ISTANBUL, June 9: Manchester City are huge favourites heading into Saturday’s Champions League final against Inter Milan in Istanbul as Pep Guardiola’s side aim to finally get their hands on the greatest prize in European club football, and complete a historic treble.
City have been building towards this moment ever since the transformative 2008 takeover of the club by the Abu Dhabi United Group.
They have become England’s dominant force, winning seven Premier League titles in the last 12 seasons and following their latest triumph by claiming the FA Cup last weekend.
It has happened just as they have become the club with the greatest revenues in world football according to analysts Deloitte, with income of 731 million euros ($788m) last season.
Question marks surround their success, given that City were charged in February by the Premier League with 115 alleged breaches of its financial rules between 2009 and 2018.
In Europe, meanwhile, City were banned for two years from UEFA competitions in February 2020 for “serious financial fair-play breaches”, but that sanction was overturned later by the Court of Arbitration for Sport.
Now they can match the achievement of Alex Ferguson’s Manchester United in 1999 by beating Inter at the Ataturk Olympic Stadium and securing a treble.
Beaten finalists in 2021, City lost in last year’s semi-finals to Real Madrid, but the addition of Erling Haaland appears to have taken Guardiola’s team to a new level.
The Norwegian has scored 52 goals since arriving from Borussia Dortmund, and City land in Turkey having been beaten just once in their last 27 games.
That 1-0 defeat at Brentford came on the last day of the Premier League season, after the title had been secured.
City have not lost in Europe this season and dished out heavy beatings to RB Leipzig, Bayern Munich and Madrid in the knockout rounds.
So there is surely nothing to fear in the final against the third-best team in Italy, except perhaps their own past demons in crucial Champions League games.
“We’ve still not won it yet,” warned Kevin De Bruyne.
“I’ve been here eight years and it’s been incredible. Could I come here and think about all the amount of games and trophies we would win in eight years?
“Probably not. But it is something we have not won yet and it is something that we want to win. Hopefully it will be Saturday.”
Yet as Guardiola eyes what would be the third Champions League of his career, City cannot overlook the threat of an Inter team who qualified from their group ahead of Barcelona before seeing off Porto, Benfica and city rivals AC Milan.
They have maybe not faced a team of City’s calibre, but they have a clear Cup pedigree, having recently retained the Coppa Italia.
“I mean, they’re in the Champions League final for a reason,” warned John Stones, whose move from central defence into midfield has been key to City’s outstanding form.
“They’ve got incredible players, we can all see that. How they played in a big occasion, in a derby game in the Champions League semi-final, is never easy. We know what we’re up against.”
Inter know what they are up against too, not least veteran 37-year-old forward Edin Dzeko. The Bosnian played for City between 2011 and 2016.
He has scored 14 goals this season and has been an excellent foil for Inter’s star forward, Lautaro Martinez.
Simone Inzaghi’s side may not have as many superstars as City, but they have a grizzled back line, dangerous wing-backs and a hard-working midfield in which Nicolo Barella excels.
“We’re talking about a football match, there’s no fear,” said Inzaghi, who was appointed in 2021 after the Nerazzurri had won Serie A under Antonio Conte.
Defender Alessandro Bastoni added: “You are scared of murderers, not football players. It would be a mistake to to talk about fear.”
Inter are in their first final since winning the trophy under Jose Mourinho in 2010, the last victory in the competition for an Italian side.
They have lifted the trophy three times before, while City’s only European silverware to date remains the Cup Winners’ Cup, which they won in 1970 by beating Poland’s Gornik Zabrze 2-1 in the final.
Saturday’s game will need to go a long way to equal the drama of the last final at the Ataturk stadium.
In 2005, Liverpool recovered from a three-goal half-time deficit to draw 3-3 with Milan before winning on penalties. (AFP)