THE absence of another European football superpower from the Champions League final tonight coupled with the scintillating form of their own all-conquering team this season, have given the Manchester City supporters who have flocked to Istanbul hope that things will be different this time around.

The billions which Sheikh Mansour has poured into the Etihad Stadium outfit since becoming their majority owner back in 2008 may have helped to firmly establish them among the continent’s elite in recent years.

Yet, their previous quests to land club football’s greatest prize have always, much to the delight of those who feel they have flouted financial fair play rules, ended in ignominy and failure. They have been beaten in the quarter-finals of the competition three times, the semi-final twice and the final once.

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In the Ataturk Olympic Stadium this evening, however, City will come up against Inter Milan, surprise finalists and then some. They are, despite their previous crushing disappointments, widely expected to prevail comfortably and be crowned kings of Europe at long last.

But Marco Negri, the former Rangers striker who has worked as a specialist forwards coach, including for Udinese, since retiring from playing, is not one of those who is anticipating a one-sided encounter in Turkey.

He has seen how his old adversary Simone Inzaghi has turned Inter into one of the form teams in Italy in the season half of the 2022/23 campaign – they finished third in Serie A and lifted both the Coppa Italia and Supercoppa Italia – and firmly believes they are more than capable of upsetting the favourites again and winning their fourth title.

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“Manchester City have big, big money, world-class players and the best manager in the game in Pep Guardiola,” he said. “Winning the Champions League is something that they must do. They must bring it home. They have everything to lose.

“Then you have Inter Milan. Just getting to the final is a dream for Inter. It will be something special for them to win the trophy. They have nothing to lose. The mindsets of the players will be different. The pressure is all on City. Inter are the underdogs.

“But Inter have got great players as well. It is an old cliché, but they have a great mix of younger players, like Alessandro Bastoni and Nicolo Barella, and experienced players, like Romelu Lukaka, Edin Dzeko and Marcelo Brozovic.

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“They are in peak form right now as well. They struggled for results at the start of the season, but they are currently playing at a very high level. They have a lot of confidence. They can run, they can score goals. They are playing great football at the moment.

“City have a squad of 25 fantastic players. But they can only play 11 in the final. Money is not as important in a one-off game over 90 minutes. Inter have got a chance. They will treat their opponents with respect. But they will play with no fear. They will try to win.”

Negri is certainly expecting the Champions League final to be an entertaining spectacle due to the positive approach which he knows Inter will take against their expensively-assembled and highly-fancied opponents.  

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“I played against Inzaghi when he was with Lazio,” he said. “He was a penalty box striker like myself and his brother (Juventus, AC Milan and Italy legend Filippo). He loved scoring goals. The teams he manages are exactly the same.

“Inter are not a typically Italian club. They don’t play defensively. They play a 3-5-2 formation with two central strikers and an attacking midfielder in behind them. They play with Edin Dzeko, Lautaro Martinez and Romelu Lukaku up front. They try to get forward and score goals at every available opportunity.

“Their wing backs, Denzel Dumfries and Federico Dimarco, are the players who can make a difference for them, both in a positive and a negative way. They push up a lot and are dangerous in attack, but that can leave them exposed defensively at times.

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“City have players, Phil Foden, Riyad Mahrez, Jack Grealish and Bernando Silva, who can punish teams if they have space they can exploit. Inter will have to defend for 90 minutes. But, as I say, they are playing great football.

“I expect City will have the majority of the possession and to play high up the park in the opposition half. But Inter are dangerous on the counter attack because of the way they are set up. Finals are often settled by one moment - a corner kick, a yellow card, a single shot. If Inter can take their chances, and they will have chances, they can win.”

City, who have already retained the Premier League and lifted the FA Cup, are bidding to emulate the Manchester United side of 1999 and complete a treble. But Negri has seen signs of late that their exertions at home and abroad during the past 10 months have taken a toll. He does not think fatigue will be an issue for their opponents.

“I watched the FA Cup final at the weekend,” he said. “Okay, City beat Manchester United and lifted the trophy. But I saw a lot of very tired players, especially Rodri and John Stones, during the game. Physically, I don’t think City are at their best. But Inter are.”

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Inter are the third Italian team to take part in a European final this season; Roma were beaten on penalties by Sevilla in the Europa League final in Budapest last week and Fiorentina lost to West Ham in the climax of the Conference League in Prague on Wednesday night.

Negri, who had spells at Udinese, Bologna, Perugia, Cagliari and Livorno during his playing career, suspects the success of Serie A sides, who had five representatives in the semi-finals for the first time ever, this term owes more to the staging of the Qatar 2022 finals in November and December than a resurgence of the Italian game. 

“Not making the World Cup again was a disaster,” he said. “It was unacceptable. But I think not being involved in the World Cup has maybe helped Italian clubs in Europe. Many of their players had one month’s rest. It was a strange season.

“Inter have also had a good draw. City played against Bayern and Real Madrid. Inter played against Benfica, Porto and AC Milan. That is not the same level. They have been lucky with the journey they have been on. They have not faced the best clubs in Europe.” 

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Negri added: “The Premier League is still on another planet to Serie A. Their television deal means that English clubs can spend three or four times what Italian clubs spend.

“When I played in Serie A it was the best league in the world with the best players in the world because they had the most money. We had Gabriel Batistuta, Ronaldo, Zinedine Zidane. All the Ballon d’Or winners played in Italy.

“But not any longer. The Italian league is very good at developing players, but when they are at their peak they are bought by an English club. We have seen it happen with Kalidou Koulibaly and Jorginho. Victor Osimhen and Kim Min-jae of Napoli and Rafael Leao of AC Milan could well be the next ones to make that move.

“Bayern, Paris Saint-Germain, City, Liverpool, Manchester United, Chelsea and Real Madrid are all stronger than Italian clubs.”

Whether Manchester City will prove to good for Inter Milan in Istanbul tonight and avoid further Champions League heartache remains to be seen.