Hand the trophy over now. Manchester City are treble winners and the greatest side on the planet. At least that’s what the bookmakers and some pundits would have you believe before a ball has even been kicked in Istanbul. But it isn’t that simple, and Inter Milan don’t deserve to be written off quite yet.
This is a club that has won the European Cup three times and appeared in a further two finals. They are far more experienced at this stage than Man City, who have only appeared in one final, and lost, in 2021. They may have finished third in Italy but they have disposed of champions Napoli and rivals AC Milan on their way to the final, while they also beat a talented Benfica side that won Liga Portugal.
In fact, having also beaten Barcelona in the group stages, Inter have beaten more current domestic champions in the Champions League this season than Man City have. They also got out of the toughest group and, in Simone Inzaghi, they have a manager that has united I Nerazzurri more than any other boss in recent memory.
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Last season they lost their grip on the Serie A title but did win the Coppa Italia and SuperCoppa Italia as Liverpool knocked them out of the Champions League. There’s no doubt that Man City and Pep Guardiola deserve their billing as favourites as they aim to win the treble, but to write Inter off would be unwise.
Although they kept AC Milan and Porto out over two legs, it is their attacking firepower that should frighten Manchester City. Guardiola looks to have got his defence set, playing Rodri in front of four centre-backs with John Stones joining in up the pitch when they have possession, but they could be caught out by direct transitions.
Edin Dzeko may be 37, but he deserves huge praise for his role this term for Inter. He’s been a focal point and a dangerous presence in the box, while also providing the perfect foil for captain Lautaro Martinez. Dzeko has only been in northern Italy for two seasons but has already contributed 22 goals, including four in this year’s run to the Champions League final.
Having played for Man City for five seasons, including scoring a goal that was crucial to their first Premier League title in 2012, he knows how much they want this. A man of his experience and quality, could provide a difficult test for the likes of Stones and Dias, especially if Inter get into crossing positions or threaten from set pieces.
Then you have the goalscoring sensation that is Martinez. Inter captain, he scored the goal that sealed their palace in the final at San Siro and hit the net 21 times in 38 league games this term. With three goals and three assists in Europe so far, he will be hoping to save his biggest impact for Istanbul, but as he proved in the semi-final, he is the man for the big occasion.
He’s also the perfect partner for Dzeko. The Argentine’s clever movement and finishing ability means he can get on the end of flick-ons, or link up with the experienced striker who seems to have formed a telepathic connection with his strike partner. With eight outfielders working immensely hard behind the front two, all it takes is one moment of link-up play, or a defensive mistake for Inter to capitalise.
Even as Dzeko tires, they have another option from the bench. Romelu Lukaku. He may have lost his status as one of Europe’s most feared strikers, but he has scored 14 goals in 36 games in all competitions this season and is still a physical option to be wary of, especially off the bench. If Inter can keep City out for an hour, bringing on Lukaku to worry their defence could work wonders. He may not be the most clinical striker on the planet, but Lukaku could, potentially, win this final for Inter.
Those three forwards, combined with the attacking runs of Henrikh Mkhitaryan, could spoil City’s party. They are up against it, but as they’ve proved so many times during this run, that doesn’t mean anything. Inter are three-time European champions. Making it four would be their greatest achievement yet.
*18+ | BeGambleAware