MARTIN KEOWN: Chelsea could hurt Manchester City with Champions League final counterattacks


KEOWN TALKS TACTICS: Chelsea can hurt Man City with Timo Werner’s pace and counterattacks on their relentless passing system … but fake wings and false nines can help Pep Guardiola

  • Manchester City wants to rule the midfield in the Champions League final
  • Chelsea will try to exploit City on the counterattack at Timo Werner’s pace
  • City’s passing play and urgent style could be a test of Chelsea’s defense
  • Thomas Tuchel’s back three will face an attack of smart City runs

With the biggest prize in European football on offer, Saturday night brings the captivating conclusion to a recent trilogy between these two teams.

Manchester City were beaten by Chelsea in the FA Cup in April and then the Premier League in May, but we have not yet seen Pep Guardiola test his strongest side against Thomas Tuchel.

Saturday night is different. This is the ultimate showdown: Guardiola’s best XI against Tuchel’s best XI and the winner takes home the Champions League trophy.

Manchester City boss Pep Guardiola (left) and Chelsea counterpart Thomas Tuchel will face each other in the Champions League final

Chelsea have won the two most recent FA Cup meetings (above) and in the top flight

Chelsea have won the two most recent FA Cup meetings (above) and in the top flight

The center of the field is a particular area of ​​interest. Guardiola craves control of that battlefield as his side tries to win over opponents and has found a formula that will take him to this final.

In City’s last five Champions League games, they’ve used a false nine and lined up the same set of players – just alternating between Joao Cancelo and Oleksandr Zinchenko as left back, and Rodri and Fernandinho as the deep-lying midfielder.

Cancelo is the fake fullback that moves into midfield and can be used to further outpace the opposition in that area, while Zinchenko is the traditional fullback to provide breadth and more defensive coverage in the event of Chelsea counter-attacks.

Guardiola will try to put his side in control of the midfield in the Premier League final

Guardiola will try to put his side in control of the midfield in the Premier League final

Guardiola’s decision on who to start will be based on the balance he needs to control the center of the field.

At any time, due to their fake fullback and false nine not waiting for the ball to come to him, City can have five players close together in midfield. If they don’t have possession of the ball, they will suck up the opponent to get the ball back, then start their pass cycle all over again.

It’s a relentless system and one that has brought Guardiola to the brink of achieving his goal of leading City to Champions League glory.

Chelsea can hurt City with Werner’s pace on the counter

Chelsea will have worked in practice to create a defensive shield for those periods when City dominate possession.

With their wing backs, they will create a back five, and they will have their two midfielders close by. Tuchel’s inner forwards – Mason Mount and one of Christian Pulisic or Hakim Ziyech – will have to sink deep to help their midfield. Timo Werner, whose pace is an important weapon, will then be able to lead any escapes.

Chelsea would like to see a repeat of their FA Cup semi-final victory. That win may have been over City’s B team, but the tactics worked to perfection as Werner broke at speed and set up Ziyech to score.

Tuchel will likely set up the Blues to play on the counterattack that worked before

Tuchel will likely set up the Blues to play on the counterattack that worked before

According to statistics, no one has done more Champions League counter-attacks this season than Chelsea and they have the legs to hurt City like that. As a former defender, I am curious how Tuchel’s back three take up the challenge.

On opposite sides of veteran Thiago Silva are Antonio Rudiger and Cesar Azpilicueta – two players who like having opponents to pick up and be aggressive with.

They should feel comfortable transitioning from having no one to mark to suddenly four players running into their area.

Phil Foden will be key to Manchester City's ambush attacks on the Chelsea defense

Kevin de Bruyne will also be a major threat against the Blues

Phil Foden (left) and Kevin de Bruyne will test Chelsea’s back line as they pile up on attack

That’s the nature of City and their ‘now you see me, now you don’t’ plans. The only regular player appears to be Riyad Mahrez on the right wing. Otherwise, in a flash, they could have their top scorer Ilkay Gundogan, marathoner Bernardo Silva, artist Kevin De Bruyne and England’s best youngster, Phil Foden, rush into forward areas.

This will be a fascinating finale to watch.

Tuchel’s Chelsea have won their last two encounters, but now they are going to meet Guardiola’s City machine at its strongest. We neutrals can sit back and enjoy watching two of England’s best compete on the biggest European stage.