An all-English Champions League final made possible by African stars

After a period of La Liga Santander dominance in both the Champions League and Europa League, the Premier League is back at the summit once again. Three seasons ago, both competitions produced English finalists.

History could repeat itself this season. Chelsea and Manchester City have been confirmed as finalists for the Champions League while in the Europa League, Manchester United have one foot in the final and would be rooting for Arsenal to overcome Villarreal on Thursday night.

On May 29, the colour blue will dominate the famous Turkish city of Instabul as Manchester City and Chelsea storm there for European football’s greatest price. They were, to some, not favourites to reach the final when the semi-finals pairings came out. But their performances stunned their opponents.

Manchester City were too good for last year’s finalist PSG, same as Chelsea against Real Madrid, the most successful club in the competition.

Although it was a collective effort, two players stood out. Riyad Mahrez for the Citizens and Edouard Mendy for the London club. These African stars made huge contributions and have been duly praised by fans.

Without Mahrez, the outcome of the tie between City and PSG would probably have been different. 

The winger was clinical as he scored three of City’s goals in the 4-1 aggregate victory.

Pep Guardiola’s tactics of no striker did not backfire because a certain Mahrez knew how to find the net. In the first leg, he was entrusted with free-kick duty in the 71st minute.

The Algerian left-footed free-kick from a central position a few yards in front of the D went straight through the PSG wall and into the back of the net.

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Set-pieces at City are usually very much the domain of specialist Kevin De Bruyne, but on the night, he left it for Mahrez.

After the match, the Belgian revealed, “He asked me if he could take it and I said ‘yes, if you believe in yourself. He scored. Who am I to say something?”

A mark of a confident player.

He followed that up with two fantastic goals at the Etihad to seal City’s first European final in 51 years.

City spent £60m to sign Mahrez from Leicester in 2018. It was seen as a waste of money because their attackers Raheem Sterling, Sergio Aguero, Bernardo Silva, David Silva and Gabriel Jesus and Leroy Sane were in incredible form.

But three years on and Mahrez has justified his huge price tag. He has taken City to the final, with Sheikh Mansour’s dream now close to becoming a reality.

Edouard Mendy must have been inspired by Mahrez’s performance because he made the difference when it mattered most in the biggest game of his career on Wednesday night.

The Senegalese goalkeeper produced a stunning display in the second leg against Real Madrid as Chelsea won 3-1 on aggregate to reach their first final since they won the competition in 2012.

Chelsea were imperious. They dominated Real Madrid and created the best chances but could only convert two.

In the first half, Mendy made two wonderful stops from Karim Benzema, two potential goals that would have seen Madrid take control of the tie.

As Chelsea continued to waste opportunities, Mendy was called into action again, blocking a low effort from Hazard.

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Kante may have been awarded man of the match, but Mendy’s performance will forever be cherished by the Chelsea faithfuls.

“With Edouard Mendy behind, he’s been absolutely outstanding so far, so altogether it came to the point where the team is defending well and don’t give away many chances,” Chelsea legend Petr Cech said after the game.

Mendy arrived at Stanford Bridge from Rennes last summer to little fanfare yet his signing has proven to be one of the most important of a busy transfer window, which saw the Blues capture the signings of Timo Werner and Kai Havertz.

“It’s his first campaign in the Champions League, but he’s at a good age for a goalkeeper and the way he is, his personality, he’s very calm and he wants to be better every day.”

“He works every day, it’s a key for him and I think the team around him, Willy Caballero, Kepa, they help him as well – they push him, try to make sure he’s always ready and on his toes. I think so far it’s been a great campaign from him,” Cech added.

The 29-year-old was charged to replace underperforming Kepa Arrizabalga. That brought enormous pressure on him, but he has dealt with it impressively. Mendy is now a fan favourite and is one brilliant performance away from a Champions League winners medal.

The upcoming battle between Mahrez and Mendy is certainly one to keep an eye on.

By: Enoch Fiifi Forson||Ghana