UCL PREVIEW: The Road to Istanbul

Istanbul’s Atatürk Olympic Stadium has already played host to a sensational UEFA Champions League Final, as Liverpool completed an incredible comeback to topple AC Milan in 2005. Eighteen years on, it’s England v Italy once more – as Manchester City prepare to face Inter Milan under the lights in Türkiye’s most populated city. Ahead of Saturday’s final, we’ve looked back at this Champions League campaign and the teams that these two sides have overcome to reach this stage.

Manchester City

The Journey

MD1: Sevilla (0 – 4) Manchester City

Manchester City started their UEFA Champions League campaign against Sevilla, who would ultimately go on to be crowned as winners of the UEFA Europa League. Erling Haaland tapped Kevin De Bruyne’s cross past the ‘keeper with just twenty minutes on the clock – and Phil Foden added the second with a tidy finish. Haaland completed his brace with a rebounded strike in the 67th minute, before Ruben Dias rounded off the scoring in injury time to complete an emphatic victory on the opening day.

MD2: Manchester City (2 – 1) Borussia Dortmund

After a goalless first half at the Etihad Stadium, it was Borussia Dortmund that took the lead as Jude Bellingham flicked the ball past Ederson with 56 minutes played. Thankfully for Guardiola though, John Stones levelled the game with ten minutes remaining before Erling Haaland fired the hosts ahead just moments later against his former club.

MD3: Manchester City (5 – 0) FC København

City were expected to thrash København, and that’s exactly what they did. Erling Haaland’s seventh-minute strike put the hosts on course for victory early on, with the Norwegian completing his brace shortly after the thirty-minute mark. Guardiola’s side took a three-goal lead into the break, courtesy of Davit Khocholava’s own goal.

An unrelenting second-half performance saw City extend the scoreline, rubbing salt further into the wounds of their Danish opponents. Riyad Mahrez converted from the penalty spot at the start of the half, before Julián Álvarez rounded off a comprehensive victory with fifteen minutes still to play.

MD4: FC København (0 – 0) Manchester City

While a goalless draw can be indicative of a relatively quiet match, that was far from the case in Denmark – as the first half was dictated by VAR decisions. City thought they’d taken the lead after twelve minutes as Rodri’s sensational effort from outside the box nestled in the back of the net, but the goal was chalked off for a handball against Riyad Mahrez.

The Algerian’s nightmare continued though, as he failed to convert a penalty from the spot with 25 minutes on the clock. Guardiola’s side were reduced to ten men for the final hour of the match, as Sergio Gómez was shown a straight red card for denial of a goalscoring opportunity – and City ultimately had to settle for a 0-0 draw in Copenhagen.

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MD5: Borussia Dortmund (0 – 0) Manchester City

Pep Guardiola’s side were involved in another goalless affair – this time at Borussia Dortmund’s Signal Iduna Park. Riyad Mahrez had another game to forget though, as his penalty effort was saved by Gregor just before the hour mark. Die Schwarzgelben had the better opportunities throughout the match but couldn’t take advantage, ultimately settling for a bore draw.

MD6: Manchester City (3 – 1) Sevilla

Manchester City’s final group stage game saw them host Sevilla at the Etihad Stadium. Despite an early scare as Rafa Mir opened the scoring for the Spanish side, City were able to return to winning ways in the second half – with Rico Lewis, Julián Álvarez and Riyad Mahrez all working their way onto the scoresheet.

MD7: RB Leipzig (1 – 1) Manchester City

Drawn against RB Leipzig in the round-of-sixteen, Manchester City faced a trip to Germany. With Riyad Mahrez seemingly recovered from his poor European form, the Algerian opened the scoring just before the thirty-minute mark. Joško Gvardiol equalised with twenty minutes left to play though, ensuring the tie would remain up for grabs in the return leg.

MD8: Manchester City (7 – 0) RB Leipzig

Keen to establish an early lead, Erling Haaland opened the scoring from the penalty spot with 22 minutes on the clock. Unhappy with just the one goal, the Norwegian added a second just moments later – and rounded off a superb hat-trick on the stroke of half-time.

Ilkay Gündoğan made it four shortly after play resumed, with Erling Haaland finding the back of the net for City’s fifth goal of the evening. Mere minutes later, he added yet another – before Kevin De Bruyne rounded off another stunning performance in stoppage time.

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MD9: Manchester City (3 – 0) Bayern Munich

The opening goal in this quarterfinal tie came courtesy of Rodri, who scored one of the goals of the season with a curling effort from outside the box. With a slender one-goal lead at half-time, City looked to add to their advantage in the final period – with goals from Bernardo Silva and Erling Haaland ensuring Pep Guardiola’s side headed to Munich with a comfortable margin.

MD10: Bayern Munich (1 – 1) Manchester City

Erling Haaland was the star for City once more, opening the scoring just before the hour mark. With Pep Guardiola’s side seemingly cruising towards the semifinals, Joshua Kimmich found a consolation goal for Bayern from the penalty spot – but the winners had been decided in the first leg, and it was City that progressed.

MD11: Real Madrid (1 – 1) Manchester City

There was nothing to separate these two sides in a spectacular match at the Santiago Bernabéu. Despite City enjoying the possession early on, it was Real Madrid that opened the scoring with a thunderous effort from Rodrygo – who found the back of the net with los Blancos first effort on target.

With just twenty minutes left on the clock, Kevin De Bruyne equalised with a strike just as good as Rodrygo’s, smashing the ball into the bottom corner from outside the box to ensure the momentum was in City’s favour ahead of the return leg at the Etihad.

MD12: Manchester City (4 – 0) Real Madrid

City were ruthless from the get-go, looking to establish an early lead over their Spanish opponents. Bernardo Silva rose to the challenge, netting twice in the first-half to provide the hosts with a comfortable lead at the break. An own goal from Éder Militão put any hopes of a dramatic comeback to bed, before Julián Álvarez bagged City’s fourth to seal their spot in Istanbul on 10 June.

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The Stars

It’s impossible to look past Erling Haaland as the star of this Manchester City side. Where they’ve fallen short in the past, the Norwegian has picked up the pace and simply can’t stop scoring – but Ilkay Gündoğan also deserves to be credited for his contributions from midfield.

The Numbers

City remain undefeated throughout this UEFA Champions League campaign, winning seven of their games and settling for five draws. With Erling Haaland in the side, it’s no surprise that the goals keep flowing – they’ve scored 31, conceding just five. The Norwegian has scored twelve of those 31 goals.

Internazionale Milano

The Journey

MD1: Inter Milan (0 – 2) Bayern Munich

Inter Milan’s UEFA Champions League campaign got off to a shaky start at the San Siro, as they suffered defeat against Bayern Munich. Leroy Sané opened the scoring in the first half, before an own goal from Danilo D’Ambrosio wrapped up an evening to forget for the Italian side.

MD2: Viktoria Plzeň (0 – 2) Inter Milan

Inter were able to right their wrongs against Viktoria Plzeň, with Edin Dzeko finding the back of the net after just twenty minutes. Pavel Bucha saw red just after the hour mark, and Denzel Dumfries was able to take advantage of Inter’s newfound numerical advantage – ensuring the Italian side headed back to Milan with three points.

MD3: Inter Milan (1 – 0) Barcelona

Despite poor form in the buildup to this fixture, Inter Milan were able to clinch three points against Barcelona. Hakan Çalhanoğlu scored on the stroke of half-time to ensure the Italians held the momentum in the second half – and they were able to hold out for three points as Pedri’s 67th minute strike was disallowed for handball following a VAR review.

MD4: Barcelona (3 – 3) Inter Milan

The return fixture was a closely contested affair that saw six goals – but it took forty minutes for the opening goal to come courtesy of Ousmane Dembélé. Nicolò Barella was able to equalise just five minutes into the second half, with Lautaro Martínez putting Inter ahead soon after.

The final ten minutes were utterly chaotic, with Robert Lewandowski scoring to level the match – but Robin Gosens thought he’d won Inter Milan the game with an 89th minute back-post finish. Lewandowski had other plans though, bagging deep in stoppage time to equalise once more and ensure the spoils would be shared.

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MD5: Inter (4 – 0) Viktoria Plzeň

Inter were utterly ruthless against Viktoria Plzeň at the San Siro, taking a two-goal lead into half-time courtesy of Henrikh Mkhitaryan and Edin Dzeko. The Bosnian added his second of the evening in the 66th minute, before handing the baton over to Romelu Lukaku who rounded off a dominant performance with a strike drilled into the bottom corner.

MD6: Bayern Munich (2 – 0) Inter Milan

Just as they had done on the opening matchday, Inter Milan were held to a defeat by Bayern Munich once more – this time rounding off their group stage campaign. Benjamin Pavard opened the scoring for the German side, with Eric Maxim Choupo-Moting doubling Bayern’s advantage with little under twenty minutes remaining.

MD7: Inter Milan (1 – 0) Porto

Inter Milan struggled to find a breakthrough against Portuguese opposition at the San Siro, with Romelu Lukaku providing the only goal of the game in the 86th minute – just moments after Otávio was dismissed for his second yellow card offence.

MD8: Porto (0 – 0) Inter Milan

That one-goal lead from the first leg would be crucial, as the return leg played out as a goalless draw. Despite Porto striking the woodwork several times in the final minutes, they weren’t quite able to find the back of the net – and Pepê was sent off in stoppage time, having received his second yellow card of the evening.

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MD9: Benfica (0 – 2) Inter Milan

Inter were drawn to face Portuguese opposition once more in the quarterfinals. A trip to the Iberian peninsula proved fruitful this time, with Nicolò Barella able to open the scoring minutes into the second half. From the penalty spot, Romelu Lukaku was able to double Inter Milan’s lead with less than ten minutes remaining – ensuring the advantage was firmly in their hands ahead of the return fixture.

MD10: Inter Milan (3 – 3) Benfica

Nicolò Barella was the first to find the back of the net once more, but a tidy goal from Fredik Aursnes ensured that Benfica would head into half-time level – though the Portuguese side still trailed by two goals on aggregate. Lautaro Martínez and Joaquín Correa were able to extend Inter’s lead; Benfica came back though, earning a draw on the night as António Silva and Petar Musa struck late on.

MD11: AC Milan (0 – 2) Inter Milan

The Derby della Madonnina is always a special occasion – even more so when it dictates which side will reach the final of Europe’s elite competition. It was i Nerazzurri that prevailed in the first leg though, in which they were technically the away side. Edin Dzeko and Henrikh Mkhitaryan were both able to find the back of the net within the opening fifteen minutes, securing a stunning victory.

MD12: Inter Milan (1 – 0) AC Milan

While the second leg was a much closer-fought affair than the first, Inter remained dominant and were able to keep their city rivals at bay for the majority of the game. Lautaro Martínez’s 74th-minute strike was the defining moment though, guaranteeing Internazionale Milano a spot in Istanbul.

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The Stars

André Onana deserves the plaudits, with eight clean sheets in the UEFA Champions League this season. The Cameroonian is a brick wall between the sticks – and his 45 saves will have played a huge part in Inter reaching the final.

The Numbers

Inter Milan’s numbers are far less impressive than those of Manchester City. I Nerazzurri have found the back of the net just nineteen times, shipping ten goals across twelve games. Edin Dzeko is the club’s top scorer in this tournament, with four goals to his name.