As the date for the Champions League clash draws near finishing touches are being put on arrangements. Unlike Chelsea who still have the FA Cup final to navigate and a win or two left to secure a top-four finish in the Premier League, Manchester City can fully focus. With the league title already in the bag, Pep Guardiola and his men can start plotting the strategy to bring home City’s first UCL trophy.
First, the competition’s governing body had to sort out the issue of the game’s venue as Istanbul was no longer feasible. Portugal is the new destination. UEFA have also appointed the match officials for the history-making encounter.
Except for a third member of the VAR assistant referee Pawel Gil being from Poland, the whole entourage is from Spain. Nothing wrong with that, until one realises the man in the middle has had a frosty relationship with Pep Guardiola and City in the past. The centre referee on the day will be Antonio Miguel Mateu Lahoz.
The 44-year-old usually cuts an authoritative figure who seems to pride himself in taking stern decisions. He likes to let players and managers know who is in charge in case they have forgotten. He does not hesitate in taking harsh decisions to drive home the point. Unfortunately, City and Guardiola have been on the receiving end of this when he has been at the centre twice before in matches involving the club.
The Cityzens had a taste of his ruthlessness in an encounter with Monaco back in 2017. Lahoz chose to issue Sergio Aguero a yellow card for simulation when replays showed City should have been awarded a penalty for a foul on the striker. It goes without saying that Guardiola was livid with the decision as it ended up costing City a place in the semi-final of the competition.
The Spanish referee was also appointed to oversee the quarter-final return leg against Liverpool in 2018. It was a game City needed to win after losing the reverse fixture and Guardiola was sure his team could do the job. The Catalan was left disappointed in the end after decisions from the official went against the team once again.
Lahoz disallowed a legitimate Leroy Sane goal and went on to send Guardiola to the stands for disagreeing with his decision. From then on there was only one outcome to the match and City were once again booted out of the competition at the quarter-final stage.
When asked after the game why he was sent off, Guardiola said: “I said it [Sane’s effort] was a goal. I didn’t insult him, I was polite, I was correct. But Mateu Lahoz is a special guy, he likes to be different, he likes to be special.”
“I know what happened in Monaco last season, at 1-1, with an incredible penalty from Sergio Aguero,” Guardiola continued.
“He’s special. When everybody sees things, he likes to decide the opposite. I didn’t say any wrong word.”
It has to be said that City’s misfortune in the competition in recent times has gone beyond one man’s decision. An unfortunate VAR decision allowing a hand-ball goal from Tottenham while disallowing City’s at the opposite end saw the team crash out in 2019. As for last term, City shot themselves on the foot when Raheem Sterling missed an open goal when it was easier to score. That must be one of the competition’s biggest goal misses (if not the biggest).
Fortunately, this season has been different.
In fact, it seems the opposite has been the case. City have scored both simple and near-impossible goals in the run to the final and had 50-50 decisions go their way in most cases. The incidents suggest it’s finally the year to conquer Europe.
But given the club’s previous experience with the man in the middle, if any decisions go against the team on the day, it will create a feeling of deja vu.
The full officiating teams for the Champions League final:
Referee: Antonio Miguel Mateu Lahoz (Spain)
Assistants: Pau Cebrian Devis, Roberto Diaz Perez del Palomar (both Spain)
Fourth official: Carlos del Cerro Grande (Spain)
VAR: Alejandro Jose Hernandez Hernandez (Spain)
VAR Assistants: Juan Martínez Munuera, Inigo Prieto Lopez de Cerain (both Spain), Pawel Gil (Poland)