Inter’s progression to this weekend’s showcase at the Ataturk Stadium owes a lot to a stingy defence. Simone Inzaghi’s combative team emerged from a group containing Bayern Munich and Barcelona. They have also kept a tournament-high eight clean sheets in their 12 matches, including five from six in the knockout stages, with goalkeeper Andre Onana a star performer.
Argentinian World Cup winner Martinez has once again been a potent threat up front for Inter this season. The 25-year-old, who is supported by the experienced pair of former City striker Edin Dzeko and Romelu Lukaku, has been prolific over the past four years. Ahead of the semi-final, he urged his club-mates to harness the unity which led to his country triumphing in Qatar and that could again serve them well.
Inzaghi revealed his remit was to reach the last 16 of the Champions League when he was appointed in the summer of 2021. He satisfied that target last term before exceeding expectations this time around. He knows City will be overwhelming favourites and under greater pressure to deliver, and he has shown he can use such situations to his advantage.
Despite their impressive run in Europe, Inter endured a mixed domestic campaign and the Serie A champions of 2021 were unable to keep pace with runaway winners Napoli. Their final position of third place owed a lot to a late-season charge as well as pressure being eased by Juventus’ 10-point penalty. Inzaghi’s men lost a large percentage of their games – 12 of 38 – but benefitted from keeping draws – just three – to a minimum.
As three-time winners, most recently in 2010, Inter have historical pedigree in Europe but their recent big-game experience on this stage is limited. Since Jose Mourinho carried them to glory 13 years ago, they have progressed beyond the group stage just four times. That contrasts starkly with City’s record. The English club have reached the knockout stages in each of the past 10 seasons and progressed to at least the semi-finals in the last three. They were also finalists in 2021.
Lack of attacking width?
Inzaghi has developed a well-balanced side operating in a 3-5-2 system, bucking modern trends by playing with two strikers. The formation allows the 47-year-old to make the most of his four forwards – Martinez, Lukaku, Joaquin Correa and Dzeko. Yet the reliance on wing-backs alone to provide width in attacking areas can lead to play becoming concentrated in the centre of the pitch and makes it difficult to break down opponents.