AHEAD of Manchester City and Inter Milan’s clash in Saturday’s Champions League final, it’s time to take a look back at the players that shone in this year’s competition.
The list is naturally dominated by the players’ of the two finalists – particularly City who will look to win a historic treble.
But, there are one or two surprises to keep an eye out for.
The basis of a successful team starts with a goalkeeper.
The goalkeeper has kept a clean sheet in 75% of his Champions League games this season and his passing out from the back has been crucial for Simone Inzaghi’s side.
His performances for Inter this season mean Manchester United, Chelsea and Tottenham are set for a bidding war to secure his services this summer.
Securing the right-back spot for the side is John Stones, although his position as a midfielder-defender hybrid means he only ever really appears there on paper for Pep’s team.
Stones was able to step into midfield to help control the game when City had possession which has become a trademark since his positional tweak.
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He put in a man of the match performance in City’s first leg quarter final 3-0 victory over Bayern Munich and has kept four clean sheets in his seven Champions League appearances this season.
Dias has been a stalwart for City in the Champions League this season, starting 11 of their 12 games.
He’s helped the Citizens keep seven clean sheets during this season’s campaign, including in 3-0 and 4-0 victories against Bayern Munich and Real Madrid respectively.
The defender has played down City’s favourites tag ahead of the final, saying: “A final will always be tight – no matter who is playing against who.
From our experience, you are only favourites when you step out onto the pitch and show who you are.”
Partnering Dias in defence is Inter’s Alessandro Bastoni.
The defender, 24, is an Inter supporter and turned down the opportunity to reunite with former manager Antonio Conte at Tottenham last season to fight for trophies with his boyhood club.
He has been a crucial part of Inter’s run to the final and has helped Inter keep eight clean sheets in 11 Champions League appearances this season.
He has even managed to rack up three assists – which is testament to his ability as a ball playing centre back.
Dimarco isn’t one of Inter Milan‘s star names, but his lung busting runs from left wing back are crucial to how Inter Milan create chances.
Ostensibly a defender, his role in the team is often to drive the team forward in an attacking sense.
Like Bastoni, DiMarco is a Milanese born Inter supporter and his five assists in ten appearances for Inter in the Champions League have been vital during their route to the final.
Speaking ahead of the final, SempreInter.com report that he told the Champions League magazine: “Playing in the Champions League final is not something that happens every day. Especially for Inter, who have won it three times.
“Every boy dreams of playing these matches,”
It’s hard to make an argument for a midfielder that has been better than Rodri in the Champions League this season.
His passing and ability to set a game’s tempo is a cornerstone of City’s game and he’s the lynchpin of their midfield.
He also scored one of the finest goals of this year’s tournament when he opened the scoring in City’s 3-0 quarter final first leg victory over Bayern Munich.
Despite finding himself playing at left back at one point this season as Pep tweaked his XI – Bernardo has again proved himself as one of the first names on City’s team sheet.
The midfielder has notched three goals and one assist for the Citizens in the Champions League this season – all of them coming against City’s toughest opponents.
Silva bagged a goal and an assist as City swept Bayern aside in the quarter finals.
But it was against Madrid in the semi-finals that Silva was able to really steal the show.
He earned man of the match as he scored two goals in City’s incredible 4-0 rout over Madrid.
Kevin De Bruyne
Rounding out an all Manchester City midfield is a man that is surely already a City legend.
That would be confirmed beyond any doubt if City were to complete the treble on Saturday.
The midfielder has consistently been outstanding for the Sky Blues in the Champions League this season, bagging himself two goals and an incredible seven assists en route to the final.
He will be looking to avenge his 2021 Champions League final ended in misery against Chelsea.
Asked whether City need to win the Champions League for their own legacy De Bruyne said: “It depends who you ask, Will it help? Yes. But one 90 minutes doesn’t define a career.
“‘I am on around 700 games. One 90 minutes out of 700 doesn’t define my career. But obviously it helps.”
“‘I want to win the Champions League and I want to win the Treble. We should enjoy next week and hopefully we can perform the best we can.”
Preventing the team of the season from being an all City-Inter affair, Rafael Leao comes into the forward line.
Although predominately operating off the left, we’ve squeezed him on the right of a front three.
Milan will be delighted to have tied the forward to a new five year deal as he proved himself as the undoubted star of the side.
His six goal contributions were crucial in Milan reaching the semi-final against rivals Inter – with his ability to relieve pressure through his long distance dribbles being a particular asset.
Had he been fully fit for the all-Milan semi-final, Milan might have packed more of a punch against Inter.
Perhaps the easiest choice on this list, there’s no surprise as Erling Haaland heads up the team.
The City forward is this year’s top scorer with 12 goals in the Champions League this season – averaging an incredible 1.43 goals per 90.
The midfielder memorably grabbed five goals in a 7-0 drubbing of RB Leipzig in the round of 16.
He also returned in both legs against Bayern Munich.
His 12 goals in the Champions League are part of a return of 52 goals in 52 games in all competitions this season.
Despite City’s trouncing of Real Madrid in the semi-final, Vinicius Junior had a fine individual campaign in the Champions League final.
The Brazilian forward bagged seven goals and five assists across Madrid’s 12 games played.
While it will likely be forgotten due to City’s 4-0 victory in the second leg, his goal in the first leg 1-1 draw was a cracker.