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    Never before have Manchester City and Inter Milan shared a field, but they will this Saturday in Istanbul in the biggest annual fixture in European football.

    City has long been a stranger to the late stages of UEFA’s most prestigious tournament. The club made the Champions League Final for the first time in 2021, falling to Chelsea in the ultimate contest to come up just short, and is still seeking its first title as Europe’s best. Inter is more accustomed to this role, having won the continent’s biggest competition three times (1964, 1965, 2010) and appearing in the final on two other occasions (1967, 1972).

    Both clubs will add 2023 to their list of UCL Final appearances, but only one can leave Turkey as champions. This is what you can expect from this year’s Champions League Final.

    How They Got Here

    Manchester City

    Group: Borussia Dortmund, Sevilla, Copenhagen

    Group Stage Results: 4-2-0, 14 points, +12 GD (1st place)

    Round of 16: 8-1 vs. RB Leipzig

    Quarterfinals: 4-1 vs. Bayern Munich

    Semifinals: 5-1 vs. Real Madrid

    Inter Milan

    Group: Bayern Munich, Barcelona, Viktoria Plzen

    Group Stage Results: 3-1-2, 10 points, +3 GD (2nd place)

    Round of 16: 1-0 vs. Porto

    Quarterfinals: 5-3 vs. Benfica

    Semifinals: 3-0 vs. AC Milan

    What To Watch For

    Manchester City might be relatively green when it comes to the Champions League, but manager Pep Guardiola is far from it. He has two titles as manager under his belt (2009, 2011) from his time at Barcelona when he was commanding arguably the greatest team of all time, and he won one as a player at Barcelona as well in 1992. Much will be made of City’s lack of history in this event, but it shouldn’t have an impact on the field when someone like Guardiola is along the touchline. If City fails to achieve its goal on Saturday, it won’t have anything to do with the past.

    Inter’s outstanding low block that aims to keep the ball in front, then pounce quickly on turnovers and other mistakes for swift counterattacks is more likely to be the culprit. Unsurprisingly to anyone who pays attention to international football, the Italian team will probably play as Italians have been known to, and they’re capable of doing it very well.

    But manager Simone Inzaghi is not so rigid in a conservative defensive style. At points in his career, he has implemented a high press and a mid-block to deal with opponents and wrestle back possession. This is not likely how he will instruct his side to play on Saturday, but this versatility is there should a situation call for the adjustment.

    What is more likely is for the English side to dominate the ball and for the majority of the game to be played in Inter’s half of the field. Guardiola has always wanted his teams to have possession, and that is core to how his City teams have played for years.

    Man-for-man, Manchester City is better than Inter Milan. That’s not to say that Inter is deficient in talent, because it isn’t, but a combined XI wouldn’t include very many names from the Italian side. However, this is not a sport known for its predictability. It’s not as though City enters this game undefeated in all competitions. Teams have found ways to outdo City in 90 minutes, and Inzaghi’s Inter could, too. In a one-off situation, anything is possible.

    How Manchester City Wins the Champions League Final

    City is the favorite to win this game, and for good reason. It has the better players, one of the best managers of the last 15 years, and tons of momentum after securing titles in both the Premier League and FA Cup in the past few weeks. But this is sports we’re talking about – nobody can just show up and expect that to be enough, especially not in a Champions League Final.

    With the majority of the possession, Manchester City will look to shape the game’s pace as Guardiola always asks his team to do. Their passing is generally crisp, quick, and decisive, with nearly every player on the field asked to join the attack in some way at some point.

    To that end, one of Guardiola’s fatal flaws in the 2021 final was starting the game without a holding midfielder. Chelsea had a better go in the center of the pitch as a result, and the rest is history. With the evolution of John Stones as a false center back and Nathan Ake and Manuel Akanji both proving their abilities to play fullback, Guardiola now has the luxury of four strong defenders in the back when his team doesn’t have the ball and a double pivot midfield when it does.

    This is all part of the plan to progress the ball up the field to build an attack that eventually ends on Erling Haaland’s head or foot. The guy is a flat-out animal in the box, and his insane numbers from this season are proof enough. With his frame and skill, he doesn’t need many chances or much space to make an opponent pay. He will likely have to work against three center backs versus Inter rather than two, which could make things a bit more difficult. But Haaland is one of the world’s best, and if he plays like it, it seems impossible to imagine a scoreless City.

    Speaking of which, the sooner City scores, the better. The English champions took leads in 34 of their 38 Premier League games this season and won 28 of those contests, losing only one of those outings and dropping just 13 points from winning positions throughout the entirety of the campaign. That one loss was to Manchester United, and it came via a highly-questionable goal.

    The point is, once City grabs a lead, it is so difficult for opponents to wrestle it back. It’s hard enough to get the ball from City when it needs to score to win; it’s that much more difficult when City knows it doesn’t need more goals to come away smiling. We have watched this team win so many games in the first 15 minutes. If City can break down Inter and put one in quickly, it will be a tough road ahead for the Italian side.

    How Inter Milan Wins the Champions League Final

    Firstly, it would be very helpful if Guardiola were to overthink his tactical approach in the same way as he did in 2021. This could come in a myriad of ways and is not limited to the mistakes made two years ago. Guardiola is one of the greatest contemporary minds in the sport. It’s likely that he won’t make a similar error again, but we won’t know until the team sheets are released shortly before kickoff.

    There is nothing Inter can do about City’s lineup, though, so it must focus on what it can control, of which there is plenty. We know that Guardiola’s team will have most of the position, so when Inter does manage to get ahold of it, it’s crucial that it finds the out ball to one of its two forwards. Inzaghi plays with two outright forwards, an uncommon approach in modern football, and if he chooses to keep that same approach in this game, it will give his team two outlets to look for to relieve pressure and transition from the back into attack. City’s center backs have spent most of the season minding only one man attacking at them from the middle. Adding in another body up front could throw them off.

    Inter will have to slow the game down. This means connecting on long passes to bypass City’s press and drawing those tactical fouls Guardiola’s teams are known for. This would damper the tempo and put yellow card-induced pressure on their opponent’s defenders. The more time City spends in the attacking third, and more likely it becomes to score. Every minute that Inter keeps the ball away from its box is a small victory. The longer it keeps a clean sheet, the greater the pressure on will grow and the better the chances of an upset will be.

    Defensively, dealing with Haaland is the obvious dilemma. He has proven himself to be a prolific finisher who is nearly impossible to keep off the scoresheet, but Inter’s back five will have to work collectively to achieve that. Defensive support from the wingbacks will be crucial for limiting balls into the box that Haaland can attack, but it’s inevitable that some will make it through, especially with players like Kevin De Bruyne operating on the other end. Center backs Matteo Darmian, Francesco Acerbi, and Alessandro Bastoni will have to be stout in the air and otherwise hold Inter’s integrity in the box. Goalkeeper Andre Onana is capable of robbery, and he will have to be at his best to curb chances his defense couldn’t. There will be no margin for error for the Internazionale defensive unit.

    Inter Milan is in excellent form, having triumphed in 11 of its last 12 fixtures in all competitions dating back to late April. In those victories, Inter has conceded just six goals. This team had to go through a loaded group to even reach the knockout stage. It is with good reason that Inter Milan is the underdog, but there will be no backing down from this side.

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