Inzaghi’s side failed to win the trophy but still produced a very solid performance that proved that even Guardiola’s Man City can be put under pressure.

On June 10, Manchester City won the first UEFA Champions League in their history, putting the cherry on top of a magnificent treble after triumphs in the Premier League and FA Cup. To do so, they defeated Inter 1-0, in a final that turned out to be way more open and hard-fought than people predicted. A game in which the Nerazzurri also had the chance to even the result in the match's final moments, with a couple of chances for Dimarco and Lukaku (while also producing a higher total xG, 1.75 to 0.61).

That was largely thanks to Inzaghi’s team that, even when facing the best passing team in the world, didn’t give up on having a positive attitude when trying to win the ball back. Inter alternated phases of high and intense pressure to moments when they lay deeper but still defended actively, not just parking the bus in the penalty area while defending Onana’s goal.

Inter weren’t even surprised by Guardiola’s choice to change system, dropping the 3-2-4-1 formation that they successfully used in the second part of the season to opt for a 3-4-3 diamond tactic, maybe not to give Inter defenders any reference point. In response to that, Inzaghi opted to advance Barella on the offensive line to press Aké, while Brozovic had the task to tag along Rodri – even very high up the pitch – while Darmian advanced to take care of De Bruyne. By doing so, City’s only route was towards Stones, who played in midfield and became one of the most active players of the game.

For this strategy to work it required great effort and focus from all the players on the pitch, starting from the individual duels. During the 90 minutes, Inter were able to win 92 duels, which is not an irrelevant number given the technical and athletic substance of their opponents. From this standpoint, a few of Inzaghi’s players shone brighter than others: Dimarco – who won 9 duels – and the three center-backs. Darmian won 5 defensive duels out of 8, but also 2 out of 3 loose balls and 1 out of 1 offensive duels. Acerbi won all his offensive duels, while Bastoni did the same with the aerial ones.

Inter Duels in Numbers - UCL Final Match Report on Wyscout

This is also why Manchester City, despite having most of the ball and especially until Rodri’s goal, couldn’t take advantage of this edge by creating dangerous goal-scoring opportunities. And perhaps it’s not a coincidence that the goal arrived in one of the very rare circumstances when Inter collapsed in their penalty box. At the same time, stats on duels also explain Inzaghi team’s struggles: Lautaro Martinez, as an example, only won 1 out of 10, failing most of the time to help the team settle in City’s half to take advantage of more elaborate attacking strategies.

So Inter paid for some of their strikers’ struggles, especially during the first half, when City’s pressure – Guardiola’s teams' pressure is always state of the art – also contributed to giving them a hard time. Regardless, the Nerazzurri were able to keep City away from the most dangerous parts of the pitch thanks to their aggression. Inter forced 86 lost balls from the opponents (in the last 5 games, a couple of which played with reserves, they averaged 77), with Haaland and Grealish losing 14 each. As said, this was largely due to efficient pressure and an active defensive phase to win the ball back, not waiting for the opponent to make a mistake. The best performers were Brozovic with 14 recoveries, Acerbi with 11 – often challenging Haaland, not the easiest of opponents – Bastoni and Dimarco, with 9 and 7 recoveries respectively.

Insight on Inter Recoveries - UCL Final Match Report on Wyscout

So, even if eventually it wasn’t enough, Inzaghi’s Inter proved that even Manchester City can be challenged thanks to organized pressure and an active defensive phase. It can be a lesson for the future and not only for the Nerazzurri but for all the teams that will play Guardiola’s side next season.

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