(CBS Philly)- The biggest game in European football is now just days away with Chelsea and Manchester City set to meet for the UEFA Champions League final on Saturday, May 29. The two English clubs are plenty familiar with each other having met three times already this season with Chelsea getting the better of City twice, once in the FA Cup semifinal and once in league play earlier this month. Manchester City are fresh off clinching their first Premier League title however and enter Saturday as favorites to win their first Champions League title.
Pep Guardiola’s squad has been one of the best defensive teams in Europe throughout both the domestic season and the Champions League campaign, allowing the fewest goals in Premier League play (32) and allowing just four goals across their entire UCL run. UEFA Champions League Today analyst Micah Richards says that the biggest difference in this year’s club is twofold: acquiring center back Ruben Dias from Benfica and controlling possession.
“I think buying Ruben Dias has been the difference. They still keep a high line but I think what they’re doing now more is they’re keeping the ball. If you look at the game stats they’re keeping 60-70% possession,” Richards said on a media call. “Teams can’t get the ball from them. It’s at times impossible. I don’t think they’ve changed too much I just think they’ve cut out the ridiculous mistakes.”
Richards’ fellow Champions League Today analyst Jamie Carragher agrees while also adding that he sees City playing a little further back than before not as aggressive with their press leaving plenty of opportunities to turn opponents over and counter.
“I think there’s been a slight difference this season as I don’t think they’re pressing as high as a team. I think maybe being without a striker, you drop off a little bit more so they’re a little bit more devastating on the counter attack,” Carragher said. “They do keep the ball and defend with the ball.”
The possession stats have been crucial in the three games that the sides have played this season. In Chelsea’s two wins (FA Cup and PL), the possessions battle was closer to 50-50. In the January 3 win for Man City, the possession stats ended in Chelsea’s favor but the match was dominated by City with three first half goals before easing up in the second half. That first matchup is also the only one in which Chelsea played against City’s regular starting 11.
For Chelsea fans and U.S. Men’s National Team fans tuning in Sunday, one big question will be what role 22-year-old American Christian Pulisic plays in the match. After showing some signs of a breakout for Chelsea last year with nine goals and four assists across 25 matches (19 starts), Pulisic hasn’t had the same impact (4 goals 2 assists). However, Richards says that he thinks the young American could be a difference making player for Chelsea in this matchup.
“He’s an exceptional talent, not played as well as we would want but every time we’re doing analysis we talk him up because we see an incredible talent in there. He’s one of the most frightening, breath-taking, talented young players I’ve seen for a long time. He’s struggled with injuries which me and Jamie have talked about a lot,” Richards said. “But, now he’s getting a run again, he played last game against Aston Villa as well. I think he could be the difference. We talk about Chelsea on the counter attack with Werner’s runs in behind, he can do something individually brilliant. I think he could have a huge impact on this game if he were to start or if he comes off the bench. I’m a big fan of Pulisic.”
Roberto Martinez, manger of the Belgium national team and analyst for Champions League Today, says that to Richards’ point, Pulisic has a unique ability to impact a game whether he’s in the initial starting 11 or not.
“Christian Pulisic is one of very few players that can be really strong as a starter or as a substitute. In the two games against Real Madrid, the first leg he starts and he makes a difference. The second leg he comes on as a substitute. He has that incredible intelligence and you don’t get many players like that,” Martinez said.
Pulisic did start both Premier League matches against City and came on as a substitute in the FA Cup semifinal. Manager Thomas Tuchel has plenty of options on the wing and Pulisic’s most recent appearance against Aston Villa didn’t draw the best reviews. Either way, with 42 appearances for Chelsea this season across all competitions, it’s likely the American sees time Saturday. What his impact will be, and whether it will be enough to help the Blues catch out the City defense remains to be seen.
The UEFA Champions League final between Chelsea and Manchester City kicks off on Saturday, May 29 at 3 p.m. Eastern Time on CBS and streaming on Paramount+.