Chelsea head coach Thomas Tuchel will be looking to lay his hands on the UEFA Champions League trophy for the first time in his managerial career when his side locks horns with Manchester City in the final on Saturday evening in Porto.
The Blues, who secured a fourth-placed finish in the Premier League this season on Sunday afternoon, despite suffering a 2-1 defeat at Villa Park against Aston Villa, will be looking to complete what has been a memorable journey, that has featured wins over Atletico Madrid and Real Madrid, on a high.
But whilst Chelsea will not be short on confidence, purely because of the scalps they have claimed along the route to the final, they will know just how tough a test will be standing between themselves and ensuring the most coveted prize in European club football is part of their hand luggage for the return trip to west London.
City, who will be looking to win the competition for the first time in their history, will represent, arguably, the sternest challenge that Chelsea have faced in the Champions League this season, meaning they will have to be at their very, very best if they are to stop Pep Guardiola from winning the trophy for the third time in his career.
However, Chelsea have already faced City twice since Tuchel arrived at Stamford Bridge towards the end of January, getting the better of them in both the FA Cup semi-finals and the Premier League. The Blues ran out 1-0 winners at Wembley, before coming from a goal down to beat them 2-1 at the Etihad Stadium earlier this month.
With that in mind, it would be fair to say that Tuchel has got Guardiola’s number. He knows how to get the better of this City side that has just scooped their third Premier League crown in the last four seasons. But what does he believe it takes to find a way past them?
Ahead of the FA Cup victory at Wembley last month, the German gave a long and detailed explanation on what it would be required to end City’s FA Cup dream.
The Chelsea boss said: “We have to accept that there is a gap between us and Manchester City.
“If you look at the results in the Premier League and the fixtures in the last years we have to accept this. And it’s important that we accept this without making ourselves too small.
“So from next year on, from day one of next season, we will hunt them, try to close the gap between us. And this is the benchmark.
“For me, in Europe there are two teams who are the benchmark, there is Bayern Munich and Manchester City.
“I don’t believe in how big clubs are, how tough or are we equal or not. We have to admit there is a gap but for 90 minutes we are very self-aware and very self-confident that we believe we can close the gap for one game. And this is the target for tomorrow.
“I arrive with a team that I am happy to compete with against the benchmark in England and Europe. We want the momentum of football on our side, and to play at the top level it’s not to force things, and we’ll need a bit of luck.”
On that occasion, Chelsea were worthy winners, with Hakim Ziyech’s second half strike getting the job done and sending Chelsea to the final. But at the same time, they did have a stroke of luck go their way, with City’s defensive-line stepping up too high, allowing Timo Werner to get in behind and lay the ball on a plate for Ziyech to tap the ball home from close quarters.
Thus, Tuchel was bang on the money in his pre-match assessment of what was required. But his side deserved it on the day, with their performance worthy of winning the contest.
The league meeting earlier this month came in very different circumstances. A place in a cup final was not up for grabs and both sides came into the contest off the back of booking their places in the Champions League final, beating Real Madrid and Paris Saint-Germain respectively.
With that said, plus taking into account that this game was away from London, meaning extra travel time would be taken into account, Tuchel hinted that he would make tactical tweaks to get the better of City again.
“I’ve not decided yet,” Tuchel said the day before the league meeting when asked if he would change his style from the previous FA Cup meeting. “We have one day less to recover and we have an away game.
“One day less is quite the key factor in these times of the season so I can imagine that we maybe need fresh legs and minds tomorrow. Some hungry guys who deserve to show together that they have a chance in a big fixture.
“Tomorrow, if there will be new stuff tactically. I don’t know. I haven’t decided yet.
“I have to look at everybody and see who is available and who is a bit overloaded. There is a high possibility that we will see some changes.”
In total, Tuchel made five changes to his team that day that had beaten Madrid during the week, as Chelsea battled back from a goal down to win, recovering from 1-0 down at half time to win the game 2-1, courtesy of goals from Marcos Alonso and Ziyech. Again, though, luck was involved, as Sergio Aguero spurned a golden chance to double City’s lead just before half time from the penalty spot. His Panenka attempt, however, was easy pickings for Edouard Mendy.
With that said, Tuchel does have a knowhow for getting the better of Guardiola, both by accepting that luck can be a factor and that he can tweak his style in specific scenarios.
Saturday’s game, though, will be much different. It is a Champions League final. Heroes can be born. Memories can be made to last a lifetime. This one will mean more to both clubs and both sets of players than the recent meetings.
But if the German can nail his tactics to perfection for a third time, the one that completes the hat-trick of wins over Guardiola is bound to feel the sweetest.