Speaking to Sky Sports at the Etihad Stadium after the game, Thomas Tuchel insisted Chelsea’s second consecutive win over Manchester City will have no bearing on what unfolds in the Champions League final later this month.
“As I have said before,” he said, “this result will not change the final.” His next comment, though, showed it is not without significance. “We will arrive with the knowledge we are capable of beating City. This is what we have now, and this will not change until Istanbul.”
Chelsea have given themselves a psychological edge over their rivals and their belief will be further enhanced by the fact their latest victory, coming only a few weeks after the FA Cup semi-final triumph at Wembley, looked so unlikely earlier in the game.
Chelsea know they can beat Guardiola’s side and they know they can come from behind to do it.
Raheem Sterling’s breakthrough arrived in the penultimate minute of the first half and the game appeared to be slipping away from Chelsea when, only three minutes later, Billy Gilmour was adjudged to have fouled Gabriel Jesus for a City penalty.
“If it went to 2-0, maybe we wouldn’t have had a chance to come back,” conceded Tuchel afterwards. Instead, Sergio Aguero’s botched Panenka handed Chelsea a lifeline which they seized.
City are entitled to wonder why they were not awarded a second penalty when Kurt Zouma tangled with Sterling but they have only themselves to blame for allowing Marcos Alonso to go on and steal the victory.
Tuchel becoming City’s nemesis?
The result matters little for City in the context of the Premier League. Their title triumph is an inevitability. They will just have to wait a little longer for it to be confirmed.
But there’s no doubt it helps Tuchel. Since his appointment at Chelsea four months ago, the German has masterminded victories over Jurgen Klopp, Diego Simeone, Jose Mourinho, Carlo Ancelotti and Zinedine Zidane as well as Guardiola.
It represents a hugely impressive start to his Chelsea tenure and a third consecutive win over Guardiola on May 29 will land Chelsea the biggest prize of them all.
“Tuchel will be delighted,” said Sky Sports pundit Jamie Redknapp. “To some extent, he’s almost becoming a nemesis to Manchester City, with two wins against them. I know there were a lot of changes, but City will not want that feeling of losing.”
Tuchel has only experienced that feeling in one of his last four meetings with Guardiola going back to his time in charge of Borussia Dortmund, when the City boss was managing Bayern Munich – and that defeat occurred by penalty shootout in the German cup final.
He knows how to nullify Guardiola’s teams and it will be interesting to see if that impacts Guardiola’s approach in next month’s final. Certainly, he adjusted things on Saturday, switching from a back four to a back three in order to match Chelsea’s shape.
Guardiola has faced accusations of overthinking his tactics in Champions League games over the years. Does the fact he is already adapting his set-up to face Tuchel’s Chelsea hint at a potential repeat?
His side tend to fare best when they stick to what they know but the tactical battle on May 29 is sure to be a fascinating one.
Werner a problem for Pep
One thing Guardiola will need to do is find a way to contain Timo Werner.
The 25-year-old had some difficult moments at the Etihad Stadium but as in the FA Cup semi-final at Wembley, where he set up Hakim Ziyech’s goal, he ended up making a decisive contribution.
His assist for Alonso’s winner was provided in similar circumstances, running in behind the Manchester City defence, latching onto a through-ball, and cutting it back across goal.
He made those runs repeatedly in the FA Cup meeting, at one point throwing his arms up in frustration when a Chelsea team-mate opted to play it safe instead of trying to find him, and it was the same story at the Etihad.
Manchester City changed their set-up at the back, with Aymeric Laporte and Nathan Ake joining Ruben Dias in the back three, but their defensive line was as high as ever and Werner’s speed and movement enable him to exploit that.
At least, that is the idea.
The last two meetings between the two sides show it does not always come off for him. He has been flagged offside on numerous occasions across the two games and sometimes unnecessarily.
“There’s definitely work Tuchel has to do with Werner because there’s no need for him to be offside,” said Sky Sports pundit Gary Neville on co-commentary at one point in the second half.
Those moments can be frustrating from Chelsea’s perspective but there’s no doubt Werner is one of their biggest weapons when it comes to beating City. It’s down to Guardiola to find a way to combat it.
Ziyech enjoys facing City
There is little prospect of Guardiola sacrificing his high line given its importance to the way City play, so the best way of nullifying Werner’s threat may be to cut off the service to him.
That may mean paying close attention to Ziyech. The Morrocan has been a thorn in the side of City in their last two meetings.
His winner at Wembley capped an excellent individual performance and his equaliser on Saturday, fired into the corner of the net from the edge of the box, proved to be the turning point in the game.
What’s most problematic for Guardiola, though, is how effectively the 28-year-old combines with Werner. The winning goal at Wembley typified their understanding and they appeared to be on the same wavelength again at the Etihad.
Ziyech found Werner with twice as many passes as any other Chelsea player and it is clearly a deliberate tactic. He, more than anyone in the Chelsea team, has the vision to spot Werner’s runs and the passing ability to then pick him out.
Tuchel has plenty of options in the attacking positions, of course. Mason Mount is sure to feature in the final while Kai Havertz, Callum Hudson-Odoi and Christian Pulisic have plenty to offer too. But Ziyech is best suited to feeding Werner and Guardiola will be aware of the need to stop him when they meet again.
He will be aware, too, that the psychological advantage may now lie with City’s opponents.
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