In December 2014, Thomas Tuchel was sharing wine and champagne with Pep Guardiola in Munich, using the occasion to pepper him with tactical questions.
Of particular interest was the Spaniard’s selection choices in the biggest matches; why would he opt for a false nine? What was the reason for overloading the midfield? How did he stick to his principles?
The questions were endless and there was an overflow of appreciation from the German for being granted an audience with a supreme manager, whose Barcelona spell he had studied intently.
On Saturday night, Tuchel will again have been wondering what Guardiola was thinking in terms of his XI, but with confusion rather than reverence.
On the grandest stage, with Manchester City aiming to be champions of Europe for the first time in their history, he eschewed the use of a defensive midfielder from the start, leaving both Fernandinho and Rodri on the bench.
The skewered selection, with all-out attack as its axis, offered Chelsea countless gaps to exploit and the opportunity to control a chaotic first half. Oleksandr Zinchenko was left with too many fires to put out and England’s champions were being burned.
By the 15-minute mark, Chelsea could have been out of sight had Timo Werner not bloated his xM – Expected Misses – figure. When their deserved goal finally did arrive before the break, it was symptomatic of City not having enough pressure against the ball and Chelsea crafting play with a blend of composure and intent.
Edouard Mendy found Ben Chilwell on the wide left, whose deft take released Mason Mount. The midfielder hit an incredible first-time pass down the inside left channel which Kai Havertz raced onto.
There was zero pressure on Chelsea’s outfield trio involved in the goal, no City attention anywhere near them, until Ederson rushed out to try and thwart Havertz. The 21-year-old rounded the goalkeeper and rolled into an empty net.
Tuchel’s men had been superior in every regard in the opening 45 and Guardiola only altered his approach on the hour-mark after Kevin De Bruyne was forced off the field in gutting circumstances following a collision with Antonio Rudiger.
Fernandinho was finally on, but it was well too late. N’Golo Kante was already running the show, illustrating the value of having a ball-winner when the stakes are sky high.
Chelsea had their cushion, and were largely comfortable, even in the periods when City desperately tried to up the attacking ante.
That was in part due to Tuchel not tinkering with what has been successful for him at the club, building off a solid defensive platform that offer his offensive weaponry greater freedom.
Guardiola, however, shredded the style that saw City win the Premier League and reach this point on the continent. And so, in the space of six weeks, Chelsea’s manager masterminded a hat-trick over his idol.
The last blow was the sweetest, ribboned by lifting the European Cup five months after being sacked by Paris Saint-Germain, whom he led to last season’s final – for the first time in their history – with a different ending.
The next time Tuchel and Guardiola share a few glasses, it will be the latter asking the questions, which will surely centre around this match.
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