A classic master versus apprentice contest will take place on Saturday night; Pep Guardiola and Thomas Tuchel are set to determine whether Manchester City or Chelsea will be crowned as this season’s Champions League winners.
Tuchel and Guardiola have a history, with the former inspired by the latter as a young coach learning his trade in Germany, watching Barcelona conquer Europe by playing in an attractive and aesthetically pleasing manner.
The Blues boss has previously stated: “Pep and Barcelona taught me that you can play nice and you can win everything. You can attack and still be intense in defending. You can do it using guys from the academy.”
This weekend will host a clash between two extremely meticulous tactical minds with one hoping to hold the edge over the other, but who will have the advantage?
It is difficult to determine exactly how both teams will perform and what shapes they will use, although it is reasonable to suggest that Chelsea will favour some form of 3-4-3 formation.
Tuchel has used 3-4-3 in the large majority of his games in charge – including both matches played against City – alongside occasional use of a 3-5-2.
The German has previously downplayed the importance of systems, stating: “The most important is not the formations. The most important is how we live it, how everybody respects the principles, how we attack, how we defend in the formation that we play.”
Guardiola’s approach has typically been very different in the Champions League in particular, with the Spaniard developing a reputation for his tendency to overthink before adopting a new shape purely for specific opponents.
Those changes haven’t worked too well in the past, with their exit against Lyon in last season’s competition capturing the problem, as City formed a 3-5-2 despite using 4-3-3 and 4-2-3-1 for most of the campaign.
In City’s recent bout with Paris Saint Germain, Guardiola seemed to learn from his past errors by allowing his players to perform almost as normal; a striker was not selected in either game, with the team using the unique qualities of players such as Joao Cancelo, Phil Foden, Ilkay Gundogan and Kevin De Bruyne.
Despite the differences between Chelsea and PSG, perhaps Guardiola would benefit from simply picking his best team before trusting them to get the job done, without making specific personnel changes to cater for certain details.
Arguably Tuchel’s biggest decision lies in attack; the 47 year-old has rotated his three offensive players with great frequency throughout his tenure so far.
Timo Werner, Mason Mount and Christian Pulisic have started more often than not recently, but Kai Havertz has been carrying injuries and Hakim Ziyech has scored in each of Chelsea’s last two meetings with City, both under Tuchel.
Werner and Mount can almost be deemed as definite starters given the explosive speed of the former and the importance of the latter, but it will be interesting to see who is selected from Pulisic, Ziyech, Havertz and possibly even Callum Hudson-Odoi.
Ultimately, though, Tuchel could very realistically opt against doing too much by selecting his best team, with the two master tacticians allowing their players to take the spotlight rather than their own strategic decisions.
Tuchel has previously said: “Once you start switching formation too much, you can give the impression to the players that it is always your solution and they can wait for your solution. You might give the players the solution is always from me.”
That was the perspective of the Blues head coach as recently as three months ago, and given Guardiola’s fruitless number of attempts to reclaim the Champions League through his own tactical quirks, the final in Portugal – despite featuring two thorough tacticians – could end up belonging to the players.