Man City v Chelsea: Pundits stake their millions ahead of Champions League final
Buoyed by a ruthless domestic performance, Man City take on previous winners Chelsea in the Champions League final.
The atmosphere is tensed. The fans are expectant. The teams are strategising as stakers put down their millions to bet ahead of Europe’s most glamorous football fiesta.
A season marked by the impact of the coronavirus pandemic and the shockwaves of the attempt to create a breakaway Super League reaches its climax on Saturday, when Pep Guardiola’s Manchester City and Thomas Tuchel’s Chelsea clash in an all-English Champions League final in Porto.
It is the third final of Europe’s elite club competition to be played between two Premier League sides, and the second in just three seasons.
Chelsea have the experience of this stage in Europe before, having beaten Bayern Munich on penalties in the 2012 final. They have also won the Europa League twice since then.
Manchester City are making their first Champions League final appearance.
But both bosses are not new to this stage. City’s Spanish boss Pep Guardiola is looking to win the Champions League for the third time after steering Barcelona to triumphs in 2009 and 2011.
Chelsea boss Thomas Tuchel is seeking his first Champions League success. Last season, the German took Paris St-Germain to the final, losing 1-0 to Bayern Munich.
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City won the English Premier League as well as the League Cup, their third successive and fifth in seven seasons.
Chelsea, meanwhile, finished fourth in the league and lost the FA Cup final to Leicester.
Chelsea beat City twice this season, 1-0 in the FA Cup semi-finals and 2-1 away in the Premier League on May 8. But City defeated the Blues in London 3-1 in January.
The final will be held at the Estadio do Dragao, home of FC Porto. It was originally intended for Istanbul’s Ataturk Olympic Stadium but COVID-19 restrictions meant UEFA decided to switch the venue earlier this month.
The last-minute decision to relax COVID-19 safety rules for the final has angered locals as hundreds of English fans not wearing masks packed Porto’s riverside bars on Friday night.
Some Porto residents fear a spike in infections because of the highly contagious coronavirus variant spreading in parts of England after first being identified in India.
Others are upset that foreign fans can go into the stadium but locals have been banned from attending matches for months.
“If they open [the stadiums] for the English, they should open [them] for all,” said Alexandre Magalhaes, walking through Porto, which was packed with fans.
One Twitter user wrote: “This is a shame for everyone who continues to comply with health rules.”
Up to 16,500 fans – at 33 percent stadium capacity – are allowed inside the stadium for the final.
Each side was allocated 6,000 tickets for their supporters. A further 1,700 tickets were then made available for the general public.
Five. If the final, like the UEFA Europa League one, goes to extra time, both sides will be allowed to make a sixth one.
Chelsea captain Cesar Azpilicueta urged his teammates to make history and prove wrong all those who doubted the team’s worth during the season.
“We know this is a massive opportunity. It took nine years to be back in a final of the Champions League for the club, so really it is a big opportunity for everybody,” the Spanish defender said.
“We have beaten very good teams, we had very good performances. And it is the last step and we want to take it.
“Maybe a lot of people doubted about this group, about this club but we are back in the final of the Champions League and now the only thing that we have to do is to leave everything out there tomorrow. We want to make history and we have it in front of us.”
Guardiola, meanwhile, believes his side will have to “suffer” if they are to overcome Chelsea.
“I am pretty sure we have to suffer to win the final,” he told a news conference on Friday.
“Most of the time in finals you have to suffer. You have to be resilient. Adjust to the bad moments that are going to happen. In the end, we have to be ourselves and do a good game.
“Everyone will handle it their own way.”