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Champions League

Key thoughts and analysis from Tuesday's Champions League action

The Champions League last 16 rumbles on this week, as the first four quarterfinalists are being decided. Below, we dissect the biggest talking points from Tuesday’s action in Europe’s premier club competition.

Chelsea finally find their confidence

For the first half hour of Chelsea’s pivotal Champions League clash against Borussia Dortmund, scoring seemed like the most onerous task in the world. Raheem Sterling panicked when sent through on goal, dawdling when more confident strikers would do something – anything – to get the ball out from underneath them. Kai Havertz, who hadn’t scored in any of his last seven matches, struck the post, and the ball somehow skipped across the goal line and out of harm’s way. Chelsea created chances but couldn’t finish any of them.

Then something clicked. Sterling banged one home at what seemed like the 11th time of asking, lifting the heaviness around Stamford Bridge. Havertz retook the penalty he had missed, picking out the same bottom right corner he targeted with his first attempt.

In that half-hour stretch, Chelsea were a blur of motion. All they wanted to do was score. Even Marc Cucurella and Kalidou Koulibaly joined the rush. You could hardly tell this side from the one that toiled to get on the scoresheet in previous fixtures. If not for a couple of marginal offside calls, they’d have won 4-0.

Fantasista / Getty Images Sport / Getty

This was a long time coming. Chelsea hadn’t scored multiple goals in any match since Dec. 27. Injuries certainly played a part, but for the longest time, the west London side had no attacking impetus. The players didn’t create particularly much or defend particularly well.

But head coach Graham Potter stayed the course. He managed to keep spirits high in training – even while dealing with death threats sent to him and his family. You could tell his players were up for this game. Potter’s back three pressed high, choking Dortmund’s attack before it could really get going. Cucurella was particularly aggressive, playing the kind of defense-splitting passes few expected him to play from the left center-back position.

Chelsea could of course revert to their old habits over the coming games. But that flurry of action in the middle of the game promised better things to come.

Handball rule continues to divide

What exactly is a handball offense? The International Football Association Board, which issues the laws of the game, says a “deliberate” offense occurs when a player moves their hand or arm toward the ball. A player is also at fault if they make their body bigger when their hand or arm is in an unnatural position.

Neither of these things seemed absolutely, undoubtedly true when Chelsea’s Ben Chilwell struck Dortmund defender Marius Wolf’s hand just inside the penalty area. Wolf was turning away when the shot was taken, his head looking in the opposite direction, ruling out deliberate handball. His hand wasn’t necessarily in an unnatural position, either. The German full-back wasn’t flailing his arm or stretching it out to make his body bigger. He was turning away, and his arm was still reasonably close to his body. But because Chilwell shot a yard away, Wolf couldn’t pull his entire arm in time.

Ultimately, match official Danny Makkelie reviewed the footage on the pitchside monitor and determined enough was there to award a penalty. Was Wolf’s arm out? Yes, undoubtedly so, but the circumstances here created reasonable doubt. The original non-call was not, by definition, a clear and obvious error.

The biggest issue here is enforcement. ESPN’s de facto rules official, Dale Johnson, tweeted that “competitions differ” when these calls are made. “I doubt the VAR would give it in the Premier League,” Johnson added.

Former FIFA referee Manuel Grafe expressed frustration at the call as well, saying these interpretations cause a kind of “injustice.” Sometimes they’re given, and other times not.

Quick free-kicks

Chelsea’s Kepa earning his keep in goal

Kepa Arrizabalaga is redeeming himself one save at a time. It has been a strange and confusing year and a half for Chelsea’s beleaguered goalkeeper, who’s gone from afterthought to undisputed starter without fuss or fanfare. The club had no choice but to turn to Kepa once Edouard Mendy fractured his finger in January. But Mendy was losing his grip on the job before that. The world’s best goalkeeper in 2021 made a series of errors over the following year, and his confidence plummeted. Kepa stepped in and performed reasonably well as the rest of his teammates struggled and made two key saves Tuesday to keep Dortmund at bay when they threatened to take a foothold in the match. The world’s most expensive goalkeeper is in his second act as Chelsea’s No. 1, and it’s worth watching.

Injuries catch up to Dortmund

You can only overcome key injuries for so long. Eventually, they catch up to you. That’s not the sole reason Dortmund were beaten by Chelsea on Tuesday – the Blues, as outlined above, delivered their best performance in months – but, clearly, Dortmund’s list of absentees loomed large at Stamford Bridge. Missing Youssoufa Moukoko and Karim Adeyemi zapped Dortmund of any spark up front or ability to stretch the field and get behind the Chelsea backline. The latter, in particular, lit up the first leg with his spectacular solo goal. That type of gamebreaking ability was absent Tuesday as Dortmund were largely contained by Chelsea’s defense. Losing Julian Brandt in just the fifth minute to an apparent hamstring issue only compounded the matter; the creative German international was one of Dortmund’s best players during their now-snapped unbeaten run to start 2023. As a result, Sebastien Haller was mostly a non-factor in the match, touching the ball just once inside the Chelsea penalty area as Koulibaly neutralized his impact before he was taken off for the more mobile Donyell Malen in the 77th minute.

Benfica can beat anyone

Chris Brunskill/Fantasista / Getty Images Sport / Getty

Sleep on Benfica at your peril. Roger Schmidt’s team has been a bulldozer this season, the latest impressive outing coming in a 5-1 romp against Club Brugge that capped a dominant 7-1 aggregate triumph. As a result, the Portuguese giants are off to the Champions League quarterfinals for the second consecutive season. Benfica haven’t missed a beat since selling star midfielder Enzo Fernandez to Chelsea in January; Goncalo Ramos is establishing new records seemingly every time he steps on the pitch, Joao Mario has scored in five consecutive Champions League matches, and the machine that Schmidt has built just keeps chugging along. Benfica, eight points clear at the top of the table in Portugal, will fancy their chances of beating absolutely anybody in the next round, especially at the Estadio da Luz, where they’re unbeaten this season, having won 16 of 18 matches across all competitions.

Parker’s time almost up

Scott Parker has been an unmitigated disaster at Club Brugge. The Belgian side fired Carl Hoefkens in late December despite a stirring run to the Champions League knockout stages, citing poor domestic form as the reason behind the decision, and then made the surprising decision to appoint Parker as his replacement. They would surely like a mulligan right about now. The Englishman has won just two out of his 12 matches at the helm, with the 7-1 aggregate hammering against Benfica the latest humbling setback. Benfica have been steamrolling nearly everything in their path this season, but the meekness of Brugge’s performance Tuesday signified a team totally lacking in confidence right now. Parker’s squad has tumbled to fourth in the Belgian top flight, a whopping 21 points adrift of first place, and the brightest point of the season – the inspiring Champions League run – ended with a harsh thud. The former Fulham and Bournemouth manager may have already overseen his final match with the Belgian outfit.

Stat of the day

Decent company for Graham Potter.

Tweet of the day

It’s been a tough season for Parker all around.

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Champions League

Key thoughts and analysis from this week's Champions League action

Find the biggest stories from across the soccer world by visiting our Top Soccer News section and subscribing to push notifications.

The Champions League round of 16 rumbled on with four more first-leg matches this week. Below, we dissect the biggest talking points from the quartet of intriguing fixtures.

A battle of fallen titans

On paper, a meeting between the current titleholders in Spain and Italy would be fitting of a Champions League final. What a treat, then, to get exactly that matchup in the round of 16. Except, Barcelona and Napoli are totally unrecognizable from the teams that dominated their respective domestic leagues and romped to trophies in 2022-23.

Though Barcelona dictated play for the bulk of Wednesday’s 1-1 draw at the Stadio Diego Armando Maradona, they lacked precision in key moments and any sort of cutting edge until Robert Lewandowski’s clinical finish opened the scoring on the hour mark. Playing against a hesitant team on its third manager of the season, Barca should have taken a stranglehold on the tie from there. Instead, an untimely gamble by Inigo Martinez gifted Victor Osimhen an equalizer that Napoli otherwise looked incapable of finding. It was an all-too-familiar failing for Barca, who’ve been defensively suspect all season after being so resolute during their title-winning campaign.

Jonathan Moscrop / Getty Images Sport / Getty

For all of Barcelona’s issues, Napoli are in an even more worrying state of disrepair. Enduring one of the worst title defenses in recent memory – they’re ninth in Serie A, sitting 27 points off the league lead – Napoli made another coaching change just 48 hours before Wednesday’s match, replacing Walter Mazzarri with former assistant Francesco Calzona. Anybody expecting an immediate “new manager bounce” will have been left disappointed.

The team still looks disjointed. The backline remains unconvincing without Kim Min-jae. Khvicha Kvaratskhelia, while dogged as ever, isn’t taking over games like he did during his sensational breakout season. Stanislav Lobotka isn’t getting on the ball as often at the base of midfield. Andre-Frank Zambo Anguissa looks a little jaded. Even Osimhen, making his first club appearance in 2024 after returning from AFCON, spent much of the match throwing his arms up in frustration – he had just three touches inside the Barca penalty area and had the fewest touches overall of any player who started the contest. His goal was Napoli’s lone shot on target in the match. He took that one chance with composure, though, and Napoli will hope that his return, along with more time getting comfortable working in Calzona’s system, will be the catalyst for a late-season surge. It needs to be.

Inter built for another run at European glory

Simone Inzaghi has turned Inter Milan into an unstoppable force to begin 2024.

Inter have dominated their opponents in Italy to start the year, putting themselves in prime position to capture their first Scudetto of the Inzaghi era after eight consecutive victories in all competitions – including six in Serie A – before Tuesday’s meeting with Atletico Madrid. That run included victories over Lazio, Napoli, Fiorentina, Juventus, and Roma.

They kept it going on Tuesday with a 1-0 win.

While Inter were widely expected to emerge victorious from Tuesday’s contest, the match was gritty and unfolded how Inzaghi might’ve expected when he predicted his squad would have to be “good enough to react to problems” against Diego Simeone’s notoriously tricky Atletico side.

Inter’s stellar play comes after the club was heavily criticized on the heels of its run to the Champions League final for a lack of inspired signings amid financial problems last summer. But now, it’s hard to envisage this team without Marcus Thuram – who, as a free transfer, has been one of the best signings in all of Europe and formed a lethal partnership with Lautaro Martinez. New faces Benjamin Pavard and Yann Sommer have been excellent, too, while Carlos Augusto has been a key contributor off the bench.

Alessandro Sabattini / Getty Images Sport / Getty

However, it was another shrewd signing who helped take down Atletico. Journeyman striker Marko Arnautovic was brought on to replace Thuram, who exited at halftime with an injury. The 34-year-old – on loan from Bologna – should’ve had a hat-trick during his cameo appearance but missed twice from just yards away before banging in the eventual winning goal to send the San Siro into a frenzy.

Inter are perfectly positioned going into the final months of the season. Mowing down the competition domestically and building a healthy nine-point cushion atop Serie A, the Nerazzurri could opt to rest some stars in the coming weeks in order to throw everything they have into winning the return leg in Madrid next month and, in their ideal world, go one step further than last season in the Champions League.

Quick free-kicks

A victory for Porto and away-goal enthusiasts

Galeno’s goal was a moment of superb vision and immaculate execution, but it arguably wasn’t worth the wait for anybody who’s not an FC Porto fan. Porto and Arsenal had one shot on target between them before the Brazilian winger scored the only goal of Wednesday’s contest. Both teams feared making mistakes. The Gunners – who had struck 21 times across their previous five fixtures in all competitions – deliberately slowed the game while they dawdled during dead-ball situations and disappointingly refused to dip into their usually creative and effective repertoire of set-piece routines. It’s hard to imagine that the visitors would’ve been so conservative if the away-goal rule was still in force: A scoring draw would’ve been much more valuable than the 0-0 that Mikel Arteta appeared to be content with. In the end, Arsenal’s game plan backfired.

Galeno top of the pile

Michael Regan / Getty Images Sport / Getty

Still, that was some goal by Galeno. “When the opportunity arose, I didn’t hesitate,” he told DAZN post-match. The Brazilian winger is now leading this season’s Champions League with eight goal contributions (five goals and three assists), narrowly beating the English quartet of Harry Kane, Jude Bellingham, Phil Foden, and Bukayo Saka (seven involvements apiece). Galeno’s output in Europe proves he’s capable of hurting opponents in a variety of ways. Across two group stage meetings with Shakhtar Donetsk, he was alert to convert three close-range finishes, twice furiously ran down the flank before assisting Mehdi Taremi, smashed in a venomous shot from the edge of the box, and his near-post flick-on from a corner set up a Pepe tap-in. And now, he’s outdone all of his previous work with an outrageous effort that puts Arsenal’s Champions League bid under threat.

PSV can get famous result in Germany

PSV Eindhoven were in control for much of Tuesday’s visit from Borussia Dortmund so were rightly disappointed with their 1-1 draw. Ex-PSV favorite Donyell Malen opened the scoring with an explosive strike that rocketed in off the bar, but the hosts could’ve responded with more than Luuk de Jong’s equalizer from the penalty spot. Dortmund cowered in the atmosphere. “We should have brought much more calmness to the game. We let the heated atmosphere get to us too much,” Dortmund defender Mats Hummels admitted after the match. PSV should still feel encouraged going into the second leg despite Dortmund’s home advantage: The German side’s excellent group stage display was an unexpected boost during a frustrating domestic campaign, while the Dutch outfit has lost just twice across all competitions – away at Arsenal and Feyenoord – and is 10 points clear atop the Eredivisie.

Stat of the week

Signing of the season? Sommer’s arrival from Bayern Munich didn’t set pulses racing, but the 35-year-old has ensured Inter haven’t missed Andre Onana between the sticks.

Tweet of the week

Is it already time to revisit this rule change? (Yes, it is.)

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Champions League

Key thoughts and analysis from Matchday 5 in the Champions League

The Champions League rumbled on this week. Below, we dissect the biggest talking points from a critical Matchday 5 in Europe’s premier club competition.

UEFA ‘apology’ falls on deaf Newcastle ears

UEFA has all but acknowledged that the decision to award Paris Saint-Germain a penalty deep into stoppage time of Tuesday’s eventual 1-1 draw with Newcastle United was incorrect. Tomasz Kwiatkowski, the video assistant referee who advised experienced compatriot Szymon Marciniak to review Tino Livramento’s 96th-minute handball and overturn his initial on-field decision, was scheduled to act as the VAR for another match on Wednesday but was swiftly removed from duty after the contentious incident in France.

That’s as close to an “oopsie” as you’ll ever get from the haughty organization.

It does nothing to help Newcastle, of course, and once again calls into question the understanding of the handball rule, one of the most mystifying regulations in all of sports. Marciniak and his Polish peer Kwiatkowski are among the most esteemed officials in world football; they both worked the 2022 World Cup final in the same roles they carried out on Tuesday at the Parc des Princes.

If even they can’t get it right, who can?

It also provides yet another example that UEFA’s Football Board, an advisory group comprised of former players and coaches, was right when it recommended in April that handball incidents involving deflections off a player’s body shouldn’t result in spot-kicks. That suggestion wasn’t implemented by UEFA, though. And here we are.

It’s certainly true that, on the basis of play, PSG probably deserved at least a point from Tuesday’s match. The French side dominated the second half, launching wave after wave of threatening attacks. Only some horrid finishing – Bradley Barcola was the main culprit – and brilliant goalkeeping kept them out before Kylian Mbappe stepped up to accept the gift from Marciniak in the waning seconds.

But the manner in which they were finally breached will leave Newcastle with a bitter taste, especially as Mbappe’s goal and the 1-1 result it secured took their Champions League fate out of their own hands. A 1-0 win would’ve left Newcastle in second place in the proverbial “Group of Death” and in complete control of their own destiny heading into Matchday 6. Instead, they now need to win and get some help to advance.

Kwiatkowski getting a one-day reprimand won’t soften that blow. – Gianluca Nesci

AC Milan’s cycle is effectively over

Tuesday’s 3-1 defeat at home to Borussia Dortmund leaves Milan with a snowball’s chance in hell of reaching the Champions League knockout round. That’s a huge blow for a club that only recently turned a profit for the first time in nearly two decades, due in large part to last season’s run to the semifinals of the competition.

But the fact is that Milan have been trending downward for the better part of the calendar year. Last season’s Champions League run masked significant issues, including a lack of scoring, significant frailties in defense, and a debilitating injury bug that continues to wreak havoc on the squad. Milan wouldn’t have even qualified for this season’s Champions League if Juventus weren’t docked points for false accounting. At various points, they’ve leaked up to five goals per game and failed to ignite their attack, sometimes going 20 chances before burying one.

A fix has so far eluded manager Stefano Pioli. Even with the help of a robust transfer campaign, in which he reportedly had a considerable say, he’s ultimately failed to restore any kind of balance to this squad. And it’s arguably the deepest squad he’s had since taking over in October 2019.

picture alliance / picture alliance / Getty

Though there’s enough blame to go around – left-back Theo Hernandez, for one, has looked like a shell of the player who bombed forward with gusto last season – Pioli is the one responsible for keeping these players in playing condition. That hasn’t happened, and it isn’t just because of the sheer number of games in succession. Milan have racked up 25 injuries in four months alone – far more than any other Serie A team – and lost 89 man games to those injuries.

On Tuesday, Malick Thiaw became the fourth defender to join Milan’s bloated infirmary when he pulled his hamstring in a seemingly winnable footrace. Without any other center-backs at his disposal, Pioli had to play midfielder Rade Krunic out of position. It was no surprise to see a 1-1 game slip away from the Rossoneri. That’s how their entire season is slipping away.

An argument can be made that Milan stand to benefit from playing the rest of the season without Champions League obligations. How could they possibly remain competitive on multiple fronts without a fully functioning roster? But to say that is to undermine all the progress they’ve made in recent years. They should be competing on multiple fronts. They are built for it. They have the players for it. They have proved they can do it. So if they aren’t competing, then what exactly are they doing? – Anthony Lopopolo

Quick free-kicks

Cancelo accepts invitation to shine

NurPhoto / NurPhoto / Getty

Joao Cancelo is an unpredictable and slick dribbler, but he didn’t need to dig deep into his repertoire of tricks to dupe FC Porto right-back Joao Mario. The right-footed left-back switched the ball to his stronger foot – as right-footed left-backs tend to do – and easily exposed Joao Mario’s poor body shape and anticipation as he moved into the box and excellently slotted in Barcelona’s equalizer. The Porto youngster didn’t learn his lesson, allowing Cancelo to cut inside minutes after the break to set up a Joao Felix chance and also take a shot himself. And one of the few times Joao Mario blocked Cancelo’s route onto his right trotter, the relentless Barcelona star used his left peg to stab a cross under Joao Mario’s foot and to Felix, who duly netted the decisive strike in Barca’s 2-1 win. Cancelo had an excellent game – he even performed a wonderful trivela pass later in the second half – but he should reserve special thanks to Joao Mario for ensuring his evening was so enjoyable. – Daniel Rouse

Dortmund have a gem in Bynoe-Gittens

Jamie Bynoe-Gittens had to wait a couple of years before he could start for Borussia Dortmund. While Jadon Sancho and Jude Bellingham made the transition to German football seem easy, Bynoe-Gittens had to overcome torn knee ligaments and a spell at youth level before he could earn a shot at first-team football. That happened last season, and his case to start only strengthened after his performance in Milan on Tuesday. Bynoe-Gittens made mincemeat out of Davide Calabria, turning the Italian right-back inside out in ways Mbappe couldn’t quite manage earlier in the group stage. Bynoe-Gittens, who’s still just 19, won the penalty that gave Dortmund the lead and arrowed an accurate shot inside the left post for the winning goal. Expect more from the English talent, who’s one of Dortmund’s bravest dribblers and mature enough to handle more minutes in the Champions League. – Lopopolo

Onana errors leave Man Utd on brink

Anadolu / Anadolu / Getty

Andre Onana didn’t do anything to ease the pressure on himself in Istanbul. The unsettled goalkeeper has been deservedly questioned after several suspect errors this season, but his latest shocker will sting the most if it ends up costing Manchester United a spot in the Champions League knockout rounds. Victory seemed inevitable after Scott McTominay made it 3-1 for United in the second half on Wednesday. But then, disaster struck again for a United outfit fresh off coughing up a two-goal lead in a losing effort in its last Champions League outing. After letting in a soft goal off Hakim Ziyech’s free-kick in the first half, Onana outdid himself on another set piece from the Moroccan that should’ve been comfortably saved. Onana clumsily batted the ball into his own net, paving the way for Galatasaray to score an equalizer shortly after. Now that he’s conceded a club-record 14 goals in the group stage, one has to wonder if Erik ten Hag is considering a change heading into Manchester United’s most important game of the season to date against Bayern Munich on Dec. 12. – Gordon Brunt

No parting gift from Monchi

Sevilla fans give Monchi the kind of reverence usually reserved for an all-time top scorer or a defensive stalwart who captains the club for most of their career. The former sporting director is viewed as the architect of the glory years, the man whose transfer deals at the Estadio Ramon Sanchez-Pizjuan created serial Europa League winners. However, since he departed Sevilla for a second time last summer, joining Aston Villa as president of football operations, it’s clear that there wasn’t a great deal of succession planning in the squad he left behind. The average age of the starting XI that faced PSV Eindhoven on Wednesday was the oldest in Champions League history at 32 years and 19 days. Sevilla led 2-0, but Lucas Ocampos’ red card changed everything, and PSV eventually took a 3-2 away win. The Andalusians are positioned 15th in La Liga and might not even drop into the Europa League due to their disappointing Champions League group campaign. “The team loses out on a lot today,” Sergio Ramos said. – Rouse

Inter spoil Joao Mario’s big day

Mattia Ozbot – Inter / FC Internazionale / Getty

For 34 minutes, it felt like we were watching the Benfica of last season again. With the major caveat that Inter Milan rested several key starters – including talisman Lautaro Martinez – between league matches against Juventus and Napoli, Benfica, already eliminated from knockout-stage contention after losing all of their previous Group D matches, scored three times in just over half an hour at the Estadio da Luz on Wednesday. Former Inter midfielder Joao Mario, of all people, notched all of them. Benfica were moving the ball quickly, and Inter’s second-string XI was making defensive blunders all over the place. But the home fans (who were likely asking, “Where has this been all season?” in the first half) saw their team revert to type after the interval. Benfica lost their shape and, eventually, their three-goal lead, too. Last season’s finalists came all the way back for a 3-3 draw and nearly snatched the win when Nicolo Barella struck the post in stoppage time. Unfortunately for fans of the Portuguese side, this was more like what they’ve seen from their team in this season’s Champions League. The stalemate was Benfica’s first point of the group stage, but it felt like another defeat. – Nesci

Post-miracle slumps

Royal Antwerp likely never expected to progress from a group with Barcelona, Porto, and Shakhtar Donetsk. But since Antwerp earned their first league title in 66 years courtesy of Toby Alderweireld’s stoppage-time goal on the final day of the 2022-23 Belgian season, the dip has been considerable. Following Tuesday’s dreary 1-0 loss to Shakhtar, they’ve collected zero points from five group-stage matches, and they’re nine points adrift of league-leading Royale Union Saint-Gilloise in the Belgian Pro League. The comedown at Union Berlin has been worse: They’ve suffered 13 defeats and three draws over their last 16 outings after Wednesday’s 1-1 draw at Braga, leaving them with two points at the bottom of Group C, eliminated from the DFB-Pokal, and in the Bundesliga’s relegation zone. Still, were Antwerp’s miraculous title triumph and Union’s incredible rise after near-extinction worth it, considering what’s happening now? Of course, they were. – Rouse

Stat of the week

Considering some of the one-sided games the Champions League has offered up over the years, this is an impressive accomplishment from Arsenal, who qualified for the knockout stages with a 6-0 hammering of Lens.

Tweet of the week

Poor Louis van Gaal. Still catching strays during Manchester United matches.

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Champions League

Everything you need to know about the 2023 Champions League final

This season’s Champions League final, the first competitive meeting between treble-chasing Manchester City and underdogs Inter Milan, is finally here. Get ready for Saturday’s match with theScore’s comprehensive preview package.

The lowdown ?

Who: Manchester City vs. Inter Milan
What: 68th European Cup final
When: Saturday, June 10 at 3:00 p.m. ET
Where: Ataturk Olympic Stadium (Istanbul, Turkey)
Referee: Szymon Marciniak (Poland)
VAR: Tomasz Kwiatkowski (Poland)

How to watch ?

TV: CBS, Univision, TUDN (U.S.)
Stream: Paramount+ and fuboTV (U.S.), DAZN (Canada)

Betting odds ?

Odds via theScore Bet.

Manchester City: -220
Draw: +340
Inter Milan: +550

The latest news ?

Analysis ?

Lexy Ilsley – Manchester City / Manchester City FC / Getty

Tactics, key questions, and a prediction in our in-depth preview.

“The fundamentals of Manchester City’s approach haven’t changed. This season, they still led the Premier League in the usual metrics – such as possession and time in the opponents’ half – and remained bottom in statistics such as frequency of long passes and speed of attacks. Continuity is what makes this version of City most different from others during the Pep Guardiola era. There are fewer question marks about what the Spaniard will do for the big matches: Overthinking – a lazy media critique that leaned on the few instances a novel approach went wrong and disregarded the many times a Guardiola tweak paid off – has been increasingly unlikely as the season progressed.” Read more.

Further reading ?

Dive into some of the storylines surrounding the contest.

Injury updates ?

The latest on the lingering lineup questions.

PLAYER INJURY STATUS
Kyle Walker (Manchester City) Back Expected to be fit
Henrikh Mkhitaryan (Inter) Thigh Expected to be fit
Joaquin Correa (Inter) Calf Expected to be fit
Milan Skriniar (Inter) Back Doubtful to play

Predicted lineups ?

Manchester City (3-2-4-1): Ederson; Kyle Walker, Ruben Dias, Nathan Ake; John Stones, Rodri; Bernardo Silva, Kevin De Bruyne, Ilkay Gundogan, Jack Grealish; Erling Haaland

Inter Milan (3-5-2): Andre Onana; Matteo Darmian, Francesco Acerbi, Alessandro Bastoni; Denzel Dumfries, Nicolo Barella, Hakan Calhanoglu, Henrikh Mkhitaryan, Federico Dimarco; Lautaro Martinez, Edin Dzeko

The kit matchup ?

Path to the final ?

Reviewing how both teams got to Istanbul.

Manchester City

Group stage: First place in Group G
Round of 16: Beat RB Leipzig (8-1 on aggregate)
Quarterfinals: Beat Bayern Munich (4-1 on aggregate)
Semifinals: Beat Real Madrid (5-1 on aggregate)

Inter Milan

Group stage: Second place in Group C
Round of 16: Beat Porto (1-0 on aggregate)
Quarterfinals: Beat Benfica (5-3 on aggregate)
Semifinals: Beat AC Milan (3-0 on aggregate)

By the numbers ?

This season’s raw Champions League statistics for the two finalists.

MANCHESTER CITY INTER MILAN
7-5-0 Record 7-3-2
31 Goals Scored 19
5 Goals Against 10
Erling Haaland (12) Top Scorer Edin Dzeko (4)

Looking into some advanced metrics.

MANCHESTER CITY INTER MILAN
25.5 Expected Goals (xG) 16.2
8.9 xG Against 14.1
+1.39 xG Difference per 90 +0.18

Tournament pedigree ?

Best European Cup finish for both clubs.

Manchester City: Runners-up (2021)
Inter Milan: Champions (1964, 1965, 2010)

Manchester City, this season’s Premier League and FA Cup winners, have hoovered up silverware since Guardiola’s arrival but continue to chase the big-eared trophy that has, thus far, proven elusive. They’ll be making their second appearance in the final after their narrow defeat to English peers Chelsea in 2021. Inter, meanwhile, have featured in club football’s showpiece match five times before, emerging victorious on three occasions. Simone Inzaghi’s men are also aiming to finish the campaign with multiple trophies after retaining their Coppa Italia crown last month.

Fun facts ?

Michael Regan – UEFA / UEFA / Getty

Manchester City: Guardiola has an opportunity to enter rarefied territory on Saturday. With a victory, the Catalan manager would join Carlo Ancelotti, Bob Paisley, and Zinedine Zidane as the only men’s coaches to win the European Cup three times; Ancelotti is the lone bench boss to hoist it on four occasions. Guardiola, 52, led Barcelona to glory in 2009 and 2011, but hasn’t been able to repeat the feat since. He’ll look to end that drought in Turkey.

Inter Milan: Inzaghi is looking to become the first Italian coach to lead the Nerazzurri to European success. Inter’s previous triumphs were engineered by iconic tactician Helenio Herrera, the Argentine-French coach who oversaw the club’s “Grande Inter” era in the 1960s, and decorated Portuguese manager Jose Mourinho. Mourinho’s 2010 triumph included a famous semifinal victory over Barcelona, then coached by none other than Guardiola.

What they’re saying ?

Guardiola: “Of course we are confident, so optimistic, but at the same time I cannot deny the difficulties and qualities of the opponents … We know a final is about how you behave for 95 minutes. It’s not about history, for history they are better than us. It doesn’t matter what you do in the group stage, last 16, quarterfinals, Premier League, or FA Cup. It’s one single game you have to be better than the opponent.”

Inzaghi: “For us it was a dream but we have always believed in it. I’m proud to be here. Nobody has given us anything, we deserve everything that we have achieved. And now the dream to play the final has come true. It has been an extraordinary path and winning a derby in the semifinal brought particular satisfaction.”

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