For the first time in six years, an Italian club will take part in a Champions League final. So kudos to Inter who enjoyed a stellar campaign on the road to Istanbul, booking a spot in the most prestigious football match of the year against arguably the most terrifying team in the world today in the shape of Manchester City.
By all accounts, the Premier League champions are the favorites coming into the contest after smashing their way to the final while tearing down some of the biggest clubs in the world (the likes of Real Madrid and Bayern Munich) in devastating fashion. Overcoming Simone Inzaghi’s men would be the final hurdle for the Sky Blues before lifting the first Champions League trophy in their history and completing a legendary treble.
Nevertheless, the Nerazzurri should prove to be formidable opponents for the high-flying Cityzens. The Italian giants have top-notch stars across the board who will attempt to go toe-to-toe with their marauding opponents.
So let’s take a closer look at six expected key duels that could determine the final outcome of the grand finale between Man City and Inter.
John Stones vs Lautaro Martinez
Well, it wouldn’t be a season without at least one eyebrow-raising invention from Pep Guardiola, an improvised tweak that none could foredashow. So step forward Mr. John Stones, Man City’s centre-back who turned into a hybrid defensive midfielder/right-back… if such a thing truly exits.
While explaining the Englishman’s new role remains problematic, noticing his significant impact is a much simpler task.
For his part, Lautaro Martinez will probably drop back at times to help his Inter teammates in taking the ball out of their areas and launching scathing counter-attacks, leaving Edin Dzeko as the lone man upfront.
Therefore, we expect the Argentine to cross paths with Stones on numerous occasions, especially when trying to receive the ball between City’s defensive lines, as the former Everton man will be looking to close down all the spaces in the face of Inter’s most explosive star.
Kevin De Bruyne vs Marcelo Brozovic
This will be a mouthwatering duel between the best playmaker in the world and arguably the best Regista (AKA deep-lying playmaker) in Serie A.
Even though the two veterans are primarily renowned for their celebrated creativity and exquisite technical skills, they will also have extra work to do other than orchestrating the play for their respective sides.
Marcelo Brozovic will have to shield the Beneamata defenses, so one of his main duties would be shutting down the danger of Kevin De Bruyne whenever he’s lurking in the pockets, or at least attempting to accomplish this daunting task.
On the other hand, the Belgian will probably have instructions to press high whenever the Croatian is trying to build the play from the back.
Ilkay Gundogan vs Nicolò Barella
At the age of 32, the stars are lining up for Ilkay Gundogan who will be hellbent on lifting the Champions League trophy as Man City captain in what could be his final match for the club since his future remains uncertain. While the German is no spring chicken, he’s been displaying what could well be the best performances of his playing career.
But in the tenacious Nicolò Barella, he’ll find himself an unpleasant dance partner. The Italy international is technical, fast and relentless. He’ll surely relish this fascinating duel against his more experienced counterpart.
But for Barella, managing the gas tank will be substantial, as the former Cagliari man tends to come out gun blazing on the biggest occasions.
Bernardo Silva vs Federico Dimarco
From the midfield deuls, it’s time to shift towards the flanks. Following his scintillating display against Real Madrid in the semi-final, Bernardo Silva will most likely start on the right wing at the expense of the equally-superb Riyad Mahrez.
This should spark a compelling battle against Federico Dimarco and Alessandro Bastoni. But since the latter will also have to provide assistance for Francesco Acerbi in his challenging mission (which we’ll get to later), the wingback must track back to keep Silva at bay.
If this job isn’t complex already, Dimarco will also have a crucial role to play on the opposite side of the field, since wingbacks play an integral role in Inzaghi’s attacking maneuvers. Therefore, Bernardo would also have to drop back to make sure that his Italian foe isn’t allowed too much space to deliver his menacing crosses from the left flank.
Jack Grealish vs Matteo Darmian
In Guardiola’s extra-lavish squad, even a star player who cost 100 million pounds could get lost in the shuffle. So while Jack Grealish seemed to be heading in that direction following an underwhelming first campaign at the Etihad Stadium, he has now established himself as a key player and an automatic starter for the English champions.
For his part, Matteo Darmian is possibly the biggest unsung hero in this Inter side. The versatile veteran can feature in several positions, but has found his niche in the back-three during the absence of Milan Skriniar.
As a former Red Devil, this will be a personal Derby affair for the 33-year-old, but facing the cunning Grealish won’t be easy, as we all remember how Bayern defender Dayot Upamecano suffered a nightmarish outing against the Englishman who easily dispossessed him and at times even left him in the dust.
Erling Haaland vs Francesco Acerbi
At the age of 22, Erling Haaland is still technically a youngster, but he was always destined to spearhead his team’s lineup in the Champions League final. The whole scenario simply felt inevitable.
On the contrary, no one had envisioned a 35-year-old Francesco Acerbi to be the Norwegian’s direct foe on this grand occasion. The aging defender spent the majority of his playing career at mid-table clubs like Chievo and Sassuolo, and was even on the cusp of retirement after being diagnosed with cancer ten years ago.
Nevertheless, the admirable fairytale story could easily turn into a nightmare, as the Euro 2020 winner will be pitted against a seemingly-unstoppable blonde monster who enjoys leaving defenders in his wake.
Therefore, Acerbi will require some important assistance from his teammates if he’s going to stand a chance against one of the most physically-imposing strikes in the world, one who’s able to bag goals from all angles.
Moreover, the Italian must avoid sprints at all costs and resist the temptation to chase his foe all over the pitch, as it would be an ill-advised call. Instead, Acerbi would be better off standing his ground and organizing the backline while hoping that his attacking teammates make the best out of their chances.
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