The much anticipated Inter Milan versus Manchester City Champions League Final are just few hours away,
Manchester City are potentially gunning for a historic Treble they have dreamed about for so long. But, before they get their hands on the silverware they must beat Inter Milan in the Champions League final.
Pep Guardiola’s side will take on the Serie A giants at Istanbul’s Ataturk Olympic Stadium on Saturday night, eager to secure the trophy that has eluded them for so long.
However, City’s track record in the Champions League is full of heartbreak and disappointment.
During Guardiola’s first season as City boss, the Premier League giants went gung-ho against Monaco in the last-16 and secured a 5-3 first leg lead. However, they squandered their advantage and ended up losing the tie because of defensive deficiencies.
The following year, the City boss decided to play Aymeric Laporte in an unfamiliar position on the left-side. As a result, Liverpool won the game 3-0 and progressed through to the next stage of the competition 5-1 on aggregate.
Guardiola was looking to turn things around in 2019 and keep their Quadruple hopes alive when they played Spurs in the quarter-finals.
However, it wasn’t meant to be. City also crashed out of the tournament at the quarter-final stage in 2020 before losing to Chelsea in the 2021 final.
Therefore, Mail Sport have identified the key battles for Manchester City’s clash with Inter Milan on Saturday evening – looking at Erling Haaland v Francesco Acerbi, Kevin De Bruyne v Marcelo Brozovic and Ruben Dias v Lautaro Martinez.
Erling Haaland v Francesco Acerbi
Erling Haaland has set the world alight during his first season in Manchester. He scored 36 Premier League goals to become the highest single-season goal scorer in English top-flight history.
Haaland also broke the record for most goals in one season in all competitions by a Premier League player after scoring 52 goals in total. Additionally, Haaland became the first player in the Premier League to score hat-tricks in three successive home games.
Haaland has also excelled on the European stage – having scored more cup goals than Ryan Giggs, Sadio Mane, Rivaldo, Luis Suarez, Antoine Griezmann, Wayne Rooney and more.
So, it’s safe to say Haaland is a handful. And, the person who will be responsible for containing the City striker in Istanbul is Francesco Acerbi.
Acerbi, 35, has moved into a more central position over the course of the season and will be hoping to use his strength to stunt City’s striker at source. Acerbi is also dominant in the air but he struggles for pace, which could present problems against Haaland.
As a result, Acerbi will be vulnerable if left in a 1v1 situation with Haaland.
He must also defend on the front foot and avoid entering into a foot race with the Norwegian striker in a bid to edge this battle.
Kevin De Bruyne v Marcelo Brozovic
Manchester City will look to creator extraordinaire De Bruyne on Saturday evening given his impressive form over the course of the 2022-23 campaign. He’s scored 10 goals and registered 31 assists – making him key asset for unlocking Inter’s defence.
Marcelo Brozovic will be tasked with keeping De Bruyne at bay, though.
He is regarded as the engine and one of the more reliable defensive midfielder’s in Simone Inzaghi’s team.
Brozovic is known for his uncompromising physicality – having picked up 11 yellow cards this season – and he will be looking to assert his authority over the Belgium international from the first whistle.
Brozovic must use all of his experience to his advantage on Saturday. He’s played on the big stage before and knows how to handle big occasions – having featured in the 2018 World Cup final.
If Brozovic is going to be successful up against De Bruyne, he needs to stay on his toes and prevent City from executing the small unit give-and-go they are known.
Additionally, Brozovic must try to limit De Bruyne’s vision and time on the ball – given his accuracy when it comes to short and long range passes.
Ruben Dias v Lautaro Martinez
Dias v Martinez will be another key battle during Saturday night’s Champions League final.
Martinez will be eager to run in behind City’s backline – having enjoyed plenty of success doing so with Inter during the season.
Martinez has found the back of the net 21 times in Serie A to become one of the most highly rated strikers in Europe.
However, he’s struggled for form during this Champions League campaign, only scoring three times in 12 appearances.
But, Martinez cannot be underestimated as he’s shown he is a ruthless goal scorer when given a sniff inside the box.
His partnership with former Man City striker Edin Dzeko has also flourished this season – with the pair posing City a threat both in behind and physically in their hold-up play.
Therefore, Dias must work his magic to stop the Argentine star after John Stones took on a new role as a defensive midfielder. As it stands, City have conceded just five times in their 12 games in Europe.
Additionally, City went 25 matches unbeaten across all competitions until their defeat at Brentford on the final day of the Premier League season. So, what do City need from Dias to ensure their backline remains solid?
Well, Martinez is known for his speed and ability to successfully dribble past defenders. Martinez has also started scoring from distance during the 2022-23 campaign.
Therefore, Dias needs to shut the World Cup winner down early. The City defender must look to intercept where possible and stay close to Martinez without being rolled.
Additionally, Dias must use his strength to win any 50/50 battles. But, City shouldn’t be too concerned as they’ve managed to hold off several stars over the course of the season, both domestically and in Europe.