UCL Final Preview
A preview of the final game in soccer’s most prestigious club tournament.
Reading Time: 5 minutes
After 124 games of breathtaking European action, only two out of the 32 original teams remain in the illustrious UEFA Champions League. English titan Manchester City will battle it out against Italian giant Inter Milan in the biggest game of the season, with each team hoping to make history by lifting the coveted European Cup under the illustrious lights of Istanbul’s Atatürk Olympic Stadium on June 10. The two sides have taken very different paths to reach this peak, so it’s time to break down what’s in store and find out just what can be expected from this electrifying final.
Ever since they were taken over by billionaire Sheikh Mansour in 2008, Manchester City were destined for greatness. The Mancunian side have amassed an astonishing 18 trophies since the takeover, including five Premier League titles in the last six years, with the most recent added just a week ago when City were officially crowned the kings of England for the 2022-2023 campaign. Despite their domestic dynasty in England, City have yet to win a Champions League title and have only reached the final once, where they disappointingly lost to fellow English side Chelsea 1-0. However, with this iteration of the Champions League, the Mancunians have a great opportunity to right their wrongs as they are coming up against an Inter Milan team that they are considered a heavy favorites against.
Currently, the Citizens are undoubtedly the best team in Europe, boasting a squad with enough skill to dominate any opposition. Principals in this crew of superstars are striker Erling Haaland and attacking midfielder Kevin de Bruyne, who leads the Champions League in goals and assists respectively. Bolstering this deadly attack is an experienced midfield including İlkay Gündoğan and Rodri, while a stalwart defense marshaled by Ruben Dias and Manuel Akanji provides the security and balance that has often eluded City during high-pressure games. Add this talent to the tactical mastermind Coach Pep Guardiola, and the result is a virtually unstoppable well-oiled soccer machine.
Manchester City also have form on their side, recently deafeating Arsenal to win their third consecutive Premier League title. They remain the only team with an unbeaten record in this year’s Champions League season, having made quick work of their opponents in the tournament’s knockout stages with impressive victories against European heavyweights Bayern Munich and Real Madrid. The triumph over Real Madrid was particularly special, as the Citizens demonstrated their winning mentality despite an early goal from Madrid striker Vinicius Jr. to dominate the current Champions League holders 5-1 on aggregate.
As many finals have proven, a team’s motivation and desire to win will also be significant factors in this matchup, and City will have loads of it since they are chasing the possibility of permanently etching their name in soccer folklore as European champions. Guardiola’s team will also be pursuing a historic year that could potentially see them obtain a treble of trophies, with the Premier League already in the bag and an FA Cup final awaiting them in the coming weeks. Individually, striker Haaland will certainly be eyeing this potential treble as an opportunity to elevate his contention for the Ballon d’Or in his first season with City. And in the dugout, Guardiola himself will want to prove his doubters wrong by winning European silverware in a Messi-less team and affirming his legacy as arguably the best and most influential coach that soccer has ever seen.
Not many expected Inter Milan to make it this far in this year’s competition. However, Inter boast a much more impressive record in the UCL than City, and they will aim to add their fourth Champions League title. Being placed in the so-called “group of death” with the likes of Bayern Munich and FC Barcelona during the early rounds of the Champions League fueled doubts over whether Inter would even get past the group stages. Despite coming up short against Bayern in both legs, the Nerazzurri put up strong results against Barcelona and Viktoria Plzeň across all matches and secured their tickets to the knockout stage. Compared to City, many would say that Inter had a much easier route to the final, but that doesn’t undermine their consistent, reliable results. Inter took on Porto FC in the Round of 16, where the Italian side took a narrow 1-0 lead at home at the San Siro and settled the draw with a goalless tie in the second leg. Next, the Nerazzurri defeated another Portuguese team, Benfica, by taking a 2-0 advantage in the away fixture. Following a thrilling six-goal nail-biter at the San Siro, Inter booked their spot in the semi-finals, winning 5-3 on aggregate.
The Milan derby promised to be an exciting matchup, and it certainly did not disappoint. Archrivals who share the San Siro met on the largest stage of club soccer as narratives were rewritten on the field. Key duels would decide this tie, such as the battle down on the right flank of the Inter team where Dutch fullback Denzel Dumfries would try to outsmart the A.C. Milan left-back, Theo Hernandez. However, one crucial absentee from the first leg was the Rossonerri’s Portuguese winger Rafael Leão, who has been their standout star this season. Inter took the lead in the first leg with a dominant display, dismantling the A.C. Milan defense in the opening 10 minutes by netting two early goals. Leão’s return in the second leg was not enough, as an inspired Nerazzuri triumphed again through a 74th-minute winner, courtesy of beautiful interplay between Belgian striker Romelu Lukaku and Argentine striker Lautaro Martínez. Manager Simeone Inzaghi will be relying on Inter’s solid link-up play and on-field chemistry in the final against City.
Currently sitting third in the Serie A and having won the last five straight domestic fixtures, Inter are also in-form and will be looking to cause one of the biggest upsets in UCL history by usurping a City squad that is clearly more well-rounded and experienced on paper. With superstars like Martínez and Nicolo Barrela enjoying brilliant seasons and strong reinforcement off the bench in the form of Joaquin Correa, the Nerazzurri have proven their perseverance and strong-willed determination. City will do their best not to underestimate their Italian opponents, because that grave mistake may just help Inter claim the throne for themselves.
Soham: Manchester City 2-0 Inter Milan
I think that, despite a respectable performance from Inter, City will secure the lead through a Kevin De Bruyne strike late in the first half. Haaland will double the advantage in favor of Guardiola’s side early in the second half before City close the game out to win their first UCL title.
Jack: Manchester City 1-0 Inter Milan
The final at Istanbul will be very cagey from the get-go, as Inter Milan will likely adopt a heavily defensive approach to the game to resist the attack of Manchester City. However, the Mancunians will find a way through via a goal from Gündoğan and etch their name in the Champions League trophy for the first time in history.