An all-Premier League clash sees the eyes of the sporting world turn to Porto this Saturday night as the UEFA Champions League final draws an end to the 2021 European season.
Premier League champions Manchester City are the favourites to clinch what would be their first Champions League title, finally fulfilling the burning ambitions of owner Sheikh Mansour. Chelsea, though, have beaten City in their last two meetings with Blues boss Thomas Tuchel appearing to have got the upper hand over his opposite number Pep Guariola.
Tuchel and Guardiola are two of the most innovative tacticians in the game and the rivalry they started to establish when they were at Borussia Dortmund and Bayern Munich a few years back looks set to be one of the most intriguing stories in football over the coming years.
But ultimately it is the players who will decide which team is celebrating on Saturday. Here are five City and Chelsea stars who are set to have a major impact on the 2021 UEFA Champions League final.
5 key players in the 2021 UEFA Champions League final
England fans could have been forgiven for wanting to see more of Foden before this season but, with the benefit of hindsight, Guardiola appears to have managed his development to perfection.
It has been a breakthrough year for the 20-year-old – who will turn 21 the day before the final is played – with three goals and three assists in this season’s Champions League. He scored in both legs of the quarter-final against Dortmund, a tie in which he was dominant.
Foden has had such an outstanding campaign that he has been keeping Raheem Sterling out of the City team. He will be one of the first names in Guardiola’s XI for the final – and rightly so.
Assuming Guardiola does not spring a major surprise and Foden plays on the left of City’s attack, Chelsea’s captain is likely to be the man tasked with keeping him quiet. A model of consistency, Azpilicueta has enjoyed another rock-solid season for the Blues though he unusually lost his cool in their final game, a defeat to Aston Villa in which he was sent off.
Tuchel’s decision to use the Spain international at right wing-back of late has been surprising as Azpilicueta usually performs at his best when located on the right side of a back three. Whichever role Azpilicueta takes, his battle with Foden is sure to be decisive in the 2021 UEFA Champions League final.
The France midfielder has had an uneven campaign but his form is peaking at the right time.
Kante – a minor injury doubt for the 2021 UEFA Champions League final due to a hamstring problem – was tremendous in both legs of Chelsea’s semi-final success against Real Madrid. In that tie, Kante used his boundless energy to break forward at opportune moments, showing he is much more than just a defensive midfielder.
The protection Kante offers Chelsea’s defence is crucial but, when he makes his rare forays forward, City’s back line will have to be on alert. It is worth remembering Kante was not expected to play in the Europa League final against Arsenal due to injury, but he then produced an incredible individual performance in Baku.
England international Walker has turned things around at City having appeared to have lost the trust of Guardiola at one point. His four years at City have yielded three Premier League titles, yet Walker remains strangely under-rated by some football fans.
The recovery pace he provides has never been in doubt but Walker – 31 this week – is now a much smarter player despite his widely reported off-the-field transgressions this season. With Chelsea likely to play on the break, the space in behind Walker is sure to be a target. But the way the right-back has played this season suggests the Blues will have little joy there.
After being left out of Tuchel’s first Chelsea XI when the German replaced Frank Lampard, Mount quickly earned his place back in the Blues side. He has not let it go since.
Mount’s versatility is a huge plus for his coach, with the England international able to play either in midfield or in a wide attacking role. He will likely pop up in various positions during the 2021 UEFA Champions League final.
The 22-year-old is a significant goal threat in a Chelsea team that is far from prolific. Mount scored against both Madrid and Porto and has a habit of producing in the biggest occasions. Mount would have equalised in the FA Cup final but for a spectacular Kasper Schmeichel save and it would not be a big surprise if he was at the heart of Chelsea celebrations in Porto.
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