About 25 minutes before kick-off here in Northern Portugal, a young lad from Stockport ran up for the biggest night of his life and started juggling a football half the width of the field.
It had been Phil Foden’s birthday the day before. He had turned 21, a dinner milestone with a cake presented to him by his Manchester City teammates.
There had been little fuss and no wonder. This was to be a much bigger day, an occasion where a player described by his manager Pep Guardiola as ‘the most talented player I’ve ever seen’ would show off his precocious gifts on the greatest stage in European football.
Phil Foden (left) and Mason Mount both started the Champions League final on Saturday evening
Mount was the one to celebrate full-time, however, as Chelsea won the Champions League
Here in Porto, this was going to be a big night for English football no matter what. Two Premier League clubs play offensive, courageous football. From the very first moment it was a really engaging game. No cat and mouse, just the search for an advantage, a search for goals.
Running right through it was English talent. Foden, Kyle Walker, John Stones and Raheem Sterling for City. Reece James and Ben Chilwell for Chelsea and of course Mason Mount.
Mount, 22, is older than Foden and has taken a different path to the top of the game. Foden has stayed at home and learned his trade through age group football and on the training ground under Guardiola.
For Mount, it was character-building loans at Vitesse Arnhem in the Netherlands and Derby County in the championship.
For Foden, the mood at the end of the game couldn’t be any different, as City lost 1-0
The result was the same for both. Now that they are on the verge of becoming men, both are fundamental to the way their teams play, both playing with a freedom and instinct that reflects not only the youthful confidence they carry, but also a liberation offered by both managers. is encouraged in them.
Chelsea manager Thomas Tuchel already loves Mount in the same way that his predecessor Frank Lampard does. Tuchel, who had only been in charge since late January, admired Mount’s thirst for work and knowledge, his seemingly innate understanding of angles and space on a football field.
Early on here, the Chelsea player came to the fore as the London club tried to impose their football on the English champions.
A low cross from Mount should have led to the opening goal for Timo Werner in the 11th minute, but the German went wrong. Three minutes later, Mount was involved twice when he intercepted a City pass in midfield and then, after galloping the ball forward, was there to provide Werner with good service again. This time Ederson, the City goalkeeper, saved low to the right.
Foden turned 21 Friday, and this wasn’t the birthday weekend he imagined
Mount isn’t impressive physically, but it’s slim. He covered the ground easily and quickly and he soon had to do that on his own half, returning to take on Kevin De Bruyne in the Chelsea area, as City’s playmaker thought he had found room to shoot.
Foden is a different kind of runner, sometimes with bowed legs and clumsy. But the three-meter turnaround that City’s staff had been waiting for has come and allows him to stay away from players in tight situations.
Despite the talent around him on Guardiola’s squad, Foden was arguably City’s most influential player in the second half of this season. He was super in the quarter-final and semi-final wins over Borussia Dortmund and PSG that brought City to this final.
He might have scored just before the half hour only for Antonio Rudiger to tackle, but shortly after that came the big moment from Mount. His pass through the heart of the city’s defense was weighted to the very last perfect ounce and when Kai Havartz Ederson ran, Chelsea was ahead.
In fact, the city began to operate a bit under the restrictions imposed by Guardiola’s adventurous formation. The absence of a tenacious player began to hurt them as Chelsea were able to muster the possession they needed to create opportunities.
Mount produced a moment of magic to set up Kai Havertz and he was disciplined afterward
Mount’s pass for the goal was typical of him. There was certainly a huge whole in the center of the town’s defenses to erect, but its weight meant Havartz didn’t have to break the pass and put Ederson in a terrible dilemma about whether to come or stay. It was, as it turned out, a question to which there was no correct answer.
City chased the game hard in the second half. Foden might have liked more influence, but as injuries and substitutions interrupted the rhythm of the game, he began to exist on the periphery, until a sharp run and pass gave Riyad Mahrez dangerously from the right. Chelsea knocked.
For Mount, the game had become a matter of discipline. Chelsea’s form was everything to them as they tried to fend off City’s increasingly frenetic forward thrusts.
But for both young English players, this evening will always be remembered for various reasons.
Mount was removed with 10 minutes remaining. He had been impressive. When City’s need grew desperate, Foden simply couldn’t be sacrificed and that said it all.
Mount was replaced with 10 minutes to go, but his efforts were appreciated by Thomas Tuchel