Verdict: Inter Milan win
Best odds: 23/20
With the 2019/20 season long concluded in all of the continent’s top five leagues, it’s now all about European success for the clubs remaining in the fold. While the Champions League final is set to be played on Sunday in Portugal, between Paris Saint-Germain and the team that comes off better when Bayern Munich take on Olympique Lyon tonight (Wednesday), the teams that will be doing battle for the Europa League trophy on Friday evening in Germany are Sevilla and Inter Milan.
Sevilla had a very good La Liga season. Their score of 19 wins, 13 draws and six defeats earned them a tally of 70 points, which in the end proved enough the secure the fourth place and Champions League football for 2020/21. Therefore, they won’t be too bothered about the fact that Atletico Madrid finished above them merely on goal-difference, and in that aspect, this particular game bears no pressure.
However, winning a European trophy is never a small thing, and having come so close, they will certainly do the best they can against the opponents from Italy. Sevilla have special affinity for this particular competition, being the record holders for winning the trophy five times. They were particularly successful under Unai Emery, when they won it three times in a row between 2014 and 2016.
To get to within a step of lifting the trophy for the sixth time, Sevilla finished top of Group A, above APOEL, Qarabag FK and Dudelange. Then they disposed of CFR Cluj in the round of 32, AS Roma in the round of 16, and Wolverhampton Wanderers in the quarterfinals. The last hurdle was Manchester United, against which they managed to squeeze out a 2-1 victory last Sunday.
Head coach Julen Lopetegui is expected to name the same line-up he did in the semifinal, with the only possible exception being Lucas Ocampos. The winger picked up a minor knock and could be unavailable on Friday, though it is believed he will have recovered fully by then.
It means it would be a 4-3-3 shape. Yassine Bounou in goal, Jules Kounde and Diego Carlos as the centre-backs, Jesus Navas at right-back and Real Madrid loanee Sergio Reguilon as the left. Fernando would be anchoring the midfield, with Ever Banega and Joan Jordan in more advanced roles. Striker Youssef En-Nesyri would be supported by Suso and Ocampos from wide attacking areas.
They certainly had their poor moments in the Serie A campaign, which helped Juventus with the title again ahead of them by a single point, but Inter Milan seem to have finally completed the puzzle. Head coach Antonio Conte has put together a well-oiled machine, completely to his own design and tactical image, and their performances have recently soared. Like Sevilla, they will be playing in the Champions League in 2020/21 whatever happens on Friday, but the won’t be saying no to the Europa League glory. The Nerazzurri have won this competition three times so far, just like Juventus, Liverpool and Atletico Madrid, and they will now try to pull apart from those clubs and come closer to Sevilla’s record.
Inter started the season in the Champions League, but they only managed to finish third in Group F, behind Barcelona and Borussia Dortmund. Only Slavia Praha ended up below. They were consequently demoted to the Europa League round of 32 where they got past Ludogorets, before beating Getafe in the round of 16 and Bayer Leverkusen in the quarterfinals. They absolutely blasted Shakhtar Donetsk apart in the semifinal on Monday.
Just like Lopetegui, Conte is also expected to name the same starting XI as against Shakhtar, and let’s be frank, he has no reason whatsoever to change. His lines seem perfectly coordinated, organized almost always in a 3-5-2 system.
Samir Handanovic is the man between the posts, with the trio of Diego Godin, Stefan de Vrij and Alessandro Bastoni in front of him. Marcelo Brozovic and Roberto Gagliardini provide steel in the middle of the park, complemented by the creativity of Nicolo Barella, and usually flanked by wing-backs Ashley Young and Danilo D’Ambrosio. Romelu Lukaku seems completely reborn after an underwhelming spell at Manchester United, partnered in attack by the brilliant Lautaro Martinez.
No final, particularly a European one, is easy to predict in terms of outcome. We’ve witnessed plenty of thrilling affairs in such games over the years, matches where predictions were made to look pointless.
However, with all due respect to Sevilla – the fantastic team that they are – Inter simply seem better at this point in time. There is of course, a vast difference in quality between their respective opponents in the semifinals, but the way Sevilla struggled against United and only just managed to scrape through points to a conclusion that they are things still to be improved in their approach. Lopetegui might make those improvements by Friday and give a great performance, that has to be said, but the Nerazzurri are already clicking the way they should in every aspect of the game.
Verdict: Inter Milan win
Best odds: 23/20
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