The Champions League final offers the most storied prize in European soccer, but today’s finalists, Chelsea and Manchester City, have almost no experience in the game that awards it.
Chelsea has taken part in the final only twice. In 2008, it lost an earlier all-Premier League final to Manchester United on penalties in Moscow. Four years later, it finally lifted the trophy, beating Bayern Munich in a shootout.
This is Manchester City’s first trip to the final, and comes after a string of supremely disappointing ending in recent years, including quarterfinal exits against Lyon (2020), Tottenham (2019) and Liverpool (2018). By last year, even the club’s players were openly wondering if they and their coach would ever get to grab hold of the trophy.
Still, as the Premier League champion, and with a world-class player (and a world-class backup) at almost every position on the field, City is the betting favorite.
“I never thought I’d play in the Champions League… Watching teams lift it, now obviously being able to play in it is something special.”
John Stones on what it means to play in the🗣💙
— Champions League on CBS Sports (@UCLonCBSSports)
Here are the basics:
What time is the game? Kickoff is set for 3 p.m. Eastern at Porto’s Estádio do Dragão.
How can I watch? The game will be broadcast in the United States by CBS Sports and on the Paramount+ streaming app. If you prefer commentary in Spanish, go to Univision or the TUDN app. If you are anywhere else in the world, checkfrom UEFA’s website.
Is there V.A.R. in use in the Champions League? Yes. So brace yourself and warm up your hot takes. It could be a factor at some point.
When will I know if Christian Pulisic is starting? (This question is mostly for American readers.) The team’s lineups should be out about an hour before kickoff.
The president of European soccer’s governing body confirmed reporting by The Times this week that the organization was considering combining the Champions League semifinals and final into a weeklong soccer celebration instead of a single day.
“Personally, I would like to see it happen,” the president, Aleksander Ceferin, told the French sports daily L’Equipe ahead of Saturday’s final in Portugal. “It could be great. And effective in terms of revenue if it is well done.”
And while he expressed support for the idea, Ceferin also said there was still time to discuss it with clubs, partners and broadcasters.
“There is no urgency,” he said. “We can decide this in a year’s time.” The changes, The Times reported, could not take place until at least 2024.
Last summer’s Champions League knockout stages were a hastily arranged affair, thrown together with fingers crossed even before the pandemic had ebbed in Europe. Schedules were changed. A new host (Lisbon) was found. A bubble was created.
But something surprising happened: Everyone seemed to love it. Single-game quarterfinals and semifinals — instead of the usual home-and-away ties — were a high-stakes hit, adding drama and drawing viewers.
The changes proved so popular with Champions League organizers, in fact, that they are giving serious consideration to incorporatingas part of a “champions week” concept in which two winner-take-all semifinals and the final will be played in one city, and supplemented by a schedule of concerts, games and other events.
The proposal would produce the focused drama ofor college basketball’s , and turn club soccer’s marquee game into something a bit more like the Super Bowl.
“The sponsors will love it,” said Tim Crow, a consultant who has advised several major companies involved in events like the World Cup and the Olympics. “The Super Bowl model is like that, when it’s not about the game, it’s about the week.”
There is an American at today’s game. Two actually.
Christian Pulisic is expected to feature for Chelsea, either from the start or off the bench, the high-water mark for the high-water mark in American players in Europe.
The other American, Manchester City goalkeeper Zack Steffen, most likely will be a spectator in Porto unless there is an emergency or two in his team’s camp. Steffen’s consolation is that he has already become the first American to win the Premier League.
But for most fans in the United States, Pulisic will be the main talking point today. Even since he joined Chelsea from Germany’s Borussia Dortmund in 2019, forthat raised eyebrows on both sides of the Atlantic, he has battled to find his place in London, and his team.
Chelsea and its fans have had little complaint.
Just last month, he scored the goal that provided a valuable point on the road against Real Madrid in semifinals.
A week later he showed similar poise to set up a goal by Mason Mount that finished off Madrid.
But the ongoing competition for places in Chelsea’s star-studded attack is never easy; a year after bringing Pulisic into a team that already had Mason Mount, who plays a similar game, Chelsea bought the German forwards Timo Werner and Kai Havertz.
Injuries, too, have been a persistent issue for Pulisic, and that is perhaps part of the reason Chelsea Coach Thomas Tuchel has tended to see him as more of a second-half super sub than a 90-minute fixture in his team.
But did his performance against Real Madrid, and some other strong outings this spring, change that impression?
“I’ve learned a lot, I’ve come very far,” Pulisic said inwith CBS Sports this week. “There have been some real ups, also some times where I had some really difficult moments. I’m happy with my form now. I’m happy with the way I’m feeling. I’m confident.”
The short answer to that question above is: yes. The reasons are more complicated and, like so many things these day, all related to the coronavirus.
The Champions League final is in Portugal for the second year in a row. This time, like last year, it was a late solution, and each time it required the consent of officials in Turkey, which has now lost the chance to host the final two years in a row.
The decision earlier this month to move the final from Istanbul, which had recently re-entered a virus-related lockdown, came after discussions between European soccer leaders and British government officials, who, broke down over differences about quarantines and testing, among other issues.
When those talks failed, Portugal’s soccer federation raised its hand and offered to be a safe harbor again. From my colleague Tariq Panja earlier this month:
Discussions about a move were completed quickly. After City and Chelsea had confirmed the all-English final, and as talk swirled about a change of venue, Tiago Craveiro, the chief executive of the Portuguese soccer federation, reached out to UEFA. Officials at the soccer body were then reeling from that day’s sudden announcement that travelers from Britain faced severe restrictions for any travel to Turkey. That created a crisis that went well beyond questions about fan access.
Players on both sides faced the prospect of having to isolate for 10 days upon their return to Britain, creating doubts over their participation in the European Championship, the national team competition organized by UEFA that is second in size and importance only to the FIFA World Cup.
With Portugal on Britain’s green list — and thus subject to far less stringent travel rules — Craveiro offered to organize the final at short notice. Porto was picked because it did not get an opportunity to stage Champions League games last year when the event was confined in its Lisbon bubble.