Usually, the “How will (Team X) line up?” posts ahead of a big game are pretty straight-forward on at least one if not both sides of the trophy, but not this time.
Thanks to the men making the lineups for Saturday’s UEFA Champions League Final — salt-and-pepper-shaker tacticians Pep Guardiola and Thomas Tuchel — Manchester City and Chelsea could line up any number of ways.
This is more perilous than it sounds on the side of the favorites, where Pep Guardiola’s men are significant favorites if he rolls with a 4-3-3 or some sort of formation that has best delivered his system to the masses.
But he’s got a reputation for over-thinking himself in one-off situations, enough so that we consider Pep versus himself one of the key battles of the final.
So what will we find from City and Chelsea in Porto on Saturday?
Pep v Tuchel all-time
Much has been made of Chelsea’s twin wins over Man City this season with Tuchel at the helm, the Blues besting the champs in a must-win (for them) Premier League match and in an FA Cup semifinal.
But Tuchel had been winless in five against Pep before that, all coming when Guardiola was the favorite, too, as Bayern Munich boss versus Borussia Dortmund and Mainz.
How did each man line up his players in those seven total matches?
Oct. 19, 2013 – Bayern 4-1 Mainz – Pep’s 4-1-4-1 v Tuchel’s 5-4-1
March 22, 2014 – Mainz 0-2 Bayern – Tuchel’s 4-2-3-1 v Pep’s 4-2-3-1
Oct. 4, 2015 – Bayern 5-1 Dortmund – Pep’s 3-5-2 v Tuchel’s 4-3-1-2
March 5, 2016 – Dortmund 0-0 Bayern – Tuchel’s 4-3-3 v Pep’s 4-2-3-1
May 21, 2016 – Bayern 4-3 Dortmund – Pep’s 4-1-4-1 v Tuchel’s 3-4-2-1
April 17, 2021 – Chelsea 1-0 Man City – Tuchel’s 3-4-2-1 v Pep’s 4-2-3-1
May 8, 2021 – Man City 1-2 Chelsea – Pep’s 3-1-4-2 v Tuchel’s 3-4-2-1
So Pep has never lined up in a more focused 4-3-3, something with which he’s had great success this season, against Tuchel. So he gets to be cute and play to his strengths if he chooses the 4-3-3, one of the only possible formations Tuchel hasn’t seen deployed against him by the Catalan? Hmmm….
How will Chelsea line up in Champions League Final?
Do you believe that N’Golo Kante and Edouard Mendy will be fit to start? That’s where projecting Chelsea’s lineup is tough.
That said, Tuchel may dare Guardiola by playing the same lineup, more or less, as the team that knocked City out of the FA Cup, albeit with a few changes.
Mendy or Kepa
Thiago Silva — Rudiger — Azpilcueta
James — Kovacic — Jorginho — Chilwell
Pulisic — Mount
We consider the experienced back three an easy call, though Tuchel could opt to play Zouma and push Azpilicueta into a fullback spot. We have Christian Pulisic in for Hakim Ziyech. If Tuchel does go for this back three, perhaps his twist will be plugging Callum Hudson-Odoi at right wing back instead of James.
How will Man City line up in Champions League Final?
So, yes, we’re thinking a 4-3-3, with a bit of a twist in that Phil Foden and Riyad Mahrez both drop back to deliver more in the middle of the park, sacrificing Raheem Sterling’s speed to the bench.
Perhaps, given the lack of true star power at left back, Guardiola plays center back Aymeric Laporte there when Chelsea has the ball and a back three when in possession. That could mean Joao Cancelo at right back over Kyle Walker.
The rest of the lineups writes itself, though you’d have to say that longshot-to-start Sergio Aguero makes some sense on a number of levels. But Pep has either been hiding the departing Argentine or just doesn’t think Aguero is his best choice.
And is Ilkay Gundogan 100 percent? He was limping at the end of training this week. If he’s fine, he starts. If not, it’s Fernandinho with Rodri underneath De Bruyne in a three-man midfield
Walker — Dias — Stones — Laporte
Rodri — Fernandinho
Mahrez — Aguero — Foden