Once Manchester City and Inter Milan would meet in the Champions League final, no one asked who would win in Istanbul, but how many goals Pep Guardiola's team would score.
The feeling is that the English champions of five of the last six years are the best team in the world, and surpass their Italian rivals, but people tend to exaggerate. Inter is a fighting team, and they have a key player who can make them stand as a professional equal to City or at least get close to it - Nicolo Barella.
The best way to beat City, who have countless weapons that can decide the final, is to stop them in the middle of the pitch, and that's where Barela is. The short player (1.75 cm) has all the qualities a coach dreams of in a 50:50 midfielder - he is aggressive, technical, does not stop running between wides, tackles wonderfully, is very smart and can frustrate the azure opponent's midfielders.
In addition to his defensive abilities, he also contributes numbers. This season, in 46 matches in the Italian league and Champions League, Barella has scored 9 goals and added 6 assists, and most of Inter's attacks have passed through him.
Simona Inzaghi. Will he stop City with Barla?, Photo: AFP
"Barella is the player who can change the tempo in the middle of the field," said former coach Fabio Capello. "He also gives the Italian national team something different, in terms of quality and quantity, something we have been missing for many years." Capello is not wrong.
Barella is the favorite player of Squadra Azzurra coach Roberto Mancini. Since his appointment in 2018, no player has made more appearances (43) or scored more goals (8) for Italy than Barella, whom Mancini described as a "complete player".
Even in terms of things that have nothing to do with football, Barella is perfect for any coach. He doesn't keep his mouth shut for a moment during games, cheers up his teammates, is very mature for his age (26) and responsible. For Inter chiefs, he is considered the obvious choice to succeed goalkeeper Samir Handanovic as team captain, and his commitment is something young people can learn from.
He has such a desire to win that he even clashed with Romelu Lukaku 0-0 this season Against Sampdoria in February. "His will can sometimes hurt him, but we all know what kind of person he is," his coach Simona Inzaghi said after the incident, which was quickly resolved.
Fabio Capello. Just compliments, photo: Getty Images
"We have everything"
While all of Europe is putting its money on City, Barella remains optimistic about his and his teammates' ability to surprise on Saturday night, and this season's Champions League victories over Barcelona, Porto, Benfica and AC Milan are a good enough foundation for his belief. "Every game has its own story. We will try to write the end of this story in the best possible way," he said this week in an interview in the Land of the Boot.
Barela, who knows a thing or two about football, also spoke about Inter's ability in the middle of the pitch. "We have Marcelo Brozovic who played in the World Cup final. We have Henrik McKittrian who played at the highest level. We have the Can Celhanoğlu. We have experience, quality – we have everything."
Barella gave up bigger offers to join Inter Milan in the summer of 2019, which he has been a fan of since a young age, but in the past year his name has been linked with Liverpool and Manchester United, two teams that are still looking for a significant reinforcement in midfield.
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His fine play against their great rivals, City, and more on such a big occasion, could lead to an offer he does not rule out out of hand. "If I had to choose between Serie A and the Premier League, I would choose the Premier League, because I like the way the English play," he told The Gazette, adding half-jokingly: "Everyone there is just as nervous and prone to offence as I am!"
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