With the help of football journalist Andrew Beasley (@BassTunedToRed), we preview the big game and offer some sharp betting advice.

Welcome to Porto

Welcome to Porto and the Estádio do Dragão, scene of the Champions League final of 2021 - which promises to be an intriguing tactical battle between two well-matched sets of players and their astute managers.

What makes this final even more interesting is the lack of experience either club has in European football’s ultimate showpiece occasion.

Manchester City and Chelsea are the sixth- and seventh-most valuable clubs, respectively, in world football, yet they have just two previous Champions League final appearances between them - and they both belong to the Londoners, Chelsea of course lifting the trophy in 2012.

Their managers have been to more finals collectively - but more on the men in charge shortly.

Such inexperienced match-ups were inevitably more common in the old days of the European Cup, but this is only the third final in the modern era where the two teams competing have fewer than three previous finals between them.

The most recent example was also an all-English affair, when Manchester United beat Chelsea on penalties in 2008 - a typical final featuring two clubs from the same country. The first instance was a routine 3-0 win for Real Madrid over Valencia, but the six instances since have seen three penalty shootouts, and one settled in extra time.

The other two matches, although resolved within 90 minutes were only settled extremely late: Arjen Robben scoring the winner for Bayern Munich in the 89th minute in 2013, while in 2019 Liverpool only put Tottenham to bed when Divock Origi bagged their second goal three minutes from full time. 

Champions League history suggests that this clash of Premier League teams will be close, and there’s no reason to think otherwise based on their form this season either. 

It's very close - but Manchester City to win

The final in this competition tends to go the way of the favourites. The last eight titles have been won by the shorter-priced side, even in those matches that were not resolved within normal time.

The last underdog to beat the odds was... Chelsea - defeating Bayern Munich in their own backyard on penalties in 2012. And they are the outsiders once again, albeit not by as wide a margin as nine years ago. 

Needing to beat the odds hasn’t bothered Chelsea in the recent past. Pep Guardiola’s side were favourites in their last two meetings - in the FA Cup semi-final and in the league at the Etihad Stadium - and Chelsea won both. This match is priced similarly to those games too. 

However, Chelsea were extremely fortunate to earn the three points last time out - had Sergio Aguero taken a decent penalty rather than a soft Panenka, City could have been 2-0 up at half-time and in control of the match (in case you missed it).

Looking at the two teams’ form in Europe in 2020/21, it’s incredibly difficult to separate them.

Both sides have conceded just four goals in their 12 matches, and City’s lead up front is a narrow one, with 25 goals scored to 22. 

Their underlying expected goal statistics are remarkably close too, particularly in the knockout phase - the Blues have generated just 0.1 xG more than the Sky Blues, while conceding 0.2 fewer. Divide that across the six matches they’ve played in 2021 (which also covers the period since Thomas Tuchel took charge) and you’re dealing with negligible amounts.

With little to separate the sides, it may come down to the narrowest of margins. Chelsea will be much relieved to have both Edouard Mendy and N’Golo Kante back in training - question marks over their fitness earlier in the week surely giving Chelsea fans and Tuchel restless nights.

A glance towards the two men in the dugouts favours City too.

Guardiola has contested 15 major finals in his career, and remarkably his sides have won 14 of them. His only defeat came 10 years ago, when an extra time goal from Cristiano Ronaldo gave Real Madrid victory in the Copa del Rey. 

Pep - the man does have form...

Tuchel has lost as many finals as that in the last two weeks, with Leicester City’s surprise FA Cup win taking his personal record to only three triumphs from seven major finals played. 

This match could easily go either way - but Guardiola’s guile in one-off games with trophies on the line should ensure that Manchester City win the match (1.92) to become champions of Europe for the first time.

Total Goals: Under 2.25

The last two Champions League finals only saw three goals combined, after a couple which had been livelier on the scoring front. 

The previous one-nation clashes have generally been low scoring affairs too. Only two of the seven saw more than two goals in normal time, and just one had three goals in the opening 88 minutes.

Matches between Manchester City and Chelsea have generally featured plenty of goals in recent years. The FA Cup semi-final might have ended 1-0 to the Blues of west London but ignore that and the last four have all featured at least three goals.

However, their last cup final - the League Cup in 2019 - went to penalties after a goalless 120 minutes, and it feels like a situation where you have to play the occasion, not the game, from a gambling perspective. 

As the underlying expected goal data from the Premier League this season suggests betting on Under 2.25 goals (1.85) is the value option even though it’s the shorter priced side of the market, a wager on a low-scoring match looks essential. 

Both teams to score: No

City and Chelsea have both scored in four of their last five meetings, but that does not automatically mean they will do so again.

It has been far less common when they’ve faced off in cup competitions. This season’s FA Cup semi-final ended 1-0 to Chelsea, the League Cup final was a bore-draw stalemate, and the 2018 Community Shield, while obviously far less important, saw City win 2-0. 

And with two teams that are so strong defensively, we can’t rule out a 0-0 here. These sides have conceded the fewest goals in the 2020/21 Premier League, and Chelsea led the way for the period between Tuchel’s appointment and the end of the season. 

Neither team will take any risks while the match remains goalless, and so this feels like a tussle where at least one side will score nil in normal time.

Anytime scorer: Kevin De Bruyne

Selecting a goal scorer bet for one of the superclubs is always a tricky business. Manchester City have the most expensively assembled and best squad in the Premier League, and they are the only club in the division who don’t currently have any injuries too.

A look at the goal scorer statistics for the mini-league of England’s big six clubs over the last two seasons shows that Raheem Sterling is the top player for either side. 

He cannot be as assured of a starting place as Kevin De Bruyne, though, and the Belgian is only one goal behind him in the big game goal standings anyway.

Plus, as the match will be officiated by Antonio Mateu Lahoz, who awards an above-average number of penalties in Champions League football, it’s always worth considering who will be on spot kick duty. City’s wretched record with penalties means there’s no way to be certain, but De Bruyne will be in the conversation. 

He has also scored in each round of the knockout phase this season for good measure and could easily prove to be the key man at the Estádio do Dragão. 

Kevin De Bruyne to score anytime (3.85) - (Aguero 2.98, Gundogan 3.41,  Sterling 3.56)
Kevin De Bruyne to score first (8.26)
Kevin De Bruyne to score last (8.26)

All odds are correct at the time of writing, but please check the site for the latest numbers.

Posted 
May 27, 2021
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