It was 18 years ago when the Atatürk Olympic Stadium, Istanbul, hosted a fierce and enthralling Champions League final between an English and an Italian club. Fast forward to 2023, 18 years later, it is once again ready to host another Champions League final. the only difference being, then it was Liverpool vs AC Milan and now it is their exact rivals: Man City vs Inter Milan. If this isn’t poetic then I don’t know what is.
Oh how nail biting finale that was! Rafa Benitez’s side taking down on the favorites, Carlo Ancelotti’s AC Milan, after a comeback from 3-0 wasn’t any less of a thrilling ride. It was a battle between a Spaniard and an Italian, it is the same now as well: Pep Guardiola vs Simone Inzaghi. Seriously, you just can’t stop drawing the parallels.
The Guardiola Gangsters are entering this final with a confidence boost from winning the FA Cup after defeating their rivals, Manchester United. These Gangsters have not faced a single defeat in the Champions League, this season. At every stage never did they ever looked in trouble. Victories such as 7-0 vs RB Leipzig, 3-0 vs Bayern, 4-0 vs Real Madrid speak volumes about how they have not just defeated their opponents but thrashed them mercilessly. Thus, Gangsters! This will be the fourth CL final for Pep and the second as the Man City gaffer. Having won 2 out of 3 finals, he would want a 3rd one, especially as the coach for City. It will be a criminal offence if he doesn’t win the trophy with this incredible era defining XI. A treble on the way?
As for Inter Milan, they have also won the Italian equivalent of FA Cup, Coppa Italia. It is a rigid team built by Simone Inzaghi. They have been the very definition of a “poacher” this year. They are the hunters, they know how to survive. It was not all hunky dory for them, as they were in the group of death containing the likes of Bayern and FC Barcelona. They still managed to finish second in the group stage, forcing Barca to Europa League. Then after a few close victories in RO16 and quarter final they met their rivals, AC Milan. Defeating them on an aggregate of 3-0 in the Semi Final with both legs held in San Siro, they secured a ticket for Istanbul. Inzaghi led Inter to the CL final after 13 years!
A title is at the stake, Europe is to be conquered, Pep wants revenge from Inter for the CL semi final defeat in 2009 and Inzaghi wants a place in the list of Inter Milan legends. So much to look after!! Hearts are about to break and glory is about to be hunted. You can smell it from a mile and tell who the favorites are. But what’s the fun if favorites get to win it all. We all love an underdog story.
Manchester City’s form: W L D W W
Inter Milan’s form: W W W L W
WHEN & WHERE?
Where: Atatürk Olympic Stadium, Istanbul, Turkey.
When: Saturday, 10th June 2023.
Time: 7:30 PM GMT
Referee: Szymon Marciniak.
Assistants: Pawel Sokolnicki & Tomasz Listkiewicz.
Fourth official: Istvan Kovacs.
VAR: Tomasz Kwiatkowski.
Assistant VAR: Bartosz Frankowski.
The concerning area for City spans over the availability of Kyle Walker and Manuel Akanji. Both the defenders missed the training on Tuesday. After experiencing a back problem, it has left Pep Guardiola uncertain about Kyle Walker. Without these two, there will be lack of pace in the City’s defense. Certainly, not a good sign because Inter can cause trouble on wings with pace.
Positive hopes surround the arrival of Henrikh Mkhitaryan. He surely will want to participate in the most important match of his life. Joaquin Correa’s presence is still in doubts though. It means that the only confirmed absentee would be Dalbert, the Brazilian left back.
Pep Guardiola sets up the team in a 3-2-4-1 formation. This shape has done wonders for him this season. The numerical superiority, around which modern football revolves, is easily being achieved in this formation. A box midfield of Rodri, Stones, Gündoğan and De Bruyne dominates the midfield. If you have 4 world-class midfielders at the heart of your formation, then possession is all yours for the taking. Jack Grealish and Bernardo Silva on the wings have been top-notch. They can give a tough 90 minutes for Dumfries and Dimarco. Up top plays Haaland, the top scorer in the Champions League this season. His striking, aerial and link-up abilities make him a deadly number 9. The attention from defenders which he demands alone makes him a standout player, this allows the rest players to play more freely. Overall, this team is a Champions League winning team, anything less is just a criminal offence by Pep.
Simone Inzaghi has kept the same formation for a long period now, viz. a 3-5-2. A solid back three of Bastoni, Acerbi and Darmian in defence. At times the central defender, Acerbi jumps up during possession or to create an overload. The wings are handled by Dimarco and Dumfries; both have been superb at their job. Since most of the chance creation is done via wings, these two are important players for Inzaghi. A double pivot of Brozović and Barella helps Çalhanoğlu to facilitate the progression of the ball. The pivot at the front helps by either stretching the pitch sideways or making the in-behind runs. Inzaghi has done proper work and led players, who were called “finished”, to a level where they can be proud of themselves. He’s truly a genius.
The guy with the middle name “clutch” is our pick for the player to watch for. The way he steps up every time a title is on the line, is remarkable. No wonder he is amongst the top 3 best midfielders in the world, if not the best. He has been a main man for Guardiola this year. His brace against United in FA Cup is unrivalled. He gives a dynamic outlook to the City’s performance. No wonder he is being sought after by top clubs. With his contract expiring and verbally agreeing with Barcelona, this might be his last match for City. He surely would want to end up on a high note.
The hole which was created after the departure of Perišić, has been properly filled by the excellent performances put by Federico Dimarco. He has had a very good season for the Nerazzurri. Being defensively astute he has contributed in attack as well. He is leading the list of “Most Assists in the Champions League” this season, along with Cancelo and Vinicius, with 5 assists. He is certainly the one to look out for. Inter is strong on the wings and City forces the ball out wide as it is the less threat-prone area. This might play into hands of Inter, Dimarco has to step up and be deciding factor if Inter wants the shiny accolade.
Manchester City predicted starting lineup: Ederson; Akanji, Dias, Walker; Rodri, Stones; Grealish, Gündoğan, De Bruyne, Bernardo Silva; Haaland.
Inter Milan predicted starting lineup: Onana; Bastoni, Acerbi, Darmian; Dimarco, Brozović, Çalhanoğlu, Barella, Dumfries; Martinez, Džeko.