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Five talking points ahead of the Champions League final

The UEFA Champions League final is club football’s biggest occasion and Manchester City and Inter Milan will meet in a fascinating final this weekend.

For Manchester City it’s a chance to end their elusive wait for European success under Pep Guardiola, while success for the Citizens would complete a historic treble. Inter have exceeded expectations to reach this stage, but will take confidence from a run to the final that has seen the Italians impress defensively.

 

Ahead of the Champions League final in Istanbul, we look at five talking points.

Five talking points ahead of the Champions League final.

City one win from immortality

Manchester City are one win from footballing immortality, with Inter Milan the obstacle in their path to Champions League and treble success.

Pep Guardiola’s side continued their dominance of the Premier League with a fifth win in the last six seasons, before adding the FA Cup to their trophy cabinet with a final win over Manchester United last weekend.

Now comes the Champions League, the trophy which has proven elusive to the Citizens in recent seasons and a prize that Guardiola has made no secret of his desire to win. Just nine teams have ever won a league, cup and European Cup treble, with six of those in the Champions League era.

Barcelona and Bayern Munich have achieved the feat twice each, the former’s first under Guardiola in 2008/09. Inter Milan (2009/10) and Manchester United (1998/99) are the other treble winners in the Champions League era and matching their cross-town rival’s achievement from 24 years ago will etch City’s name further into the history books.

Given their record-breaking feats domestically in recent seasons, a treble triumph would add to their argument as the Premier League’s greatest ever team.

Cup specialist Inzaghi eyes Inter upset

Inter Milan will start as underdogs in Istanbul, but the Nerazzurri will take heart from Simeone Inzaghi’s remarkable record in cup competitions.

The 47-year-old has reached seven cup finals during spells at Lazio and Inter Milan and has ended on the winning side on each occasion. Inzaghi has won three Coppa Italia and four Supercoppa Italiana finals, to compile a 100% record when it comes to games where silverware is on the line.

This represents a bigger stage and better opponent than his previous final appearances, but Inzaghi has proven he can organise and inspire on the big occasion. He now has the chance to win the Champions League, a competition elder brother Filippo twice won as a player with AC Milan.

How will Guardiola set up defensively?

Manchester City’s strong second half of the season has been built on a fluid formation, with Guardiola’s change in defensive shape having led to a remarkable run of results.

Guardiola has opted for a 3-2-4-1 for much of the run-in, a tactical tweak that has seen John Stones roam into midfield to form a double defensive-midfield axis alongside Rodri. Stones was excellent in a midfield role during City’s FA Cup final win over Manchester United, but Guardiola’s game-plan could change given Inter’s preference for a two-man forward line.

Inter will line up with two out-and-out centre-forwards for this weekend’s final, a scenario that has become increasingly uncommon in the Premier League. Guardiola has been accused of overthinking in past finals, but faces a major decision on whether to reshuffle his backline into a more traditional four.

Does Guardiola stick with the shape that’s been successful in recent months and back his team to beat Inter? Or look to combat the dual threat of the Italian’s front two.

Lukaku or Dzeko for Inter?

Simeone Inzaghi has a decision to make on his front two this weekend, with Romelu Lukaku and Edin Dzeko battling to partner Lautaro Martinez in attack.

Martinez is certain to start after the best goalscoring season of his career so far, but who partners the World Cup winner remains to be seen. Dzeko started both legs of the semi-final win over AC Milan and will relish the chance to take on his former side in the final, but Lukaku’s return to form has made him favourite to feature from the start.

Lukaku struggled during the opening months of his loan return to Inter, but has been in fine form in recent weeks. The Belgium international has scored seven goals and provided four assists in his last seven league games and has shown signs of rediscovering his best level.

Lukaku’s partnership with Martinez fired Inter Milan to title success in 2020/21 and the two have directly combined for five goals in the last 11 fixtures. Lukaku’s superior pace and power gives him the edge over Dzeko, with Inter’s game likely to centre around the counter-attack.

City must be patient

Manchester City will start as favourites in the final and will be confident of Champions League success provided the pressure is handled.

It will be a first ever competitive meeting with Inter Milan, a side who will be set up to frustrate. Inzaghi has operated with a 3-5-2 formation for much of his managerial career and Inter have been strong defensively in Europe this season.

No side has recorded more clean sheets than the Nerazzurri (8), who have kept five clean sheets in their last six Champions League games.

Milan Skriniar – who is set to play his final game for the club before an expected summer move to PSG – is fit to feature, while Alessandro Bastoni is one of the most progressive centre-backs in Europe. With Denzel Dumfries and Federico Dimarco providing power and penetration from wing-back, Inter have a tactical set-up that could contain and counter City.

City will want an early breakthrough, but games of this magnitude can be cagey affairs. Retaining faith in the game-plan – and patience – will be crucial to their hopes of a maiden Champions League crown.

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