Manchester City are on the brink of history and, given the ruthlessness with which they dispatched Bayern Munich and Real Madrid in the quarter-finals and semi-finals, the temptation might be to think this Champions League final is a formality. It won’t be.
Inter Milan will have to play the perfect game but they possess the power to trouble their opponents.
Looking down the list of defeats suffered by City this season and the tactics deployed by their opponents, Brentford were the only side to beat them home and away and they are the closest to Inter in terms of their 3-5-2 shape and system.
When Brentford beat City 2-1 at the Etihad in November, Thomas Frank’s side sat on the edge of their box. They stayed compact with all 10 outfield players behind the ball.
Goalkeeper David Raya made no attempt to pass out from the back as he launched long balls towards Ivan Toney, stripping City of the chance to press high. Toney was a giant in the air, the underrated Bryan Mbeumo used his pace to break beyond the City defence, and Frank Onyeka broke forward from midfield in case there was a second ball to be won.
The wing backs, particularly Rico Henry, flew down the flanks and delivered dangerous, early balls into the box. Brentford won the game in the 98th minute, Toney finishing off a blistering breakaway.
This could form the blueprint that Inter use to thwart City’s Treble charge. Guardiola’s players will want to get at Inter’s back three but they are difficult to isolate because the wing backs, Denzel Dumfries and Federico Dimarco, will lock in to create a back five.
They are good defenders, aggressive, and will snap into challenges to pinch possession before breaking forward. Jack Grealish and Co need to protect the ball and City must be ruthless if they want to beat these stubborn opponents.
Inter will be in no rush with restarts. They will do whatever they can to slow down the game.
I expect we will see all the old-fashioned time-wasting tactics, from feigning injury to an age being taken at goal-kicks.
City are used to the ball being in play for more than 60 minutes. That’s the way they like it.
But in Inter’s Champions League semi-final second leg against AC Milan, it was closer to 50 minutes. City need to be patient and keep the ball moving, and not be wasteful in front of goal.
Surely the scene is set for Erling Haaland to win this final for City. He has only scored one goal in his last seven games, which must feel like a famine for him.
So focused was Haaland on winning the Champions League that as soon as the last ball was kicked in the FA Cup final, he was screaming ‘one more’ at his team-mates. One more goal from him and he can immortalise himself in City history.
Striker Edin Dzeko and midfielder Hakan Calhanoglu are the jewels in Inter’s crown. Since their Champions League semi-final second leg on May 16, Dzeko has been protected by boss Simone Inzaghi, not starting any Serie A games.
They’ve wrapped him in cotton wool, only starting him in their Coppa Italia final, which they won 2-1 against Fiorentina.
In his absence, Romelu Lukaku has looked sharp, scoring inside a minute against Atalanta and creating their eventual winner. We’ll no doubt see Lukaku from the substitutes’ bench.
City also need to be wary of Calhanoglu, who governs Inter’s three-man midfield, usually with Nicolo Barella on one side and Henrikh Mkhitaryan on the other, unless they turn to Marcelo Brozovic.
It will not be easy but history beckons for City tonight.