Treble-hunting Manchester City sinks Real to set up final clash with Inter


Real Madrid 1-1 Manchester City | Manchester City 4-0 Real Madrid

Pep Guardiola’s Manchester City, which has never won the UEFA Champions League, is on course for an elusive treble after it beat Real Madrid 5-1 (on aggregate) in the two-legged semi-final. In the final, set to happen in Istanbul on June 11, City will face Inter Milan, which trumped its cross-city rival AC Milan with effortless ease in the last-four clash.

City buried the ghosts of its semifinal defeat to the same opponent last season when Real overturned a 4-3 defeat in the first leg with a remarkable late comeback in the second before winning the final.

The contest was on an even keel in the first leg this time, with City and Madrid trading blows at the Santiago Bernabeu in a 1-1 draw. Madrid, the reigning UCL champion, took the lead through a mesmerising solo goal from Vinicius Jr. before Kevin de Bruyne ensured parity for City with a piledriver of a shot, which whistled past Los Blancos goalkeeper Thibaut Courtois.

But in Manchester, City’s attackers ripped Carlo Ancelotti’s side apart with their fluid movement and ruthless finishing.

Bernardo Silva began the rout in the 23rd minute with a composed finish after De Bruyne assisted him with a slick through ball. The Portuguese midfielder was at it again when he headed in a rebound to set City on the way to a famous win.

Real, though, weathered the storm and even briefly held the upper hand early in the second half. But Guardiola ensured his side did not cede the advantage in the face of a spirited counterattack.

Defender Manuel Akanji netted the third and decisive goal in the 76th minute to kill off any hopes of a Madrid revival. Argentinian World Cup hero Julian Alvarez put the cherry on top with an injury-time goal moments after being subbed in.

Guardiola’s win—his last UCL title came in 2011 with Barcelona—over his long-time rival Ancelotti will taste even sweeter, considering that he didn’t need a goal contribution from his record-gobbling Norwegian forward Erling Haaland.

AC Milan 0-2 Inter Milan | Inter Milan 1-0 AC Milan

Inter Milan turned back the clock by outplaying AC Milan twice at their shared home ground, the San Siro.

Inter and Milan have been in revival mode in the last couple of years after a dormant decade dominated by Juventus, the last Italian side to come close to winning the UCL. Inter won the 2020–21 Serie A title, while Milan took the honours last season.

Inter looked the better of the two sides. The Nerazzurri pressed harder, passed with intent, and struck at the right moments to constantly stay ahead in the tie.

Tryst with destiny: Inter Milan will play in the UCL final for the sixth time and first since lifting its third European Cup in 2009-10 under Jose Mourinho. 
| Photo Credit: Getty Images

In the first leg, while Milan took time to settle, Inter hit the ground running with a 7 th minute goal from Edin Dzeko. The Bosnian outpowered his marker and side-footed the ball to open the scoring. Then in the 11th minute, Henrikh Mkhitaryan trapped a diagonal ball from the flank by left-back Federico Dimarco at the edge of the box before sidestepping Milan defenders to slot it home.

Milan, which was missing Rafael Leao due to injury, grew into the game in the second half but couldn’t prevent Inter from seizing an early advantage in the tie.

In the second leg, Simone Inzaghi’s side was much more conservative, drawing a growingly desperate Milan side in before hitting it on the counter.

Romelu Lukaku, who was resigned to a reduced role from the bench, was pivotal. In the 74th minute, the Belgian waltzed past a couple of defenders before laying it on the path of Lautaro Martinez, who slotted it past Mike Maignan at the first post.

Inter, which began its UCL campaign with European heavyweights Bayern Munich and Barcelona in the group stage, will be up against the relentless machine of Guardiola’s City in the final.

Inzaghi and his men will try to draw motivation from the feats of the last Inter side that climbed the summit in 2010 under the stewardship of Jose Mourinho. It would also help that Mourinho’s Inter had famously held off Guardiola’s Barcelona, one of the greatest football teams ever assembled, on the way to winning the UCL.

Pranay Rajiv

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