Champions League finals are typically close, tense affairs and that could well be the case again as Manchester City face Inter in Istanbul on Saturday evening, live on BT Sport.

Pep Guardiola's relentlessly successful side are the favourites, unsurprisingly, but nothing can be taken for granted on such an occasion.

With talent all over the pitch on both teams, we've taken a look at the most important battles ahead of a massive night in Turkey.


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Erling Haaland vs Alessandro Bastoni

"I have great faith in myself and my teammates," said Alessandro Bastoni when asked about the ominous threat of Erling Haaland. "It's not Inter against Haaland. It's Inter against Man City."

At times on Saturday evening, though, Inter's central defender might find himself one-on-one with Europe's most devastating striker.

In such moments, his ability to stay focused, to make the right decision, could well be the difference.

Inter are, perhaps more than any other finalist in recent years, clear underdogs. And it's safe to assume that they will need to keep Haaland quiet to stand any real chance of winning the Champions League for a fourth time.

Bastoni, still only 24, has emerged as a key man for the Serie A side this season, operating as a ball-playing defender on the left side of Simone Inzaghi's back three.

He is two years Haaland's senior, yet there is something unerringly formidable about City's No 9. Few strikers in the sport's history have invoked so much palpable fear in opposition defenders.

For Bastoni and his teammates, the key will be to restrict Haaland's service. If he gets a chance on such a big stage, he's unlikely to pass it up.

Alessandro Bastoni

Ilkay Gundogan vs Nicolo Barella

Ilkay Gundogan has been a revelation in a Manchester City shirt.

The midfielder signed for a modest fee of £21m from Borussia Dortmund in 2016 has repaid that outlay and more, and now appears to be ageing like a fine wine at 32. 

If this is his last game in a City shirt - as has been speculated - Gundogan has the opportunity to go out on a high after what has arguably been his best season for the club.

His two superb volleys proved the difference in the FA Cup final and a brace at Everton last month - along with a pinpoint cross for Erling Haaland - helped City secure the victory that put them on the brink of a fifth Premier League title in six seasons. 

It wouldn't be a surprise then if Gundogan is heavily involved again with a treble on the line on Saturday.

He will occupy similar areas of the pitch to Inter’s Nicolo Barella, a player whose tenacity and technical ability makes Simone Inzaghi's team tick.

Both will look to drive forward into advanced areas and both will have to contribute defensively in a battle of two genuine box-to-box midfielders.

Ilkay Gundogan in action at home to Real Madrid

John Stones vs Henrikh Mkhitaryan

City fans, and indeed many of their players, will be familiar with Henrikh Mkhitaryan, who spent two years with rivals Manchester United and Arsenal before leaving for Italy in 2020.

The 34-year-old had an untimely injury scare in the weeks before Saturday's final but has now returned to training and looks set to play in Istanbul.

An intelligent, perceptive midfielder, the Armenian has generally been utilised in a slightly deeper role by Inzaghi but still looks to get forward and presses well out of possession.

His work off the ball will be especially important against City, with John Stones' new hybrid midfield role proving difficult for teams to work out.

The England international steps into midfield in possession and drops into defence when required, another of Guardiola's shrewd innovations.

Stones is more than capable of dictating a game alongside Rodri, so Mkhitaryan's job will be to disrupt him, to give him more to think about defensively and prevent total domination from the Premier League champions.

Henrikh Mkhitaryan

Manuel Akanji vs Denzel Dumfries

Denzel Dumfries likes to get forward, and as the right wing-back in Inter's 3-5-2, he has licence to do so.

The Dutchman's end product can occasionally be below par, but there's no doubt he is a threat if not dealt with.

Many thought City's apparent dearth of options at left-back would be an issue for City this season, particularly when Joao Cancelo joined Bayern Munich and followed Oleksandr Zinchenko out the exit door.

Guardiola, though, was unconcerned. He simply shifted Nathan Ake across, and after the Dutchman picked up a hamstring injury, replaced him with Manuel Akanji, who has taken to his new role brilliantly.

In effect, Akanji operates as a left-sided centre-back in possession, but is tasked with moving out to wide areas when defending to stop any advancing wide players on the right flank.

His job will be to stop Dumfries, who will attempt to burst down the wing and provide service for Edin Dzeko, Lautaro Martinez and later Romelu Lukaku.

Akanji's more defensive tendencies and one-on-one ability have served him well thus far, but Dumfries could prove to be his biggest test yet.

Manuel Akanji

Ruben Dias vs Lautaro Martinez

Dzeko and Lukaku are undoubtedly big threats in their own right and will have occupied plenty of space in Guardiola's mind over the last week.

But Inter's main man is Lautaro, who has 27 goals and 10 assists to his name in all club competitions so far this season.

Continuation of that form could see him fire Inter to European glory along with their Coppa Italia triumph, having already won the World Cup with Argentina in Qatar.

Ruben Dias will be the man tasked with keeping Lautaro quiet and there are few better at defending their own penalty area than the Portugal international.

City improved markedly when Dias returned to the team after a spell out with injury following the World Cup and his ruggedness at the back has been crucial on this formidable run of form at the end of the season.

If he can mark Lautaro out of the game, the English side could be lifting another trophy and celebrating a treble by the end of the night.

Lautaro Martinez in training ahead of the Champions League final