Ilkay Gundogan picks up the game’s first yellow card, for a late and high challenge in midfield.
Chelsea’s center back Thiago Silva, meanwhile, has limped to the sideline and is having his thigh looked at. This could be big; he marshalls Chelsea’s back line.
Staring down Raheem Sterling knowing he is about to turn the corner and speed away from you must be one of the more scary, sinking feelings in soccer. Chelsea’s right back, Reece James, just got a taste of it, but he was able to backtrack and nick the ball away just as Sterling entered the area.
Guardiola, meanwhile, is already looking for solutions, for changes, for a way in. He just ordered Phil Foden to press higher, and more centrally.
City remains on the front foot at all times, though; every time Chelsea surrenders the ball, City’s forwards are driving straight at them again.
That is three early chances for Timo Werner, who has been surprisingly active and, perhaps unsurprisingly, more threatening than truly dangerous. That has been the knock on Werner all season: that he gets a lot of chances but converts far too few of them. The theme is continuing today.
Proving City is dangerous and attack-minded from literally every position on the field, its goalkeeper, Ederson, cuts out everyone in front of him with a single, long ball over the top ahead of a speeding Raheem Sterling.
Sterling’s first touch fails him, though, and the first really dangerous chance is lost. But we’re suddenly going end to end.
City’s attacking lineup is showing some patience in the opening minutes. They will want to stretch Chelsea a bit, and the Blues know it. They have kept their shape as tight as they can early on, pressing the outside backs and trying to keep the ball in City’s half, not their own.
Manchester City kicks off in its traditional light blue with white shorts. Chelsea is in royal blue.
And extending a moment that has taken place all season, the teams kneel before the game begins, continuing their campaign for social justice efforts.
Manchester City fans’ simmering dislike of UEFA, despite an emerging peace between the club and the organization after City helped kill the Super League, has not been erased by reaching the Champions League final.
Boos rang out from the section holding City fans when the tournament anthem was played.
If Pep Guardiola is to win this, then, he is clearly going to do it his way. Manchester City’s lineup is pure, undiluted Guardiola, the very essence of what he believes to be soccer’s highest form: a team made up, almost entirely, of attacking midfielders.
There is an attacking midfielder at left back, three attacking midfielders where you would expect to find them, in midfield, and two more attacking midfielders in, well, attack. That means there is no room for Fernandinho, so often the calming influence on this team, or for his understudy, Rodri. Guardiola has decided to look forward, rather than back, to trust his players to hurt Chelsea more than Chelsea can hurt them.
It is not the first time he has done this; Guardiola’s selection for Barcelona, in his first final in 2009, raised eyebrows, too. That night in Rome, he played Lionel Messi as a false nine, and in one fell swoop shifted soccer’s Overton Window. It was not the first time Messi had played there — and Messi was not the first player to take on that role — but to do it on such a stage was confirmation it was no longer a trick, an option, an experiment. It was a statement of belief in his principles.
This selection could have much the same effect. This may be the culmination of the third iteration of Guardiola’s vision of how the game should be played. If City wins, of course.
And that is the risk: Guardiola’s record of changing his approach in the Champions League is mixed, at best. His players have intimated that now is not the time for testing out new ideas, for bold leaps into the future. City should be superior to Chelsea. Asking his players to feel their way into a new system in the biggest game of them all could — emphasis on could — dull that edge slightly. It is a brave time to take a risk. That, though, is Guardiola’s way. And he always does it his way.
Manchester City, perhaps eager to just get on with it already, released its lineup early.
Manchester City’s XI: Ederson; Kyle Walker, Rúben Dias, John Stones, Oleksandr Zinchenko; Ilkay Gundogan; Kevin De Bruyne (C), Bernardo Silva, Riyad Mahrez, Raheem Sterling, Phil Foden
The only thing that might qualify as a surprise is that defensive midfielder Fernandinho, so often the grit and bite in City’s midfield as it goes forward, starts on the bench. So does Sergio Agüero, playing his final game for the club.
Here we go 😅
XI | Ederson, Walker, Dias, Stones, Zinchenko, Gundogan, De Bruyne (C), Bernardo, Mahrez, Sterling, Foden
SUBS | Steffen, Carson, Ake, Jesus, Aguero, Laporte, Rodrigo, Torres, Mendy, Fernandinho, Cancelo, Garcia
— Manchester City (@ManCity) May 29, 2021
Chelsea followed minutes later, and the news is that Thomas Tuchel starts with Timo Werner up top and supported by Mason Mount and Kai Havertz. Christian Pulisic, the midfielder who is expected to become the first American to play in the final, assumes his usual role of substitute.
“It was a tough choice to leave him out,” Tuchel said, adding that he had warned his players there would be many such choices today. “But he is very strong off the bench.”
Chelsea’s XI: Edouard Mendy; Cesar Azpilicueta (C), Thiago Silva, Antonio Rüdiger, Reece James; Jorginho, N’Golo Kanté, Ben Chilwell; Kai Havertz, Timo Werner, Mason Mount
Ask any English soccer fan — any European soccer fan, for that matter — for the first word that comes to mind about today’s finalists and you’ll probably get the same answer: money.
But while money is absolutely part of the reason these teams are in this final — and why this might not be the last time we see them here in the near future — dismissing each team because they have a lot of it doesn’t give a fair picture of what they have built.
Manchester City recently won its third Premier League title in four years, and it has been setting a new standard for excellence in England and beyond (though notably not in the Champions League) for about a decade.
Most non-City fans sneer at the club’s success, dismissing it (perhaps enviously) as solely the result of the seemingly bottomless wealth of the team’s Gulf ownership, which has poured billions into the squad. But lots of teams have rich owners. Valencia has one. So does Newcastle United. So do the New York Jets. Ask fans of those teams how things are going.
The difference with Manchester City is not just that it has bought well — stars like Raheem Sterling, Kevin De Bruyne and Rúben Dias — and bought in bulk. It is that it has bought with a plan. “Petrol and ideas,” Arsène Wenger, the former Arsenal manager, once said of how City was transformed from also-ran to champion. “Money and quality.” Now it just needs to clear the final hurdle, the one that has driven its entire mission. And preferably before its Qatar-backed rival, Paris St.-Germain, beats it to the prize.
Chelsea, too, has been built for days like this. Champions of England five times under its say-little, spend-a-lot Russian owner, Roman Abramovich, the Blues finished fourth in the Premier League this season. It has lost only five games under the German coach it hired in January, Thomas Tuchel, and it has beaten Manchester City twice since mid-April.
Chelsea, too, has bought well. It took advantage of the pandemic’s uncertainty last year to bring aboard $260 million worth of new players: $51 million to Ajax for the playmaker Hakim Ziyech; $68 million for the Germany striker Timo Werner; $63 million more for Leicester City’s Ben Chilwell. Thiago Silva, the vastly experienced Brazil defender, was coaxed away from other suitors, and amid all that Chelsea persuaded Bayer Leverkusen to part with the 21-year-old forward Kai Havertz for a fee that may rise as high as $90 million.
“The ambitions are as true now as they were when I first became owner,” said Abramovich. “I hope that can be seen through the work we have been doing on and off the pitch over the last 17 years.”
The squad his wealth has assembled that even the best of those buys have struggled to find a regular place in a squad so deep that its bench includes a World Cup-winning striker and a goalkeeper, when we signed three years ago, was the world’s most expensive goalkeeper.
But this time Chelsea also has a coach, Tuchel, who nearly won this competition last year, and who knows how to lead a deep and talented (and expensively constructed) roster in big moments.
In a battle of budgets, could he or his counterpart, Pep Guardiola, be the difference?
There is an American at today’s game. Two actually.
Christian Pulisic is expected to feature for Chelsea, though it will be from off the bench, the high-water mark in stages for the high-water mark in American players in Europe.
The other American, Manchester City goalkeeper Zack Steffen, most likely will be a spectator in Porto unless there is an emergency or two in his team’s camp. Steffen’s consolation is that he has already become the first American to win the Premier League.
But for most fans in the United States, Pulisic will be the main talking point today. Even since he joined Chelsea from Germany’s Borussia Dortmund in 2019, for a $73 million fee that raised eyebrows on both sides of the Atlantic, he has battled to find his place in London, and his team.
Chelsea and its fans have had little complaint about his play.
Just last month, he scored the goal that provided a valuable point on the road against Real Madrid in semifinals.
A week later he showed similar poise to set up a goal by Mason Mount that finished off Madrid.
But the ongoing competition for places in Chelsea’s star-studded attack is never easy; a year after bringing Pulisic into a team that already had Mason Mount, who plays a similar game, Chelsea bought the German forwards Timo Werner and Kai Havertz.
Injuries, too, have been a persistent issue for Pulisic, and that is perhaps part of the reason Chelsea Coach Thomas Tuchel has tended to see him as more of a second-half super sub than a 90-minute fixture in his team.
But did his performance against Real Madrid, and some other strong outings this spring, change that impression? No. He will start on the bench as usual, but said this week that he would be ready when called.
“I’ve learned a lot, I’ve come very far,” Pulisic said in an interview with CBS Sports this week. “There have been some real ups, also some times where I had some really difficult moments. I’m happy with my form now. I’m happy with the way I’m feeling. I’m confident.”
The Champions League final offers the most storied prize in European soccer, but today’s finalists, Chelsea and Manchester City, have almost no experience in the game that awards it.
Chelsea has taken part in the final only twice. In 2008, it lost an earlier all-Premier League final to Manchester United on penalties in Moscow. Four years later, it finally lifted the trophy, beating Bayern Munich in a shootout.
This is Manchester City’s first trip to the final, and comes after a string of supremely disappointing ending in recent years, including quarterfinal exits against Lyon (2020), Tottenham (2019) and Liverpool (2018). By last year, even the club’s players were openly wondering if they and their coach would ever get to grab hold of the trophy.
Still, as the Premier League champion, and with a world-class player (and a world-class backup) at almost every position on the field, City is the betting favorite.
Here are the basics:
What time is the game? Kickoff is set for 3 p.m. Eastern at Porto’s Estádio do Dragão.
How can I watch? The game will be broadcast in the United States by CBS Sports and on the Paramount+ streaming app. If you prefer commentary in Spanish, go to Univision or the TUDN app. If you are anywhere else in the world, check this comprehensive list of local broadcast partners from UEFA’s website.
Is there V.A.R. in use in the Champions League? Yes. So brace yourself and warm up your hot takes. It could be a factor at some point.
Is Christian Pulisic starting? (This question is mostly for American readers.) The team’s lineups should be out about an hour before kickoff. UPDATE: Nope.
Many fans traveled to Porto on matchday for a variety of reasons and by morning they were passing through the city’s airport and looking for the fastest route to the city.
But getting into the country required one extra step this year: a coronavirus test.
Approved for entry, the late-arriving fans joined their countrymen in the city center. With hours to kill before the evening kickoff, thousands gravitated to the waterfront, where the sun was shining and the beer was flowing.
Security police, wary of the size of the crowds, kept a close watch. But among City fans flocking to their clubs first Champions League final, and Chelsea supporters thrilled to be back in the game, the mood was light.
Our colleague Tariq Panja met Nigel Holland, 63, and Paul Hart, 67, of Manchester. Each had followed City for more than a half century. “We’ve done the really dark days from the third division, so we’re enjoying this,” Holland said.
Others just couldn’t wait to get inside the Estádio do Dragão, and get on with it.
Chelsea Manager Thomas Tuchel was in the Champions League final last season, when he coached Paris St.-Germain. His center back Thiago Silva started for him that day.
But while Manchester City and Chelsea are annual fixtures in the competition, they (perhaps surprisingly) lack direct, or even recent, experience with the final. City’s Ilkay Gundogan has played in it. Chelsea’s Mateo Kovacic has watched it from the bench. Twice.
But perhaps no one in today’s game is more associated with the game than Pep Guardiola, the Manchester City coach who started in it twice as a player and won it twice, spectacularly and memorably as the coach of Barcelona. What people forget is that despite all his (almost) all-conquering successes in later stops at Bayern Munich and more recently at City, Guardiola has not tasted the final since his last win with Barcelona in 2011.
Rory Smith wrote this week about his ambitions, his missteps and why this weekend has been such a long time coming.
Largely peaceful in Porto ahead of Champions League final. But authorities taking no chances. Last minute debrief among local police and colleagues from UK. They’ll be out looking for known hooligans. They have lists of names and faces to look for. pic.twitter.com/jZMYcikcIp
— tariq panja (@tariqpanja) May 29, 2021
The president of European soccer’s governing body confirmed reporting by The Times this week that the organization was considering combining the Champions League semifinals and final into a weeklong soccer celebration instead of a single day.
“Personally, I would like to see it happen,” the president, Aleksander Ceferin, told the French sports daily L’Equipe ahead of Saturday’s final in Portugal. “It could be great. And effective in terms of revenue if it is well done.”
And while he expressed support for the idea, Ceferin also said there was still time to discuss it with clubs, partners and broadcasters.
“There is no urgency,” he said. “We can decide this in a year’s time.” The changes, The Times reported, could not take place until at least 2024.
Last summer’s Champions League knockout stages were a hastily arranged affair, thrown together with fingers crossed even before the pandemic had ebbed in Europe. Schedules were changed. A new host (Lisbon) was found. A bubble was created.
But something surprising happened: Everyone seemed to love it. Single-game quarterfinals and semifinals — instead of the usual home-and-away ties — were a high-stakes hit, adding drama and drawing viewers.
The changes proved so popular with Champions League organizers, in fact, that they are giving serious consideration to incorporating some of them permanently as part of a “champions week” concept in which two winner-take-all semifinals and the final will be played in one city, and supplemented by a schedule of concerts, games and other events.
The proposal would produce the focused drama of the final weekend of a tennis major or college basketball’s Final Four, and turn club soccer’s marquee game into something a bit more like the Super Bowl.
“The sponsors will love it,” said Tim Crow, a consultant who has advised several major companies involved in events like the World Cup and the Olympics. “The Super Bowl model is like that, when it’s not about the game, it’s about the week.”
The short answer to that question above is: yes. The reasons are more complicated and, like so many things these day, all related to the coronavirus.
The Champions League final is in Portugal for the second year in a row. This time, like last year, it was a late solution, and each time it required the consent of officials in Turkey, which has now lost the chance to host the final two years in a row.
The decision earlier this month to move the final from Istanbul, which had recently re-entered a virus-related lockdown, came after discussions between European soccer leaders and British government officials, who had been seeking to bring the game to London, broke down over differences about quarantines and testing, among other issues.
When those talks failed, Portugal’s soccer federation raised its hand and offered to be a safe harbor again. From my colleague Tariq Panja earlier this month:
Discussions about a move were completed quickly. After City and Chelsea had confirmed the all-English final, and as talk swirled about a change of venue, Tiago Craveiro, the chief executive of the Portuguese soccer federation, reached out to UEFA. Officials at the soccer body were then reeling from that day’s sudden announcement that travelers from Britain faced severe restrictions for any travel to Turkey. That created a crisis that went well beyond questions about fan access.
Players on both sides faced the prospect of having to isolate for 10 days upon their return to Britain, creating doubts over their participation in the European Championship, the national team competition organized by UEFA that is second in size and importance only to the FIFA World Cup.
With Portugal on Britain’s green list — and thus subject to far less stringent travel rules — Craveiro offered to organize the final at short notice. Porto was picked because it did not get an opportunity to stage Champions League games last year when the event was confined in its Lisbon bubble.