Soccer

UEFA Champions League final: Pep Guardiola’s Manchester City blow their best chance to win with a whimper

Manchester City and Pep Guardiola might wait a long time for a better chance to win the UEFA Champions League than the one they blew on Saturday in Porto.

The Premier League titleholders were the more fancied of the two sides heading into their clash at Estadio Do Dragao, but a determined Chelsea side inspired by the sensational N’Golo Kante outwitted them.

Kai Havertz scored the only goal of the game after being teed up by Mason Mount after 42 minutes and both sides lost players to injury as Thiago Silva and later Kevin De Bruyne were forced off.

However, despite those losses on either side, there was no doubt over which set of star players turned up and which failed to show themselves in Portugal.

Pep Guardiola’s men saw plenty of the ball over the course of the game, but it counted for little as the Londoners created the opportunities of greater consequence and took their chance when it arrived. For all that Guardiola crammed an extra attacker on the pitch by opting to start Raheem Sterling and neither of Rodri or Fernandinho, Chelsea’s ability to found space to slice Guardiola’s light weight midfield open more than counterbalanced the added firepower.

Riyad Mahrez went close late on for City, but it was not enough to send the contest beyond 90 minutes and it would have been harsh on Chelsea and the heroic likes of Kante.

The Citizens might have strolled to Premier League success this season, but the warning signs were there in the league and FA Cup defeats to Tuchel’s men and went unheeded.

Guardiola’s side went through the entire edition unbeaten, only to fall at the final hurdle in painful circumstances against a familiar foe that they have had no shortage of experience against.

Perhaps some complacency crept in after the Premier League title race fizzled out and left City to cruise home, but they were still able to raise their game over two legs to eliminate a Paris Saint-Germain side that had disposed of former titleholders Bayern Munich.

Instead, it is another example of Guardiola’s City faltering at a critical moment on the European stage after a curious lineup decision by the manager, and they do not come any bigger than a first UCL final — as PSG found out in Lisbon last summer.

To go so close and then under-perform in the way that they did will be galling for Guardiola and his squad, which had seemed primed for continental success for so much of this campaign.

Take nothing away from Tuchel, Kante and Chelsea collectively: they were the better side than City on the day and thoroughly merited the victory.

This latest setback will hurt at Etihad Stadium, though, and it might take a while to get over it with key figures like Sergio Aguero bringing an era to an end in Manchester.

The Argentina international would have loved to go out with a bang after years of chasing the UCL dream, but he could not find a goal once he was sent on and De Bruyne getting flattened by Antonio Rudiger was the killer blow for their hopes.

How Guardiola raises his group after this crushing disappointment will determine whether or not this City can go again, but it does appear as if they have just blown their best chance of European glory in surprisingly meek fashion.



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