BEVERLY HILLS, May 09, (THEWILL) – Anyone desiring to get a taste of what the UEFA Champions League final between these two English Premier League clubs was going to be like in the first of their two meetings this month could have been disappointed by the heavily rotated sides that Manchester City and Chelsea managers, Pep Guardiola and Thomas Tuchel, put out for their League fixture at the Etihad on Saturday.
Although Chelsea had a last gasp Marcos Alonso goal to thank for their 2-1 victory over the hosts, the match did not produce the fireworks it was promised to deliver because, thinking very much alike, both managers rested a good number of their first team squad after the exertions of their midweek UCL games and with an eye on the finals in Istanbul, Turkey.
Victory for the hosts could have been enough to pop the champagne in celebratory fashion for confirming their “champions elect” status but Chelsea’s determined push for victory, especially with top four objectives in mind, paid off and forced back City’s celebrations for another day. The day will come but not this Saturday.
The first half was all City for the most part and it was deserving that Raheem Sterling scored to underscore that dominance. Then, came the golden opportunity to double their advantage when they were awarded a penalty. Sergio Agüero, the club’s all-time leading goalscorer stepped up only to see his paneka easily saved by Chelsea’s Edouard Mendy, their brilliant Senegalese keeper.
Chelsea came to live in the second period, which differed from how they played the first. It points to the tactical difference Tuchel injected at the half time talk. They were more creative and adventurous. It was only a matter of time before Hakim Ziyech’s low driven strike levelled the scores.
For all Chelsea’s improvement, the chance to inch ahead opened for City after their goal-scorer in the first half, Sterling, was cynically taken out from behind by Kurt Zouma as he was through on goal. The referee refused to give it and the video assistant referee (VAR), that ought to have caught the infringement and intervened, was not involved.
Obviously more than miffed by the decision, Pep Guardiola was still reacting to it on the touchline, when Chelsea broke through Marcos Alonso to score and deny City’s potential Premier League-clinching game. It is a clear signal ahead of the Champions League final, which assumes a more interesting dimension now after Guardiola has lost twice to Tuchel in quick succession.
It could be argued that the sides were not the first squad members and that the match was decided on controversial terms but that is how football matches go at times and it can be in your favour today and not be tomorrow. If you cannot take that into account when preparing for the biggest game of the season, then, it is safe to imagine that the result will go the way of the other side.
Guardiola, a veteran of many testy matches like Saturday’s loss against a growing resilient rival, will understand this better than most. And, fortunately, this loss is only a temporal setback with little in terms of consequences. He will have enough time to prepare for his third and most determining meeting with Tuchel, where the stakes are as high as they can ever be.
There, it shall be determined, whose tactics will triumph, with their first and best players and with or without controversial refereeing.