The final of the 2020-21 UEFA Champions League pits English champions Manchester City against their league rivals, Chelsea. It is the Cityzens first appearance in the showpiece event while the London club has been here twice before, winning it in 2012.
There are many narratives on both sides- Pep Guardiola making his first final since 2011, Thomas Tuchel making his second successive final after losing last year with PSG, and a host of novices gunning to win their first European crown on both sides. The last part includes two players who are aiming to create a little slice of history for themselves and their country.
🤔 Manchester City OR Chelsea: who do you 𝙬𝙖𝙣𝙩 to win the 2021 #UCLfinal?#UCL
— UEFA Champions League (@ChampionsLeague) May 5, 2021
Christian Pulisic and Zack Steffen are aiming to become just the second American to win the competition. The first was current Los Angeles Galaxy technical director Jovan Kirovski who won it in his first season playing for Borussia Dortmund in 1997. Not many remember him outside of the United States in this day and age for this particular feat.
However, Pulisic and Steffen play for two of the biggest clubs around, not only in the UK but also in Europe. They are renowned worldwide for their glamour, winning ability and appeal which only serves to provide special interest to those watching at home in the US.
Pulisic’s loving nickname given by the Blues supporters for his knack for impacting matches during crucial moments. He joined Chelsea from Kirovsky’s old club in 2019, where had his breakout performances under Tuchel himself. Playing on the right-wing primarily, Pulisic is known for his quick feet, attacking threat and electric pace that has transformed him into a potent weapon down the flanks. He has been a full USA international since 17 years of age, helping the team reach the final of the 2019 CONCACAF Gold Cup.
#NationalSuperheroDay, you say? 🦸♂️ pic.twitter.com/ObCj5Qu496
— Chelsea FC (@ChelseaFC) April 28, 2021
For Chelsea, Pulisic scored 11 goals in all competitions last season. However, this term he has been struggling a bit. Having brought in Timo Werner, Hakim Ziyech and Kai Havertz over the summer, Pulisic lost his starting place and had to make do with coming off the bench. However, he made a huge impact in both legs of the semi-final clash against Real Madrid.
— Chelsea FC (@ChelseaFC) May 5, 2021
In Spain, he opened the scoring for the Blues after rounding the Madrid keeper and placing the ball past the defenders on the goal line. That away goal helped Chelsea to edge ahead in the tie despite the draw that night. Back in London, Pulisic came into the fray in the 67th minute with an aggregate score of 2-1. He got hold of the ball in his favoured right wing before cutting the ball back into the penalty box for Mason Mount to hammer home their second goal on the night to seal a place in the final.
🇺🇸 Paying tribute to USA! 🗽
Favourite American player in #UCL history?#UCLSkillsSpecial | @Mastercard | #UCL pic.twitter.com/XrmNIHDXbr
— UEFA Champions League (@ChampionsLeague) May 17, 2021
After enduring, what he himself called “a frustrating season…having to prove myself over and over again,” the 22-year-old will definitely be involved in the final at Porto in some capacity. It has been a tough learning curve for the winger this season, though he will not mind much if Chelsea do go onto lift the Champions League.
Steffen is firmly the number two for the Champions of England. Though that is not to say he is not a big-game player. In his first full season at the Etihad, Steffen has appeared in all the EFL Cup and FA Cup matches that the club has played, including their 1-0 win over Spurs to win the former.
He is a solid backup to Ederson and has been on the bench throughout the season, should the occasion arise. In Portugal again, he will be ready if his number does come up.
Zack Steffen has been pulling out all the stops for @f95 so far ⛔ pic.twitter.com/3CCWNGXiQg
— Bundesliga English (@Bundesliga_EN) September 10, 2019
Having played for Fortuna Dusseldorf in the last season, he is known for his quick reflexes and efficient distribution. Steffen was also a regular back in his homeland for Columbus SC, winning MLS Goalkeeper of the Year in 2018.
Zack Steffen has become first American man in our nation's history to win the Premier League. The 26-Year-Old from Downington, Pennsylvania made 1 start, a 3-1 win against Chelsea. A small role, but a historic one nonetheless. May he be the first of many 🇺🇸🏆🙌 🐢 pic.twitter.com/1cNwwMZr7U
— roger bennett (@rogbennett) May 11, 2021
Chances have been scarce in England for the 26-year-old but that will not take the shine of his achievement this season if the Cityzens do manage to win their first Champions League trophy. Steffen can become the first American goalkeeper to win the coveted prize, after all, a fact which has surely not gone unnoticed by the player himself.
MORE THAN JUST A MATCH
The final is yet another reminder of the rapid influx of American players into the European system. The notion of them being not being technical or strong enough to play in the top leagues is a thing of the past. No matter who wins, this is the biggest match in each of the players’ careers. They have the chance to firmly put USA football on the map as being in no way inferior. They say nobody remembers the person who came second, but in this case, the person who comes second will make history for himself and a nation.