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What does it take to win the Champions League final?

| 24.05.2021

Analysis of the trends for Champions League winners

At the end of May, with the European domestic season over, all eyes will turn to Porto for an all-English Champions League final between Manchester City and Chelsea.

We have analysed every previous final in history and all the Champions League winners to identify the ingredients for success on European club football’s biggest stage.

Experience matters

This is Manchester City’s first ever Champions League final, but first-time finalists have not fared well previously.

The last time the Champions League was won by a team making their first appearance in the final was over two decades ago in 1997, when Borussia Dortmund beat four-time previous finalists Juventus.

Since then there have been seven unsuccessful attempts, including PSG and Tottenham in each of the last two seasons. This suggests that the first experience of this grand occasion can be overwhelming.

Furthermore, 17 of the 21 Champions League tournaments that have been staged since the turn of the century have been won by the team with more previous appearances in the final.

This appears to give Chelsea an advantage, as they will be making their third appearance in the Champions League final after losing as debut finalists in 2008 before triumphing at the second attempt in 2012.

Ignore the league table

Finals between clubs from the same nation are becoming more commonplace.

Across European Cup and Champions League history there have been eight finals involving two teams from the same league and five of these have been in the last nine seasons.

Relative league performance is a poor barometer of success though, as only two of the most recent seven were won by that season’s league champions.

Manchester City’s recent Premier League triumph could therefore count for little.

Spend big in the transfer market

An analysis of the squads of Champions League winners offers more hope for Manchester City.

In the last 16 years, 13 Champions League finals have been won by the club with the more valuable squad, and City’s squad weighs in at the more expensive.

However, two of the three financial underdogs who triumphed were English clubs. Liverpool’s ‘miracle in Istanbul’ in 2005 was achieved with a squad less valuable than AC Milan’s, while the all-English final between Manchester United and Chelsea in 2008 saw the cheaper Red Devils claim the trophy.

Have faith in youth

Based on the average age of players used throughout the tournament, five of the last seven finals have been won by the younger team. Perhaps players with fewer miles on their legs are better able to last the distance at the end of a gruelling campaign?

Manchester City have fielded marginally younger squads than Chelsea on their route to the final this season, so Pep Guardiola’s team could have a slight edge here.

Prioritise attack over defence

Moving our focus to what happens on the pitch, we found that seven of the last eight Champions League winners offered more than their opponents in attack.

Specifically, they outscored the losing finalists in that season’s competition and created more chances, but there was no corresponding pattern in defence.

This is more good news for Manchester City, who have scored three more goals than Chelsea and taken 34 more shots on their route to the final.

Have a young manager

A manager’s experience used to count for a lot in the early days of the Champions League, with eight of the first 10 finals having been won by the team with the older manager.

This is no longer the case however, with eight of the last 12 seasons seeing the younger boss lift the trophy.

Two of those eight occasions saw then-Barcelona manager Pep Guardiola outwit an older rival, but this year he finds himself up against an opponent who is three years younger.

Hire and fire at will

Thomas Tuchel’s advantages don’t stop there, as giving a manager time has also been overrated in Europe’s elite competition.

Nine of the last 10 Champions League finals have been won by the manager who had been in the job for the least amount of time.

Tuchel has only been in the Chelsea hotseat since January, while Guardiola is approaching his five-year anniversary at the Etihad.

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Andrew McDermott

Andrew is a sports betting content journalist at PA Media. He is a lifelong Huddersfield Town fan but when he isn't reminiscing about their Premier League days he is also a junior cricket coach and enjoys cycling.