Cup final on a knife-edge

If fit, Chelsea’s Edouard Mendy could make the difference between the teams in the final. – AFP

THE Champions League final at Estádio do Dragao, Porto in Portugal will be a first in the competition for Manchester City, who are aiming to turn it into a treble-winning season.

They have already won the English Premier League and the English League Cup, and will take Pep Guardiola’s trophy count at the Etihad to 11 if they pull it off.

Standing in their way is a team more than capable of upsetting the favourites and clinching a second Champions League title of their own.

Chelsea won the tournament in their second final in 2012 when they upset the odds and put paid to the ambitions of Bayern Munich in Munich, Germany.

And as daunting as it might seem to ordinary folks, Chelsea really do have it in them to see off a City side that look a solid bet and have done so from the get-go.

Thomas Tuchel, who took over at Stamford Bridge at the end of January following the departure of Frank Lampard, has beaten City twice this season and will be all out to make it three-in-a-row.

The German coach received a timely boost ahead of today’s final when Senegal’s Edouard Mendy and Frenchman N’Golo Kante returned to training in midweek.

The presence of first choice goalkeeper Mendy and midfield general Kante could well prove pivotal in their bid to stop City’s marauding front-six.

They helped form the spine of a squad that was transformed since the arrival of Tuchel and did well to sneak into the Premiership top-four and reach the FA Cup final where they lost to Leicester.

Timo Werner, and maybe to some extent Christian Pulisic and Kai Havertz, will get a shout of support from Tuchel, but it may be Mason Mount that stands out for the Blues on club football’s biggest stage.

The 22-year-old England attacking midfielder has simply been excellent in this campaign, and there are not many who will begrudge him a telling performance before he heads off with England to the European Championships (Euro 2020) next month.

Sergio Aguero is heading for the exit door at City after a decade of service to the Citizens –- during which time he won five league titles, an FA Cup medal and six League Cups -– and scored a club record 280 goals before today.

A triumph for City here would be a glorious sending off for the Argentinean and it would complete his resume for the club by ticking off all the boxes for achievement.

Knowing Guardiola as we do, it is rather likely that Aguero will start the Champions League final on the bench and then be given a run-out in the second half.

But even then, he could still make his presence felt.

He vividly illustrated this in his last league game for Man City on Sunday, when he came on as a substitute and scored two goals in five minutes of the 25 he played.

Guardiola, named the league’s Manager of the Year this week, will probably again look to Kevin De Bruyne to make things happen upfront, with some assistance from the in-form Riyad Mahrez.

In defence, the English Football Writers Association’s Footballer of the Year –- Ruben Dias –- along with the rejuvenated John Stones and defensive midfielder Fernandinho will be expected to thwart Chelsea’s advances.

Neither team will be giving much today, that is for sure, so it may just boil down to the side that makes the least mistakes that will leave Portugal with “Old Big Ears” in tow.

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