A season like no other at long last concludes this Saturday night, as Manchester City face Inter Milan in the Champions League final in Istanbul. As it perennially does, Europe’s elite club competition has given us intriguing statistical nuggets aplenty in 2022-23.
Here at Opta Analyst, we’ve dug up just a few as the curtain comes down on the 31st edition of football’s ultimate club competition.
1. A Unique Final Match Up
Manchester City vs. Inter Milan represents the 26th unique final pairing of the Champions League era. It’s the first time the first competitive meeting between two sides has been in a UEFA Champions League final since Liverpool faced AC Milan in 2005.
It’s also the second different combination of English and Italian teams to meet in the final, after that 2005 final – with the Reds triumphing in the ‘Miracle of Istanbul’, and the Rossoneri getting revenge in rather less miraculous fashion two years later in Athens.
It took until 2011 for the first repeat Champions League final: Barcelona vs. Manchester United. Then, Pep Guardiola’s legendary Barca side arguably reached their death-by-possession peak, defeating Sir Alex Ferguson’s united 3-1 at Wembley – having beaten them 2-0 two years earlier in Rome.
The third repeat Champions League final also featured a Spanish club: Real Madrid. Nineteen years after getting the better of Juventus at Amsterdam’s Johan Cruijff ArenA in 1998, Real went and did it again at another venue with a retractable roof: Cardiff’s Millennium Stadium.
Madrid were involved in repeat final number four, too. That was just last year when they claimed their record-extending 14th European crown by vanquishing Jürgen Klopp’s Liverpool in Paris – just as they had done in Kyiv five years earlier.
Back to Man City and Inter… This is only each club’s second appearance in the Champions League final: City lost to Chelsea in 2021; Inter beat Bayern Munich in 2010 en route to winning the treble under Jose Mourinho. The Nerazzurri did, though, play in four finals of the old European Cup – defeating Real Madrid in 1964 and retaining the trophy against Benfica the following year, before losing to Celtic and Ajax in 1967 and 1972 respectively.
2. The Norwegian Is Coming
Erling Haaland’s career is going to have to go off one hell of a cliff for him NOT to break the all-time Champions League/European Cup record one day (probably not too far from now). City’s history-hawking number nine is already just one goal away from going joint 20th on the list with the legendary Ferenc Puskás – while only 17 players have found the net more times in the competition since its rebrand to the Champions League in 1992-93.
Unless Edin Džeko goes supra-Haaland on his former club and scores eight goals, Haaland will finish as the top scorer in the 2022-23 Champions League. He’s banged in 12 goals so far (among a total of 52 in all competitions during his extraordinary first campaign with City) – four more than his next nearest challenger, Mohamed Salah of Liverpool, who were knocked out by Real Madrid in the last 16.
Five of Haaland’s 12 goals came in one game (a feat previously managed only by Lionel Messi and Shakhtar Donetsk’s Luiz Adriano): City’s 7-0 last-16 second-leg demolition of RB Leipzig at the Etihad Stadium. Why stop at a hat-trick, after all?
Speaking of hat-tricks, however, this season’s Champions League has seen the fewest (three) since 2009-10 – when Lionel Messi (who got all four goals in Barcelona’s 4-1 quarter-final thrashing of Arsenal), Ivica Olić and Nicklas Bendtner each took home a match ball. Joining Haaland in the 2022-23 Champions League hat-trick club are Robert Lewandowski in Barcelona’s 5-1 group-stage thrashing of Viktoria Plzeň, and Salah in Liverpool’s 7-1 evisceration of Rangers in the same round.
Unfortunately for Haaland and his history-making tendencies, the feat of two hat tricks in the same Champions League campaign has already been achieved. Cristiano Ronaldo made that particular piece of history for Real Madrid in 2016-17 – before Lewandowski and Karim Benzema both repeated it last term.
Haaland could become the first player to hit a hat-trick in a European Cup/Champions League final since 1969 – when Pierino Prati inspired Milan to a 4-1 victory over Ajax. Haaland hasn’t scored in his last four competitive appearances, either – his longest drought for over two years – so would anyone be surprised if he ends the season with an almighty bang?
3. Stark Difference Between the Sticks
Ok, so it’s to be expected that if you make it to the final of the Champions League as your team’s regular first-choice goalkeeper, you’ll probably make a fair few saves along the way. But the disparity between the two custodians set to line up between the sticks this Saturday by that particular measure is quite pronounced.
In absolute terms, no ‘keeper has made more saves in the 2022-23 Champions League than Inter’s André Onana (45). The 27-year-old Cameroonian previously reached the semi-finals with Ajax four years ago, but this will be his first appearance in club football’s grandest game.
Even when we look at Onana’s shot-stopping in terms of saves per 90, he still ranks as one of the busiest goalkeepers in this season’s competition. Of the 27 goalkeepers to play 450 minutes or more, only eight have averaged more saves/90 than Onana (3.7 – equal with Josh Cohen of Maccabi Haifa). Four of those eight were knocked out in the group stage – although one, Real Madrid’s Thibaut Courtois, played 10 out of a possible 12 matches en route to the quarter-finals.
Onana hasn’t just been making routine saves either: he’s really kept Inter in games on the way to the final. No goalkeeper has posted a higher goals prevented total than his 7.8 (none even comes close, with Courtois ranking second on 4.9) – and the same goes for his goals prevented rate among ‘keepers with 450+ minutes in the 2022-23 Champions League: Onana leads the way with 1.86. Put another way, for every goal Onana has conceded in the competition this season, you would have excepted him to ship 1.86 based on the quality of shots faced on target.
By contrast, Ederson has rarely been called into action in the City goal. That’s not to say Pep Guardiola’s dependable Brazilian hasn’t been alert and on hand to keep the ball out when needed – his goals prevented rate of 1.54 places him behind only Onana among ‘keepers with 450+ minutes – but City have faced a tournament-low 8.25 shots per game.
4. The Treble’s Not the Only Record City Could Emulate
Lifting that famous trophy on Saturday would see City become the first English club to do the treble since Manchester United in 1998-99 – but there is another, less obvious way in which they stand to emulate their bitter local rivals. City have not lost a single game in this season’s competition – and no team has achieved a full* unbeaten Champions League campaign since… United in 2007-08.
*Bayern Munich won the 2019-20 Champions League without suffering a defeat – but that season’s quarter-finals and semi-finals were shortened to single-leg affairs due to the Covid pandemic.
In truth, City have barely even come close to losing on the road to Istanbul. Their biggest scare of the campaign came during their first home game, on Matchday Two in the group stage, when they trailed Borussia Dortmund 1-0 with 10 minutes to go. That was before two goals in the space of five minutes from John Stones and, of course, Haaland turned the match on its head and secured all three points.
And, given their rampant dominance, it comes as no surprise to learn that City have spent less time behind in games than any other team in this season’s Champions League. Guardiola’s treble-chasers have spent just 82 minutes and 30 seconds trailing – which works out at 7% of their campaign.
Apart from that 2007-08 United side, only one other team has won the Champions League in its current format without losing a game: Barcelona in 2005-06. United went unbeaten en route to their most dramatic of final victories over Bayern in 1998-99 – when the competition featured 24 participants compared to the current 32; Ajax did it in a 16-team tournament in 1994-95; and AC Milan went undefeated in the 1993-94 edition, in which the finalists played 13 matches – but in a curious format combining the straight knockout of the old European Cup with a group stage then single-leg semi-finals.
5. Is It a Lucky Charm to Finish as Group Runner-Up?
This is the 20th season of the Champions League in its current format (i.e. 32 teams, one group stage, and three knockout rounds before the final); Inter are the 10th group runners-up to appear in the final. It follows, then, that group winners (among them this season’s City team) account for the other 30 finalists since 2003-04 – a campaign in which a group runner-up, Porto, lifted the trophy.
That was actually the case in each of the first two editions of the Champions League as we know and love it today: Liverpool only scraped through their 2004-05 group in second place thanks to Steven Gerrard’s 86th-minute [extremely Andy Gray voice] beauty against Olympiacos. Then, five years later, Inter ended their 55-year wait to be crowned champions of Europe for the third (and most recent) time – having won only two of their six group matches to advance with nine points, the joint fewest of any team to reach the knockout stage that season.
In fact, of the five Champions League finals in the last 20 years to pit a group winner against a group runner-up, the runner-up has won four: in addition to Porto in 2004, Liverpool in 2005 and Inter in 2010, Real Madrid went from group runners-up to kings of Europe in 2017 and 2018 – when they beat Juventus and Liverpool respectively. The odd one out? Juventus – who lost to Barcelona in 2015.
This might be as good an omen as Inter are going to find.
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