Saturday May 15
Manchester City, Manchester United and Chelsea have things in common this ending season of exceedingly unpredictable outcomes of football matches never witnessed before in the arena of the beautiful game.
Yes, they all will play in the European club final. While Man Utd will tangle with Vilarreal FC of Spain in the junior Europe League cadre, their neighbours, Man City will be squaring up with Chelsea in the top of the tops of club football, the European Champions League. It is a big credit to the English League that as many as these teams will be advertising the effectiveness of the English Premiership in a matter of days. It would have been a sweeter tale if Arsenal had managed to score just one unreplied goal in over 90 minutes of football at their Emirates base while chasing to erase a 1-2 loss in the first leg against Vilarreal.
It would have been an all- English affair for the second time in just three years and it would have been even far sweeter. Manchester vs London, both ways. But the Gunners killed such beautiful headlines. But it wouldn’t take any shine off the football being anticipated on May 26 and May 29 respectively.
While Man Utd are bookmakers favourites over their Spanish rivals in the Europa League final, the match between Man City and Chelsea in the UCL will be too close to call.
One can say that Chelsea is the surprise team of the 2021 final. Until Thomas Tuchel took over, the West London outfit couldn’t have attracted any risk bearer to drop a dime on the gambling table of a Chelsea final. But they are in two finals. One to be settled today with Leicester City in the FA Cup. Credit, and a huge one at that, to the German, he has steadied Chelsea’s shaky defence and moulded an otherwise very talented squad into a reliably consistent bunch, never mind their recent blip against Arsenal. Every dog has it’s day.
However, in Pep Guardiola’s Man City, Chelsea have an opposition that evolved from early season crisis to success history – being in the UCL final for the first time, winning the EPL in style and winning the League Cup a record fourth consecutive time.
Guardiola’s astuteness as a top top manager needs no introduction. No matter the level of fitness and loss of form issues in his squad, he’ll always squeeze water out of stone to get over the line.
At the back of his mind, he’ll remember that same opponents of the May 29 date denied him a chance for an unprecedented quadruple when they classically outplayed and outscored his side in the FA Cup semi-final. Coincidentally, same opponent delayed his EPL title dance by outplaying and outscoring his team once more at the Etihad in the League.
Will Tuchel get a rare third straight conquest over the almighty Guardiola or is the foxy Spaniard saving his best for that very crucial moment in his career when he’ll attempt to win the trophy of the ‘Big Ears’ for the first time without Lionel Messi?
Meanwhile, there’s yet the ‘little’ matter of the FA Cup Chelsea has to settle this afternoon at Wembley. Against Leicester City, Chelsea will always get the bookmakers’ nudge but football has been ever tricky even before this crazy season crept along. The Stamford Bridge landlords should do well to avoid a potential banana peel. With both my Nigerian brothers in Wilfred Ndidi and Kelechi Iheanacho certain to start for the other Blues, I will celebrate a Leicester victory today.