It was on the morning of the Champions League final that a video in which Pep Guardiola expertly broke down Chelsea’s structure under Thomas Tuchel began to be widely circulated on social media.
“Why Chelsea play so good,” the Catalan told BT Sport’s Rio Ferdinand in his usual breathless style. “Because they have three central defenders close, two holding midfielders [performing] relating moves close, the pockets close there, the structure with the five and two players are so, so close.
“The distances [between the players] are so close but at the same time, they are so wide with the wing-backs and so deep with the movement of [Timo Werner] in behind.
“That’s why you can’t be close because they push you here [out wide] and they push you here [in behind] and have a lot of good players in the middle.”
Guardiola’s dissection of Tuchel’s Chelsea was, unsurprisingly, spot on. The Catalan is one of the sharpest tactical minds the game has ever seen and his sides often play breathtaking football. He is not, however, infallible. Tuchel had proved that prior to the Champions League final.
In the six weeks ahead of Saturday’s clash in Porto, Chelsea had defeated City twice. The first victory came in the FA Cup semi-final courtesy of a goal from Hakim Ziyech. The second was a 2-1 win in the Premier League secured thanks to Marcos Alonso’s stoppage-time strike.
Ahead of Saturday’s final in Porto, though, City were installed as overwhelming favourites. That they finished 19 points ahead of Chelsea in the Premier League was part of the reason why. The other was many felt it impossible for Tuchel to best Guardiola in three consecutive games.
Yet there was a concern: Would the Catalan overcomplicate things?
The answer turned out to be yes. For only the second time all season, Guardiola named a City side that did not contain either Fernandinho or Rodri.
Instead, he flooded his side with technically gifted, creative attackers. Kevin De Bruyne, Bernardo Silva, Ilkay Gundogan, Raheem Sterling and Riyad Mahrez were all included in the starting XI.
“I expected Fernandinho in the line-up,” Tuchel admitted after the game, which Chelsea won 1-0 to be crowned champions of Europe for only the second time.
“He [Guardiola] chose a very offensive and a very technical lineup; it was very hard to steal and recover the ball.”
Hard but not impossible, especially given Chelsea had N’Golo Kante in their ranks. The Blues produced an accomplished display at the Estadio do Dragao to secure the club’s second Champions League crown.
There were excellent displays across the side; every player knew their job and performed it to the letter.
“A general rule is that the more tension is on, the more decisive character a game has, the less new information we give,” Tuchel explained last month ahead of the FA Cup final. “We try to do sessions in an easy way. Short and clear.
“It’s not a moment to learn new stuff, to implement new tactical tricks. It’s a moment to be confident and aware of our style of play. What do we do well? What is our strength? We encourage the players to be on their top level.”
Tuchel went with the tried and trusted in the Champions League final: Chelsea’s shape did not change and the starting XI was as many expected. It paid off with the Blues clinching the big-eared trophy.
There is a philosophical principle called Occam’s Razor which states that no more assumptions need to be made than necessary. In essence, the simplest solution is usually the better. Guardiola would be wise to remember that next time around.