5 Key Battles To Watch Out For In Champions League Final

Members of the public pose for photos at the Yenikapi event area in Istanbul, on June 8, 2023, ahead of the UEFA Champions League final. – (Photo by Yasin AKGUL / AFP)
Members of the public pose for photos at the Yenikapi event area in Istanbul, on June 8, 2023, ahead of the UEFA Champions League final. – (Photo by Yasin AKGUL / AFP)


Manchester City are heavy favorites to win their first Champions League as the super-rich club takes on resurgent Inter Milan, one of Europe’s old guard.

Here we look at the battles which could define Saturday’s final in Istanbul:

Erling Haaland v Francesco Acerbi

Monster striker Haaland adds a new level of attacking threat to City, and if Inter want to stop Pep Guardiola’s club, they must remain on top of the Norwegian.

Inter have been without former captain and outstanding centre-back Milan Skriniar, who will join PSG in the summer, for months owing to a back injury, therefore there should be no match between Haaland and Acerbi in principle.

Acerbi, a veteran Italy international, has been a capable replacement for Skriniar, but he has not had to cope with this type of striker, who will lead the Champions League scoring charts for the second time in his career at the age of 22.

A young fan at Inter’s training field who gave the 35-year-old a fishing net to try to catch Haaland summed up Acerbi’s assignment perfectly.

Kevin De Bruyne v Henrikh Mkhitaryan

Haaland might be the killer, but De Bruyne is the one who loads the bullets for City, and all-action midfielder Mkhitaryan will be critical in stopping him.

Since the last international break, De Bruyne has set up seven goals in 11 games, including two in City’s 4-0 demolition of Real Madrid in the second leg of their semi-final, which sealed their ticket to Istanbul.

Inter’s midfield attacks and defends as one, but former Manchester United star Mkhitaryan will be the lucky one from a three-man center trio who will most likely have to deal with De Bruyne’s forays.

Federico Dimarco v Kyle Walker

Born and reared in Milan and a passionate Inter supporter, wing-back Dimarco has emerged as a crucial player for his boyhood club in his mid-20s after spending years abroad on loan.

The 25-year-old brings width and dynamism on the left side, as well as dangerous crosses and set-pieces, and his fight with pacy England full-back Walker will be crucial to Inter’s ability to construct attacks and break down City, who are expected to dominate the ball.

Following the departure of Ivan Perisic to Tottenham this season, Dimarco has participated in 10 of Inter’s 12 Champions League matches and set up five goals throughout their European campaign.

Lautaro Martinez v Manuel Akanji

Argentina forward Martinez is on another of his typical goal-scoring streaks, and the latest has arrived just in time to cause some trouble for City.

Martinez has scored 11 goals in his previous 12 games across all competitions and is perfectly content to link up with either Edin Dzeko or the similarly in-form Romelu Lukaku.

Lautaro will be buzzing around the City backline and attacking the area held by Akanji, with one of Dzeko and Lukaku occupying Ruben Dias as more typical centre-forwards.

Ilkay Gundogan v Hakan Calhanoglu

Gundogan usually comes through for City when it counts, providing midfield drive with Rodri and the rare vital goal, such as his double in the FA Cup final against Manchester United.

Calhanoglu, on the other hand, has found a new lease on life since going from one side of Milan to the other two years ago, and he now has the added incentive of aiming to win the Champions League in his native country.

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