing Raheem Sterling with a defensive midfielder this weekend will fall into the same category. There is a grain of truth in that statement, but saying it cost City a hat-trick is too simplistic. What’s even more disturbing is how this team paid the price for three and a half weeks in body, but not in spirit, by playing four (for them) virtually meaningless games between the semi-finals, the second leg and the final against PSG. – Man City legend Aguero moves to Barcelona There was (understandably) a drop in intensity and concentration that they couldn’t recover in time for the game against Porto. This should worry Guardiola as much as his alleged overthinking, which is a bit trite: After all, we are talking about the most successful manager of his time, the one who knows his players best because he sees them every day, making extra changes to give himself an edge over his opponents….. That’s where he gets the big money. play 2:05 Craig Burley questions Pep Guardiola’s personal decisions in the Champions League final against Manchester City. The most interesting question Guardiola will answer – more by his actions than by his words – is whether he plans to retain the XI core without the strikers who started City’s triumphant march – in which case there is no need to add a top centre-forward as Gabriel Jesus and another energetic man on the bench will suffice – or whether he will change things by acquiring a proven centre-forward to replace Sergio Aguero. The latter would amount to changing players for the sake of change, unless of course he acquires a transformational player like Harry Kane or Erling Haaland. The disappointment of going so far and dropping to last place may linger for a while, but the truth is that 2020-21 was a successful year for City, whatever that may be. They are one of the few teams in Europe with real economic clout in what promises to be a weak transfer market. Since they have few immediate needs, they have the luxury of spending their resources on the best available player, regardless of position. Dan Thomas is joined by Craig Burley, Shaka Hislop and others to bring you the latest developments and discuss key storylines. Broadcast on ESPN+ (US only). And they have Guardiola: still one of the game’s biggest non-economic attractions.
Having survived the Super League, endured the Champions League season, agreed – albeit painfully and imperfectly – on a new set-up for the next cycle of television rights, and found a new venue for the final after Istanbul’s rejection in a very short space of time, they can be satisfied with the way things are going now. They even managed to get the fans involved in the finale. But they too will have to face difficulties. The lawsuit filed by the other Super League clubs (Barcelona, Real Madrid and Juventus) continues. If the case ever goes to trial, and if we reach a verdict, the risk is that it will be binary: Either it is decided that UEFA, as a governing body, can be both a regulator and an organiser of competitions (in which case it will continue as before), or it is decided that it is a monopoly organisation (which would in effect destroy 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 known on what basis they will be punished and, as always, there is a risk that the decision of the Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS) will be overturned. Like so many compromise products, the reform of the Champions League – with its Swiss model – threatens to make everyone uncomfortable. There is a desire (real or perceived) for innovation and change: The away goal rule should be abolished, there is talk of holding the Final Four on the same pitch instead of the current home and away semi-finals, and UEFA have called a major stakeholder convention – but it is questionable whether this is the right time, after the pandemic, to do so. Having done relatively little in the early years of the Alexander Ceferin era, they now seem ready for a radical change, perhaps spurred on by the Super League fiasco, although it may be best to let things return to normal for now.
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