It’s all come down to this.
Thirty-two teams across 15 European nations dared to dream of lifting the trophy at the end of the 2022-23 UEFA Champions League when the group stage began last September. Only Manchester City and Inter Milan are left standing ahead of this weekend’s final.
The reigning English champions go into the final as the overwhelming favourite, as they have yet to lose a single game in this season’s Champions League, and also boast a star-studded attacking side that features Erling Haaland, the competition’s top scorer. But the Blues have also been a defensive powerhouse, led by standout Portuguese centre back Rúben Dias, who has marshalled a backline that has only conceded five times in the tournament.
Inter Milan shouldn’t be taken lightly, though. The Nerazzurri feature a well-balanced roster, highlighted by Belgian striker Romelu Lukaku (on loan from Chelsea) and World Cup winner Lautaro Martínez. Both players are in a rich vein of form – Lukaku has scored seven goals and tallied five assists in his last 11 games in all competitions, while Martínez has scored 10 in his past 12 appearances.
Here’s what you need to know about Saturday’s game at Istanbul’s Atatürk Olympic Stadium.
Man City on verge of historic ‘treble’
This has been a dream season for Manchester City, who came from behind to topple Arsenal and clinch its ninth Premier League title on May 20. The Blues followed that up with a 2-1 win over bitter rivals Manchester United in last weekend’s FA Cup final at London’s Wembley Stadium.
Now Pep Guardiola’s side is just one win away from recording a historic ‘treble.’ Should Man City defeat Inter on Saturday, it’ll become only the second English team to win the treble, joining Manchester United, who pulled it off during the 1998-99 season.
Only a handful of clubs have won the treble – their domestic league title, domestic cup and Champions League/European Cup. Scottish club Celtic FC was the first to do it in 1966-67 when it defeated Inter Millan and in the European Cup final in Lisbon. A Johan Cruyff-inspired Ajax side playing ‘Total Football’ was the next team to pull off the feat in 1971-72, defeating Inter Milan in the final in Rotterdam. Fellow Dutch club PSV Eindhoven was the next team to record a treble in 1987-88 when it bested Benfica in Stuttgart.
After Manchester United’s treble campaign in the late 90s, both FC Barcelona (in 2008-09 and 2014-15) and Bayern Munich (2012-13 and 2019-20) registered a pair of trebles. Inter Milan became the first Italian club to win the treble in 2009-10 when it defeated Bayern in the final in Madrid.
Should Manchester City win on Saturday, Guardiola will become the first manager in history to win a pair of trebles, having previously led Barcelona to glory in 2008-09.
“We have to win the Champions League to be recognised as the team deserves to be. It has been amazing, been fun, but we have to win it,” Guardiola told the BBC
Inter Milan leads Italian renaissance
Inter Milan is back in the Champions League final for the first time since 2009-10 when a Jose Mourinho-inspired side won the competition for a third time and recorded the treble in the process. Since then, the finals have only featured a team from Serie A on two occasions – Juventus lost to Barcelona in 2014-15 and Real Madrid in 2016-17.
Italian clubs dominated this competition from 1988 to 1998, as the finals featured a Serie A side nine times – AC Milan won in 1989, 1990 and 1994; Juventus won in 1996. But an Italian team has only lifted the Champions League trophy three times in the last 26 years, and not since Inter beat Bayern Munich in the 2010 final.
This season has seen Serie A outfits enjoy a resurgence. Italy featured more teams (three) in the quarter-finals of the Champions League than any other nation, and one of the semifinals was an all-Italian affair between Inter and AC Milan.
Serie A clubs also excelled in other European club competitions, with AS Roma losing to Sevilla in a penalty shootout in the UEFA Europa League final, and Fiorentina being edged by West Ham United in the UEFA Conference League final.
Now Inter Milan has a chance to strike a blow for Italian pride by upsetting heavily-favoured Manchester City in Saturday’s final.
The path to the final for both clubs
Manchester City has yet to taste defeat in this season’s Champions League, winning seven of its 12 matches en route to the final. The Blues comfortably topped Group G ahead of Borussia Dortmund, Sevilla and Copenhagen with four wins and out-scoring their opponents 14-2.
The English outfit continued to cruise through the knockout round with comprehensive aggregate wins over RB Leipzig (8-1), Bayern Munich (4-1) and defending Champions League holders Real Madrid (5-1).
Inter Milan surprised a lot of pundits and fans by finishing second in Group C just ahead of FC Barcelona. The Italians followed that up with knockout wins over Portuguese clubs FC Porto and Benfica before beating city rivals AC Milan over both legs of the semifinals.
Man City player to watch: Bernardo Silva
The obvious choice would be to go with Erling Haaland, who is this season’s top scorer in the Champions League with 12 goals. But the Norwegian striker was blanked by Real Madrid over both legs of the semifinals.
Instead, keep close tabs on Bernardo Silva. The Portuguese midfielder bagged a brace in the second leg vs. Real Madrid, and has more goals and assists (four) than Haaland (three) in Man City’s last four Champions League matches. Silva has featured in all 12 of the Blues’ Champions League games this season, playing the full 90 minutes in every knockout match, which just goes to show how much he is valued by manager Pep Guardiola.
Inter Milan player to watch: Federico Dimarco
Never heard of him? That’s a shame because Dimarco, 25, is one of the best young left wingbacks in the world right now. Dimarco has been a starter in nine of Inter Milan’s 12 matches in this season’s Champions League, and his five assists ranks him among the best playmakers in the competition.
Combining a cultured left-foot and blinding pace, the Italian wingback has become crucial to manager Simone Inzaghi’s plans, playing a vital role in helping to guide the Nerazzurri to the Champions league final.
First ever meeting between Man City and Inter
This weekend will be the first ever meeting between Manchester City and Inter Milan. Coincidentally, the last time that a Champions League final featured a matchup between two teams squaring off for the first time happened in 2005 when Liverpool beat AC Milan at Atatürk Olympic Stadium, the site of Saturday’s match.
Saturday marks the fifth time that English and Italian sides will meet in the finals of the UEFA Champions League/European Cup. Liverpool defeated AS Roma in 1984 and AC Milan in 2005. The Reds also lost to Juventus (1985) and AC Milan (2007).
Man City has only ever appeared in two previous European finals, beating Polish outfit Górnik Zabrze in the 1970 Cup Winners’ Cup final, and losing to Chelsea in the 2021 Champions League final.
Inter will be competing in its 11th major European final this weekend. The Italians have three Champions League/European Cup titles and three UEFA Cups to their credit.