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Isn’t it a relief that fans were able to dissuade their clubs from joining the European Super League in April? It means we can all sit down to enjoy the Champions League final between two of the seven richest clubs in the world. Phew!
For all their wealth, these teams are unaccustomed to appearing in the continent’s showpiece football occasion. Manchester City are here for the first time, while Chelsea will be appearing in their third final.
The freshly crowned Premier League champions are the favourites here, and in that respect, history is on their side.
The more heavily favoured team has prevailed in the previous eight finals. But, if you’re looking for an omen, Chelsea were the last club who were underdogs and lifted club football’s ultimate prize. And you can’t get more up against it than a team lavishly funded on the whim of a billionaire, can you?
Not that City being favourites has bothered Chelsea previously this season. This clash is priced similarly to their last two meetings, and the Londoners prevailed on both occasions. However, they were lucky to get the win at the Etihad Stadium earlier this month. Sergio Aguero took a penalty so bad that it would be on Danny Baker’s Own Goals and Gaffs if VHS was still a thing, and the Blues’ winner came in the 92nd minute.
The two teams have similar records in Europe this season too, whether you look at their goal statistics or nerd it up with some expected goal voodoo. City and Chelsea have each conceded just four Champions League goals in 2020/21, and the former’s advantage in the goals scored column is only three.
However, there are two factors which appear to swing the match in the Citizens’ favour.
Saturday 20:00 – Man City v Chelsea
BT Sport 1/BT Sport YouTube
N’Golo Kante and Edouard Mendy are injury doubts, and their absences would be felt hugely by Chelsea. If Kepa Arrizabalaga is in goal, there is a fair chance Loris Karius will be trending on Twitter on Saturday evening. And the favourites have an advantage in the dugout too, as Guardiola is an absolute monster in cup finals. He has taken teams to 15 of them and come home with the trophy on 14 occasions.
That may not count for anything on the day, but Thomas Tuchel has only three wins from seven finals, and his side recently lost to Leicester in the FA Cup, as you well know. City should therefore have a slight edge and win the match to claim their first Champions League title.
Finals between two clubs from the same country have traditionally been low scoring, as the teams know each other inside out and are well versed in their strengths and weaknesses. Real Madrid beat Valencia 3-0 in the first instance of such a final, but they have been very tight since.
Of the other six, three went to penalties, one was decided in extra time, and the other two were not settled until the 87th minute-or-later. The 2013 final was the only one of these to see at least three goals in normal time, and the third of them was scored one minute from the end.
When City and Chelsea play there are often several goals – Over 2.5 has paid out in four of their last five meetings – but their cup clashes have been far less entertaining, with only three goals across the last three (and that included extra time in the 2019 League Cup too). Under 2.5 Goals is the red-hot favourite in this market and there’s little reason to suggest that it won’t prove to be the correct choice.
With goals likely to be at a high premium, it is reasonable to assume that at least one team will get to the end of the 90 minutes having drawn a blank. These sides conceded the fewest goals in the Premier League in 2020/21, and Chelsea were the leading defensive unit for the period of the season for which Tuchel was at their helm.
An early goal would obviously go a long way towards scuppering this bet, but the longer the game goes with neither team having scored, it should get even tighter, not more open.
Guardiola has had several run-ins with match referee Antonio Mateu Lahoz in the past. He has awarded three penalties against City in four previous matches, booked Sergio Aguero for diving and disallowed a Leroy Sane goal in their 2018 tie with Liverpool.
But, the important thing to note is that Lahoz awards spot kicks at an above average rate in the Champions League, and with City the better side offensively, that could work in their favour.
Until it comes to actually taking the penalty that is, as their record from the spot is pretty abject. Kevin De Bruyne might get the nod though, plus he is certain to play and he has scored in each of the last three rounds. Back the Bruyne to get on the score sheet at some point.
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