The final countdown

Europa League Final, Wednesday 26th
Villareal @ 7/4 
Man Utd @ 2/5

Champions League Final, Saturday 29th
Man City @ 4/9 
Chelsea @ 13/8
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It’s the final countdown!  Doodle duh-duh

Doodle duh-duh duhhhhhhh!

After evolving from the larval group stage, and fighting their way out of the tricky knockout phase pupae, Europe’s premier club competitions have at last assumed their final forms.

It has been a season that has seen a great many games concertinaed tightly together, leaving the remaining participants of the Europa and Champions League competitions – as they approach the glorious coda – by turns exhausted, uninspired, and beset by crucial injuries.

So while the arriving finalists may not be at their most vibrant – a peacocking parade of footballing style, a Euro-vision of iridescent interplay and colour is, alas, unlikely – they will be trying as hard as they possibly can to avoid leaving the respective host cities with the dreaded nul point.

In the town where I was born

Lived a man who sailed to sea

The Europa League Final will involve Manchester United attempting to torpedo the Yellow Submarine of Villarreal in Gdańsk.  United possess enough expensive star fire-power to administer the necessary damage on Unai Emery’s side – and if one star is dimmed another will surely shine – but sizeable doubts remain over whether there is an able substitute for the defensive Red Giant, Harry Maguire.

The Sheffield-born stanchion recently equalled Gary Pallister’s Old Trafford record of playing 71 consecutive Premier League matches without being substituted, but since his ill-timed injury United appear alarmingly bereft of the cohesive steel he had the ability to forge.

The Red Devils will be hoping they can incant their uncanny and oft-utilised ability to turn a dire-looking situation into a surprising success.  It could be argued, however, that it is the manager who needs the validation a victory would bring, more so than the players…

Solskjaer’s slender CV and relative dearth of managerial pedigree has led many well-versed exponents of the craft of ‘football banter’ to dub him ‘The PE Teacher’.  But a Europa League trophy, leant lustre by a Premier League runner-up slot, would surely put the Norwegian in line for some sort of promotion.  If not necessarily to Headmaster, then at least to, say, Head of PE?

Blue moon, you saw me standing alone…

Ah, but what colour blue?  Sky or cobalt?  The song really isn’t specific enough.  Which is probably why nobody of note has ever recorded it.  Manchester City fans have claimed the tune as their own, but there is a chance it will be the darker blue of Chelsea who find themselves standing alone with the Champions League trophy when the final whistle peeps.

The two extravagant palettes of blue collide in Porto on the 29th to contest club football’s most keenly contested prize.  And, like United, the pair have struggled to maintain a convincing head of steam in the past few weeks.

Both contenders have succeeded in being defensively robust.  Thiago Silva has brought experience to Chelsea’s backline, and newly-crowned Football Writers’ Footballer of the Year, Rúben Dias, has provided a proper return on his share of the €500 million (!) that City have haphazardly splodged on defenders since the arrival of Pep Guardiola.  But there are issues at the other end of the pitch…

Sergio Agüero has endured another injury-flecked season, and Gabriel Jesus seems to lack the requisite attributes to be a line-leader at the highest level.  By his standards, Raheem Sterling has had a disappointing campaign too, with an imperfect 10 goals at the time of writing, but that still makes him City’s 2nd top scorer.

Could the final penalty for all this profligacy be a final decided by penalties?

And then – phew! – that’s all the football accounted for – the 2020/21 season is over.  Done.  Time for a rest.  For about 10 days, anyway…until the Euros start…and the final countdown begins again…

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