ROB DRAPER: No points for style, but Rodri delivers prize for Man City

ROB DRAPER: Man City get no points for style after being thrown off their stride by Inter Milan but Rodri delivers the ultimate prize as Pep Guardiola’s team claim their moment of destiny

  • OLIVER HOLT: Guardiola’s beautiful City team have finally conquered Europe
  • Manchester City clinched the Treble after winning the Champions League final
  • City were frustrated by Inter Milan before Rodri’s stunning strike in 1-0 victory 

You will never take this moment away from these Manchester City players. They’re aren’t just the best team in Europe, finally ascending that mountain in the scared city of Istanbul. They are now among the greatest ever to play the game in England and the equal of their neighbours Manchester United with their own Treble secured.

They had to scrap to get there. In the end it was one of their more destructive players, Rodri, who proved the game- changer, a thundering shot of a goal which finally broke the deadlock on 68 minutes after a dog of a game that saw swaggering City aesthetically neutralised. 

Still, for once this was about that elusive trophy rather than points for style.

Naturally, there are qualifications to make and many will add them. There will be another day of reckoning when the scales of justice are weighed, City’s accounts are quantified and a verdict is made on the claims of financial doping, which City deny. 

‘What about the 115 Premier League charges?’ will be the cry from almost every other fan group around Europe. A guilty verdict might rob this club of much of the lustre accumulated in recent years and lose them previous titles. But not this one and they will never take away the Treble.

Rodri scored with a crisp 68th-minute strike as Manchester City won the Champions League

Man City completed a historic Treble after winning the Premier League and the FA Cup

This night was about the fans who watched this team lose to Lincoln, Wycombe and York in the third tier. Those at Bootham Crescent in the run-up to Christmas in 1998, when City sank to 12th in the equivalent of League One and then went up via the play-offs will be incredulous. Even with the accumulated wealth of Abu Dhabi oil reserves, this was still scarcely believable to most in 2008, though it will now become commonplace.

Many European clubs are geo-political footballs and that era began with City’s takeover, which has spawned this team. Some say it was inevitable. Throw enough money at the problem and eventually you’ll hit upon a solution. But it isn’t quite that simple: ask Manchester United and Paris Saint-Germain.

We knew it was a big day when it was confirmed Sheik Mansour was in attendance. The vice-president and deputy prime minister of the United Arab Emirates had deigned to watch the team he owns for the second time in 15 years.

When former player Franny Lee owned City, he did so on the back of his bog-roll business, rather than being the member of a royal family with net worth of $300billion. Lee was City royalty and may have made his money clearing up faeces, but, then again, he also didn’t have to defend Abu Dhabi’s human rights record.

And we knew how much City needed this win when Guardiola promised there would be no tactical brainstorms here. Given the damage they usually inflict on his side, that would have come as a relief to most City fans. And yet there was a switch, with Kyle Walker dropped and John Stones nominally at right back. Except that he actually played alongside Ilkay Gundogan and Kevin De Bruyne in midfield. He wasn’t the extra holding midfielder, as usual, but a full-on attacking midfielder, presumably to put pressure on Inter’s five-man midfield.

Midfielder Rodri broke the deadlock in 68th minute with a fine strike from the edge of the box

Rodri arrived on the end of build-up play from Manuel Akanji and Bernardo Silva

But this wasn’t the City we have grown accustomed to in the last third of the season, crushing all-comers and baffling them by pushing an extra man into midfield. This was a disjointed team, seemingly thrown off their stride by Inter. 

Even when Inter won a corner in the 14th minute, Hakan Calhanoglu strolled over to take it, as if it was a casual Sunday afternoon promenade. Andre Onana seemed distracted and lost in thought when he had a goal kick to take. Throw-ins likewise: Inter took their time, almost as if they didn’t want a free-flowing game.

There was a moment of pace injection when De Bruyne played in Erling Haaland. But the ball ran just beyond the striker, whose shot was inhibited. 

And it was shortly after this that De Bruyne signalled to the bench. It seemed that would be his one moment of significance here and, sure enough, shortly after he departed, a cruel mirror of the 2021 final which also ended early for him.

Ruben Dias was uncharacteristically dwelling on he ball, getting caught by Lautaro Martinez. Edin Dzeko was winning his headers against Manuel Akanji from the frequent long balls sent his way. Crossfield balls to wing backs Denzel Dumfries and Federico Dimarco were causing City problems. Not so much that they sweated. But enough to indicate the game wasn’t running to plan. You pitied the TV producers worldwide pulling together the half-time highlights. They were pitiful.

Yet Inter were happy. From the sidelines coach Simone Inzaghi was virtually the 12th man on the pitch, crouching and then leaping up like a Jack-in-the-box when he saw a player not doing his job. This is a man who has won seven of the eight cup finals he has coached: he was always going to come to Istanbul with a viable plan.

Lautaro Martinez was denied by City keeper Ederson after a mistake by Akanji

Federico Dimarco’s header bounced off the bar and Romelu Lukaku was denied by Ederson

Inter had 39 per cent possession yet by a different metric, they were controlling the game, in that it was precisely the match they wanted. 

When Romelu Lukaku was introduced on 55 minutes, replacing Dzeko, 37 years old and all out of running, it felt as if the big guns were being deployed for the final bombardment. Akanji would switch off, allowing in Martinez — Ederson would save the day — and Haaland, when he did get a touch, was misplacing passes.

But when the chance came in the 88th minute for Lukaku — and it was a huge one — he nodded the ball tamely at Ederson. It was a painful moment for the Belgian and the Inter fans. That was their moment.

This was a gnarly display, unpleasing on the eye. And yet it completed a journey. The 115 questions it throws up for football are a thornier issue, to be resolved at a later date. Last night was for celebration of a truly remarkable team.

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