Categories: Economy

Manchester City wins Champions League against Inter Milan for historic treble

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For anyone worried that Manchester City would erase Inter Milan like an AI-powered machine, it didn’t turn out that way. Here at Istanbul’s Ataturk Stadium, the machine got nervous. But City still lifted their first ever Champions League and a historic third trophy in a season with an archetypal City goal, scored after 68 minutes by Spaniard Rodri.

Manager Pep Guardiola’s team deserved it for the season they’d had, even for the era, but not for tonight.

City’s problem was that they played almost the entire game without their two main attacking threats. Playmaker Kevin De Bruyne, who had left the 2021 final against Chelsea injured, stumbled off here after 35 minutes. The bigger mystery was the absence of centre-forward Erling Haaland for 90 minutes.

The 22-year-old Norwegian dominated the season, his first in England, with 52 goals. He led City to the English title and the FA Cup. But against Inter, he played as if the team’s bus driver had mistakenly put on the number nine shirt. The few times he touched the ball, he usually lost it, and he only tested Inter’s keeper André Onana once, with a shot straight at him at the start. Indeed, his sleepwalking was reminiscent of Brazil’s Ronaldo’s dud night in the 1998 World Cup final. Haaland ends the season with one goal in his last eight games. Was this exhaustion or a lack of temperament for big games?

Before Abu Dhabi’s ruling family bought and financed the club in 2008, City suffered from ‘City-itis’ – a tendency to self-sabotage at decisive moments. In Istanbul it resurfaced as a forgotten genetic flaw, remarkable for a team that had made Real Madrid look like an experienced eleven in the semi-finals. Looking at his toy in a competitive game for the first time since 2010, City owner Sheikh Mansour may have wondered what he had wasted his money on.

For Europe’s biggest club competition, the atmosphere was disappointing. In the sprawling bowl of the Atatürk on the outskirts of Istanbul, the crowd sat far from the field, almost like a Cold War Eastern European site. It seemed like a sub-optimal location, especially since traffic jams forced thousands of fans to walk the last few miles along the highway to the stadium.

Inter Milan goalkeeper Andre Onana concedes the goal to Manchester City midfielder Rodri © AFP via Getty Images

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The game turned at a rare moment when City managed to lure the Italian defense out of position. On 68 minutes, Phil Foden, who had replaced De Bruyne, intelligently dribbled away from Inter’s goal, taking defenders with him. He then found Manuel Akanji, playing forward to Bernardo Silva, who returned the ball from close to the touchline to the advancing Rodri – a typical City attack. The Spaniard, alone in space, took his time and fired low into Onana’s left corner. UEFA awarded Rodri with the man of the match award, although in the first half he said “I played shit, to be honest”.

After leading 1-0, a Guardiola team in their usual form would have defused any opposition resistance by monopolizing possession. Here, City repeatedly gave Inter chances. Federico Dimarco fired a header over goalkeeper Ederson’s waving hand onto the crossbar, and Ederson made excellent saves from Inter’s late substitute, Romelu Lukaku. Even on the last kick of the game, a corner from Inter at the end of extra time, the Brazilian had to make an unlikely stop. “It was probably a fifty-fifty match,” City captain Ilkay Gundogan admitted to TV channel BT Sport.

Winger Jack Grealish told the channel: “I was horrible but I don’t care. I’ve worked for this all my life. I said to the manager, “I want to thank you.” He put so much trust in me. He’s a genius.” That may be true, but not based on tonight’s evidence.

City’s opponents accuse the club of putting together this brilliant team with the help of “financial doping”. The Premier League has referred City to an independent commission, which will review more than 100 allegations of breaching financial rules over nearly a decade – allegations the club denies.

City fans in Istanbul couldn’t care less. This was the biggest night in the club’s history. Only one English team had previously won the Premier League, FA Cup and Champions League treble – their neighbors Manchester United in 1999, the same year City narrowly avoided relegation to the third tier of English football.

Some of the older fans who sang the traditional club song, Blue Moon, must have been there too.

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