Europa League final preview: Inter Milan’s firepower faces Sevilla’s experience
Sevilla have won this competition five times, but beating Antonio Conte’s free-scoring team won’t be easy for the Spanish side
Here’s an interesting fact: Sevilla and Inter Milan have never played each other in a UEFA competition. That will finally change later tonight when they face off in Cologne for this season’s Europa League final.
After 196 matches and 543 goals, it all comes down to this final encounter at the Stadion Köln. Both teams enter the match in prime form: unbeaten in their last five. While Sevilla registered a 2-1 comeback win against Manchester United in their semi-final, Inter Milan cruised to a comfortable 5-0 victory against Shakhtar Donetsk.
Interestingly, both the sides also have nothing to lose - this final is pretty much like a free hit. Sevilla finished fourth in the 2019-20 La Liga season, while Inter Milan missed out on the Serie A title by an agonizing margin, finishing just a point behind champions Juventus. They are both assured of a slot in next season’s Champions League group stage anyway. This final, however, does offer the teams an excellent chance to finish the season with a flourish, and a trophy. The Europa League is often placed in a different bracket than the more prestigious UEFA Champions League. But over recent years, the former has made its mark and garnered a cult following by hosting some breathtaking football.
A win here would be a massive boost for either of the two managers as well. Sevilla’s Julien Lopetegui has done an impressive job ever since he took over the side last June. While Sevilla had finished 6th in the 2018-19 season, Lopetegui himself was getting over a tumultuous phase in his managerial career. He was famously sacked as manager of the Spanish national team just days before the 2018 World Cup, after Real Madrid jumped the gun to announce him as their next manager. His stint at Madrid, however, was nothing short of disastrous. After a string of early bad results that ended with a 5-1 El Clasico defeat against FC Barcelona, he was sacked by the club in October 2018. The fact that he has managed to guide Sevilla back to the Champions League speaks volumes.
For Inter Milan, meanwhile, it’s a first European final in almost a decade, when they had defeated Bayern Munich in the 2009-10 UEFA Champions League final. Antonio Conte has also redeemed his tarnished managerial credentials after being sacked by Chelsea, by finishing second in Serie A with a side that had finished 5th in the 2018-19 season. Inter have experienced Europa League glory three times in the past and Conte must be looking to add to that list.
Tactically speaking, you can expect Conte’s preferred 3-5-2 system against Lopetegui’s 4-3-3 formation that often changes to a 4-5-1 whenever Sevilla are not in possession. But if there’s one team that knows how to win a Europa League title, it’s the side from Seville. The Spanish outfit have reached the final an astonishing six times, including this one, and have been crowned champions on five occasions - they are the most successful side in the history of this competition.
While Sevilla might have the momentum and records on their side, Inter Milan can look to their powerful forward line, especially 27-year-old Belgian striker Romelu Lukaku, who cannot stop scoring at the moment. He has 33 goals in all competitions this season - that’s two more than what Lionel Messi has managed for Barcelona in the same time - and has now scored in a record 10 consecutive Europa League matches. After leaving Manchester United at the end of the 2018-19 season, Lukaku has found another gear to his game under Conte. He has also struck a lovely partnership with Lautaro Martinez, who himself has 14 goals this term, including a brace in the semi-final win against Shakhtar.
Ahead of the Champions League final between Bayern Munich and Paris Saint-Germain on Sunday night, this Europa League clash makes for an exciting affair for the neutrals - it’s a pity that both these matches will have to be played behind closed doors due to the covid-19 pandemic. Sevilla are deservedly kings of the Europa League, while Inter Milan - under Conte - don’t know when they are beaten. It will simply be a case of who blinks first.
The UEFA Europa League 2019-20 final will kick-off at 12.30 am, 22 August (IST)
FIRST PUBLISHED21.08.2020 | 09:30 AM IST