ISTANBUL – Whatever they say about Manchester City’s first-ever hat-trick (the first hat-trick? We’ll find out…) let them not say it was painless. Or it does not involve suffering. And maybe even a little self-doubt. We came to the most predictable result: City’s victory over Inter Milan.
But the journey we took to get there was unexpected, and for Seti, far more uncomfortable, unpleasant, and misfortune than anyone could have imagined. It’s one of those things that happen in sports. It was the correct result in terms of crowning the best team in the world. But, at night, it was a reminder that a hungry and mean person could upset even the biggest and strongest favourite.
On the other hand, Simone Inzaghi and his Inter players can say they faced City despite losing the final 1-0 and, in fact, outperformed them in a host of statistical categories (Goals Expected: 1.80 to 0.93; Shots on Goal: 14-7). Shots on goal: 6-4; Big chances missed: 4-2).
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The latter will hurt and hurt Romelu Lukaku, who was once suitable for Manchester United’s rival, the most. He unintentionally stopped Federico Dimarco’s header with 20 minutes left in the match. Then, in the 89th minute, with his goal all in, he put in a perfectly packed header that Ederson, with quick reflexes, could parry.
City entered the Ataturk Olympic Stadium cauldron as probably the biggest favorites in two decades. In the eyes of many, including bookmakers, this was an obvious fate. Premier League and FA Cup winners against a team that finished a distant third in the First Division heck even their proud owner, Sheikh Mansour bin Zayed Al Nahyan, showed up to watch their rendezvous with history. Which is a pretty big deal when you think about it – despite those close to him insisting he’s a huge fan – he’s only seen the team he’s personally spent over $1 billion on once before since buying him in 2008.
Even their coach, the usually cautious Pep Guardiola, said that despite the team’s domestic successes, “something will be missing” if they fail to lift the European Cup. It was quite a departure for the guy who would normally say all the sensible things to a manager – from ‘we just want to get better every year’ to ‘performance is what matters’ and ‘the league is the real test, anything can happen in a cup’ – but on this occasion He let his heart and soul speak louder than his mind. He also said what most fans and the media think: Silverware matters.
However, at night, it wasn’t easy. Inzaghi, the Inter boss with a hanging dog expression and quilted style (some might say Milquetoast), dug deep in his tactical toolbox and contained City until midway through the second half. And then, in a frenzied finale, he saw his team create – and miss – a hat-trick of massive chances to equalise. You expect the favorites to stick to their game and the underdogs to adapt to the opposition and look for the advantage. In the past, Guardiola has paid a heavy price for not adhering to this conventional wisdom.
Guardiola: Winning the Champions League is written in the stars
Man City coach Pep Guardiola reinvents his team to complete the treble after beating Inter 1-0 in the Champions League final.
Several of his previous failed attempts to win the Champions League after leaving Barcelona (and Lionel Messi) in 2012 featured an unexpected blow when his fastball was more than enough, whether it was bringing down key players out of the blue (Rodri in the 2021 final against Chelsea comes to mind). mindfulness) or suddenly abandoning a tried and tested formation.
Not this time. City created the way everyone expected and it was Inter who adapted, not by changing the system or the staff, but by reading the city and making adjustments without losing its shape. Counter-attacking was always part of the plan, but the danger was being sucked in too deep and leaving themselves vulnerable to City’s stifling possession, which, when you have so many one-on-one match winners, is a dangerous game.
Inzaghi had the guts to post a medium block. In place of a double or triple Erling Haaland – who finished the season with 52 goals in 53 games he played across competitions – let veteran Francesco Acerby back his defense with vital midfielder Marcelo Brozovic up front and sweeping goalkeeper. Andre Onana to cover the ground from behind. This enabled Matteo Darmian to help Denzel Dumfries with Jack Grealish down the right and Alessandro Bastoni catching strikes from Kevin De Bruyne (for the next 35 minutes or so he was on the pitch before going off with a hamstring injury) and Bernardo Silva going inside. on the left.
The plan so thinned City’s possessions in the first half that, other than Haaland’s foray that Onana saved, the Premier League champions created very few chances. They weren’t helped when they lost De Bruyne, but the broader theme was a City side that seemed inaccurate and, at times, absent-minded.
Guardiola told his troops that Inter were “really good” and that City “need to be patient”. But was this self-doubt creeping in? Were they very confident? Perhaps the wake-up call came in the 58th minute, when a Manuel Akanji foul freed Lautaro Martinez, one-on-one with Ederson. The Argentine had been on fire since his disappointing World Cup performance, scoring 20 goals in the latter half of the season, but Ederson stood tall and thwarted the finish.
Guardiola, in his technical area, had already fallen to his knees and was all over the place when Ederson tackled him. She wonders if he knew this was the moment when everything fell apart. When he got up, his expression reminded you of that scene in “Pulp Fiction” when the man emptied his gun on John Travolta and Samuel L. Jackson and, somehow, lost them. Inzaghi reacted as well, with a spin and hook from the right tangent.
Football is the most superstitious sport. Miss an opportunity and you will be punished. And that’s what happened 10 minutes later, when Rodri latched on to a deflected tackle by Bernardo Silva and rammed the ball past Unana. This should have been when things got a lot easier. Inter having to chase, City’s superior passers keeping the ball, Haaland being released to cause damage, Inter getting desperate. But less than three minutes later, as City’s defense fell, Dimarco hit the crossbar and Lukaku’s rebound was smashed in. Then, after Onana stifles Foden’s chance, the massive Lukaku comes along (although a lot of the credit should go to Ederson).
Eighteen years ago, in another Serie A final, at the same stadium, at the same end, Jerzy Dudek denied Liverpool’s Andriy Shevchenko an equally formidable opportunity, making an improbable comeback in the Champions League final. date. This time, Ederson denied returning, but his contribution was just as important. The great Brazilian goalkeeper produced a phenomenal performance at the end of stoppage time once again, making a lightning-fast save from Robin Goossens’ header.
Ederson, who is sometimes forgotten for the simple reason that City are so complete they face so few shots, was one of the undisputed heroes of the night, along with John Stones.
“I look at those chances, from hitting the crossbar, to Lukaku’s chance, to Gosens’ header and I ask myself how the ball didn’t go in,” Inzaghi said after the match. “I feel sick physically. I would have liked to have played extra time; I think we deserved it.”
Perhaps not as ill as Guardiola felt in the lightning finale. When, despite all the hard work, despite all the awards, with all the sense of the inevitable (and deserved) march into history, the fate of his team hung by a cobweb thread.
“You have to be lucky,” he said, after acknowledging that City weren’t at their usual form. Ederson [saves] Or they may have missed it, maybe [have been] tie. This competition is a click away.”
Perhaps so, but this time the coin fell in his path. And when you look beyond Istanbul over the past nine months – well, over the past few years – it’s been totally worth it. And the fact that it came with so much suffering and uncertainty at the end can spin both ways, depending on who’s doing the spin: it’s either a sign you’re lucky, sure, or, if you’re smart – and Guardiola can spin the doctor with the best of their ability – A reminder to never rest on your laurels and to push yourself as hard as you can, because the thing you hold and build can crumble and flow through your fingers like dust.
Guardiola said they did not do so because they were “written in the stars”. His lucky stars. And maybe, as it sometimes happens, the pain makes it more real. A reminder of the enormity of what has been achieved, not at night, but all season long.
As for Inter, the pain and feeling of ‘sickness’ that Inzaghi felt will continue. But they leave Istanbul with their heads held high. This team is studded with free transfers and loans, this club is always for sale, this fanbase that has given so much unrequited love, these players many of whom face an uncertain future… the best teams European football has produced in a decade are on the brink .
This means something. So much so that when Inzaghi says Inter “have every chance of returning to the final next year” you don’t want to tell him he’s being deluded.