💫 Can Inter spoil Man City's date with destiny in Istanbul? | OneFootball

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Dan Burke·10 June 2023

💫 Can Inter spoil Man City's date with destiny in Istanbul?

Article image:💫 Can Inter spoil Man City's date with destiny in Istanbul?

Just over 24 years ago, Manchester United came from behind to beat Bayern Munich in the dying minutes of an unforgettable Champions League final, completing an unprecedented and so far unparalleled treble for an English club.

A few days later, Manchester City pulled off a dramatic comeback of their own, coming from 2-0 down in stoppage time before beating Gillingham on penalties at Wembley.

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That rain-soaked Division Two play-off final may have been far from the glamour of United’s balmy night in Barcelona, but for City it was just as important. Who knows where the club would be today were it not for Paul Dickov’s equaliser and Nicky Weaver’s penalty saves.

The author L.P. Hartley once wrote that “The past is a foreign country; they do things differently there.” You only need to look at this year’s Champions League finalists for proof of that.

Having secured a third-successive Premier League title and beaten United in last weekend’s FA Cup final, City are now one win away from becoming the first English side to match their rivals’ 1999 treble. Saturday’s Champions League final might look like a small step on paper, but in the history of the club it could be a giant leap.

City’s rise from the doldrums of Division Two to the pinnacle of European football is no fairytale, however. An estimated £2.5bn has been pumped into the club since the 2008 Abu Dhabi-led takeover, and all of their subsequent achievements have been viewed in that context, not to mention accusations of sportswashing and alleged breaches of financial regulations.

Though the Champions League has so far eluded them, City have now won the Premier League title seven times, with five of them coming under Pep Guardiola in the last six years. For a league which prides itself on its competitiveness, many have expressed fears that City’s dominance has done much more harm to the fabric of English football than good.

The City supporters who are travelling to Istanbul this weekend can be forgiven if they aren’t too worried about that. Many of them will have been at that play-off final 24 years ago, and this Champions League final will feel like the culmination of a long and crazy journey. After all, how many football fans can say they’ve witnessed their club’s lowest and highest points in the span of just over two decades?

But City fans are typically a pessimistic bunch and even after the season they’ve had, they’re well aware that their name isn’t on the trophy yet, despite many people in England already talking as if it is.

Standing in their way: an Inter side almost nobody expected to reach this year’s final, and it’s difficult to recall another Champions League final in recent memory where one side was considered such overwhelming favourites as City are heading into this one.

The Nerazzurri are certainly no slouches. Despite an inconsistent season, third place in Serie A was secured on the final day, and last month they overcame Fiorentina to lift a second successive Coppa Italia having also seen off rivals Milan in the Champions League semi-finals.

And in terms of European pedigree, this fixture is quite the mismatch. Inter last won the Champions League in 2010, having previously won the European Cup in both 1964 and 1965, while the 1990s also saw them lift the Uefa Cup three times.

City, by comparison, have only the 1970 European Cup Winners’ Cup and a solitary Champions League final appearance to show for their continental sojourns. The fact this will be the first ever competitive meeting between the two clubs shows they have been operating in different stratospheres for much of their respective histories.

How much European pedigree will make a difference on the night remains to be seen. It didn’t count for much when City put 14-time European champions Real Madrid to the sword in that astonishing semi-final second leg, and Inter fans will perhaps be fearing a similar outcome in Istanbul.

But Simone Inzaghi’s underdogs don’t have much to lose, and the way they typically set up could be key to thwarting City. Barring a major tactical surprise, Inter will defend low and try to stifle the midfield with their 3-5-2 formation, before attacking as a unit and hoping the likes of Lautaro Martínez, Romelu Lukaku or former City striker Edin Džeko can take their chances.

City, on the other hand, have an awful lot to lose. Not only is their treble on the line, but after losing to Chelsea in the 2021 final, there is a sense that added pressure is on them to get the job done this time.

It’s a popular misconception that Guardiola was hired with the sole aim of winning the Champions League and his tenure deserves to be considered a success even without it, but of course everyone associated with City wants to win European football’s biggest prize, because who wouldn’t?

Guardiola got his team selection and tactics wrong that night in Porto and his team froze. They will be extra-determined to avoid making the same mistakes again, and the addition of Rodri (who was left out of the 2021 final) and Erling Haaland (who has scored 52 goals this season but none in his last four games) means they are a different beast compared to two years ago.

Article image:💫 Can Inter spoil Man City's date with destiny in Istanbul?

City are the favourites for this match without a doubt, but their players and coaching staff will be taking nothing for granted.

As Kevin De Bruyne said this week: “Inter are a very good team. Finals are 50-50. We were favourites in the FA Cup. It is always difficult. You have to manage these moments. There will be moments when it is tough but in the big moments we try to do our job. Inter have great players and we have respect for them. They haven’t got to the final by beating easy teams.”

On the other side, Lautaro Martínez suggested the spirit is strong in the Inter camp. “We’ve got to believe, to be ourselves and face City with courage, because they too ought to be worried about facing us,” he said.

And what better venue for a minor miracle than the Atatürk Olympic Stadium, which famously played host to that remarkable 2005 Champions League final, in which Liverpool came from 3-0 down at half-time to beat Inter’s rivals Milan on penalties?

On Saturday night we will either see an underdog triumph or the completion of a historic treble. Whatever happens, it will be remembered forever.