Guardiola’s side can live on despite scalps the Londoners got in the league and FA Cup, but the same can’t be said as history beckons in Europe
Even amid the euphoria of the celebrations that came with a second successive victory over Manchester City, Chelsea should be wary of what Pep Guardiola’s side could do to them in the Champions League final.
They have made City wait to be crowned champions and have knocked them out of the FA Cup, but none of that will matter if Chelsea lose in Istanbul.
London’s Blues have been a minor inconvenience so far, winning games City could afford to lose, but it is the Champions League final that will shape who has the upper hand in a rivalry that looks set to define next season’s title race. Given Liverpool’s decline and Manchester United’s continued ‘work in progress’ mantra, Chelsea are the rising force under Thomas Tuchel.
This, though, was little more than an anticlimax, as City were made to wait a few more days to be confirmed as champions for a third time in four years. Inside an empty stadium, even had City won and made mathematically certain they could not be caught by Manchester United, the celebrations would have been as flat as a glass of champagne left overnight, particularly with that European showdown to come.
That final is where history will be made, because as good as City are, this team have not done anything others have not in winning the Premier League. In theory, of course, United could catch City, but they have to win all four of their remaining games and City must lose their final three. They have not endured that sort of losing streak since Guardiola arrived five years ago.
City have stumbled a few times during the run-in and we barely noticed. They lost at home to Leeds last month, were beaten by Chelsea in the semi-final of the FA Cup and now at home in the league too.
Each time, Guardiola made multiple changes to rest players for more significant tests in Europe.
Of course, the impact was felt, but the damage is negligible. Just as Sergio Aguero’s awful penalty miss will, in the end, do nothing to dent the reputation or sour the legacy of City’s record goalscorer.
As much as they would like to think it gives them a psychological advantage ahead of the Champions League final, the fact Chelsea have not played City’s best starting XI in either win makes that doubtful.
Chelsea have not played the same City side who knocked out Borussia Dortmund and Paris St-Germain. They have not beaten the best version of Guardiola’s wonderful team because he stopped playing it in domestic games weeks ago. A rare luxury for a manager who, regardless, remains on course to win three out of four competitions for the second successive year.
Chelsea have not scored against a defence with John Stones and Ruben Dias in the middle, dealt with a midfield of Ilkay Gundogan, Fernandinho and Bernardo Silva or contained a forward line including Riyad Mahrez, Kevin De Bruyne and Phil Foden. And they will be aware that City should not have lost this game.
Aguero missed one penalty, but the home team should have had another when Sterling, who scored the first goal before half-time, was bundled over from behind by Kurt Zouma minutes before Marcus Alonso scored the winner for Chelsea in stoppage time. Another VAR farce in a season littered with them.
But attention swiftly turned to Istanbul. Are Chelsea really City’s nemesis? Can Tuchel win a game that will shape history rather than be a footnote in somebody else’s story of glory?
In his four months at Stamford Bridge, the German has beaten Zinedine Zidane, Guardiola, Jurgen Klopp, Diego Simeone (twice), Jose Mourinho and Carlo Ancelotti without conceding a goal.
It is an amazing run, but when you stand on the brink of something special it is the future that matters rather than the past. And that is where both clubs find themselves, on the brink. The wait continues.
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