Manchester City 1-0 Inter Milan: Rodri breaks Internazionale resistance to seal Manchester City’s treble glory

Rodri breaks Internazionale resistance to seal Manchester City’s treble glory

For Manchester City, it was the crowning glory, the trophy that they have craved to complete the ultimate set. It is often said that clubs must suffer before they win the Champions League and how City have done so, especially during the Pep Guardiola years when domestic dominance has brought no guarantees in Europe’s elite and most capricious competition.

They suffered some more here, Internazionale pushing them all the way, much further than many had expected. The team that finished third in Serie A were the equal of City for much of a high-stress night here in Istanbul.

There was a moment just before the hour when Guardiola sank to his knees as Lautaro Martínez rushed up the left, only to shoot too close to Ederson. It was a long way from being the kind of crushing City performance that Premier League supporters have grown used to.

It was only about the result and City found a way to it through the force of their personality. It had become increasingly clear that one moment could be all that either side needed and City made it happen when Manuel Akanji played in Bernardo Silva up the right and when his pull-back deflected, there was Rodri, running on to the loose ball to send a low shot fizzing home.

Inter could have equalised. They should have equalised. Federico Dimarco looped a header up and against the crossbar and, when he headed again on the rebound, the ball hit his own teammate, Romelu Lukaku, and refused to go in. Lukaku would blow a gilt-edged header from close range in the 89th minute when he simply had to score from close-range, Ederson saving with his legs. It was a remarkable intervention. City’s joy knew no bounds. The keeper was called upon again in added time of added time, turning over Robin Gosens’ header from a corner.

It was easy to focus on City’s journey since the Abu Dhabi United Group takeover in 2008, not least because the owner, Sheikh Mansour, was here; it was only the second time he had watched his club in a competitive game, the first having been against Liverpool in 2010.

It was broader than that, of course, many of the travelling supporters remembering the slide into League One in the 1990s, especially the darkly comic relegation from the Premier League in 1996; the diagnosis of City-itis by the former manager Joe Royle.

There are many good reasons why the Inter manager, Simone Inzaghi, had described City as the best team in the world on Friday and there was zero dissent. All the pressure was on City; the hope from Inter’s side was that they could thrive in the role of underdogs.

Guardiola, who dropped Kyle Walker, preferring Manuel Akanji on the right of his defence, Nathan Aké on the left, wanted to see patience from his players and it was needed. There had been a big early chance for Bernardo Silva, the City winger running at Federico Dimarco, who seemed more concerned about keeping his hands behind his back. Silva jinked inside and the shot was curled inches past the far top corner.

But it was the Inter support whose voices could be heard in the first half, their team having settled and grown into the contest. The black and blue carried the physical fight and it was strange not to see City bringing an aggressive press. Inter sought to get men around Rodri when he was in possession and it was surprisingly one-paced from City up to the end of the first half.

Guardiola did not want the City support to boo the Uefa anthem. They booed the Uefa anthem. They also booed at the end of the pre-match show. It had been a mission for them to make it to this stadium on the north-western outskirts of Istanbul, miles from anywhere, the roads clogged since mid-afternoon, so perhaps it was a mercy that kick-off was 10pm local time. The emotions churned.

Inter were comfortable in possession, their 5-3-2 system well grooved. Denzel Dumfries pushed up the right or sometimes it was Matteo Darmian stepping up from the right of the central defensive three. Nicoló Barella looked polished. There were a couple of wobbles from Ederson as he tried to ignite City moves; one pass intended for John Stones went to Barella, for whom the long-range lob was on, the goalkeeper off his line. Barella scuffed it.

The drama of the first half involved Kevin De Bruyne, who played a smart pass on 27 minutes into the stride of Erling Haaland, who had hared away from Alessandro Bastoni on a diagonal run. Haaland had a clean look at the far corner only to drag too close to André Onana. By Haaland’s standards, it was a good chance.

Shortly afterwards, De Bruyne went down, seeming to have pulled something. He got up and tried to continue but it was too much. Having been forced off in the final two years ago after the notorious check from Chelsea’s Antonio Rüdiger, he once again took early leave. It was a shattering blow.

The sense at half-time was that Inter had poured all of themselves into the battle, doing well to more or less contain City, while Guardiola’s team had extra gears to find. And, for all of the encouragement that Inzaghi could feel, not least the short passes up and out of defence, the neat triangles, his team had created nothing, the final action missing.

The tension crackled, Romelu Lukaku adding further spice when he came on for Edin Dzeko in the 56th minute, the City support booing the former Manchester United striker lustily. City laboured to find their rhythm, Haaland slipping and fluffing a pass to blow a counterattack.

By then, Inter might have led. Akanji left a ball for Ederson except that the goalkeeper did not come and Lautaro Martínez was in up the left. Martínez took on the shot only for Ederson to block. Was Lukaku a better option for the cross? Some of Inter’s final decisions were open to question.

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