Guardiola warns City players of the Inter trap and urges them to avoid the mistakes of the 2021 final
Manchester City coach Josep Guardiola warned his players of the danger of repeating the “mistakes” that led to his team’s defeat by Chelsea in the 2021 Champions League final, when he prepares for this year’s final against Inter Milan (Saturday).
The Spanish coach’s team snatched the English Premier League title for the fifth time in 6 seasons, and also defeated its neighbor Manchester United, to win the FA Cup last week, and is now looking forward to leading City to be crowned European champion for the first time in its history.
There is no doubt about City’s dominance in the local championships, but the ambition of the financially rich club filled with elite stars is still lacking in continental coronation, and now it is a step away from crowning the historic treble and emulating the achievement of arch-neighbor Manchester United in 1999.
Achieving that treble would go a long way to eradicating any feelings of inferiority that had become in City’s DNA when they were floundering out of the top flight and their in-form neighbours were beating everyone else. In a more precise sense, the owners of City in Abu Dhabi will finally put their hands on the European Cup that prompted them to invest huge financially in the club since 2008 in order to win it. City approached the most prominent continental title in 2021 when it lost in the final against Chelsea in Porto – a defeat that still haunts Guardiola, who is looking to win the title for the third time after leading Barcelona to its harvest in 2009 and 2011.
And this time, Guardiola enters the final, and he is an extraordinary candidate for coronation at the expense of Inter, who few have imagined reaching this stage since his victory over Bayern Munich 2-0 in 2010.
City enters the match as a candidate to win it, after beating the continent’s traditional leaders Bayern Munich and Real Madrid on the way to the final, and has players who will warm the bench in the Ataturk Olympic Stadium in Istanbul, who are no less skilled, but can also manipulate the first team of Inter and most European teams.
And in the presence of the giant Norwegian scorer Erling Haaland, who scored 52 goals in all competitions, in the attack, and his successor, the Belgian Kevin De Bruyne, the engine of the orchestra, and the inspiring German captain Ilkay Gundogan, perhaps in his last match with the team, the task that Inter will face will be very difficult.
But Guardiola spent long enough time in City to know that taking the last step is not a formality, and he warned during the preparation for the match, saying: “The final against an Italian team is not always the best gift, it may be a trap that we must beware of.”
Inter, led by coach Simeone Inzaghi, ranked third in the Italian League, 18 points behind champion Napoli. But he will be happy that his team is not a candidate to win the title, as he did in 2010 when the team, led by seasoned Portuguese coach Jose Mourinho, ambushed Bayern through a wonderful defensive display and dangerous counter-attacks. Inter conceded only 3 goals in 6 knockout matches during the Champions League this year, and beat Porto, Benfica, and then compatriot Milan to reach the final.
Inzaghi (47 years) said before heading to Istanbul for the final: “It is the most important match for me ever, and so will the players. This will be compensation for all the efforts we have made. It was a long and difficult year.”
With Alessandro Bastoni, former Manchester United player Matteo Darmian and Francesco Acerbi, Inter possess a trio of Italian defensive bests and will relish the challenge of trying to stop City. “Being a former United player, that might be an extra motivation,” Darmian said. It would be nice to play against them. It will be a match for me. It won’t be an easy match. They are the best team in the world right now, but we have the ability to beat them.”
Armenian midfielder Henrikh Mkhitaryan has also previously played in Manchester United and will not need any additional motivation to face City, while in the attack Bosnian Edin Dzeko will not need an introduction to fans of his former club City, while Argentine Lautaro Martinez and Belgian Romelu Lukaku pose the greatest threat to the English team.
“Inter’s career was like a dream,” Inzaghi said, but they did not reach Istanbul to improve the numbers, and if City players wanted to achieve sporting immortality, they would have to end the competitor’s dream.
For his part, German international Ilkay Gundogan, the star of the City midfield, warned his colleagues of the danger of Inter, who had previously won the continental title three times, and said: “Inter Milan did not reach the final in order to go out empty-handed. They have wonderful qualities, although they were not enough to win.” The Italian league title this year, but they won the Italian Cup. It is a team that knows how to win titles. They have amazing defensive qualities and do not concede many goals, so it will not be easy.
It is expected that the match will witness three major tactical battles between the two teams, the first of which is the ability of Inter’s defense to stop Halland, who scored 52 goals in his first season in England, including 12 in the Champions League.
Despite question marks about his adaptation to Guardiola’s playing style, Haaland proved his skill in playing the role of the decisive striker and scorer, and sometimes even creating goals.
The task of keeping Haaland crippled will fall to defender Acherbe, and it will not only be a battle between two tall men but also a struggle between generations, as the 22-year-old Norwegian faces a 35-year-old Italian veteran.
Inter need not look further than City’s semi-final first leg to take notes on how Real Madrid defender Antonio Rudiger restricted Haaland’s movement, with the help of teammate David Alaba.
In midfield, Gundogan may have grabbed the limelight for scoring goals at the end of the season that helped City win the league and FA Cup, but in the final battle all eyes will be on De Bruyne against Marcelo Brozovic.
And with an impressive 10 goals and 31 assists this season, there is no doubt that Kevin De Bruyne is the man City will rely on to open up the Inter defence.
Inzaghi ignored Inter’s failed high-pressure experience to return to the style of play as a cohesive team with reliance on counterattacks, placing his 5-player midfield near the heart of his defense, so that the team managed to win 11 times out of the last 12 games in all competitions. Brozovic will be the center of gravity of Inter Milan’s midfield, not only in thwarting the Belgian international’s attempts, but also in penetrating from depth and passing the front balls to the attackers.
As for the attack, City’s plans, which are interested in possession, may suit his Italian rival, as Inzaghi wants to take advantage of this to launch counter-attacks. Inter’s attacking duo of Dzeko and Martinez have worked well together, and the latter – who is the club’s leading scorer with 28 goals this season – will be hungry to add to the Champions League title he won with Argentina at the end of last year.
Dzeko, meanwhile, is 37, and this may be his last chance to win a European medal, having achieved success in three major European domestic championships over the last 16 years.
The Bosnian striker helped City win two league titles and the FA Cup and will be a constant threat from set-pieces, but he finds himself up against a top defender like Ruben Diaz. And while Dzeko’s marking is important in itself as he keeps the center back busy at all times, Argentine Martinez looks like a tougher contender when brought on as a second striker, and Lukaku would be a huge plus if he starts in Dzeko’s place or as a substitute.