Manchester City’s domination of the English soccer landscape is undisputed after another season of silverware-gathering under Pep Guardiola but against Inter Milan in Saturday’s Champions League final they can finally become kings of the continent.
Guardiola delivered an 11th trophy in seven years to owner Sheikh Mansour when City beat Manchester United to win the FA Cup last weekend, having claimed a fifth Premier League title in six seasons a couple of weeks earlier.
Now only Inter stand in the way of a treble that would match Manchester United’s still unique feat of 1999.
Emulating that would go a long way to banishing any lingering sense of inferiority that became part of City’s DNA when they were stumbling out of the top-flight and their illustrious neighbours were all-conquering.
More pertinently, City’s Abu Dhabi owners would finally get their hands on the European trophy that their massive financial investment in the club since 2008 was designed to achieve.
City came close in 2021 when they misfired in the final against Chelsea in Porto — a defeat that still haunts Guardiola who is looking to win the trophy for a third time having taken Barcelona all the way in 2009 and 2011.
This time Guardiola is unlikely to be found wanting against an Inter side who few would have fancied reaching the final for the first time since they beat Bayern Munich 2-0 in 2010.
City will start as clear favourites, of that there is no doubt. They outplayed European aristocracy Bayern Munich and Real Madrid en route to the final and have players who will warm the bench in Istanbul’s Ataturk Olympic Stadium on Saturday who would waltz into Inter’s first team, and indeed most teams in Europe.
With Norwegian Erling Haaland, scorer of 52 goals in all competitions, leading their attack, Kevin De Bruyne conducting the orchestra, a watertight defence and inspirational captain Ilkay Gundogan perhaps playing his last game, the task facing Inter is a daunting one.
But Guardiola has been around long enough to know that taking the final step is no formality.
“A final against an Italian team is not always the best gift, honestly,” he said in the build-up.
Simone Inzaghi’s Inter finished third in Serie A, a massive 18 points behind champions Napoli.
But the underdog tag will be one they will be happy to wear, as they did in 2010 when Jose Mourinho’s side ambushed Bayern with a superb counter-attacking display.
Inter conceded only three goals over the course of six matches in this year’s Champions League knockout stage, beating Porto, Benfica and AC Milan to reach the final.
In Alessandro Bastoni, former Manchester United player Matteo Darmian and Francesco Acerbi, Inter possess a defensive trio versed in the best Italian methods and who will relish the challenge of trying to stop City’s slickers.
“Being a former United player is probably extra motivation. It will be good to play against them. It will be like a derby for me,” Darmian said. It will not be easy. They are the best team in the world but we have the ability to beat them.”
Midfielder Henrikh Mkhitaryan is another former Man Utd player who will need no added motivation. Up front Edin Dzeko will need no introduction to City fans while Lautaro Martinez offers a considerable threat.
Inzaghi says Inter’s run has been “a dream” but they have not arrived in Turkey’s gateway city to make up the numbers and if City’s players are to achieve sporting immortality they are going to have to earn it.