In the Atatürk Olympic Stadium (72,000 seats), west of the Turkish metropolis, the Italian club arrives as an outsider ready to bite the calves of the English favorite, with licked technique and lightning offensives.
"We have to play without fear. We know they will give everything, they are a complete team, we have to show what we are made of," said nerazzurro midfielder Hakan Çalhanoglu.
The motivation of the interist is increased tenfold by the desire to become the first Turk to lift the Cup with big ears. But Manchester City's appetite is also immense at the thought of engraving his name on the trophy for the first time, two years after a losing opening final to Chelsea.
A "dream" or an "obsession"? Both at the same time, answered Pep Guardiola, crowned in 2009 and 2011 with FC Barcelona but held in check since his arrival in 2016 in the north of England, despite the ambition and investment of the Emirati owner.
This is "the last hurdle", as the Telegraph writes. "The time has come for City to take the final step, to turn the dream into reality," the Times said: "the missing piece of the puzzle is on the horizon for Guardiola and his all-talented team."
Presentation of the 2022-20223 Champions League final between Manchester City and Inter Milan © Vincent LEFAI, Valentina BRESCHI / AFP
Martinez vs. Haaland
On the road to Istanbul, the Sky Blues put the spotlight in the league, passing Arsenal on the finish line, in the FA Cup with a final won against the neighbor and rival Manchester United, and a breathtaking C1 semi-final against Real Madrid (4-0), title holders left in tatters.
Manchester City striker Erlinbg Haaland and coach Pep Guardiola on June 9, 2023 at Istanbul's © Atatürk Stadium Paul ELLIS / AFP
However, there is no question for the Citizens to be dazzled by the possible "Treble", which the Red Devils managed in 1999.
"The biggest mistake you can make is to forget that it's a final. People can say what they want, in my mind and in the mind of the team, there is no favourite in the final, no matter what you did to reach it," said Ruben Dias.
City's Portuguese defender faces serious clients on Saturday, starting with Lautaro Martinez, fresh world champion, supported by 37-year-old veteran Edin Dzeko or the powerful Romelu Lukaku.
The Argentine "Toro", less bleeding at the end of winter, has planted 11 banderilles in his last 13 appearances, all competitions combined. The dynamic is opposite for Erling Haaland, with a small goal scored in his last seven games.
Guardiola, however, strongly believes in the awakening of the Norwegian "Terminator", with crazy statistics (52 goals, including 12 in 10 European matches) for his first season in Manchester, at 22 years old.
"If you have doubts about Haaland's ability to score, you will be the only person," the Catalan coach told a news conference on Friday. "I have no doubt, (Saturday) he will be ready to help us win the Champions League."
War of nerves
Inter have already won it three times, under the management of Helenio Herrera (1964 and 1965) and Jose Mourinho (2010).
Inter Milan striker Lautaro Martinez, training at the Atatürk Stadium in Istanbul, June 9, 2023 © FRANCK FIFE / AFP
"We know it will be a great opportunity to make history," said current coach Simone Inzaghi. "We will do everything we can, we will make efforts together. Together is the key word."
City's rich superstars face Inter's solidarity warriors? The equation is more complex than that, and the match could turn into a chess game, until one side submits the other.
Do not expect "a very open game, it is often the case in the final elsewhere," said Kevin De Bruyne, serial-passer of the Citizens. The reward could come from patience, "you shouldn't get nervous too quickly".
The team that will be led will also be able to evoke the memory of 2005 so as not to lose footing near the Bosphorus. In the same Atatürk Stadium, Liverpool had achieved the "miracle of Istanbul" by winning on penalties after being led 3-0 at half-time by AC Milan.
It was another era, another Milan, and history remains to be written.
© 2023 AFP