Underdogs come out on top

Chelsea's Ben Chilwel with the trophy following the UEFA Champions League final

Chelsea's Ben Chilwel with the trophy following the UEFA Champions League final match at Estadio do Dragao in Porto, Portugal - Credit: PA

The FA Cup, UEFA Europa League and Champions League finals - in all of these competitions the underdogs came out winners. Why?

Tactics and key decisions have played a big part in the result in all three games. Possession of the ball is no longer the key to success.

The FA Cup saw Chelsea dominate possession 64 per cent to 36 per cent making 576 passes to Leicester’s 325 with a pass accuracy of 85 per cent to 74 per cent - but still lost the game.

Today’s game has become far more tactical with the lesser fancied teams (the underdogs) set up to defend in numbers (frustrating the opposition), denying space in the final third of the pitch, looking  to counter attack at pace when winning back possession and work hard to win games from well-drilled dead ball situations.

It is something I have used and coached in the past and it is important to get over to the players not to panic out of possession, get back into a well-drilled defensive shape and to feel in control of the game even though the opposition have the ball.

After a goalless first half, Youri Tielemans scored the winning goal with a magnificent strike from distance which flew into the top left corner of Chelsea’s goal past Kepa Arrizabalaga.

In the final minute Chelsea looked as if they had equalised with a Wes Morgan own goal but the own goal was referred to the video assistant referee (VAR), who deemed Chilwel, the Chelsea left back, was offside in the build-up; the goal was disallowed and the match ended 1-0 to Leicester City who won the first FA Cup title in their history.

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As winners, Leicester City entered the group stage of the 2021-2022 UEFA Europa League.

They will also play 2020-2021 Premier League champions Manchester City in the 2021 FA Community Shield.  

Tactics and key decisions certainly played their part in the underdogs Leicester City lifting the FA Cup.

In the UEFA Europa League final, tactics and substitution decisions came out on top.

Unai Emery got everything right on the night and played a key role in Villarreal becoming UEFA Europa League 2021 winners.

His team were magnificent in one v one situations and his defensive line and distances between the lines out of possession was magnificent.

His substitute decision played a big part in the win and his aggressive enthusiasm and body language from the technical area helped motivate his players to victory.

Manchester United players on the night ran out of ideas and needed help from the touchline which I felt was missing.

I’m not one to criticise managers but I must say I couldn’t understand Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s decision to substitute Mason Greenwood for Fred with ten minutes to go and not to replace David de Gea for Dean Henderson for the penalty shoot-out knowing that De Gea had not saved a penalty in the Premier League since 2016, while academy graduate Henderson is renowned as something of a specialist in that department.

It was said following the game that his players didn’t turn up on the night.

I would question if the manager turned up on the night as throughout the full 90 minutes, extra time and the penalty shoot-out his body language and decision making was questionable.

Again, the underdogs came out on top with a disciplined tactical team shape understanding and a winning goal scored from a rehearsed/practised free-kick.

The Champions League final was again an interesting game of tactics where the underdogs Chelsea had recognised the strengths of Manchester City and worked tirelessly throughout the 90 minutes to nullify City’s strengths in the wide areas.

Chilwel and James did a great job on Sterling and Mahrez.

They knew City wanted to press them high, so tactically they pulled Havertz on to Oleksandr Zinchenko to stop him pushing onto Reece James down the right side.

That worked going forward as well as defensively.

It was the same on the opposite flank, where Mount pushed onto Kyle Walker and Ben Chilwel kept Riyad Mahrez quiet pressing him aggressively every time he received the ball.

With five at the back, and two in front of the back five, there was no way through for City.

City’s line-up was bold and more open but the outstanding N’Gola Kate was one of the reasons they ended up barely registering a shot on target.

Tactically Thomas Tuchel had prepared his team to perfection to produce a finely tuned, intensely committed Chelsea side fully deserving the victory that saw them crowned champions of Europe for the second time.

Pep Guardiola strategy was high risk and he will be criticised for his team selection in arguably the biggest game in City’s history.

Rodi and Fernandinho had figured in 60 out of 61 games for City this season, either individually or as a pair were both left out of the starting line-up.

Why change the strategy in a match of such huge significance? Guardiola is without doubt one of the great coaches and manager who has won the Premier League for three of the past four seasons, on a night he was hoping to write history of his own alongside Bob Paisley, Carlo Ancelotti and Zinedine Zidane by winning this tournament for a third time he decided to make a huge decision to change his team and tactics which unfortunately for him and City failed to produce the goods. 

Again the underdogs Chelsea came out on top with a finely tuned tactical performance.

Euro’s up next – enjoy!