Germany forward Kai Havertz’s 42nd-minute goal earned Chelsea a surprisingly comfortable 1-0 win against Manchestesr City in Porto in the UEFA Champions League’s third all-English final on Saturday.
That the last match of a club season heavily impacted by the coronavirus pandemic was settled by a goal from Havertz felt apt, given he suffered badly after contracting the disease midway through his first year at the club having signed for nearly $100 million.
He has recovered to play a big role in Chelsea’s end to the season, and showed why the club made him the centerpiece of their $300 million spending spree last offseason in the way he ran onto a through-ball by Mason Mount, rounded goalkeeper Ederson Moraes and rolled the ball into an empty net.
“I really don’t know what to say,” Havertz said. “I waited a long time for this.”
As for his fellow German,Tuchel, he only had to wait one season to get over the disappointment of losing the 2020 final when in charge of Paris Saint-Germain. Fired by PSG in December, he was hired by Chelsea a month later to resuscitate a team that had lost its way — and had dropped to ninth in the Premier League — and has delivered a Champions League title four months later.
It was billed as a tactical duel between Tuchel and Guardiola, two of the world’s most innovative coaches, and there was a clear winner.
Guardiola will surely regret tinkering with a settled team that had swept City to its first Champions League final and to the verge of another trophy treble, after winning the Premier League and the English League Cup.
Starting without a striker was expected — Guardiola has preferred that in the Champions League knockout matches — but going without a specialist holding midfielder in Fernandinho or Rodri was a major surprise and destabilized City.
City lost its shape and its renowned composure. Seeking to win the Champions League for the third time as a coach and first since 2011, Guardiola was guilty of overthinking his tactics again in a big game — as he was for City’s quarterfinal eliminations at the hands of Lyon, Tottenham and Liverpool over the past three years.
“I did what I thought was the best decision,” Guardiola said.
It was a decision that backfired, though. Ilkay Gundogan, City’s top scorer this season and a revelation in his attacking-midfield role, ended up dropping in as the anchorman in midfield and he struggled to protect City’s defense.
Indeed, for Chelsea’s goal, Mount had so much time and space to thread a pass from inside his own half through the center of City’s defense — which was opened up by Timo Werner’s decoy run — for Havertz to run onto.