The Champions League final is finally here after a long and gruelling season of European football. The two teams that have made it to the showpiece event are Manchester City and Inter Milan.
Manchester City have already secured the Premier League and the Carabao Cup titles, and are looking to complete an unprecedented treble under Pep Guardiola. The Spanish manager has not won the Champions League since 2011 when he was in charge of Barcelona.
Inter Milan, on the other hand, have ended their 11-year wait for the Serie A title, breaking Juventus’ dominance in Italy. Simone Inzaghi has done a remarkable job in his first season at the helm, leading the Nerazzurri to their first Champions League final since 2010.
That year, Inter Milan defeated Barcelona in the semi-finals, denying Guardiola a chance to make history with his legendary team. Can they repeat the feat and spoil his party again, while claiming their fourth European crown?
We analyse three key tactical aspects that could decide the outcome of this intriguing clash between Man City and Inter.
How will Inter deal with City’s build-up play? One of the biggest dilemmas that Inzaghi will face is whether to press Man City high up the pitch or sit back and defend in a low block.
Man City are renowned for their possession-based style of play, which involves playing out from the back and inviting the opposition to press them. This creates spaces behind the defence that can be exploited by City’s creative players.
Guardiola likes to lure his opponents into City’s half before slicing them open with quick passes and movements. Some teams have tried to match City’s intensity and press them aggressively in their own third, such as Manchester United, Arsenal or Liverpool.
However, these are usually high-quality teams that have the confidence and ability to do so. Most of the other teams prefer to drop deep and form a compact defensive shape, allowing City to have the ball in their own half.
Inzaghi will have to decide whether he wants his team to be brave and press Man City in their 3-5-2 formation or be cautious and retreat into a 5-3-2 shape lower down the pitch.
If Inter opt for the former, they will use a man-marking system that matches up well against City’s 4-3-3 formation. The three midfielders will mark Rodri, Kevin De Bruyne and İlkay Gündoğan, while the wingbacks will push up and press City’s fullbacks. The two strikers will harass City’s centre-backs and goalkeeper.
The advantage of pressing City high is that Inter can win the ball back in dangerous areas and launch quick counterattacks towards the goal. However, this is easier said than done. City are very adept at playing through or over the press with their quality and composure on the ball.
The arrival of Erling Haaland has given Guardiola another option to bypass the press with long balls from Ederson to the towering striker. Haaland is a formidable aerial threat and can hold off even the strongest defenders.
Inter will have to be wary of committing too many players forward and leaving gaps at the back for Haaland to exploit. Arsenal learned this lesson the hard way.
It might be a smarter idea for Inzaghi to instruct his players to sit back and form a tight defensive block, not giving City any space or time on the ball in their half. This way, Inter can frustrate City and force them to take shots from distance or cross into a crowded box.