Pat Lee Nichols and Alfie Sayers team up to bring the 26th instalment of The Goalkeeper's Chronicle, ahead of today's Champions League Final.
The 2022/23 domestic football season started way back in July. Now, 11 months on, we have reached the crescendo of the European footballing calendar: the Champions League Final.
Despite this being the 68th rendition of the big dance, it never ceases to engross fans in their millions every single time. The two week brief hiatus between the apogee of league football and the Champions League Final serves as a necessary, but perhaps unwelcome, respite from the turbulence of up to fifty weeks of relentless football for those fans concerned.
This year's unravelling storyline is one that has been told in prehistoric scribbles, in religious scripture, and in modern cinema. It's a tale of redemption. A Manchester City side on the edge of the treble, a feat that the red side of Manchester dangles over the citizens as one last refutation. The second half of this show's ensemble is an Inter Milan side that has been long labelled a fallen giant, having sat in the shadows of Juventus for over a decade.
But the past goes out of the window today in Istanbul. It's all about the legacy left for future generations.
What of the road that led us to this match-up? Well, the role of underdog is not so commonly assumed in a Champions League final, however there is a well noted gap between the two sides. Inter finished 18 points behind Serie A winners Napoli, having won the competition themselves two years prior.
Their strong performances in Europe have somewhat masked a tumultuous domestic campaign, which saw them face defeat 12 times. This would be a fourth Champions League success for Inter, placing them back among Europe’s elite.
It was heartbreak two years ago against Chelsea, in front of just 14,000 fans due to COVID-19 restrictions, that Kai Havertz would slip the defensive line and take the ball around Ederson who could only watch the German score into an empty net. But this year, for Manchester City, this could be the crowning moment of yet another season of glory. Pep Guardiola has gone on record to state the confidence he has in the side, but equally that the quality of the opposition must be respected.
Fast forward to September 2022 and the two sides faced tricky groups, with Inter having the misfortune of sharing a group with Bayern Munich and Barcelona. Many had ruled them out at this early stage; a third place finish and a Europa League title would mark a good campaign in Europe. Manchester City had to navigate Dortmund and the pesky Sevilla.
Manchester City would win their group as expected, whilst Inter pushed Barcelona into the Europa League, taking four points from their two battles in the process. City would put out a statement of intent in the Round of 16, scoring seven against a hapless RB Leipzig.
Inter then squeezed past Porto, going 180 minutes without conceding, with thanks to an unbelievable performance from goalkeeper André Onana at the San Siro to keep out Mehdi Taremi and Co. The Quarter Finals saw City at their best again, beating Bayern 4-1 on aggregate. Inter did likewise with Benfica, winning 5-3 over the two legs.
But it was the Semi-Final clashes that really stood out. A Milan derby on one side and a clash with perennial winners Real Madrid for Pep’s men. In the first game at the San Siro, both Mike Maignan and André Onana put in solid performances, with the latter not tested as much as his French counterpart. In the end, the tie was surprisingly one sided over both legs, with an aggregate victory 3-0 seeing Onana’s Inter represent Milan and all of Italian football on the biggest stage of all.
The adjacent tie was must see TV. To have a chance of become the best, Manchester City had to beat the best: a Real Madrid team featuring a core group who had multiple Champions League titles to their names. At the back, Los Blancos were steadied by the presence of their 6 foot 7 goalkeeper, Thibaut Courtois, who did his utmost across the two games to keep Real in the competition.
Despite some heroics, it was not to be enough as Manchester City would turn Madrid over 4-0 at the Etihad. Ederson had his moments despite the aggregate scoreline; his quick reflexes denied a close range Benzema header to keep the score 1-1 after the first leg.
Semi final performances by Goalkeeper xG:
Ederson: 7 saves, 1 goal conceded, Saves - Expected Saves = +0.64
Onana: 3 saves, 0 goals conceded, Saves - Expected Saves = +0.40
All of the above makes today's fixture an especially intriguing tie, even more so for a neutral or goalkeeping fan. Ederson is deserving of his moment in the spotlight, often overlooked at major international tournaments due to the greatness of his Brazilian compatriot at Liverpool.
Equally, it would be some story if Onana could help his side lift the famous trophy after the off-field issues he has faced in recent years. He would become just the third African goalkeeper after Bruce Grobbelaar (1984) and Édouard Mendy (2021) to lift the trophy.
May the best man win.