Champions League: Messi Makes First Start As Club Brugge Hold PSG

Paris Saint-Germain’s French forward Kylian Mbappe (C) fights for the ball with Club Brugge’s French defender Stanley Nsoki (L) during the UEFA Champions League Group A football match Club Brugge against Paris Saint-Germain (PSG) at Jan Breydel Stadium in Bruges, on September 15, 2021. JOHN THYS / AFP

 

Lionel Messi finally made his first start for Paris Saint-Germain on Wednesday but the disjointed French giants had to settle for a 1-1 draw with Club Brugge in Belgium to begin their Champions League campaign.

Ander Herrera gave PSG an early lead at the Jan Breydel Stadium only for Hans Vanaken to equalise for the home side, who were excellent and thoroughly deserved their point.

Messi — who had played just 24 minutes as a substitute prior to this game — is still looking for his first goal for his new club although he hit the bar in the first half and tested Brugge goalkeeper Simon Mignolet after the break before picking up a yellow card for a foul on Mats Rits.

However it was not a convincing performance from the Parisians as coach Mauricio Pochettino lined up his star attacking trio of Messi, Neymar and Kylian Mbappe together for the first time.

“We need time for them to get to know each other,” insisted Pochettino of his front three.

Mbappe came off hurt in the second half and PSG, despite building a team with the aim of winning the Champions League, have already complicated their chances just of making it out of a difficult Group A.

They next host Manchester City, the team that eliminated them in last season’s semi-finals and who began their campaign with a remarkable 6-3 victory against RB Leipzig on Wednesday.

“I am pleased with the effort. It wasn’t a great evening for us but we need to stay calm and keep working,” said Pochettino.

“The most important thing is to get the necessary time. We will try to do better.”

Club Brugge were seen as the likely whipping boys when the draw was made but the Belgian champions are a well-run club with a proud history –- European Cup runners-up in 1978 — and some excellent players.

READ ALSO: Man City Hit Leipzig For Six In Champions League

 ‘More Motivation’ 

Paris Saint-Germain’s Argentinian forward Lionel Messi reacts during the UEFA Champions League Group A football match Club Brugge against Paris Saint-Germain (PSG) at Jan Breydel Stadium in Bruges, on September 15, 2021. JOHN THYS / AFP

 

For all the talk of Messi, Neymar and Mbappe – already christened the ‘MNM’ – for much of this game the most impressive attackers were in the blue and black stripes of the home side.

Captain Vanaken got their goal, while giant young striker Charles De Ketelaere was a constant threat and Dutchman Noa Lang regularly got in behind Achraf Hakimi on the PSG right.

“We showed we have guts. Real guts,” said Brugge coach Philippe Clement.

“My players played a historic game. I am extremely proud. We have proven that physically we are very strong. I think we just had more motivation.”

Pochettino can point to the absences of Angel di Maria and Idrissa Gana Gueye due to suspension as well as the injured Marco Verratti but his team will need to do much better in their coming European outings.

Yet their evening had started so well, with Mbappe turning Clinton Mata inside out before sending in a low ball from the left for the arriving Herrera to sweep home in the 15th minute.

Forget the superstar strikers, that was the Spanish midfielder’s fourth goal in PSG’s last four games.

However the home side were back level before the half-hour mark as Eduard Sobol got in behind Hakimi and cut the ball back for the unmarked Vanaken to finish.

Moments later Messi cracked a curling strike off the crossbar but Keylor Navas -– preferred to Gianluigi Donnarumma in the away goal — was kept busy saving from a Vanaken free-kick and tipping over a De Ketelaere shot.

Pochettino had to make changes at half-time, replacing midfield duo Leandro Paredes and Georginio Wijnaldum with Danilo Pereira and Julian Draxler.

Mbappe then had to hobble off with a worrying ankle knock just six minutes into the second half.

PSG finished the stronger of the two sides but Mignolet boxed away Messi’s shot in the 70th minute and the Argentine blazed another attempt over, as the Belgian fans celebrated the draw as though it were a victory.

AFP

 

Man City Hit Leipzig For Six In Champions League

Manchester City’s Dutch defender Nathan Ake (L) celebrates scoring his team’s first goal with his teammates during the UEFA Champions League 1st round Group A football match between Manchester City and RB Leipzig at the Etihad Stadium in Manchester, north west England, on September 15, 2021. Oli SCARFF / AFP

 

Jack Grealish scored a superb first Champions League goal as Manchester City survived Christopher Nkunku’s hat-trick to beat RB Leipzig 6-3 in a pulsating Group A opener on Wednesday.

Grealish admits the lure of playing on the Champions League stage convinced him to leave his boyhood club Aston Villa to join City in a club record £100 million ($138 million) move in the close-season.

The England winger made the most of his first taste of the tournament’s bright lights with a brilliant solo effort in the second half at the Etihad Stadium.

Grealish also set up City’s first goal for Nathan Ake with a pin-point corner.

While City were snubbed by Cristiano Ronaldo when the Portugal superstar opted to join Manchester United, Pep Guardiola believes the younger Grealish is more than ample compensation and this influential display underlined why.

Nordi Mukiele’s own goal had doubled City’s lead before Nkunku got one back on a memorable personal evening for the French winger.

Riyad Mahrez’s penalty made it 3-1 and Nkunku netted again before Grealish’s moment of magic.

Nkunku’s third was followed by Joao Cancelo’s rocket and a red card for Leipzig’s former City defender Angelino.

Gabriel Jesus rounded off the goal-spree as City celebrated Guardiola’s 300th game in charge in fitting style.

There was more good news for Guardiola as Kevin De Bruyne impressed in his first game back from the ankle injury which had sidelined him since August 15.

Guardiola led City to their first Champions League final last season, but the Premier League champions were denied a maiden European Cup crown in a limp 1-0 loss against Chelsea.

Guardiola insists that defeat will serve as the “motor” driving City’s challenge this term and they wasted little time seizing pole position in Group A.

READ ALSO: Young Boys Stun Man United In Champions League Clash

Grealish shines 

Manchester City’s English midfielder Jack Grealish looks on during the UEFA Champions League 1st round Group A football match between Manchester City and RB Leipzig at the Etihad Stadium in Manchester, north west England, on September 15, 2021. Oli SCARFF / AFP

 

City were ahead in the 16th minute as Grealish’s corner found Ake and he rose highest for a powerful header that Peter Gulacsi tipped onto the crossbar, only to see it bounce down over the goal-line.

It was Ake’s first City goal since September 2020 and his first ever in the Champions League.

City doubled their lead thanks to Mukiele’s comical blunder in the 28th minute.

De Bruyne tenaciously eluded three Leipzig players and curled a sublime cross towards Grealish that the panicked Mukiele diverted into his own net as he tried to head back to Gulacsi.

Nkunku punished sloppy defending to give the visitors hope in the 42nd minute.

When Emil Forsberg’s cross reached Mukiele at the far post, Ake was guilty of ball-watching as the Leipzig defender nodded towards Nkunku, who dispatched his header past Ederson.

Suitably chastened, City hit back in first half stoppage-time when Lukas Klostermann blocked Ferran Torres’ header with his out-stretched arm and Mahrez smashed the spot-kick into the top corner.

Their defensive flaws remained alarming and Leipzig reduced the deficit again in the 51st minute.

Dani Olmo’s floated cross found Nkunku left unmarked by Ake and he thumped a fierce header past Ederson.

Grealish appeared to have settled City’s nerves in the 56th minute.

Cutting in from the left, Grealish left Tyler Adams trailing in his wake as he curled a brilliant finish into the far corner.

Nkunku completed his hat-trick with a predatory close-range strike from a tight angle in the 73rd minute.

But Cancelo quashed any hopes of a Leipzig fightback two minutes later when he grabbed City’s fifth with a thunderous drive from 25 yards

Angelino was dismissed in the 79th minute for a crude foul on Cancelo and Jesus tapped in six minutes later to put the seal on a memorable evening.

AFP

Champions League: Lukaku Lifts Chelsea Past Stubborn Zenit

Chelsea’s Belgian striker Romelu Lukaku (R) heads home the opening goal of the UEFA Champions League Group H football match against Zenit St Petersburg at Stamford Bridge in London on September 14, 2021. DANIEL LEAL-OLIVAS / AFP

 

Romelu Lukaku enlivened an otherwise flat Chelsea performance with the only goal to beat Zenit St Petersburg 1-0 and get the Blues’ Champions League defence off to a winning start.

Lukaku never made a Champions League appearance during his first spell at Stamford Bridge but is quickly making up for lost time since returning to Chelsea for a club-record £97 million ($134 million) last month.

The Belgian striker now has four goals in as many games and his predatory instincts 21 minutes from time papered over the cracks of a disappointing display from Thomas Tuchel’s men.

Tuchel urged his players not to rest on their laurels after their surprise run to become European champions last season.

However, the glory of their victory over Manchester City in Porto was hard to shrug off as the German, Edouard Mendy, and Jorginho were presented with awards on the pitch before kick-off as UEFA coach, goalkeeper, and player of the year respectively.

Chelsea certainly have the squad depth to be able to challenge on all fronts this season and Tuchel made five changes from the side that beat Aston Villa 3-0 in the Premier League on Saturday.

Captain Cesar Azpilicueta, Andreas Christensen, Reece James, Jorginho, and Mason Mount returned to the starting line-up, but there was still little verve to Chelsea’s attacking play throughout.

The first half came and went without the home side even registering a shot on target.

Centre-back Antonio Rudiger looked to take matters into his own hands with a rampaging run forward five minutes after the break, but the finish let the German international down as he blazed wide.

Lukaku showcased his mix of pace, power, and precision in front of the goal to score his first Stamford Bridge goal for Chelsea against Villa at the weekend.

Zenit had kept the 28-year-old quiet for nearly 70 minutes, but all he needed was one teasing cross from Azpilicueta to get off the mark in the Champions League for his new club by planting a header past Stanislav Kritsyuk.

Zenit boss Sergei Semak threw on the towering presence of Artem Dzyuba in search of an equaliser and it nearly paid off.

But even the six-foot six-inch (1.97 metre) Russian international couldn’t stretch to get a clean enough contact on Sardar Azmoun’s cross 10 minutes from time and the ball dribbled wide.

Tuchel immediately shut up shop with the introduction of Thiago Silva and Chelsea held out for a fourth clean sheet in six games this season.

AFP

Young Boys Stun Man United In Champions League Clash

Young Boys’ Swiss midfielder Sandro Lauper (C) helps Manchester United’s Portuguese striker Cristiano Ronaldo to stand up during the UEFA Champions League Group F football match at Wankdorf Stadium in Bern, on September 14, 2021. SEBASTIEN BOZON / AFP

 

Substitute Jordan Siebatcheu struck with the last kick of the game as Swiss side Young Boys claimed a sensational 2-1 Champions League win over 10-man Manchester United on Tuesday after Cristiano Ronaldo had earlier opened the scoring.

USA striker Siebatcheu pounced on Jesse Lingard’s short back-pass to tuck the ball past David de Gea for a 95th-minute winner in front of a delirious crowd at the Wankdorf Stadium.

Ronaldo had earlier put United ahead with his third goal in two games since returning to Old Trafford.

However, the match hinged on Aaron Wan-Bissaka’s sending-off late in the first half for a dangerous tackle on Young Boys midfielder Christopher Martins which gave Young Boys hope.

The hosts hit back to equalise in the second half through Nicolas Moumi Ngamaleu and Ronaldo was substituted before Siebatcheu got the winner.

It is a terrible start for Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s side in Group F, especially with tougher tests likely to come against Atalanta and Villarreal.

Ronaldo at least added to his statistics — he is the Champions League’s all-time record scorer and now has 135 goals in the competition, 15 more than his old enemy Lionel Messi.

He will be 37 early next year but his hunger for success in Europe’s elite club competition knows no bounds and he clearly felt returning to Old Trafford gave him a better chance of winning a sixth European Cup than if he stayed at Juventus.

Young Boys’ US forward Jordy Siebatcheu Pefok (C) celebrates after scoring a goal with teammates during the UEFA Champions League Group F football match against Manchester United at Wankdorf Stadium in Bern, on September 14, 2021. SEBASTIEN BOZON / AFP

 

However, it is a decade since United were a real force in the Champions League and this is another disappointing European result for them.

Young Boys won their fourth straight Swiss title last season but have since lost their top scorer, Cameroon’s Jean-Pierre Nsame, to a serious injury while coach Gerardo Seoane departed for Bayer Leverkusen.

He has been replaced in the Swiss capital by David Wagner, the German-born former USA international and one-time boss of Huddersfield Town in the Premier League.

 

Red Card Changes Game

While on paper this was an obvious mismatch, Young Boys did have boisterous support behind them in a packed stadium with coronavirus restrictions in Switzerland now eased.

However United silenced the crowd as they took an early lead, Bruno Fernandes delivering a glorious pass with the outside of his right boot from the left for Ronaldo to steal in behind Ulisses Garcia at the back post and score.

Goalkeeper David von Ballmoos made contact with the shot but failed to keep it out and Ronaldo had the first goal of this season’s Champions League.

He has now scored in the Champions League in 16 straight seasons, and he had another shot saved at the end of a quick break forward, just after Switzerland winger Christian Fassnacht had tested David de Gea at the other end.

Manchester United’s Portuguese striker Cristiano Ronaldo celebrates with Manchester United’s French midfielder Paul Pogba after scoring a goal during the UEFA Champions League Group F football match against Young Boys at Wankdorf Stadium in Bern, on September 14, 2021. SEBASTIEN BOZON / AFP

 

At that point, it seemed only a matter of time before the visitors picked off their opponents on the break, but then came the sending-off of Wan-Bissaka in the 35th minute.

The full-back’s studs caught Luxembourg international Martins above the left ankle, and French referee Francois Letexier had no choice but to show a straight red card.

Solskjaer immediately removed Jadon Sancho to send on a replacement right-back in Diogo Dalot. He then brought on Raphael Varane for the second half in place of Donny van de Beek, who had been given his first start this season.

That meant a back five for the second half, with Ronaldo left alone up front, while Young Boys pushed forward looking for an equaliser that came in the 66th minute when Ngamaleu got in front of Varane and prodded home Meschack Elia’s cross from the right to the delight of the home fans.

Ronaldo came off in the 72nd minute and right at the end of five added minutes, Young Boys won it as Lingard provided the perfect assist for Siebatcheu.

AFP

Barcelona Face Bayern Again Without Messi

File photo: Ex-Barcelona Argentinian forward Lionel Messi reacts during the UEFA Champions League quarter-final football match between Barcelona and Bayern Munich at the Luz stadium in Lisbon on August 14, 2020. (Photo by Manu Fernandez / POOL / AFP)

 

“We need change from top to bottom,” Gerard Pique said but even he could not have predicted what followed as Barcelona, without Lionel Messi, reunite with Bayern Munich on Tuesday, a year on from the defeat that changed everything.

After the 8-2 loss by Bayern in the Champions League quarter-finals, Pique said Barca needed change of all kinds, “not just players and coaches, but structurally”, insisting “new blood” was needed. “We are not able to compete in Europe,” he said.

The humiliation felt like rock bottom, a brutal confirmation of mediocrity delivered by a club about to reach the summit of Europe against one no longer anywhere near it.

Pique demanded revolution but little has improved in the year since, the club’s financial horrors laid bare by Messi’s departure to Paris Saint-Germain, which has been harder to stomach for the fans than any thrashing on the pitch.

Ten days after the loss in Lisbon, Messi sent Barcelona the burofax stating his desire to leave and while he insisted it had nothing to do with the Bayern defeat, he also said they “had given off a very bad image. It was wrong.”

And so for the first time in almost two decades, Barca begin a Champions League campaign this week without their best ever player, who registered his first Champions League goal in 2005 and went on to score 120 in 149 games for them, against 41 different opponents, including seven hat-tricks.

Messi won four Champions Leagues in 10 years at Camp Nou but none in his last six and while he was far from blameless, every failure enhanced the sense of a historic career being wasted.

Whether the theory Messi’s absence will liberate others has merit remains to be seen but there is certainly less pressure now to succeed, even less than last season, when a gallant draw with PSG in the second leg came as something of a relief after a 4-1 loss in the first.

RELATED: 11 Outstanding Records Held By Lionel Messi

Messi Ends Trophy Drought As Argentina Beat Brazil To Win Copa America

Memphis Face of New Era? 

File photo:  Bayern Munich’s Polish forward Robert Lewandowski celebrates after scoring his team’s sixth goal during the UEFA Champions League quarter-final football match between Barcelona and Bayern Munich at the Luz stadium in Lisbon on August 14, 2020. (Photo by Manu Fernandez / POOL / AFP)

 

Dampened expectations could at least offer a more forgiving platform for Barca’s youngsters to thrive and others, like Memphis Depay and Ousmane Dembele, to step forward.

“Memphis can mark a new era at Barca,” said Koeman this week. “He has the things you need to be a success here: personality and character.”

If new blood was needed, Koeman has helped accelerate the transition as the likes of Pedri, Frenkie de Jong, Sergino Dest and Ronald Araujo have risen in prominence, ready perhaps to lead themselves.

There have been departures too, 20 of them since the final whistle blew in Lisbon, not to mention the coach, with Quique Setien being swiftly replaced by Koeman. Five of those that played against Bayern in 2020 have gone.

It was the board Pique was targeting most and there has been wholesale change there as well, with Joan Laporta taking over as president and installing Mateu Alemany as the new director of football.

But Laporta’s first six months has been so consumed by keeping the club afloat, there have been precious few decisions aimed at taking it forward.

Last month, Laporta indicated the club’s total debts amounted to 1.35 billion euros, with player salaries 103 per cent of income, a figure now closer to 80 per cent after the transfer window. Saving, not improving, has been the priority.

The result is perhaps a club with better hopes for the future but a team that looks even worse than the one before and it would be a huge surprise if Barcelona troubled either the Champions League’s latter stages or primary contenders.

When Pique said they were “no longer able to compete in Europe” last year, there was anger in his voice but there is more of an acceptance now, an awareness that for now the pinnacle is almost certainly out of reach.

For Barcelona, the worst may be over but it could be a while before the good times return.

AFP

PSG’s Hakimi Contracts COVID-19

 

Paris Saint-Germain’s new player, Moroccan defender Achraf Hakimi looks on ahead of a press conference at the Parc des Princes stadium in Paris on July 8, 2021. PHOTO: FRANCK FIFE / AFP

 

Paris Saint-Germain wing-back Achraf Hakimi has tested positive for coronavirus and been put into isolation, a source close to the club told AFP on Saturday.

Morroco’s Hakimi, 22, made his Parisian debut in Wednesday’s friendly win over third-tier Le Mans after joining Inter Milan for 60 million euros ($71 million) last week.

He missed Saturday’s pre-season draw with third-division Chambly and is set to be sidelined for next week’s games with Augsburg and Genoa.

READ ALSO: US Shipping 25 Million COVID-19 Vaccine Doses To Africa – Officials

PSG were hit hard by Covid-19 at the start of last season when several players tested positive and Neymar, Kylian Mbappe, Angel Di Maria, and Leandro Paredes had to self-isolate after a holiday to Ibiza following the team’s Champions League final loss to Bayern Munich.

AFP

Tuchel Set For New Deal And Hungry For More After Chelsea Champions League Triumph

File: Glyn KIRK / AFP

 

While Manchester City had been building towards what they thought was their moment in the Champions League for five years under Pep Guardiola, Chelsea showed with their victory in Saturday’s final in Porto what can be achieved in just four months.

That is how long has elapsed since Thomas Tuchel became coach, replacing Frank Lampard with Chelsea ninth in the Premier League.

The German oversaw an immediate transformation in their fortunes, dragging them into the top four, taking them to the FA Cup final which they lost to Leicester City, and now winning the Champions League.

They have beaten Guardiola’s City for the third time in six weeks thanks to Kai Havertz’s goal, and they are champions of Europe for the second time.

Tuchel is set to reap the rewards with a handsome new contract, although whether he will be allowed to put down roots in west London remains to be seen given how managerial cycles tend to go at Stamford Bridge.

READ ALSO: Nearly 300 Rescued In Indonesia Ferry Accident

Once again a mid-season managerial sacking has worked out perfectly for Chelsea, whose 2012 Champions League triumph came following the decision to sack Andre Villas-Boas and appoint Roberto Di Matteo.

This time Chelsea have struck gold with Tuchel, but the 47-year-old would not have been able to deliver such success without the huge investment in players that came before his arrival, as well as some of the outstanding young talents who were already thriving under Lampard.

– Room for improvement –

Five of Chelsea’s line-up at the Estadio do Dragao were signed at the start of the season, including match-winner Havertz, the 71 million-pound ($100m) recruit from Bayer Leverkusen. There was also Reece James and Mason Mount, youth academy graduates who are in England’s squad for Euro 2020.

This is a team that has already conquered Europe but that appears to be just at the start of its adventure together.

“We have a strong bond, a strong group who can really defend and play and have answers on all questions in the game,” Tuchel said on Saturday.

“Once the celebrations are over and once we digest this experience, it is the moment to grow, to evolve, to learn from it and become better.”

There is huge room for improvement in the Premier League after Chelsea finished 19 points behind champions City, and a proper domestic title challenge will be expected now.

“When you play for a club like Chelsea you are always thinking in the future,” said veteran skipper Cesar Azpilicueta.

Tuchel knows full well that past success counts for little — Di Matteo was gone within six months of that 2012 victory and Tuchel himself was sacked by Paris Saint-Germain last December despite leading them to their first ever final last season.

– ‘I want the next one’ –

“When we won the Cup in Dortmund I did not arrive at the next training with less hunger, less desire or ambition,” he said.

“Of course now is the time to celebrate for some days, to enjoy and let it sink in, for one or two weeks, to talk about it and reflect on it, but then it does surprisingly not a lot to you.

“I think it’s good because nobody wants to rest. I want the next one, the next title. I want to be a part of it and I demand to be a part of it and this is what comes next.”

He was initially handed just an 18-month contract but has earned an extended deal after what he has achieved in such a short time.

“I am not even 100 percent sure, but maybe I already have a new contract now with that win. My manager said something about that but I didn’t know so let’s check this first,” he told reporters with a smile.

“My desire is to go for more victories, to grow as a coach and to push the group on the first day of next season to the limit.”

The next Premier League campaign starts on August 14, but Chelsea will play three days before that against Villarreal with an opportunity for another trophy in the UEFA Super Cup.

AFP

Chelsea Shatter Dream Of Guardiola’s Man City To Win Champions League Final

Chelsea's players celebrate with the trophy after winning the UEFA Champions League final football match at the Dragao stadium in Porto on May 29, 2021. PIERRE-PHILIPPE MARCOU / POOL / AFP
Chelsea’s players celebrate with the trophy after winning the UEFA Champions League final football match at the Dragao stadium in Porto on May 29, 2021.
PIERRE-PHILIPPE MARCOU / POOL / AFP

 

Chelsea won the Champions League for the second time as a Kai Havertz goal secured a tense 1-0 victory over Manchester City in Saturday’s final in Porto, shattering Pep Guardiola’s dream of lifting the trophy for the third time, a decade on from his last triumph.

Havertz rounded Ederson to score three minutes before half-time at the Estadio do Dragao and the Chelsea players ran to the far end of the pitch to celebrate with the German.

Coach Thomas Tuchel, full of energy on the touchline just like his opposite number, punched the air in celebration, and later jumped with joy on the pitch after Chelsea held on for victory in the second half as City lost distraught skipper Kevin De Bruyne to injury.

The London club may have finished fourth in the Premier League, a huge 19 points behind the champions City, but this, remarkably, was their third win over Guardiola’s side in six weeks.

They shattered City’s hopes of a domestic treble when they triumphed in the FA Cup semi-finals in April and then delayed their title celebrations with victory in Manchester.

Now, in a final watched by a limited crowd of just over 14,000 fans who created a raucous atmosphere, they have denied City the first Champions League crown they and Guardiola so crave.

Abramovich’s second European Cup

City have had to wait 13 years since being taken over by Abu Dhabi’s Sheikh Mansour just to get to the Champions League final.

They are now the seventh consecutive team to lose in their first appearance at this stage. The same misfortune befell Qatar-owned Paris Saint-Germain last year as well as Tottenham Hotspur when they were beaten by Liverpool in the last all-English final in 2019.

Chelsea also lost when they first got to the final, succumbing on penalties against Manchester United in Moscow in 2008.

Chelsea's German defender Antonio Ruediger lifts the Champions League trophy during the UEFA Champions League final football match between Manchester City and Chelsea at the Dragao stadium in Porto on May 29, 2021. Manu Fernandez / POOL / AFP
Chelsea’s German defender Antonio Ruediger lifts the Champions League trophy during the UEFA Champions League final football match between Manchester City and Chelsea at the Dragao stadium in Porto on May 29, 2021. Manu Fernandez / POOL / AFP

 

They overcame the final hurdle by beating Bayern Munich, also in a shoot-out, in 2012 and now they have their second European Cup to move level with Juventus, Benfica and Porto as well as another English side, Nottingham Forest.

Their transformation into one of Europe’s super clubs has been down to the riches of Roman Abramovich, their Russian oligarch owner who was in attendance at the game in Portugal.

Chelsea have been transformed since the appointment as coach in January of Tuchel, but City were still the favourites off the back of their third Premier League title triumph in four seasons.

Feeding off the energy of the crowd in a stadium that Portuguese authorities had allowed to be filled to a third of its capacity — all fans required negative Covid-19 tests to gain entry — both teams played with a level of intensity rarely seen in the last year of football in empty grounds.

Havertz’s marquee moment

City pressed high but struggled to trouble Edouard Mendy in the Chelsea goal, while at the other end Timo Werner should have done better than shoot straight at Ederson in the 14th minute.

Chelsea then suffered an injury blow as an emotional Thiago Silva was forced off hurt, Andreas Christensen taking the Brazilian’s place in central defence.

helsea's German midfielder Kai Havertz (L) scores a goal past Manchester City's Brazilian goalkeeper Ederson during the UEFA Champions League final football match between Manchester City and Chelsea FC at the Dragao stadium in Porto on May 29, 2021. Jose Coelho / POOL / AFP
helsea’s German midfielder Kai Havertz (L) scores a goal past Manchester City’s Brazilian goalkeeper Ederson during the UEFA Champions League final football match between Manchester City and Chelsea FC at the Dragao stadium in Porto on May 29, 2021.
Jose Coelho / POOL / AFP

 

Yet it was they who opened the scoring in the 42nd minute, Mason Mount’s ball splitting the City defence with John Stones out of position, allowing Havertz — their marquee 71 million-pound ($100m) signing last summer — to go around the lunging Ederson and convert into an empty net.

City now needed to break down a Chelsea defence that has been exceptional since Tuchel came in.

But they lost De Bruyne just before the hour mark, the brilliant Belgian taken out in a collision with Antonio Ruediger that appeared to leave him concussed.

He came off in tears, and Guardiola instead turned to Sergio Aguero for the latter stages, but there was to be no glorious send-off as a City player for the Argentine, even if a Riyad Mahrez shot sailed just over in the sixth minute of injury time.

There was also no third European Cup for Guardiola, who remains one adrift of the record for the coaches with most wins in the competition, held jointly by Bob Paisley, Carlo Ancelotti and Zinedine Zidane.

AFP

Sterling Starts Champions League Final As Guardiola Goes On The Offensive

The trophy is carried pitch side ahead of the UEFA Champions League final football match between Manchester City and Chelsea at the Dragao stadium in Porto on May 29, 2021. SUSANA VERA / POOL / AFP
The trophy is carried pitch side ahead of the UEFA Champions League final football match between Manchester City and Chelsea at the Dragao stadium in Porto on May 29, 2021. SUSANA VERA / POOL / AFP

 

Manchester City boss Pep Guardiola made the bold call to drop both his recognised holding midfielders for Saturday’s Champions League final against Chelsea.

Raheem Sterling returns to the City starting line-up with Ilkay Gundogan forced into a deeper role in midfield in the absence of Fernandinho and Rodrigo.

Sterling has been left on the bench by Guardiola for all four quarter-final and semi-final ties as City have reached the final for the first time in their history.

But the England international’s return at the expense of captain Fernandinho is the only change from the team that beat Paris Saint-Germain in the semi-final second leg.

City’s all-time record goalscorer Sergio Aguero also starts on the bench in his final game for the club.

Chelsea are boosted by the return of N’Golo Kante in midfield and Edouard Mendy’s recovery from a rib injury that forced him off at half-time of last weekend’s 2-1 defeat to Aston Villa.

Thomas Tuchel keeps faith with Timo Werner up front despite his wastefulness in front of goal during his first season at Stamford Bridge.

Kai Havertz starts up front alongside his German international teammate Werner.

Manchester City (4-3-3)

Ederson; Kyle Walker, Ruben Dias, John Stones, Oleksandr Zinchenko; Ilkay Gundogan, Kevin De Bruyne (capt), Bernardo Silva; Riyad Mahrez, Phil Foden, Raheem Sterling

Coach: Pep Guardiola (ESP)

Chelsea (3-4-1-2)

Edouard Mendy; Reece James, Thiago Silva, Antonio Rudiger; Cesar Azpilicueta (capt), N’Golo Kante, Jorginho, Ben Chilwell; Mason Mount; Timo Werner, Kai Havertz

Coach: Thomas Tuchel (GER)

Referee: Antonio Mateu Lahoz (ESP)

Man City Only Need One Shot At Champions League Glory – Guardiola

File photo: Manchester City’s Spanish manager Pep Guardiola attends a press conference at City Football Academy in Manchester, north west England on September 30, 2019, the eve of their UEFA Champions League football Group C match against Dinamo Zagreb. Lindsey Parnaby / AFP

 

Pep Guardiola believes Manchester City’s desire to lift the Champions League outweighs any inexperience as they prepare for their first final in the competition against Chelsea on Saturday.

A decade of heavy investment from City’s Abu Dhabi owners has delivered five Premier League titles, three of which have come since Guardiola arrived in Manchester five years ago, including the season that has just finished.

But the Champions League has eluded both City and also Guardiola since he won the last of his two European Cups as a coach at Barcelona in 2011.

“Sometimes you need time. The important thing is the way we are going to approach the final. We are going to play to win the game,” said Guardiola on Monday.

“Sometimes clubs need more finals to win one, others need just one shot to be champion. Hopefully it will be the case.

“This club is new for many things, but in this period we won back-to-back titles for the first time, we broke many records, we arrived in the final for the first time.

“As a club, as an organisation, we are not old in this case. But in terms of how satisfied and delighted we are to be there, nobody can beat us in that.”

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Until this season, City had not even made it beyond the quarter-finals of the Champions League under Guardiola.

Defensive frailties, missed chances and controversial refereeing calls were consistent features of unexpected exits to Monaco, Liverpool, Tottenham and Lyon in the previous four seasons.

Fine margins 

But Guardiola’s men have got the breaks when they have needed them this season.

City were 35 minutes away from bowing out on away goals to Borussia Dortmund in the last eight before a favourable penalty award was converted by Riyad Mahrez.

Mahrez also scored three goals in the semi-finals in a 4-1 aggregate victory over Paris Saint Germain, with the French side guilty of missing chances and generous defending.

“We are quite a similar team from in the past when we were out,” said Guardiola. “The margins are little details. This year it fell on our side when for many years it was the opposite.

“Now we are quite satisfied to get to the final but we know if you don’t have a huge desire to win it, a huge desire to know what we have to do, it will not be possible to win the game, to win the Champions League.”

Portuguese international centre-back Ruben Dias was awarded the English Football Writers’ Association player of the year last week for his transformative impact since joining from Benfica in September.

File photo: Manchester City’s Spanish manager Pep Guardiola celebrates on the pitch after the English League Cup final football match between Aston Villa and Manchester City at Wembley stadium in London on March 1, 2020. Glyn KIRK / AFP.

 

Midfielder Ilkay Gundogan said City’s defensive improvement as the key difference in Europe this season.

“I feel this year a couple of crucial things changed for us,” said Gundogan.

“Against Monaco a few years ago we conceded three goals at home, against Tottenham when they knocked us out we conceded again three goals at home, against Lyon we conceded three goals.

“This year it seems we are so stable, we concede a few amount of goals. This helps us to win even more. I feel like we are very strong, very stable.

“This is so important in these crucial moments, being able to defend well, not to concede is obviously a big advantage.

“Same as well for Chelsea to be honest, they seem also to be very stable, to concede a few amount of goals. Maybe on Saturday it is going to be about who is able to deal better with a team that will defend on a very high level.”

Gundogan, City’s top scorer this season, also confirmed he will be fit for the final after suffering a leg injury against Brighton last week.

AFP

Leicester Blow Champions League Chance As Kane Signs Off With Golden Boot

Leicester City’s Northern Irish manager Brendan Rodgers (C) reacts at the end of the English Premier League football match between Leicester City and Tottenham Hotspur at King Power Stadium in Leicester, central England on May 23, 2021. (Photo by Shaun Botterill / POOL / AFP)

 

Leicester blew the chance to qualify for the Champions League for just the second time in the club’s history as the Foxes lost 4-2 to Tottenham on Sunday.

Jamie Vardy twice put Brendan Rodgers’s men ahead from the penalty spot.

But Harry Kane, on what could be his final appearance for Spurs, a Kasper Schmeichel own goal and a late double from Gareth Bale secured seventh place in the Premier League for Tottenham and a place in next season’s Europa Conference League.

Leicester spent more days in the Premier League top four than any other club this season, but for the second consecutive year they fell away in the final weeks of the campaign to miss out on the riches and prestige of Champions League football.

Chelsea’s 2-1 defeat at Aston Villa opened the door for the FA Cup winners to take advantage and move into fourth.

For much of a dramatic afternoon, it looked like Leicester would do just that as Vardy slotted home his first penalty on 18 minutes.

Kane is keen to move on from his boyhood club after Tottenham also missed out on the Champions League for a second straight year.

But the England captain secured the consolation prize of winning the Golden Boot as he slammed home his 23rd Premier League goal of the campaign four minutes before half-time.

Vardy was spot on again seven minutes into the second-half to put Leicester back in pole position to round off a fine season after lifting the FA Cup for the first time in their history last weekend.

Schmeichel was one of the heroes at Wembley eight days ago, but the Dane’s mistake cost his side dear with a place in the Champions League worth at least £60 million.

The Leicester captain flapped at a corner to punch the ball into his own net 14 minutes from time.

With the home side then chasing a winner, Bale struck twice in the final 10 minutes to also sign off his loan spell from Real Madrid on a high.

Leicester were furious Kane was not penalised for handball before he teed up the Welshman to slot into an unguarded goal.

Bale then tapped home his 16th goal of the season after his initial effort came off the post deep into stoppage time.

AFP

Leicester Boss Confident FA Cup Winners Will Seal Champions League Spot

Leicester City’s Northern Irish manager Brendan Rodgers holds up a winner’s medal as the Leicester players celebrate victory after the English FA Cup final football match between Chelsea and Leicester City at Wembley Stadium in north west London on May 15, 2021. Kirsty Wigglesworth / POOL / AFP

 

Brendan Rodgers says his Leicester players are ready to seize the opportunity of rounding off a wonderful season by qualifying for the Champions League to add to Saturday’s FA Cup triumph.

The Foxes face an instant re-match with Chelsea after edging the Blues 1-0 at Wembley to give the club its first FA Cup victory after four previous losses in the final.

Leicester are presently third in the table and victory over fourth-placed Chelsea at Stamford Bridge would secure their top four place — Tuesday’s opponents are two points worse off with two matches remaining.

However, 2020 title winners Liverpool are just three points adrift of Leicester having found a decent run of late form.

Goalkeeper Allison’s last gasp headed goal to beat relegated West Bromwich Albion 2-1 on Sunday kept them firmly in the hunt.

Rodgers brushed off the impact the Brazilian’s late goal could have on the race for the Champions League spots.

“There’s no ramifications for us,” he said.

“Everything’s still in our hands.

“The players have been absolutely brilliant up until this point.

“We’ve got European football, we’ve got two games now to arrive into the top four.

“We focus on ourselves and we’ve got a great opportunity to qualify.

“With two games to go, we aim to take it.”

Rodgers will be hoping for a different outcome to what happened last season.

Leicester lost out on Champions League football on the last day after their league form deserted them after the resumption following the first coronavirus lockdown.

The 48-year-old Northern Irishman says his players recovered from Saturday’s exertions on Sunday and are well up for Tuesday’s clash.

He fully expects the game to resemble the final which was decided by a sublime long range effort from Belgian star Youri Tielemans.

“Two teams, super organised, it’s going to be a tight game,” he said.

“That was the beauty of it.

“Maybe neutrals are looking for 5-4 for an FA Cup final but two teams pressing, organised, not so many chances in the game, and then eventually a moment of quality from Youri and a moment of quality from (goalkeeper) Kasper (Schmeichel) allows us to win the cup.

“If it’s the same tomorrow night, then I’ll be really pleased.”

Rodgers says he is not expecting Leicester to spend large amounts of money in the close season even if they qualify for the Champions League, but he hopes the cup victory will make it an easy sell to prospective targets.

“I think success always aids in the recruitment of players,” he said.

“Leicester hopefully is an attractive club.

“When you win a cup final against such a big opponent then of course that can let players see that they want a piece of that and hopefully that can be the case in the summer.”

AFP