By Efosa Taiwo
In their 15-year-multi-billion-pound-investment on the blue side of Manchester, having won everything there is to be won but for the UEFA Champions League, the exigency of the trophy bears no reminder to the Citizens.
On course to make history as one of the very few European clubs to win a treble in a single season, Manchester City could not have asked for a better way to climax a rather spectacular campaign and a more successful season to win that which has eluded them for decades.
But standing in their way is a fireball Inter Milan team who characteristically won’t lay low for a hungry Pep Guardiola side to stroll past them, much less when a European trophy is at stake.
Going into the game, City uncontestably enjoy the odds boasting of a richer squad; but here is the flip: riches don’t win finals every day, hence the question: what surpassing strengths does Simone Inzaghi’s Inter Milan come with to pull off an upset?
If there is an element Inter Milan do not lack going into this game, it is confidence, and if there is an element needed to beat Manchester City, it is confidence — you can ask Arsenal. In the last 13 games played in all competitions, Inter have only lost one, a record that speaks volumes of their form and how immensely confident they are heading into the crunch.
Defense to soak pressure
It is almost suicidal to face off against Manchester City with no or a porous strategy to curtail the onslaught of their ferocious offensive. It’s no news that City are ruthless going forward, but the good thing for the Nerazzuri is having a solid team-defensive structure backed by their accustomed 3-5-2 formation that has been critical to their efficient performance this season, and will be to their stake on Saturday in Istanbul. In Serie A, they wound up the season as the sixth team with the least number of goals conceded. Matteo Darmian, Franceso Acerbi and Alessandro Bastoni have made an impressive trio at the backline giving cover for the reliable Andre Onana between the sticks. These they don’t do alone as pacy and workaholic wingbacks, Federico Dimarco and Denzel Dumfries also do a good job of holding down the wings defensively as much as they do offensively. Industrious and crafty Nicolo Barella who has had a stellar season and attracted interest of top clubs in Europe is yet another body for Manchester City attackers to worry about.
Long balls with dangerous attackers
Manchester City have always struggled against teams that deploy long balls and are quick on the counter. Brighton and Brentford were the latest teams to prove that in the last few games of the Premier League season, getting points off the Champions. Teams barely have more possession than City in a football game. Instead, they are bound to take the game to you, press you high-up the pitch till you break and dissolve into shreds. You stand a chance at frustrating them when you have a solid defense to withstand their wiles, and you stand a better chance at pipping them when you have a pacy and ruthless attack to catch them on the break, and convert the otherwise few chances you must work for.
City have a flaw at defending set-pieces with a chunk of goals opponents in the EPL have scored against them coming as a result of their inability to clear their lines. To exploit that, Inter Milan, of their 71 goals in the just concluded Italian Serie A season, have 11 coming from set-pieces. Inzaghi must ensure that all set-pieces awarded in their favour on Saturday are taken with all intents and purposes as that is a goldmine against City.
Nothing to lose
Of the two teams, Manchester City have more stakes in the game as Inter Milan are not the one without a Champions League trophy in their cabinet. With the narrow loss to Chelsea in 2021 still fresh in their memory and their many luckless attempts since the Arab billionaires took over the club, Saturday’s final seems a make-or-break affair. Not to mention, they are on the brink of joining the elite clubs with a treble badge.