Manchester City vs Inter Milan – UCL Final: Three tactical battles which could shape the result

Vatsal Gupta
By Vatsal Gupta
7 Min Read

It is being regarded as one of the most lopsided UCL finals in recent history. Manchester City look unstoppable under Pep Guardiola. With the treble firmly in their sights, there is no greater motivation in club football. On the other hand, Inter Milan have defied expectations by just reaching this stage. Although they will fancy their chances of an upset, as any competitive team should, Man City are overwhelming favourites to win this.

However, that doesn’t mean there aren’t any tactical battles to watch out for. Simone Inzaghi has made Inter Milan masters of the knockout game and one can always count on Pep Guardiola to throw a tactical surprise for the biggest games.

Here are three tactical battles which could decide the results of the marquee fixture:

 Ruben Dias vs Lautaro Martinez

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Kyle Walker was Manchester City’s most important player in the tie against Real Madrid because he came up against Vinicius Jr who had pace and trickery in abundance.

Ruben Dias will take that mantle from Kyle Walker for the final. Argentine forward Lautaro Martinez has scored 28 goals and provided 11 assists in all competitions this season. More than the raw stats, it is his endless pressing and harrying that unsettles defenders.

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The presence of John Stones and Rodri in front of Dias should help the Portuguese CB to release pressure from himself. Still, Lautaro Martinez is going to be a handful to deal with. He never stops running and has the knack of finding spaces in the opposition’s backline. All three- Dias, Walker, and Manuel Akanji would need to be careful. However, as the lynchpin of the defence, playing as the central defender in this back three, Dias would come up against Martinez the most.

How he handles the buzzing Argentine in the few moments of dangerous possession Inter get will be key to deciding what this game’s result will be.

Ilkay Gundogan vs Marcelo Brozovic

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Move over, Erling Haaland. There’s a new sharpshooter in town at Manchester City. Ilkay Gundogan has made a habit of coming up with the goods the higher the stakes are. Freed from the defensive work to a great extent by playing further forward, his eye for the goal and instinctive finishing abilities have come to the fore.

It was on display during his brace in the 2-1 win against Manchester United in the FA Cup final. His shots from the edge of the box by arriving late are quickly becoming a trademark.

Marcelo Brozovic’s task as the deepest midfielder of three will be to close the space between the lines. Manchester City play with four players behind Erling Haaland to create overloads. This gives them many options to pass to in the attacking phase. Kevin de Bruyne and Bernardo Silva particularly excel at playing line-breaking progressive passes.

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Marcelo Brozovic will need plenty of help from Nicolo Barella and Hakan Calhanoglu if Inter are to avoid getting dizzy around City’s passing triangles. Stopping those cute passes from the half-space between the winger and the attacking midfielder will be key to stopping Pep’s side.

Therefore, Brozovic will have to dictate his teammates’ positioning as well as his own so the midfield line moves in tandem to close the space between the lines and cut off forward passes. Then, the ball needs to be released early to spring a counterattack.

It wouldn’t be hyperbole to say that Brozovic’s role will be key to Inter’s chances of pulling off an upset.

Inter Milan’s wingbacks vs Man City daring them to attack wide

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Pep Guardiola craves numerical superiority in midfield. Stones’ reinvention as a defensive midfielder was a move along the same lines. Being torn apart by counterattacks has given Pep almost a manic desire to control the game from start to finish.

That process begins by overloading the midfield. This results in two scenarios – Either the counter-attack is stopped in its tracks by a defensive midfielder through a tactical foul or an interception. Or, the attack is funnelled out wide, away from the goal, where the threat is lesser. That is where Inter Milan’s fullbacks – Denzel Dumfries and Federico Dimarco come into the picture.

As a natural byproduct of Man City’s plan of attack, Inter’s fullbacks will find themselves in space out wide a few times during the game. What they do with the ball in those key moments will decide Inter’s attacking fate.

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They will need to carry the ball forward to scramble City’s defense and force their wide attacking midfielders- Grealish and Silva, to run back. Lautaro Martinez’s lung-busting runs will allow them a pass into the central areas but they will need to be accurate with it.

Manchester United manager Erik ten Hag said on the eve of the FA Cup final that you have to play “A perfect game” to beat Manchester City. It couldn’t be more true for Inter. What they lack in individual quality and depth will need to be papered over by extra effort, intensity, and faultlessness.

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