Men's Team

Henry Winter: There is a hunger about City and they so want this...

Henry Winter: There is a hunger about City and they so want this...
Ahead of Saturday’s Champions League final between City and Chelsea, Club journalist Neil Leigh spoke to Henry Winter, highly respected chief football writer from The Times, to get his thoughts ahead of the most eagerly awaited game of the season…

Henry, looking ahead to tonight’s game, how significant a moment does it feel for City to have reached a first Champions League final?

The great thing about Manchester City is that while everyone else has been celebrating that achievement in getting there, City will be simply focused on winning it.

It would be so frustrating to have got this far, to have had the near misses in recent years and not win.

City expect to be in the final; this is what they are about. Chelsea did not. This is a surprise for them this season.

I think most people at the start of the season would have had Manchester City in the top four clubs in Europe.

They are doing what is expected of them and they are doing it in style. And they will be the favourites, as they should be, as they have an outstanding first 11, an outstanding bench and a great coach.

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But Thomas Tuchel has shown he can do well against Pep so it’s going to be an even game.

But you just look at the hunger in City and they so want this.

They have one or two players who, with respect, are coming towards the end of their careers like Fernandinho.

Yet he started ahead of Rodrigo against Paris Saint-Germain in the semi-final, second leg and if he wants to go into coaching or management, everything you see in the way he plays and talks, you can see him stepping in there and succeeding.

Players like that will just want to seize this moment.

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Talk to players like Raheem Sterling. The Champions League is huge with him along with the other players who have grown up with the competition.

And then there are the likes of Fernandinho and Sergio Aguero who are nearing the end of their careers but who will want to do so well

But you know what, Chelsea have got some fabulous players too. You look at Jorginho, N'Golo Kante, and take Mason Mount who is playing so well.

And as someone who covers England; how brilliant it is to see so many English players looking so completely at home at the top of their games.

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I mean Phil Foden has just turned 21 – it’s crazy. He’s playing with the maturity of a 30-year-old and then there’s Raheem, Kyle Walker, John Stones – it’s so great to see him playing so well - and both Mason Mount and Reece James in the Chelsea team.

I’m sure on the eve of the final everyone will have done a points tally on the respective 11 players in each side and you would imagine City would pinch it by about five or six points.

Anything can happen in a final, but you just think that City hunger and that expectation and the fact Pep knows his way around the Champions League final could be key.

Chelsea are a good team but I’d rather watch City.

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City’s record in Europe this season has been extraordinary. What have you made of our progress to Porto?

Their record has been insane but it’s kind of expected. The standards are so high, it’s kind of expected.

We expect excellence from City, we’re expecting wins, we’re expecting clean sheets.

But maybe the true appreciation of Manchester City will come in a year or two’s time when people step back and look at the numbers and go: ‘Wow, that is some team.’

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In all parts of the pitch, they are just phenomenal.

Likewise, what are your thoughts on Chelsea and their progress under Thomas Tuchel?

I thought he very cleverly brought in one or two of those who were on the outside like Antonio Rudiger who is such a strong presence in the squad.

I don’t think Edouard Mendy is at Ederson’s level but he’s a good keeper and he’s a good shot-stopper.

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One thing about Chelsea is that if they have a weakness it’s that they are not a particularly tall team.

Tuchel started Kai Havertz ahead of Christian Pulisic against Real Madrid purely because he was two inches taller and he’s more of threat, both attacking and defending.

Maybe that is something City can look to exploit at set-pieces.

That said, Thiago Silva is not the tallest, but he is very imposing.

Chelsea are good to watch but a neutral may say they don’t necessarily thrill you like when you see Kevin De Bruyne spraying some his passes around or Oleks Zinchenko overlapping or Kyle Walker going on one of his 100mph sprints around the pitch

There is something very thrilling about watching this City team, especially when Phil Foden is in possession.

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Everyone on the day will make it about Mount v Foden and the jewels of English football and that’s great, we should cherish it.

I think there are five English players who can go onto become world beaters and Phil Foden is number one with his technique and personality… he’s quite street-wise as well.

In City’s semi-final home tie against PSG he has Florenzi on toast and I quite like that street-wise element to him.

There is so much to watch and enjoy in this City team.

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Pep Guardiola has won the tournament twice as a manager as well as winning it when a player. How important a factor will his previous European experience be?

Pep brings calm

I know it’s all about energy and pressing and there’s a real urgency to Manchester City, but I quite liked his comments before the Paris Saint-Germain semi-final.

They were on the wavelength of ‘go out and enjoy it. You have the ability; these are such precious moments, go out and enjoy them.’

I think Pep’s very good at that balance of taking the edge out of situations while also keeping that adrenalin and urgency.

It’s a very difficult balancing act to do but he manages it brilliantly.

I think the players in the City dressing room will look at a person who won it as a player at Wembley and won it twice as a coach at Barcelona.

There is also a machine-like element to Manchester City too.

They know whoever plays in a position knows what they are doing and there is flair within that framework.

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What would you say are the key differences between the two sides?

City have more of central threat. I think if they play a false nine, Kevin De Bruyne is quite brilliant at that role.

I also feel there is more creativity in City’s midfield whereas Tuchel will have two very high class but slightly more cautious midfielders in Jorginho and N'Golo Kante although Mason Mount is very creative,

But you looked at Chelsea’s semi-final first half against Real Madrid, Luka Modric ran the show.

And then, fair play to Tuchel, he got Mount to drop off a bit and then closed the space around Modric but you can’t do that against a team like City.

You have to get close early on, so I just think City have more firepower, more goals and more energy across different positions that Chelsea.

It’s the second all-English final in three years – is that a perfect barometer of the strength of the Premier League?

It signals the strength of the Premier League and also the fact that La Liga is not quite so strong as it was.

We have to remember that Bayern Munich won it last year and may have got to the final again had Robert Lewandowski not got injured.

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I think it’s the sheer relentless drive that is now in-built into English teams because of the fitness levels and the quality of the pitches and because of the desire of the coaches, be it a Pep or a Bielsa or a Klopp.

You see it all over this extraordinary hunger of players running themselves into the ground.

The fitness levels of these players is sensational, particularly at the end of a long hard season with very little pre-season. It’s phenomenal.

And the fact that in every round of Premier League matches the teams know there is a potential ambush. Look at Chelsea v West Brom, and City have had it a few occasions; there are no easy games.

You also look at where some of the goals are scored in Spain late on when teams are exhausted.

Then you look at the English teams. Just take Fulham as an example. Fulham are a good team, they play good football and really test the opposition. But they have gone down.

It’s an unforgiving, brutal league the Premier League - but it battle-hardens teams and gets them ready for the Champions League.

Finally, Henry if you had to pick a winner what does your gut instinct tell you?

Normally you reference lots of sides who could win the Champions League.

But I think I said at the start of the campaign this could well be City’s year… and I still think it will be.

The opinions published here are personal to the interviewee and do not necessarily reflect the views of Manchester City Football Club.

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