Key battles in the Champions League final

Manchester clear favorites to win their first ever Champions Leagueas the super-rich club take on one of Europe’s old guard in a resurgent Inter Milan.

Here AFP looks at the battles that could define Saturday’s final in Istanbul:

Erling Haaland v Francesco Acerbi

Erling Haaland Photo: EPA-EFE/ADAM VOAN

monster striker Haaland gives City a whole new dimension of attacking threat and if Inter have a chance to stop Pep Guardiola’s side they need to stay right on top of the Norwegian.

Inter have been without former captain and star centre-back Milan Skriniar for months now, who is leaving for Paris Saint-Germain in the summer due to a back injury, and in theory there should be no matchup between Haaland and Acerbi.

Italy veteran Acerbi was a capable replacement for Skriniar, but he has never had to deal with a striker who, for the second time in his career, will top the Champions League top scorers at just 22 years old.

Acerbi’s challenge was summed up by a young fan outside Inter’s training ground, who gave the 35-year-old a fishing net to try to catch Haaland.

Kevin De Bruyne v Henrikh Mkhitaryan

Henrikh Mkhitaryan. Photo: EPA-EFE/MATTEO BAZZI

Haaland may be the killer, but De Bruyne is the man who loads the bullets for City, and versatile midfielder Mkhitaryan will be critical to stop him from rioting.

De Bruyne has scored seven goals in 11 games since the last international break, including two against City. The defeat of “Real” with a score of 4: 0 in the second leg of the semi-finals, which confirmed their transfer to Istanbul.

Inter’s midfield is a unit that attacks and defends as a unit, but former Manchester United player Mkhitaryan, assuming he’s able to play, will be the lucky one of the three center players who will have to deal with the incursions the most. Bruyne.

Federico Dimarco v Kyle Walker


Born and raised in Milan and a lifelong Inter fan, full-back Dimarco became a key player in his childhood club in his 20s after spending several years on loan on loan.

The 25-year-old provides breadth and momentum on the left, as well as sneaky crosses and set-pieces, and his battle with fast England full-back Walker will be key to how Inter will build attacks and break City, who are more likely to dominate the ball.

With Inzaghi this season, following the departure of Ivan Perisic to Tottenham, Dimarco has appeared in 10 of Inter’s 12 Champions League matches and scored five goals during his European campaign.

Lautaro Martinez v Manuel Akanji

Lautaro Martinez Photo: EPA-EFE/MATTEO BAZZI

Argentina striker Martinez is having another of his signature hitting streaks, and the last one came at just the right time to do some damage to City.

Martinez has scored 11 goals in his last 12 matches in all competitions and is perfectly happy playing either Edin Dzeko or Romelu Lukaku, who is in equally good shape.

With one of Dzeko and Lukaku occupying Ruben Diaz as more traditional centre-forwards, Lautaro will be humming around City’s backline and aiming for the area occupied by Akanji.

Ilkay Gundogan v Hakan Calhanoglu

Ilkay Gundogan (right) Photo: EPA-EFE/ANDY RAIN

Gundogan tends to step up when it matters to City, providing a strike in midfield with Rodri and scoring an important goal from time to time, such as winning his brace in the FA Cup Final against Manchester United.

Calhanoğlu, meanwhile, has found new life after moving from one side of Milan to another two years ago, and he has the added incentive to try to win the Champions League in his home country.