It hasn’t escaped the notice of Manchester City fans that it was a former Blue who scored the decisive penalty against Manchester United in Villarreal’s stunning Europa League win.
Geronimo Rulli hadn’t managed to save any of the previous ten penalties after 120 minutes couldn’t find a winner, but confidently tucked his spot kick away before getting down low to his left to keep out David de Gea’s effort and hand the trophy to the seventh-best team in Spain.
If City beat Chelsea in the Champions League final, they will be reunited with Rulli in the UEFA Super Cup, and they might have some kind words for their former goalkeeper on his role in extending United’s trophy drought.
Of course, City have to win their own final, and they can learn lessons from United’s struggles in Gdansk that being favourites means nothing.
Pep Guardiola and his players have been playing down any suggestion that the final will be easy all week. City might be the better team on paper, but Chelsea have won the last two meetings between the sides, and Thomas Tuchel will have learned from his defeat with PSG in last year’s final.
A look at United’s approach to the game can give Guardiola some reminders of the pitfalls he could encounter as he looks to guide City to their first-ever Champions League title.
Ole Gunnar Solskjaer went as strong as he possibly could in Gdansk. Only the injured Harry Maguire would have been in their starting XI of the players left out. But that left Solskjaer with a problem when United needed to turn things around after falling behind.
Only Daniel James and Juan Mata offered something remotely different to what was on the pitch, and they were hardly better options than a front four of Marcus Rashford, Bruno Fernandes, Mason Greenwood and Edinson Cavani.
Guardiola has a far deeper squad of better quality players to pick from, so options from the bench won’t be an issue. However, Solskjaer’s mistake was to have all his impact players on the pitch, so when they weren’t making any impact he had nowhere to turn. When Guardiola picks his team, having the likes of Sergio Aguero, Raheem Sterling, Ferran Torres and Gabriel Jesus on the bench would give him license to refresh or even shake things up if things aren’t going to plan.
A second lesson would be to look at the manner of the goals scored by both sides. Two set-pieces, two defences which momentarily switched off, and a goal for each side. City will need to be focussed at every turn to avoid conceding an unnecessary goal (just like they did in Paris in the semi-final), and be alert to take advantage of any lapses from Chelsea.
And finally, United and Villarreal served up a reminder of perhaps City’s biggest weakness. Penalties.
Are you more or less confident for City’s final after watching United lose theirs? Let us know in the comments here.
Scoring from 12 yards has been a task harder to master than you would expect from a squad as talented as City’s with four players missing penalties this season. While you can’t imagine 21 players scoring penalties like in the Europa League final, United reminded them that they might not be able to escape a shoot-out.
For that reason, City will be practising penalties this week, both taking and stopping them. As Solskjaer said, United’s season came down to one kick from De Gea. Guardiola will hope to have far more control about the destination of the Champions League than a 50/50 penalty.
It’s nothing City don’t already know. They’ll go strong from the start, they’ll have game-changers ready to contribute from the bench, and Guardiola should have a Plan B that United didn’t. They’ll also be practising penalties and set pieces to ensure every marginal factor goes in their favour.
But if, like United, the fate of City’s final comes down to the goalkeepers, you’d expect Ederson to be far more emphatic than De Gea was.