By Rohith Nair
(Reuters) – Manchester City face Inter Milan in the Champions League final in Istanbul on Saturday. Here are three key tactical battles to watch out for:
HOW DO YOU STOP 52-GOAL HAALAND?
In his debut season in England, Erling Haaland has scored 52 goals in all competitions – including 12 in the Champions League – as City celebrate the runaway success of his capture by sitting on the brink of a treble.
Despite question marks over how he would fit into Pep Guardiola’s system, Haaland has proved adept at playing the lethal target man as well as with his back to goal to involve City’s midfielders in build-up play, setting them up to score.
The task of keeping Haaland quiet will fall on Inter defender Francesco Acerbi in what will not just be a battle of the big men but also a clash of generations as 22-year-old Haaland comes up against 35-year-old Acerbi.
Inter need look no further than the first leg of City’s semi-final tie to take notes on how Real Madrid’s Antonio Rudiger shackled Haaland, with David Alaba also coming to the rescue when his partner was out of position.
Inter’s back-three will need help if they are to keep him quiet, however, and Simone Inzaghi could ask their midfield to drop back and deny City space to find the Norwegian hitman.
MIDFIELD BATTLE: DE BRUYNE V BROZOVIC
Ilkay Gundogan may have earned all the plaudits for his goal-scoring heroics late in the season that have helped City win the league and FA Cup.
But with 10 goals and an astonishing 31 assists this season, there is no question Kevin De Bruyne is the man they will rely on to unlock Inter’s defence.
Inzaghi discarded Inter’s failed high-press experiment to return to being a compact side and playing on the counter-attack, placing his midfield line of five closer to his centre backs.
The change paid dividends as Inter won 11 of their last 12 matches in all competitions but they will face their biggest test when De Bruyne attempts to pull the strings in midfield.
That is where Inter’s midfield lynchpin Marcelo Brozovic will be crucial in not only thwarting the Belgian’s attempts to control the game but also dropping deep to progress the ball so the Italian side can escape City’s press.
CAN INTER’S ATTACK SHINE?
Final favourites City have enjoyed over 60% of possession in the Champions League this season, which could sit well with Inzaghi as they have been lethal on the counter-attack in Serie A.
Inter’s strike pairing of Edin Dzeko and Lautaro Martinez have worked well together and the latter — who is their top scorer with 28 goals this season — will be hungry to add a Champions League medal to his World Cup win this season.
Dzeko, meanwhile, is 37 and this will probably be his final chance to win a European medal having thrived in three top leagues in the past 16 years.
The Bosnian striker helped City win two league titles and an FA Cup and will be a constant threat from set-pieces, but he finds himself up against a top defender in Ruben Dias.
While marking Dzeko is a task in itself as he keeps centre backs occupied, Argentina’s Martinez is a trickier opponent when deployed as a second striker.
John Stones has shone in his new defensive midfield role but not only will Martinez make things tough for him but Nicolo Barella will also be a handful with his late runs.