Manchester City pass their final test
June 11, 2023
June 11, 2023 — Manchester City passed all seven challenges I set out before the match yesterday to beat Inter in the Champions League Final.
Inter are Brentford on steroids June 10, 2023 — Inter is my favorite to win the Champions League Final if Manchester City fails to tackle these seven challenges.
- Limit Alessandro Bastoni’s space
- Control the middle
- Ignore Inter’s wing-backs
- Subdue Batman and Robin
- Work past Inter’s aggressive counter-press
- Break Inter’s low-block out wide
- Don’t let Inter cross
It’s fair to say, that was Manchester City’s toughest opponent this season. It wasn’t perfect, it was a tough match like we expected, but it was enough to win. I’ll recap each point with examples from this match.
Limit Alessandro Bastoni’s space
Manchester City should be most proud of this. They successfully limited Bastoni’s space, making it difficult for Inter to build up from the back.
Bernardo Silva put in a ton of work chasing Bastoni down on every possession, curving his run to force the ball back to Andre Onana. It’s exactly what I wanted to see from Manchester City.
Andre Onana’s distribution was wayward. A lot of his passes were inaccurate, either out of bounds or several yards off the mark.
He completed only 10 of the 21 long balls he attempted, with Ruben Dias coming up big, winning 6 of 11 aerial duels for Manchester City.
Alessandro Bastoni was visibly frustrated throughout the match and was subbed off in the 75th minute. Mission accomplished. He had almost no impact on the game when Inter were in possession.
Control the middle
It’s a domino effect. Because they cut off Alessandro Bastoni, stopping both Marcelo Brozovic and Nicolo Barella is then easier.
Manchester City pounced on both of them the minute they received the ball, all throughout the pitch, but especially in the middle.
When those two looked to cross from the corners, Rodri or Ilkay Gündoğan would come out to meet them. Rodri is right there to put a leg out.
Brozovic and Barella receive the ball with their back to goal or on the turn then ‘wham!’, assertive tackle. They really zeroed in on those two.
Ignore Inter’s wing-backs
Inter’s wing-backs were ignored by Manchester City. Denzel Dumfries, Federico Dimarco, and then later Robin Gosens all hugged the touch-line for the entirety of the match.
Bernardo Silva’s job was to pressure Bastoni, as mentioned earlier, and neither Dumfries nor Dimarco were marked.
Both are decoys in the first and second phase. They’re of no threat.
Trap Inter in the corner and then once Dumfries is played the ball, Manchester City close him down, forcing him into a mistake, which leads to a turnover.
They repeated this same pattern throughout the match.
Subdue Batman and Robin
The domino effect continues. Because they:
- Limited Alessandro Bastoni’s space
- Controlled the middle
- Ignored Inter’s wing-backs
Subduing Romelu Lukaku, Edin Dzeko, and Lautaro Martinez was a simple task. They hardly had time to get a foothold in the match.
Lautaro Martinez, in particular, was a target for Ilkay Gündoğan. The second Martinez touched the ball, his legs were taken out.
Each possession, the ball was pumped up to them, and quickly won back by Manchester City.
Work past Inter’s aggressive counter-press
Inter were neither aggressive nor passive; it was sort of in-between. They were reacting and waiting.
Dynamic man-marking gave the illusion that it might be easy to play through Inter, but once Manchester City started to advance into their half or into the corners, they’d begin to contract on the ball carrier.
They were tempting Manchester City to play long and attempting to block the space central.
Break Inter’s low-block out wide
Inter did leave space wide because of their tendency to sit narrow, but Manchester City did not take advantage of this deficiency in the first half.
On several occasions, the opportunity to switch play to a free man was passed up by Nathan Ake, Ruben Dias, and Ilkay Gündoğan. A quick switch would have opened up space centrally.
Manchester City adjusted at halftime and began to use that space more efficiently in the second half.
The game’s only goal originated from this space and narrowness.
Pep Guardiola mentioned this in a post-match interview with CBS Sports:
“The first half, […] when Calhanoglu jumped to Rodri, and the space with John Stones, we didn’t find it. In the second half, it was a little bit better. We scored a goal and after we had a clear chance with Phil Foden.”
Don’t let Inter cross
In the first half, Manchester City did a good job blocking cross attempts. Ilkay Gündoğan and Rodri were the ones tasked with challenging in-swinging crosses in front of the penalty area.
You can only do so much, though. Crosses are Inter’s main source of attack. They’re going to get one or two in, and they nearly scored from both chances.
Two big chances were stopped by Romelu Lukaku’s leg and a tremendous save from Ederson. Additionally, Ruben Dias showcased one of the best reflex headers I’ve ever seen as he cleared the ball out of play.
It wasn’t easy, but Manchester City passed the final test, winning the match 1-0.
Their first Champions League title and becoming the first English club to complete the European Treble. Premier League, FA Cup, and the Champions League. Incredible.