Pep Guardiola declared on Friday night that Manchester City were out to fulfil a “dream” and an “obsession” by finally winning the Champions League.
“Absolutely it’s a dream, yeah, absolutely,” Guardiola said. “To achieve things you have to have the correct proportion of obsession and desire - it’s a positive word [obsession] for the desire and will to win it. It is, of course, a dream for us.”
Kevin De Bruyne echoed his manager’s call. Asked if winning the Champions League was a dream or an obsession, the City midfielder said: “Maybe both. If you can win the Champions League, you’ve reached the top as a player and as a team.
“We need to find a way to win the first one. It will be immense for the players, for the club, for the fans it’ll be amazing.”
City supporters have endured a complicated relationship with the Champions League down the years and often booed the competition’s anthem owing to tensions with Uefa, who banned the club from European competition for two seasons in 2020 before the suspension was overturned on appeal.
But Guardiola believes their fans will desist from jeering the anthem and that any past animosity is water under the bridge as they throw their full support behind the team’s attempt to make history two years after losing the final to Chelsea in Porto.
“It is a day to celebrate, it’s a day to be happy - Inter and City fans,” the City manager said. “What has happened in the past is in the past. It’s an incredible competition. We support unconditionally what Uefa is doing and we are not going to boo any more. Support the team, support the game and try to have fun.”
The Norway striker has scored 52 times this season but managed just one goal in his past seven outings yet Guardiola is convinced he will make his mark against Inter.
“I’m not here to discuss his average, if you have doubts about Erling Haaland scoring goals then you’re a lonely person,” he said. “I don’t have any doubts. He’ll be ready to help us win the Champions League.”
Asked what are the main principles for success, Guardiola replied: “Have good players. Have Messi in the past, have Haaland now. I’m not joking! This is the truth. Every manager who has had success has strong institutions and exceptional players. I’ve never scored a goal as a manager.”
De Bruyne has struck up a fearsome partnership with Haaland but laughed off suggestions it was love at first sight with the Norway striker. “No, no, I’m happy with my wife,” he said. “It’s [the connection] something that I can’t really explain. You just have a feeling with a player.
“You understand what he wants. He understands what I can do. He started scoring at an incredible rate and it helped him settle. Even in the last games he’s been really important for us in different ways.”
Guardiola hopes the game will prove a happier experience than two years ago when they lost 1-0 to Chelsea and the manager was criticised for his team selection, including dropping midfielder Rodri. City will become only the second English club in history, after Manchester United, if they overcome Inter.
“I would like to tell you the lessons [from Chelsea] but I don’t know,” he said. “It’s a different game, a different time, different players. What we had in mind was success and to play a good game against Chelsea but it didn’t work. That is why all the people said it went wrong.
“Tomorrow we will be the same. We will have a plan, an idea and communicate that to the players. If it goes well, the day will be good. If it goes wrong, the day will be bad. We are ready. I have a feeling we are ready and the players will give absolutely everything. Go for it.”
Guardiola added: “It’s important when you play a final to have stability in what you have to do. But in finals there are moments that can become crazy. In those moments there are no tactics and it is just desire.
“It depends on the game and what is going on. But you have to be stable in finals. Defend well, attack and have control. You have to be patient. The most important thing is thinking if it is 0-0 we are not losing. Italian teams at 0-0 can think they are winning but they are not.”
City are the bookmakers’ overwhelming favourites to beat Inter but Ruben Dias says there will be no risk of complacency from the Premier League and FA Cup winners. “I guess that the biggest mistake we can make is to forget that this is a final,” the City defender said. “People can see whatever they want but in our minds there are no favourites.
“You can see the character of a team when you arrive to these stages, you can see whether a team wants to move forward or starts hiding. Since that moment we’ve been showing up every time and tomorrow will be no different. It’s another time for all of us to step up to the occasion.
“We love the pressure. We love it. The pressure will make you run faster, jump higher, be more focused, that’s what these kind of games need. We need to embrace it.”
‘No fear’ of City in final, says Inzaghi
Simeone Inzaghi, the Inter coach, said his side could not afford any mistakes against “probably the best team in the world”.
Hakan Calhanoglu, the Inter and Turkey midfielder, added it was important his side “play with no fear”. “We’re going to show them what we are made of,” he said. “We’ve dominated games and I hope we can go and destroy their game plan.”
Meanwhile, Inter forward Lautaro Martinez revealed that he has had no contact with his Argentina World Cup winning team-mate Julian Alvarez, despite inviting the City forward to his wedding in Lake Como last month. Alvarez could not attend because he was playing for City against Chelsea the weekend they clinched the title.
“I’ve not been in contact with Julian,” Martinez said. “I got married recently, invited him and he could not attend.”
How can Inter Milan beat The Untouchables?
By Mike McGrath
Not many fans, players and pundits give Inter Milan much of a chance of beating Manchester City on Saturday. The three-time European Cup winners are huge underdogs in Istanbul but if they are to pull of a big shock then this is how they could do it.
Play two strikers close together
City will know all about Edin Dzeko as one of their players from the “Aguerooooo” title-winning triumph of 2012. He has been preferred to Romelu Lukaku for Inter’s big Champions League matches this season and has positional intelligence to disrupt Pep Guardiola’s defensive system. His physical presence needs Argentina forward Lautaro Martinez making runs around him and having them close together on the pitch will be a source of attack.
Brentford did the double over City in the Premier League and won their two matches playing with two strikers: Bryan Mbeumo was partnered by Ivan Toney at the Etihad, then Yoane Wissa on the final day of the season.
While most teams play with a lone striker, playing a pair gives City more defensive questions. It is a brave move but also suits Inter’s 3-5-2 formation.
City could be more inclined to stay in their 4-3-3 formation rather than shift into the 3-2-4-1 system where John Stones moves forward into midfield and has been skilled at taking the ball on the turn and starting moves from his position in front of a back three.
Use Denzel Demfries as an outlet
While Pep Guardiola had Kyle Walker on the bench at times this season and does not trust him to play as an “inverted full-back” moving inside, the England full-back still has the pace to get the better of any winger in Europe. Real Madrid forward Vinicius Junior could not get past Walker when he ran at him one-on-one in the semi-final. For pace and positioning, Walker is at the top of his game and Inter would get more joy from the other flank.
Denzel Dumfries times his runs well on Inter’s right flank and has the pace to get behind City’s backline. The Holland international is a better route to Ederson’s goal, given that City have not been playing with an out-and-out left-back. Manuel Akanji has done excellently in that position but will be tested if Dumfries can get a run at him. Nathan Ake is the other option as a traditional centre-back who has played left-back.
City will be expecting a battle at Atatürk Olympic Stadium. Inter fought their way to victory in the semi-finals against their great rivals AC Milan. There was footage of Francesco Acerbi looking around before planting his studs on the foot of Sandro Tonali. He got away with the stamp, even with Var, and the Italians will be employing all of the dark arts to get the better of Guardiola’s team.
There is recent history of tactical fouling in this showpiece. In Kiev in 2018, Sergio Ramos targeted Liverpool’s greatest threat — and it resulted in Mohamed Salah being carried off in tears as he could do nothing to prevent Real Madrid winning that evening. Kevin De Bruyne suffered fractures and concussion after a collision with Antonio Rudiger when City lost to Chelsea.
Inter should have a height advantage over City when the corners and free-kicks get swung into the penalty area, with Acerbi, Lukaku and Dzeko among those with aerial ability to meet Hakan Çalhanoğlu’s delivery. City have only conceded five goals in the Champions League all season and four of those were from set-pieces.
Jude Bellingham headed in for Borussia Dortmund when a corner was not cleared, while Sevilla’s Rafa Mir scored with a towering header also from a corner. RB Leipzig took a short corner which led to Joško Gvardiol climbing the highest to head home. The other set-piece goal they conceded was against Bayern Munich when Joshua Kimmich scored a penalty. It may be clutching at straws to suggest City have a weakness, but four of their five goals conceded in Europe have been from set-pieces.
Man-mark unsung danger man Rodri
There is a danger of opponents focusing too much on Erling Haaland. With 52 goals this season, he is clearly their biggest goal threat, yet it is Rodri who makes the team tick from the base of midfield. Last season in the Premier League alone he completed 2,977 passes, shifting the ball quickly and showing his range of distribution. Plenty of City’s moves go through the Spaniard, who dictates the pace of the game and allows Kevin De Bruyne to create further forward.
Sitting on Rodri will cut off the supply to City’s most dangerous attacking players and would leave Inter’s defenders to go one-on-one with Haaland, De Bruyne, Jack Grealish and Bernardo Silva as they attack from different angles. Focusing on Rodri would make it a midfield battle that would suit Inter’s way of playing.