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We've arrived at the end of the season, with Manchester City and Chelsea squaring off in the Champions League final on Saturday. City won the Premier League, while Chelsea rallied for fourth place after a slow start to the season, and in an excellent year for English football, both giants are now looking for storybook endings.
Without further ado, here's our Champions League Final preview.
Manchester City vs. Chelsea
Saturday, May 29 at 3:00 PM | Live stream
Since the City Football Group formed in 2013, its ultimate mandate has to been win the Champions League and further establish Manchester City as a global powerhouse. It is finally on the verge of meeting its lucrative ambition and having run away with the Premier League, City enters the final as favourites.
We'll start with Sergio Aguero, who will be playing his final game with City, slated to join Barcelona next fall. Aguero, City's all-time leading goal scorer who entered immortal status after winning the Premier League in the final gasp of the 2011-12 season, may not factor heavily during this year's final, but it is reflective of his side's grotesque wealth up front that he can come off the bench as a super-sub.
Based on current form, City is likely going to start Riyad Mahrez and Gabriel Jesus in attack with wunderkind Phil Foden providing close attacking support as either a third striker or advanced attacking midfielder. Foden is their lone homegrown talent but he's also City's most tantalizing player as he's not only become one of the best prospects in the world, he's developed into one of the best midfielders without any qualifiers. City's attacking quartet has pace and supreme goal scoring instincts, and they're almost certainly going to deploy their standard 4-3-3 lineup, with Bernardo Silva operating at times like a fourth forward. It's possible Raheem Sterling gets the start, but this is our best bet.
It's hard to think of a more well-rounded midfielder than Kevin De Bruyne and his impact is going to be felt throughout the final. The key to City's offensive engine, De Bruyne very well may be the world's best playmaker and can make snap decisions that will directly affect the outcome of the game. De Bruyne is the world's best long passer, with the ability to spray perfectly-placed long balls onto his striker's feet, he is a master in the short passing game, and if Chelsea's defense is distracted or worn out by the strike trio, he can sneak in and score goals too. De Bruyne is our prediction for Man of the Match, it's not altogether bold, but it's only fitting that the playmaking dynamo that has been central to City's identity shift runs the show in the most important match in club history.
N'Golo Kante's status is in question for the final due to a hamstring injury and if he's out, it's an immeasurable blow to Chelsea's chances. The Frenchman is Chelsea's most important player, he's the best player in the world at retaining possession and dispossessing opponents in the midfield, he almost never makes mistakes and his indefatigable approach to the game will always keep the Blues in it. If Kante is indeed in, expect him to headline a midfield that includes Jorginho, Ben Chilwell and modified wing-back César Azpilicueta, giving the Blues some lineup flexibility, if they want to drop Azpilicueta or Chilwell into a more defensive role.
Kante isn't the only injury concern for Chelsea leading up to the final. First-choice goalkeeper Edouard Mendy suffered a rib injury Sunday against Aston Villa, forcing Kepa Arrizabalaga between the sticks. Arrizabalaga is no slouch by any means, but Chelsea is doing everything it can to get Mendy ready for the biggest game of the season.
Chelsea, in some ways, are less predictable with their riches at forward, but it appears that Mason Mount and Kai Havertz are the most likely attacking midfield options with Timo Werner operating as a lone striker — Olivier Giroud could fill the target man role but his lack of pace is too dicy in a game of this magnitude. Mount has become one of Europe's best players, and the youth movement has served Chelsea well. Werner has become the butt of jokes for missing myriad golden scoring chances throughout the season, both in the Champions League and Premier League, but memes aren't a good judgment of form and the 25-year-old German international is due for positive regression at some point. What better stage than the Champions League Final?
Prediction: Manchester City 3, Chelsea 1