Despite my depressed mood, stemming from the escalating insecurity in the country and in my own state of birth and residence, Anambra, it is still almost impossible to ignore an event as important as the Champions League Final.
The end of the English Premiership, which was more dramatic than could ever be recalled, coincided with a war-like Unknown Gun Men invasion of Awka. The sound of guns in sporadic exchanges altered whatever plans I had to write an article that night. This mood held even till after another dramatic Europa League final, where favourites Manchester United succumbed to the masterclass of Vilarreal’s Unai Emery in this very competition. Ole Gunnar Solskjaer couldn’t end what was relatively a good season with the Red Devils in style. But winning some and losing some has always been with the beautiful game.
Last night, towns in my once peaceful and dear state, talking of Ihiala and Ogidi, had their own share of what has now become daily rituals – sporadic exchanges between Soldiers/Police and Unknown Gun Men. While level of casualties are still speculative, may God grant the souls of those departed for the cause they believed in eternal rest.
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Despite tears and fears engulfing every citizen presently, especially as the sit-at-home IPOB call is starting two hours before kick-off, attention of football-crazy Nigerians will still certainly shift to the screens for the action. Yes, this is May 29. And it’s another UCL final. This is the global king of club football competitions. It’s second only to the World Cup and that is only by reputation. In quality, the European elite Club final has taken over. The UCL has come to such level that any day winners of the UCL and World Cup winners square up against each other, the World Cup winners will go into the game as under dogs.
Hence, today in the Portuguese city of Porto, will witness one of the biggest sporting events. COVID-19 may have disrupted a lot since a season and half past but gladiators, being dynamic beings, have adjusted that the beautiful game is still beautiful in all ramifications, fans or no fans in the stadia.
Familiar stakeholders in Chelsea FC of London will square up with new heavy weights of the global game, Manchester City from the city of Manchester, both English clubs.
Chelsea will be lining out at the Estádio do Dragão turf with the pride of having been past winners as well as marching out for their third final.
Their opponents, who are the today’s virgins in the UCL final, come with the assumed inexperience at this stage. For the first time in their history the Cityzens will be lining out for the grand one. However, their manager, the mercurial Josep Guardiola, is arguably the best active manager of the modern game. It won’t even be out of place to acclaim he’s the best manager ever witnessed in the sweat game of pants and jerseys.
Guardiola is a veteran, have won the ultimate club prize as a player and started winning as coach 13 years ago. While cornering two trophies out of other 11 attempts since the 2008/9 season, the effervescent Spaniard has definitely seen it all. Hence, it will be wrong to call Man City newcomers. If there’s any coach to break recent jinx of newcomers going home disappointed in UCL final matches, Guardiola fits like the glove.
Thomas Tuchel, Guardiola’s opposite in today’s dugout poker-like gazes, is not completely a neophyte either. Having been in last season’s final with PSG, where he lost narrowly by a goal to the all-conquering Bayern Munich, the German tactician has current form in his favour against a Guardiola, who last played in the final in 2011.
Tactically, both sides play possessive football with Chelsea slightly edging in recent match-ups.
Since Tuchel took over from Frank Lampard, the German has guided Chelsea to two domineering victories in the two meetings against Guardiola’s City. And despite the disappointment of losing the FA Cup to Leicester City and making EPL top 4 by the grace of Tottenham’s grit, Chelsea under Tuchel has been a delight to watch. They dominate any opposing midfield, tear apart any defence and always boss possession … but they have a dark spot, a worrying one at that – FINISHING.
Guardiola’s City might also not be as clinical as desired themselves but in a game where both sides do not boast of any inform top striker, Guardiola’s men have the edge in finishing. And that is what will decide this expectedly tight encounter.
Both sides don’t permit many chances against them … so any team that takes her chances goes home with the prestigious trophy of big ears.
Both have exciting players that can decide any match on their day. Bookies may tip City as favourites but they’re not on my scale.
It’s too close to call. I’ll only put my bet on Guardiola because history favours him…he’s only lost one final in 15 and yet to lose to any manager three consecutive times.
No penalty shoot outs please. Just give us an entertaining 90 minutes or 120 minutes if it must.
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