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PORTO, Portugal, May 30, (AP): Chelsea won the Champions League for the second time, beating Manchester City 1-0 thanks to Kai Havertz’s first-half goal as Pep Guardiola’s overthinking proved costly again in the all-English final. Havertz ran onto Mason Mount’s perfectly weighted through-ball and skipped by City goalkeeper Ederson Moraes before slotting the ball into an empty net in the 42nd minute. Chelsea added to the first European Cup it won in 2012 and become the 13th multiple winners of world soccer’s biggest club competition. Chelsea manager Thomas Tuchel got his hands on the trophy a year after losing in the 2020 final with Paris Saint Germain. City’s long, often-painful and lavishly funded journey to the summit of European soccer remains incomplete and Guardiola might regret tinkering with his settled team that had swept City to their first Champions League final and to the verge of another trophy treble.
The innovative Spanish coach, seeking to win the Champions League for the third time and first since 2011, has been guilty in recent years of overthinking his tactics in the big games and he might have done it again here. Starting without a striker was expected – Guardiola has preferred that in the Champions League knockout matches – but going without a specialist holding midfielder in Fernandinho or Rodri was a major surprise and seemed to destabilize City. It meant Ilkay Gundogan, City’s top scorer this season and a revelation in his attacking-midfield role, dropped in as the anchorman in midfield and he struggled to protect City’s defense. Indeed, for Chelsea’s goal, Mount had time and space to thread a superb pass from inside his own half through the center of City’s defense – which was opened up by Timo Werner’s decoy run – for Havertz to run onto. Ederson came flying out of his area and got the slightest of touches to the ball with his hand, but Havertz regained his balance and applied the easy finish. City never had the control Guardiola so craves and, in that respect, Tuchel – another tactically astute manager – was the winner in his coaching duel with a rival he describes as “the benchmark.”
Werner, who worked the channels well behind City’s full backs, had already squandered two great chances before the goal, first miskicking from Havertz’s cut-back and then shooting tamely at Ederson from close range. City faced the colossal task of breaching Chelsea’s well-drilled defense twice in the second – one that became much tougher when City’s star player Kevin De Bruyne, who had little impact in the false nine role, was forced off in the 60th after a clash of heads with Antonio Rudiger. Fernandinho finally came on in the 64th, by which time Chelsea had retreated and was looking to hit on the counterattack. From one, substitute Christian Pulisic – the first American player to feature in a Champions League final – ran onto Havertz’s pass but slipped a shot just wide. Not even a 15-minute cameo from Sergio Aguero in the last match of his 10-year career at City could salvage anything for the Premier League champions, whose players slumped to the ground at the final whistle. Meanwhile, Chelsea’s players raced to their fans who made up an attendance of 14,110 at the Estádio do Dragão, the replacement venue for the final at the end of a pandemic-affected season.