Prime minister Boris Johnson confirmed the UK Government's backing of football authorities over opposition to proposals for a breakaway European Super League.

In an emphatic response to widespread media reports, UEFA – together with the English Football Association (FA), Premier League, the Royal Spanish Football Federation (RFEF), LaLiga, the Italian Football Federation (FIGC) and Serie A – publicised their collective opposition to the proposals. 

One of the sanctions put forward by UEFA was to ban the 12 teams from participating in its club competitions, namely the Champions League and Europa League.

An official statement from the newly formed European Super League followed late on Sunday, European time.

Six Premier League clubs – Manchester United, Manchester City, Arsenal, Liverpool, Chelsea and Tottenham – along with Real Madrid, Barcelona, Atletico Madrid, Inter, Milan and Juventus, are the teams involved.

Bundesliga champions Bayern Munich and Ligue 1 holders Paris Saint-Germain have not been included, with reports suggesting the sides had opted not to join.

The FA warned a European Super League would hurt football "at all levels", stating any closed-shop tournament would go against long-standing principles of the game.

Oliver Dowden, the UK Government's culture secretary, said clubs signing up for any such project would be neglecting their duty to supporters by taking away their say, and Johnson later expanded on his party's stance.

"Plans for a European Super League would be very damaging for football and we support football authorities in taking action," a statement on Johnson's official Twitter account read.

"They would strike at the heart of the domestic game, and will concern fans across the country. The clubs involved must answer to their fans and the wider footballing community before taking any further steps."

UEFA also alluded to FIFA's threat of barring players from the World Cup should they play for teams who choose to participate in a European Super League, and the Professional Footballers' Association (PFA) said it had "substantial concerns regarding the wide-ranging implications of the proposed European Super League concept."

A statement read: "This proposed move would detract from the strength and joy of domestic football and diminish the game for the vast majority of fans across the continent.

"Clubs across all domestic competitions are not equal, each having differing financial starting points. However, success is never guaranteed, often cyclical and always earned.

"We have seen countless examples around Europe of teams outperforming their resources. In recent years, at home in the Premier League, this has resulted in unrivalled global entertainment and sporting drama.

"A system that rewards all clubs for success is paramount. In England, we are privileged to enjoy the most professional teams, the most professional players and in normal times, the highest aggregate attendances across the world. This success is achieved by working together and in solidarity."

The creation of a European Super League took a step closer to reality on Sunday as 12 leading clubs agreed plans for a new competition.

Six English clubs, three Italian sides and three Spanish teams have joined forces to create a tournament which has long been in the offing, despite significant opposition from UEFA and the respective leagues.

Reigning European champions Bayern Munich and last season's Champions League finalists Paris Saint-Germain are not included, though it is said the competition plans to expand to 15 teams before its inaugural season, which will start "as soon as practicable".

The Premier League's "big six" are the teams to have signed up alongside Real Madrid, Barcelona and Atletico Madrid, Juventus, Milan and their city rivals Inter.

It is an announcement which comes just before UEFA was set to confirm its intentions to alter the format of the Champions League from 2024 onwards. 

UEFA, along with Europe's top five leagues and corresponding football assocations, all strongly emphasised their opposition to the proposal, and vowed to sanction those involved.

Yet a statement released on Sunday read: "Twelve of Europe's leading football clubs have today come together to announce they have agreed to establish a new mid-week competition, the Super League, governed by its Founding Clubs.

"AC Milan, Arsenal FC, Atletico de Madrid, Chelsea FC, FC Barcelona, FC Internazionale Milano, Juventus FC, Liverpool FC, Manchester City, Manchester United, Real Madrid CF and Tottenham Hotspur have all joined as Founding Clubs. It is anticipated that a further three clubs will join ahead of the inaugural season, which is intended to commence as soon as practicable.

"Going forward, the Founding Clubs look forward to holding discussions with UEFA and FIFA to work together in partnership to deliver the best outcomes for the new League and for football as a whole."

The European Club Association (ECA) has joined UEFA in condemning proposals for a new European Super League.

Widespread reports emerged on Sunday of an agreement in place between 12 European clubs to form a breakaway competition.

Real Madrid, Barcelona, Atletico Madrid, Juventus, Inter, Milan, Manchester United, Manchester City, Liverpool, Tottenham, Chelsea and Arsenal are the clubs involved, although confirmation is still pending.

Reigning European champions Bayern Munich, along with last season's Champions League finalists Paris Saint-Germain, were not included.

UEFA, Europe's top leagues and football associations confirmed their opposition to the proposal, which drew a mass of criticism from pundits and fans alike.

With UEFA set to announce changes to the format of the Champions League from 2024 onwards on Monday, the ECA reiterated its commitment to those proposed alterations, and insisted it would stand against a Super League.

An emergency meeting of the ECA was held on Sunday. According to reports, none of the 12 teams making up the proposed breakaway competition responded to invitations to attend, though PSG and Bayern were represented. 

"In light of today's reports on the subject of a so-called breakaway league, the ECA as the body representing 246 leading clubs across Europe, reiterates its stated commitment to working on developing the UEFA Club Competitions (UCCs) model with UEFA for the cycle beginning 2024 and that a 'closed super league model' to which media articles refer would be strongly opposed by the ECA," a statement read.

The ECA statement went on to outline the body's intention to "work with UEFA on a renewed structure for European Club Football as a whole post 2024", before concluding that "the ECA Executive Board will be convening over the coming days to take appropriate decisions in light of any further developments".

Manchester United, Liverpool and Arsenal should be relegated from the Premier League if they announce their intention to join a European Super League, Gary Neville has claimed.

UEFA was joined by the top five European Leagues and the English Football Association in opposing the plans, which are reportedly set to be announced on Sunday.

The Premier League's "big six" teams, plus Real Madrid, Atletico Madrid, Barcelona, Inter, Milan and Juventus are the 12 sides said to be involved. Bayern Munich and Paris Saint-Germain are not included.

During United's win over Burnley on Sunday, Neville suggested points deductions would be a reasonable punishment and, after the match, the Sky Sports pundit expanded on his fury at the proposals, labelling it a "criminal act against football fans."

"The reaction to it is that it's been damned and rightly so. I'm a Manchester United fan and have been for 40 years but I'm disgusted, absolutely disgusted," said the former Red Devils full-back.

"It's an absolute disgrace and we have to wrestle back the power in this country from the clubs at the top of this league and that includes my club.

"I've been calling for 12 months to have an independent regulator to bring checks and balances in place to stop this happening, it's pure greed. They're imposters, the owners of Liverpool, United, City – they're nothing to do with football in this country, a hundred and odd years of history of fans who love their clubs and they need protecting.

"United aren't even in the Champions League, Arsenal aren't, they're a shambles of a club at the moment, Tottenham aren't, and they want a God-given right to be in there? Stop these clubs having a power base, enough is enough.

"The motivation is greed. My reaction earlier wasn't an emotional one, deduct them all points tomorrow, put them at the bottom of the league and take the money off them.

"You've got to stamp on this, it's criminal, it's a criminal act against football fans, make no mistake about it. Deduct points, their money and punish them.

"If they announce a letter of intent has been signed then they should be punished, heavily, massive fines, points deductions, take the titles off them, who cares.

"Give the title to Burnley, let Fulham stay up, relegate United, Liverpool and Arsenal, those three clubs have the history and should be the ones that should suffer most."

Neville also hit out at the owners of the clubs involved, adding: "They're bottle merchants, you never hear from the owners of these clubs, absolute bottle merchants, they've got no voice, and they'll probably hide in a few weeks and say it was nothing to do with them, they were only talking about it.

"Seriously in the midst of a pandemic, a crisis, football clubs at national level going bust nearly, furloughing players, clubs on the edge and these lot are having Zoom calls about breaking away and creating more greed. Joke."

According to reports, a statement is expected at 21:30 GMT. It has been reported that Madrid president Florentino Perez will act as the competition's chairman, with Liverpool, United and Arsenal owners John W Henry, Joel Glazer and Stan Kroenke also having major roles.

"They'll be amending that statement as we speak, they'll have seen the reaction," Neville said. "They'll be backtracking down the road because they are bottle merchants these lot. 

"I'd like to think that United and Liverpool would stand and think something's not right here, let's collaborate with the game to try and get a better competition, a better Champions League, I'm not for everything standing still but this is a grab, when the timing is hideous. What world are these people living in?"

Put on the spot at full-time, United manager Ole Gunnar Solskjaer was unable to offer any insight, telling Sky Sports: "I saw the news and the speculation. I can't really say too much, my focus has just been on this game, I got the news today as well.

"I haven't looked into [what it would mean for United] so I just need to sit down and see what it is. The club will probably comment on it later."

Mikel Arteta insists he knows nothing about Arsenal being involved in a European Super League.

Widespread reports emerged on Sunday claiming that up to 12 clubs – including the Premier League's 'big six' – were set to announce the new competition.

Manchester United, Manchester City, Liverpool, Tottenham, Chelsea and Arsenal are said to have been joined by teams from Italy and Spain in backing the plans.

UEFA issued a strong response condemning the apparent proposals, vowing to do everything in its power to block the move, and its statement was co-signed by the Royal Spanish Football Federation (RFEF), LaLiga, the English Football Association (FA), the Premier League, the Italian Football Federation (FIGC) and Serie A.

European football's governing body also reiterated a threat it has made before, that it would bar clubs from taking part in other competitions, while it also suggested FIFA still plans to ban players from playing at the World Cup if they feature in such a 'Super League'.

Aside from other footballing authorities, the plans have been met with widespread condemnation, but Arteta was not willing to add to the dissenting voices.

Speaking after ninth-placed Arsenal were held to a 1-1 draw with relegation-threatened Fulham in the Premier League on Sunday, Arteta said: "I don't know anything about it.

"I don't know. Once I know every detail and I have all the information then I can evaluate and give you my opinion."

Real Madrid president Florentino Perez is rumoured to be heading up the new league, while the owners of Liverpool, United and Arsenal are reported to be filling vice-chairman roles.

It has been suggested an announcement from the clubs in question could come as early as 21:30 BST on Sunday.

The English Football Association warned a European Super League would hurt football "at all levels" and said it was ready to take legal action as a clutch of elite clubs appeared poised to announce their involvement.

Twelve of Europe's biggest clubs are reported to have agreed to take part in the controversial breakaway competition, with six from England's Premier League said to have given it the thumbs-up.

The news emerged a day ahead of UEFA's executive committee meeting, at which plans for future 36-team Champions League competitions were expected to be confirmed by European football's governing body.

UEFA issued a statement on Sunday in conjunction with major domestic bodies such as the Football Association (FA) and the Premier League, and their Italian and Spanish counterparts.

The FA also issued its own firm rejection of the Super League concept, saying any closed-shop competition would go against the sacrosanct, long-standing principles of the game.

Aware of "certain English clubs" joining the project, the FA said: "It is clear that this would be damaging to English and European football at all levels and will attack the principles of open competition and sporting merit which are fundamental to competitive sport.

"For new competitions to be formed involving clubs from different associations, approval would be required from the relevant national associations, confederation and/or FIFA. We would not provide permission to any competition that would be damaging to English football, and will take any legal and/or regulatory action necessary to protect the broader interests of the game.

"We note FIFA confirmed earlier this year that they and the six confederations would not recognise any such competition and, as such, any player or club involved may not be permitted to participate in any official competition which falls within the auspices of FIFA or their respective confederation."

It was reported that confirmation of the new league being launched could come as soon as Sunday evening in Europe.

The FA said it would "continue to work with UEFA, FIFA and the Premier League to seek to ensure that nothing is approved that has the potential to damage English football".

It added that it would also work with the players' and managers' unions - the PFA and LMA - along with the English Football League and Premier League, motivated by the objective "to defend the integrity and future prospects of English football in the best interests of the game".

The UK Government's culture secretary Oliver Dowden said clubs signing up for any such project would be neglecting their duty to supporters by taking away their say.

"Football supporters are the heartbeat of our national sport and any major decisions made should have their backing," Dowden said.

"With many fans, we are concerned that this plan could create a closed shop at the very top of our national game. Sustainability, integrity and fair competition are absolutely paramount and anything that undermines this is deeply troubling and damaging for football.

"We have a football pyramid where funds from the globally successful Premier League flow down the leagues and into local communities. I would be bitterly disappointed to see any action that destroys that."

Plans for a European Super League are set to be announced on Sunday, drawing the ire of Manchester United greats Gary Neville and Roy Keane.

Reports emerged on Sunday claiming that 12 clubs – including the Premier League's "big six" – are to announce the new competition. 

Real Madrid, Barcelona, Atletico Madrid, Juventus, Milan and Inter are the other sides involved, though the proposal will reportedly include an expansion option to 16 or 18 teams.

UEFA responded strongly, insisting it will do everything in its power to block the plans, including banning the 12 clubs from their competitions, while there has also been a suggestion that players may not be allowed to represent their countries on the international stage. The Premier League also condemned the proposals.

While commentating on United's clash with Burnley, Neville made no secret of his opposition to the idea of a Super League, suggesting point deductions were a worthy punishment.

"I'm not against modernisation of football competitions," Neville said on Sky Sports.

"We have the Premier League, the Champions League, I don't think anyone can deny, but I think to bring forward proposals in the midst of COVID, the economic crisis that exists for all clubs is an absolute scandal.

"United and the rest of the big six clubs that have signed up against the rest of the Premier League should be ashamed of themselves.

"I can't concentrate on the game. They should deduct six points from all the teams who have signed up to it. To do it during a season, it's a joke."

It was a sentiment echoed by Neville's former team-mate and fellow Sky Sports pundit Keane, who added: "I think it comes down to money, greed, we've heard nothing from FIFA yet but it doesn't sound good.

"Let's hope its stopped in its tracks, because I think it is just pure greed.

"We're talking about the big clubs. Bayern Munich are one of the biggest clubs in the world. At least they've made a stand, which is a good start."

United, Manchester City, Arsenal, Liverpool, Tottenham and Chelsea would need the permission of the Premier League to join any proposed Super League, or would have to break away from England's top flight altogether. 

The Premier League has strongly condemned the proposals for a new European Super League, which it says will "undermine the appeal of the whole game".

Widespread reports emerged on Sunday claiming that 12 clubs – including the Premier League's "big six" – are set to announce the new competition.

Manchester United, Manchester City, Liverpool, Tottenham, Chelsea and Arsenal are said to have been joined by teams from Italy and Spain in backing the plans.

In response, UEFA vowed to do everything in its power to block the proposal, and urged others to boycott what it described as a "cynical project founded on the self-interest of a few clubs".

One of the sanctions being considered by European football's governing body is to suspend the 12 teams from UEFA's club competitions.

The Premier League subsequently backed up UEFA's statement, confirming its opposition to the proposal.

A statement issued on the competition's official website read: "The Premier League condemns any proposal that attacks the principles of open competition and sporting merit which are at the heart of the domestic and European football pyramid.

"Fans of any club in England and across Europe can currently dream that their team may climb to the top and play against the best. We believe that the concept of a European Super League would destroy this dream.

"The Premier League is proud to run a competitive and compelling football competition that has made it the most widely watched league in the world. Our success has enabled us to make an unrivalled financial contribution to the domestic football pyramid.

"A European Super League will undermine the appeal of the whole game, and have a deeply damaging impact on the immediate and future prospects of the Premier League and its member clubs, and all those in football who rely on our funding and solidarity to prosper.   

"We will work with fans, The FA, EFL, PFA and LMA, as well as other stakeholders, at home and abroad, to defend the integrity and future prospects of English football in the best interests of the game."

This is not the first time this season that plans have been put forward to change the face of the game.

Late last year, the owners of United and Liverpool proposed a reformatting of the English game, dubbed "Project Big Picture" which, among other items, included handing more power to a select few teams in the top flight.

It was instantly dismissed by other Premier League clubs, with accusations that it was a blatant "power grab" in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic's impact on football.

United and Liverpool's American owners are reported to have been instrumental in the European Super League proposition.

Real Madrid president Florentino Perez is reportedly set to be chairman, with John W. Henry (Liverpool), Joel Glazer (United) and Stan Kroenke (Arsenal) acting as vice-chairmen, alongside Juventus chief Andrea Agnelli.

Europe's top leagues and UEFA have vowed to do everything in their power to block a so-called European Super League and urged others to boycott what they describe as a "cynical project founded on the self-interest of a few clubs".

In an emphatic response to media reports, UEFA together with the English Football Association (the FA), Premier League, the Royal Spanish Football Federation (RFEF), LaLiga, the Italian Football Federation (FIGC) and Serie A have joined forces in attempt to quell the Super League.

They reiterated a pledge to ban teams from other competitions if they take part in the Super League, while FIFA's threat of barring players from the World Cup was also alluded to.

French and German clubs were also thanked for refusing to sign up to the tournament, meaning neither of last season's Champions League finalists – Bayern Munich and Paris Saint-Germain – are set to be involved.

The statement read: "UEFA, the English Football Association and the Premier League, the Royal Spanish Football Federation (RFEF) and LaLiga, and the Italian Football Federation (FIGC) and Lega Serie A have learned that a few English, Spanish and Italian clubs may be planning to announce their creation of a closed, so-called Super League.

"If this were to happen, we wish to reiterate that we – UEFA, the English FA, RFEF, FIGC, the Premier League, LaLiga, Lega Serie A, but also FIFA and all our member associations - will remain united in our efforts to stop this cynical project, a project that is founded on the self-interest of a few clubs at a time when society needs solidarity more than ever.

"We will consider all measures available to us, at all levels, both judicial and sporting in order to prevent this happening. Football is based on open competitions and sporting merit; it cannot be any other way.

"As previously announced by FIFA and the six federations, the clubs concerned will be banned from playing in any other competition at domestic, European or world level, and their players could be denied the opportunity to represent their national teams.

"We thank those clubs in other countries, especially the French and German clubs, who have refused to sign up to this. We call on all lovers of football, supporters and politicians, to join us in fighting against such a project if it were to be announced. This persistent self-interest of a few has been going on for too long. Enough is enough."

Europe's top leagues and UEFA have vowed to do everything in their power to block a so-called European Super League and urged others to boycott what they describe as a "cynical project founded on the self-interest of a few clubs".

The creation of a European Super League took a step closer to reality on Sunday as 12 leading clubs agreed plans for a new competition, according to widespread reports.

It is thought that up to six English clubs, three Italian sides and three Spanish teams have joined forces, with an announcement expected this weekend.

No clubs from Germany or France are involved, meaning reigning European champions Bayern Munich and last season's Champions League finalists Paris Saint-Germain are not included, though reports state the plan is for the competition to be expanded to 16-18 teams.

Manchester City, Manchester United, Chelsea, Liverpool, Tottenham and Arsenal are the Premier League teams said to have signed up, with Real Madrid, Barcelona and Atletico Madrid representing LaLiga.

Juventus, Milan and their city rivals Inter are the Serie A clubs in the fold.

It has also been suggested PSG refused an invitation to the new competition, while one of the counter-threats supposedly put forward by UEFA was said to be the exclusion of the 12 teams from its competitions.

The news of this move by some of Europe's biggest clubs comes just before UEFA is set to confirm its intentions to alter the format of the Champions League.

According to reports in The Daily Mail, the Super League is being financed by United States-based investment bank JP Morgan.

The Mail also claim Madrid president Florentino Perez will likely act as chairman of the competition, with the American owners of Liverpool, Manchester United and Arsenal – John W Henry, Joel Glazer and Stan Kroenke – acting as vice-chairmen. Juve chief Andrea Agnelli is to act as the fourth vice-chairman.

Hansi Flick announced on Saturday that he intends to step down as Bayern Munich boss at the end of the campaign, bringing an end to an illustrious spell in charge of the club.

The 56-year-old succeeded Niko Kovac in November 2019, having previously worked as assistant, and has led the German giants to six major trophies in that time.

Bayern won the Bundesliga, DFB-Pokal and Champions League in 2019-20 and have followed that up with the DFL-Supercup, UEFA Supercup and Club World Cup this season.

Another Bundesliga crown could follow with Bayern seven points clear at the top with five games to go, which would be a fitting way to bring down the curtain on Flick's tenure.

Using Opta data, we look at the extraordinary numbers behind Flick's spell in charge and the players who have played a key part in Bayern's recent success.


AS MANY TROPHIES AS DEFEATS

Flick's shock revelation that he hopes to have his contract terminated came on the back of Bayern's 3-2 win at Wolfsburg on Saturday.

That was the German's 81st game in charge in all competitions, comprised of 67 victories, eight draws and six losses.

Incredibly, that means Flick has won as many trophies - six - as he has suffered defeats in his 17-month tenure. That also equates to one trophy every 14 matches.

NUMEROUS RECORDS SET

Bayern were as dominant as any club in European history en route to winning a treble last season, form that they would carry into the 2020-21 campaign.

The Bavarian giants won 23 matches in a row in all competitions between February 16, 2020 and September 18 that year - a record in German professional football.

With their victory over Paris Saint-Germain in the final, meanwhile, they became the first side in European/Champions League history to lift the trophy with a 100-per-cent win record.


BUT FLICK TRAILS GUARDIOLA

Flick's 83-per-cent win rate is another record among Bayern bosses, as is the average of 3.0 goals per game his side have scored under his watch.

However, the former Germany assistant trails one of his predecessors in Pep Guardiola when it comes to points per game accrued in the Bundesliga.

Guardiola collected 2.52 points per game across his 102 matches, whereas Flick is currently on 2.49 after 53 matches, though that could change before he eventually departs.

LEWA LEADS THE WAY

In the Bundesliga alone, Manuel Neuer has played more games for Bayern (52) than anyone else since Flick initially took charge on an interim basis on November 3, 2019.

Thomas Muller and David Alaba, the latter of whom will also depart the Allianz Arena in June, are next on the list with 50 league appearances.

Robert Lewandowski is next with 46 outings and the striker has been Bayern's top performer over that period in terms of goal involvements.

The Poland international has a combined 65 goals and assists, followed by Muller with 52 and Serge Gnabry with 27.

Lewandowski has 55 Bundesliga goals in total under Flick, while Muller leads the assists metric with 34, 20 more than next-best Joshua Kimmich.

Mauricio Pochettino believes winning the Champions League is in the heads of everybody at Paris Saint-Germain, but insists that will not shift their focus away from Ligue 1.

On Tuesday, PSG progressed to the semi-finals of the Champions League with an away goals win over Bayern Munich – who defeated them in the final last season.

Manchester City are next up for the French champions, but first, they must attempt to close the gap in the Ligue 1 title race.

Pochettino's team sit four points behind leaders Lille heading into Sunday's meeting with Saint-Etienne, while Monaco and Lyon are also in contention.

PSG have have not lost any of their last 15 Ligue 1 games against St Etienne (W10 D5) – only against Angers (21) and Brest (18) are they on a longer unbeaten run in meetings with current French top-flight sides – though they have lost their last three matches at home.

Asked if the thought of ending their wait for a Champions League title is at the forefront of his players' minds, Pochettino told a news conference: "That question should have been asked a long time ago.

"I think it is in everyone's heads at the clubs, not just because we are now in the semi-finals.

"We have an important game tomorrow so it is difficult to speak about the Champions League now."

Pochettino also has no concerns over facing Premier League leaders City in the last four, adding: "When a team like PSG wants to win every competition, we do not mind which team we face because we know we have to beat everyone if we want to be champions."

Pochettino has already lost as many games at home in seven matches in Ligue 1 with PSG (three) as his predecessor Thomas Tuchel in 42 games, and more than Unai Emery (one loss in 38 games), Laurent Blanc (2/57) and Carlo Ancelotti (2/28).

However, he pointed to Lille's failure to beat Montpellier on Friday as an example of how competitive Ligue 1 is this season.

"We are seeing how difficult it is for every team to pick up points and win games, I think Ligue 1 is very competitive. It clearly shows that it is not easy for any team to win," he said.

"We will have to answer it tomorrow by improving our performance and getting a positive result. We have the chance to reduce the gap to Lille, but more importantly we want to perform well at home and get back to winning ways on home turf, if we want to win the league."

Thomas Tuchel hopes Chelsea will benefit from a rare opportunity to bond in Seville after the squad stayed overnight following their Champions League clash with Porto.

Chelsea lost the second leg of the quarter-final tie following a stoppage-time winner for their Portuguese opponents on Tuesday, though still progressed 2-1 on aggregate.

Rather than fly home immediately after the game in the Spanish city – both fixtures were staged there due to the ongoing travel restrictions in place during the coronavirus pandemic – Tuchel and his Chelsea players had the chance to get together and relax.

Chelsea head coach Tuchel allowed his Premier League players to have a glass of wine or a beer as they discussed matters away from football before returning to England the next day, a move he hopes has allowed the group to grow even closer as they prepare for a busy run-in to the season.

Chelsea are still fighting for a top-four finish in the Premier League, but the immediate focus is on an FA Cup semi-final showdown against Manchester City, with the two heavyweight rivals clashing at Wembley on Saturday.

"We are aware that it is necessary to recover mentally," Tuchel told the media on the eve of the City game. 

"For example, we decided to stay overnight in Seville because we knew the hotel. It was very nice, in a nice setting - we had the chance to sit outside because the weather was very warm.

"It was a calming circumstance to enjoy each other's company. We had a good sleep and we had a chance to stay together after the match because we created a bubble there.

"It was a good chance because the players have not been able to go out, go to restaurants. For almost a year now, we cannot share a dressing room. So we created this just to feel some time together, have talks outside of tactics and line-ups to just bond, let the players bond, enjoy an evening after a game.

"They could have a glass of wine or sip of beer if they want. It was important to have this environment and organise it like this. It was part of the mental recovery.

"We are aware that we have many meetings after games and training sessions. We want to have sessions where there isn't too much explanation or talking, just to find exercises on the pitch that bring a lot of fun and joy and sweat out the tension.

"Things like this are very important to help the seriousness of how we prepare and play in games."

Tuchel will hope the time spent in Spain has refreshed Chelsea prior to taking on the runaway league leaders; City have won six of the past nine meetings in all competitions, including a 3-1 triumph at Stamford Bridge earlier in this campaign.

Frank Lampard was in charge for that game and while Tuchel has lost just twice since taking charge, he has yet to beat Pep Guardiola in his managerial career. All of their previous five head-to-head battles came while both were working in the Bundesliga.

Pep Guardiola had a simple message for the fans after becoming Barcelona head coach in 2008: "Fasten your seatbelts."

In April 2011, the Catalan press recalled that promise of excitement as they previewed a once-in-a-generation event: four matches between Barcelona and Real Madrid, with three trophies at stake, in 17 days. A Clasico World Series. A defining run of fixtures where winning was everything and losing was unimaginable, with each side dreaming of celebrating a treble and terrified of watching the other do the same.

More like fasten your bandoliers. This was war.

On one side, the Barca of Guardiola, the man taking the coaching world by storm in his first senior post-playing job. A team built from La Masia, boasting some of the academy's greatest ever products: Victor Valdes, Carles Puyol, Gerard Pique, Sergio Busquets, Xavi, Andres Iniesta, Lionel Messi. With the ball on their 'carousel', they were the pinnacle of possession-based attacking play, proof that technical accomplishment could triumph over brute force. They were chasing a second treble in three seasons, and under Guardiola, they had never lost a final.

It could be said Madrid were afraid of this new Barca, and in their fear, they made a deal with the devil. In came Jose Mourinho, the man whose Inter thwarted Barca's attempts to play a Champions League final at the Santiago Bernabeu in 2010. His task was not so much to knock the Catalans off their perch, but to raze the perch to the ground. A league champion in Portugal, England and Italy, the mastermind of Inter's historic treble, with two of history's most expensive signings in Cristiano Ronaldo and Kaka at his disposal, Mourinho's task was clear: stop Barca at all costs.

For some, this went beyond the two best teams in the world going head-to-head for trophies. This was a meeting of minds, a clash of styles, a fight for football's very soul. And so, in the spring of 2011, the battle lines were drawn. On April 16, Barca were to host Madrid in La Liga. Four days later, they would meet neutrally at Valencia's Mestalla in the Copa del Rey final. Then came the biggest of all: a two-legged Champions League semi-final for the right to face Manchester United at Wembley.

Seven goals, 167 fouls, 24 yellow cards and four reds later, Barca emerged as Champions League finalists and shoo-ins for the La Liga title. Madrid held the Copa del Rey.

And neither team, nor coach, would ever be quite the same again.

April 16, 2011: Real Madrid 1-1 Barcelona

The opening skirmish.

With Barca leading La Liga by eight points heading into the match, having won 26 and drawn three of their previous 29 top-flight games, few realistically believed a defeat would see them throw away the title. This was more of a warm-up act for what was to come, and the chance for Madrid – and Mourinho – to prove they had learned from the reverse fixture: a 5-0 evisceration at Camp Nou in November.

Certainly, there were changes. Madrid had just 33 per cent of the ball in the first game and that dropped to 24 per cent here, as they completed 234 passes to Barca's 791.

And yet they carried a much greater threat than before: They had more shots than Barca (13-11) and six on target, both the most they managed in any Clasico that term. Even after going a goal and a man down – Messi scoring a penalty after Raul Albiol was sent off for fouling David Villa – they salvaged a point after Ronaldo buried a spot-kick of his own.

Mourinho was starting to make his mark. Madrid committed 22 fouls, with Pepe accounting for five of them. Only Lassana Diarra conceded more free kicks in any of the four matches. There were seven bookings, five of them for Barca, whose frustrations with the Madrid approach were summed up neatly when Messi booted the ball into the stands. Only three players created more than one goalscoring chance: Xavi, Angel Di Maria… and Pepe.

For Mourinho, Albiol's red card was key. Although his side snatched a draw, they seemed at the mercy of the Barca circulation machine: 10 of Guardiola's players managed more than 30 passes, including substitute Seydou Keita, while only Sami Khedira (31) did so for Madrid. Xavi, who made 144 on his own, would average 139 per game across the four encounters.

"Eleven against 10 and it was practically mission impossible," said Mourinho. "Especially against a team that – with possession of the ball – are the best in the world."

The title race was out of Madrid's hands. However, in a one-off contest, things looked different…

 

April 20, 2011: Barcelona 0-1 Real Madrid

"We knew that whoever scored first would win it," said Mourinho. "And so it proved."

Ronaldo's 42nd goal of the season, a towering header from Di Maria's cross, was enough to decide a cup final spanning 120 gruelling minutes in Valencia. It was Ronaldo and Mourinho's first Madrid trophy, Guardiola's first final defeat, and an end to his dreams of a second treble.

It was also a doubling-down by Mourinho on his pervading methods. Madrid allowed Barca 79 per cent of the ball with the Catalans' 901 passes nearly four times as many as their opponents managed. Concrete opportunities, again, were scarce: there were just four shots on target each from a total of 27.

This time, Barca got sucked into the fight. They committed 24 fouls, their most in any Clasico that season, with each side earning three bookings apiece, and Di Maria was sent off in the dying moments. Their more combative approach neither improved Barca's play nor disrupted Madrid further; however, Los Blancos created nine chances in the contest, only one fewer than Barca, despite yielding so much of the possession.

"Life is like that – you can't always win," Guardiola rued. "We can take them on over two games – we've just done that," goaded Mourinho. And the world waited for what would come next.

April 27, 2011: Real Madrid 0-2 Barcelona

The drama started on the eve of the match when Guardiola finally snapped.

His rant at Mourinho, "the f****** boss," was his most public display of anger, his patience exhausted by his opponent's needling. The final straw had been Mourinho describing Pep as a unique coach "that criticises referees when they get decisions right".

In that explosive news conference delivered mostly to "Mourinho's camera", Guardiola promised: "Tomorrow, 8.45 p.m., we will take to the field and we will try to play football as best as possible."

One man certainly did.

Messi had struggled to exert huge influence in the first two games. He had only one shot on target in the cup final, for instance. He was harried, kicked and crowded out at the Santiago Bernabeu this time, and yet won only two free-kicks as Barca committed more fouls than their opponents for the first time. It seemed Mourinho's mind games were paying off.

This, perhaps foreshadowed in the pregame build-up involving their managers, was the most ill-tempered, poisonous game of the lot. There were three red cards shown: one to Barca substitute Jose Pinto, one to Pepe for a foul on Dani Alves, and one to Mourinho for his sarcastic praise of the officials. Again, though, Madrid's 10 men looked capable of salvaging a result, until Messi was unleashed at last. His first was a relative tap-in, a close-range finish from Ibrahim Afellay's cross. It is a goal that is easily forgotten due to what came after. Busquets rolled the ball into his path, and Messi was off – away from Diarra, away from Albiol, beyond Marcelo, before squeezing a low finish past Iker Casillas.

It was his 11th goal in 11 Champions League games, his 52nd of the season, and perhaps the greatest he has ever scored: for the occasion, the speed, the execution, the kicks that failed to stop him.

May 3, 2011: Barcelona 1-1 Real Madrid

Everyone, it seemed, felt the tie was already over. Madrid decided to prioritise chasing Barca players over chasing the game, committing 30 fouls for the return of a single shot on target. At least nobody was sent off.

Gonzalo Higuain thought he had given Madrid the lead, but it was disallowed for a foul by Ronaldo in the build-up. Marcelo cancelled out Pedro's eventual opener, but it was Barca who went through – and Madrid who went apoplectic.

"We feel tricked by the officials," Casillas said afterwards.

"Next year, they might as well give the cup to Barcelona," complained Ronaldo.

Mourinho was facing possible punishment for suggesting referees favoured the Blaugrana, while both teams vowed to make official complaints to UEFA about the other.

The battle was done, the hostilities over (on the pitch, at least). Crucially, though, the events of these matches hardened Mourinho's resolve. "Now I have more willingness to continue in charge of Real Madrid for what this means," he said. "This jersey is white, and white now has more significance."

 

The aftermath

Over those two spectacular weeks, the teams shared two draws and one win apiece. Barca, though, were the victors: a third league title in a row and a second Champions League triumph under Guardiola easily made up for losing the Copa final.

Mourinho, however, would not lose the war.

These games, and the 5-4 two-legged Supercopa de Espana defeat in August – one made infamous by Mourinho poking Barca assistant Tito Vilanova in the eye – showed the Portuguese the way to conquer Spain: disrupt Barca and destroy the rest. His players seemed galvanised, and they proved it.

In 2010-11, Barca finished on 96 points, four ahead of Madrid. Interestingly, they only scored 95 goals to their rivals' 102, while conceding 12 goals fewer. They lost just two games to Madrid's four.

Mourinho's response was to develop Madrid not into a team impossible to beat, but one that could barely stop winning. Records tumbled in 2011-12: 32 victories from 38 games, 121 goals scored, 100 points accrued. His Faustian pact with Madrid had paid off, but those vitriolic two campaigns took their toll. He has had three times as many job changes as league titles in the decade since.

Barca also scored more that season: 114 times in the league overall, 50 of which came from Messi. Overall, though, their exceptional standards had slipped just enough. After three intense seasons under Guardiola and the brutality of El Clasico's rivalry, they just couldn't sustain it any longer. At the end of the season, Guardiola announced he was stepping down, admitting: "Four years is an eternity as Barca coach… I have nothing left."

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