Manchester City complete the Treble: 16 Conclusions on Guardiola, Dias, Lukaku, Ederson

Matt Stead
Manchester City celebrate

Internazionale provided a far greater obstacle than many expected but Manchester City and Pep Guardiola completed their Treble, with Ederson the hero.


1) As Jack Grealish failed to hold back the tears, his voice trembling and cracking with emotion when the realisation finally dawned that yes, Jake Humphrey is taking his High Performance elsewhere, a different dimension to this remarkable Manchester City dominance revealed itself.

For many, this will forever be the Asterisk Season, the campaign in which Manchester City took the number 115 and Trebled it. The achievement should be accompanied by sneering quote marks, they taunt, inevitable and meaningless and manufactured as it is.

Wherever you sit on that particular spectrum between delirium and derision, begrudging applause and belligerent apathy, the human aspect of those involved in winning the Premier League, FA Cup and Champions League in the same season should not be overlooked.

“It’s what you work your whole life for, innit? I’m just so happy, man,” Grealish said after a game in which he was, by his own admission, “sh*t”. The players, the coaches and the staff have accomplished something incredible, lived a dream and vindicated their entire life’s sacrifice and strife in the process. They should and will be immortalised.


2) But as said by Joleon Lescott – for this night really was his and Des Kelly’s – “there’s so many people that have contributed to this, in terms of the chairman, the ownership, so there’s a lot of people looking forward to this moment”.

It does feel as though Sheikh Mansour, attending his second competitive Manchester City game, played at least a small part. After 15 years of ownership, the sportswashing must be piling up.

Honestly, though. Saying “the greatest story in club history has an ending” on “a proud day for Khaldoon Al-Mubarak,” while describing this all as something which felt “impossible” summed up the night’s sycophantic coverage, even if it does already feel weird not to have a minute-by-minute update on Lescott’s (more career appearances for Wolves; fewer Manchester City games than Mick McCarthy) anxiety levels.

Being happy for and respecting the brilliance of the players and coaches involved is one thing, but the regime which delivered it should continue to be questioned, doubted and probed. That perennial need is only reinforced by success like this and the increasingly pandering reaction to it.


3) The theoretical mismatch between these two Champions League finalists was underlined by the cost of Internazionale’s starting XI: equivalent to Grealish and a bit of extra change. Simone Inzaghi lined up to face this juggernaut with a side put together at an expense of £103.4m. They should never have stood a chance.

Yet Internazionale were worthy opponents, a team befitting the occasion and challenge. Manchester City won each of their three knockout ties by at least three clear goals to reach this point, but were blown from that serene path by a manager and squad similarly accustomed to the crunch of a final.

This is the most mature, solid, durable and efficient Manchester City side in history. And they had to be, because this aggressive, combative and streetwise Internazionale team would have feasted on them otherwise.


4) After the world gleefully waited for the opening seconds to pass before offering the entirely original thought that Man Utd couldn’t hold out this long at Wembley, the game settled into a pattern of endless stoppages and throw-ins. There was the odd injection of urgency – Bernardo Silva curling a shot just wide after backing Federico Dimarco up into his own area – but the adrenaline soon wore off and was substituted early on for nerves.

Manchester City summarily failed to exert any sort of control in possession as Internazionale constantly hounded them and prevented any sort of meaningful build-up. Most players were either too slow or imprecise in thought and action, but Ederson typically went the other way: the Brazilian was so casual in possession it drove Pep Guardiola to levels which would ordinarily involve the tearing out of hair.

One early moment saw a simple kick to Nathan Ake lumped out for a throw-in, before a slack pass from the keeper led to Nicolo Barella trying to lob Ederson from a difficult but inviting angle.

Guardiola, who had been pleading for calm minutes earlier with his palms facing the ground, started shouting “relax!” in an elite-level example of awareness and irony. The manager was so agitated on the touchline throughout that it does feel as though some of that energy eventually transmitted to the players.


5) With that in mind, it was very funny to see Guardiola literally on all fours as a breakdown in on-pitch communication gave Lautaro Martinez a chance to score at 0-0 just before the hour mark. Ederson remained calm, closed the angle and waited patiently to smother a fire set by Manuel Akanji’s inattentiveness. Relax, indeed.


6) Ederson was phenomenal, particularly in the closing stretch. From the 88th minute onwards he produced a stunning save from a Romelu Lukaku header, was booked for timewasting, caught and somehow held onto a high kick from Andre Onana near the edge of a crowded area, and acrobatically kept out a Robin Gosens effort in the fifth minute of stoppage time.

It was a masterclass in positioning, decision-making and game management when Manchester City most needed it, from a player whose function in this machine remains either misunderstood or ignored.


7) Panicked as Guardiola was by that Martinez moment, he seemed to be the only individual with clarity of thought as events unfolded in a manner few foresaw in Istanbul.

The first half was a standard cagey, fraught, absorbing tactical battle/chess match despite predictions of something more grand and emphatic for Manchester City’s expected coronation. It was as if Guardiola’s players had been prepared for something entirely different to the challenge put in front of them and their reaction in real-time with the pressure on was sub-optimal.

Guardiola quickly sensed they were fighting and struggling against the tide, his pre-match words understandably lost in the mind fuzz and stadium buzz.

“You have to be stable in finals,” he said before the game. “Defend well, attack and have control. You have to be patient. The most important thing is thinking it is 0-0 and we are not losing. Italian teams at 0-0 can think they are winning but they are not.”

Manchester City regrouped and improved after half-time, that message perhaps stressed again in the dressing room. Patience was a virtue they were sorely lacking before then.

Pep Guardiola kisses the Champions League trophy.


8) The injury to Kevin de Bruyne did not help. Having managed 60 minutes of the 2021 Champions League final, the Belgian succumbed to a hamstring problem after barely half an hour two years later.

De Bruyne had been involved in Manchester City’s best passing move: a line-breaking pass from Ruben Dias, a sublime first-time flick around the corner from Ilkay Gundogan and a slide-rule ball from the Belgian to slide Erling Haaland in and force an Onana save. But it soon became clear he could not continue despite being given as many opportunities as possible.

At least the bitter pill was accompanied with a sweet trophy this time. And it seems likely that De Bruyne will have at least another chance to complete a Champions League final.


9) That situation unfolded in such a way as to give Manchester City time to formulate a perfect response. De Bruyne battled on for a few more stoppage-soaked minutes, by which point Phil Foden was primed and ready to replace him.

It was a thrilling hour from the academy product. Foden was involved in the build-up to the goal, induced the game’s first booking, worked in beautiful flowing tandem with Haaland and should have scored after a sumptuous turn embarrassed Dimarco before a characteristic drive into the Internazionale area culminated in a telegraphed shot for Onana to save.

That purpose had been lacking from Manchester City and Internationale struggled to ferociously press a player whose movements they could not predict. Foden’s ability to receive the ball with his back to goal, to dribble, to turn, to pass long or short, must be a nightmare to defend against.


10) Onana thwarting Foden came as no surprise, so excellent was the Internazionale keeper. His reading of the game was imperious and saves such as those from Haaland in the first half only look routine due to superior positioning.

But the Cameroonian’s distribution was most impressive: no player completed more than his 10 long passes, of which a great many were ambitious balls played along the ground through a number of Manchester City players.

As Man Utd and Spurs come to a £40m agreement of sorts over one keeper, it’s hard not to think Onana will have dragged himself to the top of many a similar shortlist ahead of the summer with that performance.


11) With the system threatening to collapse in on itself, Manchester City had to rely on individuals to troubleshoot as they tried to turn things off at the back and on again. Two players seemed most in tune with Guardiola’s demands, without whom catastrophe would have struck.

Dias led by example, winning at least two more headers than any other player and making the most interceptions. His header past the post and out for a corner after Ederson’s save from Lukaku was stunning defensive work.

John Stones was again sensational in his role, carrying Manchester City forward on his own at times. He completed more dribbles (six) than a) any teammate and b) every Internazionale player combined. That transformation is legitimately one of Guardiola’s finest coaching achievements.


12) The usual substitution of Edin Dzeko for Lukaku around the hour mark seemed to alter the game’s landscape. The incoming striker immediately beat Dias in the air to play Denzel Dumfries in down the right but his cross was poor and cut out by Akanji.

Lukaku gave Inter the mobile focal point that Dzeko could not. The Chelsea forward subsequently inadvertently blocked one teammate’s goal-bound shot – although Dias would surely have cleared anyway – then had a point-blank header saved before getting booked.

After returning from one fruitful loan to join the European champions in 2013, Lukaku tried as he might to reverse the roles a decade later as the Champions League winner coming back to a trophyless Stamford Bridge. It was not to be, even if the overall display was far better than both the player he replaced and Haaland’s, containing enough glimpses of something Mauricio Pochettino could work with.


13) That is particularly true if Lukaku can continue his partnership with Martinez. Chelsea are interested in the Internazionale forward and his brand of tenacity, skill, dynamism and tirelessness would translate well to the Premier League.

Inzaghi will naturally be desperate to keep a player with three years left on his San Siro contract. Manchester City struggled to contain Martinez, who created four chances and switched seamlessly between running off the shoulder of the last man, holding play up impeccably and leading the press. If his final decision can be refined he would be phenomenal – which feels strange to say of someone with 39 goals and assists this season.


14) In the 15 minutes after Lukaku was introduced came three moments on which the result of the Champions League final hinged: Haaland bursting through on goal, Rodri scoring and Dimarco hitting the crossbar.

A deflection put Haaland through before glorious defending from Alessandro Bastoni thwarted him. A cleared Bernardo cross after Akanji’s superb pass through the defence fell to the side of Rodri’s foot. Dimarco hit the crossbar a minute or so later with a looping header and then struck his rebound against Lukaku.

Three moments in quick succession, each of which would have had completely different outcomes if milliseconds or millimetres were altered. One cannot win a Treble* without luck and Manchester City benefited from their fair share.


15) Rodri had been poor – again, “sh*t” was his own post-match assessment – but he was the player who ultimately delivered Manchester City’s holy grail. Guardiola’s side held on for dear life, going from six shots apiece in the first hour or so up to the winning goal, to Foden offering the only response to Internazionale’s eight efforts in the last 22 minutes.

Manchester City finding a way through a stubborn, deep defence and then protecting a lead through organised, determined and diligent work in their own backline felt like a true completion of their evolution. Their first Champions League tie under Guardiola ended in a 6-6 aggregate defeat on away goals; this was the culmination of all the lessons learned since that chaotic scene, imparted by one of the game’s greatest ever teachers.

No longer can Guardiola do his annual bit about how Manchester City are not yet ready to win the Champions League. If anything, they they had been ready for too long. And what a shame he still ended up overthinking it by wearing a suit.


16) Remember the Pepsi kick-off show? And Salt Bae completing his personal World Cup and Champions League final double? And best of all, Nathan Jones stopping the Quadruple? Southampton should be ashamed.