Manchester City travel to Copenhagen in the last 16 of the UEFA Champions League this week, with Pep Guardiola’s side attempting to retain their European title.
City have featured in the Champions League for 13 consecutive seasons since their debut in 2011/12, but the big prize proved elusive.
This occurred in increasingly galling fashion under Guardiola, with a limp defeat to Chelsea in the 2021 final followed by Real Madrid pulling off a remontada for the ages in the semifinals a year later.
Last June, Guardiola’s latest shot at his first Champions League crown in more than a decade and City’s first in their history arrived against Inter Milan.
Here’s how the Premier League champions got the job done at the Ataturk Olympic Stadium in Istanbul, completing a historic treble.
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How did Man City and Inter Milan reach the 2023 UEFA Champions League final?
After hammering RB Leipzig 7-0 in the second leg of their last-16 tie – where Erling Haaland plundered five goals — City downed a pair of formidable Champions League heavyweights in the quarterfinals and semifinals.
Rodri opened the scoring against Bayern Munich during a well-matched first half at the Etihad Stadium before goals from Bernardo Silva and Haaland helped City to pull away during the second period. A 1-1 draw at the Allianz Arena rubber-stamped their progress to a third successive semifinal and that scoreline was replicated against Real Madrid at the Santiago Bernabeu, as Vinicius Jr. and Kevin De Bruyne exchanged fabulous long-range strikes.
In the return in Manchester a week later, Madrid were brutally blown away, with a first-half brace from the effervescent Silva setting up a romping 4-0 win.
Although those performances were headline-grabbing, a team of City’s ample quality reaching the final was not exactly a surprise. By contrast, Simone Inzaghi’s Inter made the most of a favourable draw to catch everyone unawares.
The Nerazzurri slogged past Porto 1-0 on aggregate in the Round of 16 before seeing off their fellow Portuguese heavyweights Benfica in more freewheeling fashion.
It set up a semifinal showdown for the ages between Inter and their fierce rivals AC Milan. Inter thrived amid the caldron of the San Siro — the iconic home stadium that the Milan clubs share — as Edin Dzeko and Henrikh Mkhitaryan sent them racing into a 2-0 lead inside 11 minutes.
Inter prevailed 1-0 in the second leg to book their date with destiny in Istanbul.
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What happened in Man City vs Inter Milan in 2023 Champions League final?
City started on the front foot as expected, with Silva backing up Federico Dimarco to curl wide of the far post in the fifth minute, although Ederson’s errant clearance to Nicolo Barella betrayed their nerves. Guardiola hollered at his players to “RELAX!” while simultaneously looking entirely uninterested in his own advice.
Haaland draw a smart stop from the Manchester United-bound Andre Onana before the half-hour on the end of a trademark De Bruyne throughball. It proved to be the Belgium playmaker’s last involvement as a troublesome hamstring injury caught up with him.
The game remained goalless as the hour approached and City were granted a huge let-off. Manuel Akanji let a pass from Silva run through towards Ederson but his keeper did not get the memo. Facing down Lautaro Martinez as Guardiola collapsed to his knees on the touchline, the Brazil goalkeeper saved superbly.
Shaking off that scare, Akanji and Silva were heavily involved in the game’s decisive moment in the 68th minute. The Switzerland defender advanced after taking possession from De Bruyne’s replacement Phil Foden to slide a pass down the right channel.
Silva’s low cross was deflected into Rodri’s path as Inter defenders were preoccupied by Haaland and the midfielder steered home unerringly. However, it proved to be anything but a serene journey to the finish line for City.
What did Romelu Lukaku do in the UCL final?
Romelu Lukaku had replaced Dzeko by the time City went ahead and the former Chelsea and Manchester United striker was inadvertently involved shortly after Rodri’s goal.
Dimarco found space in City’s box to loop a header against the crossbar. The rebound arced back towards the Italy wingback, whose follow-up goalbound attempt struck Lukaku, allowing City to scramble clear.
Foden then turned Dimarco with a beguiling piece of skill. Haaland cleared a path for the young attacker to bring the house down but he shot too close to Onana.
All the significant saves from that moment were produced by Ederson: first, when Lukaku improbably headed at him from point-blank range and Ruben Dias cleared behind; then, in the final act of the match, Ederson produced a leaping stop from Robin Goosens’ near-post header at a right-wing corner.
The ball spun behind off Inter captain Marcelo Brozovic for a goal kick, referee Szymon Marciniak blew his whistle, and City’s players alternatively tore around the field deliriously or collapsed onto the turf in floods of tears.
Treble talk is ramping up again this season, with Guardiola saying prior to the 2-0 Premier League win over Everton that it is “99.99 per cent” certain his side will not repeat the feat. This is partly a way of managing expectations, but it is easy to forget how hard City were made to fight in Istanbul and how close Europe’s best team of recent years came to blowing it again.
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