- Inter Milan meet Sevilla in the UEFA Europa League final in Cologne on Friday evening
- Nerazzurri boss Antonio Conte looking to win first trophy since taking charge last summer
- Andalusians seeking remarkable sixth competition win in last 15 years
COLOGNE, GERMANY – As August’s European festival of football heads towards a close, Inter Milan and Sevilla meet in the Europa League final on Friday night in Cologne.
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After three weeks of UEFA’s summer football festival to round off the domestic season, this weekend sees the finale of both the Europa League and Champions League.
First up on Friday evening sees Inter Milan face Sevilla in the Europa League final at the RheinEnergieStadion in Cologne and as two sides who have both won the competition in its’ modern and older guises, could serve up quite the showpiece.
Super six for Sevilla?
After Sevilla prevented something of a Premier League reunion in the final, the Andalusians punished Manchester United’s profligacy in front of goal, with two clinical finishes of their own enough to reach yet another Europa League final by a scoreline of 2-1.
Led into Friday’s game courtesy of Luuk De Jong‘s cool finish last weekend, Los Rojiblancos are looking to seal a sixth Europa League crown on Friday evening – their last one since 2016, when they came from behind to beat Liverpool 3-1 in Basel.
Having won the competition an incredible 33% of the time since 2005, Sevilla know how to get the job done in the Europa League.
Perhaps thankful for a world-class showing from goalkeeper Bono against the Red Devils, the Spaniards however, will be equally tested in their quest to regain the trophy.
Conte eyes first silverware
For Inter Milan, the Italians are taking part in their final major European final in ten years, when in 2010, Jose Mourinho guided the club to the Champions League crown.
As three-time winners of the competition in its’ UEFA Cup incarnation also, Antonio Conte‘s side also have their own club pedigree at this level.
The past decade for the Italian giants has been a story of frustration and transition in equal measure since their Suning takeover, but since the arrival of the former Chelsea boss into the Lombardy hot-seat, there is real hope of an illustrious new era in Milan.
Whilst Sevilla edged their way past United, Inter veritably romped past last four opponents Shakhtar Donetsk by five goals to nil and with one of the most lethal strike-partnerships around, Conte will be bullish in his chances of claiming first silverware for the club after a year in charge.
Spear-headed by Romelu Lukaku and Lautaro Martinez, Inter will be a menacing opposition for Sevilla’s stout defence to combat.
Both of Inter’s front duo grabbed braces against a far inferior Ukrainian champions in last Sunday’s semi-final.
Since leaving the Premier League a year ago, Lukaku has rediscovered his drive and fitness under Conte, who was evidently impressed by his exploits for former top-four English football rivals as a manager in West London.
Netting 23 goals in 36 games, the 27-year old has returned to some of his best form since his time at West Bromwich Albion and Everton after his break-out season in 2016/17, when Lukaku notched 25 goals for the Toffees.
Joined by Martinez in Inter’s attack, Martinez meanwhile has combined with his Belgian teammate to register 41 goals in Serie A this term.
Hitting four between them last time out, Sevilla’s back line will unlikely to be in as charitable mood and Jules Kounde and Diego Carlos have started to build a strong partnership, with both French and Brazilian’s stock rising.
But stopping Inter’s prolific duo will take some doing. Scoring eight times between them since the last-16 began, Lukaku in particular has now scored in every game in the knockout stages this season.
Eyes on Ocampos
Ahead of the final, Sevilla boss Julen Lopetegui will be crossing everything in the hope his chief talisman Lucas Ocampos will be fit for the clash, after the Argentinian was forced off with a recurring knee injury against United.
If made available, Cologne could be a Argentine tale of both Martinez and Ocampos, but not exclusively.
Since his switch from Marseille last year, the former River Plate forward has netted 14 goals in Spain this past season, and has led the line admirably together with the growing influence of Youssef En-Nesyri and Suso in a front three.
As Wolves fans will attest, Ocampos is not just a threat with pace and physicality but a thorn in many a defence aerially also.
Should Sevilla’s schemer be ruled out, the onus is likely to then fall at the feet of compatriot Ever Banega, who silently has been Lopetegui’s lynch-pin in midfield.
The ‘X’ factor in the final could yet be Sergio Reguilon. A former Real Madrid player, the full-back has enjoyed his time in Andalusia and his customary runs from deep on the left flank have signified Sevilla’s resurgence of late.
Route to Cologne
The journey from the last-32 for both Inter and Sevilla have been intriguing ones.
In the case of Sevilla, Lopetegui’s side edged past Romanians Cluj on away goals in the round of 32, before impressive 2-0 and 1-0 defeats of AS Roma, and as documented, Wolves, before toppling Manchester United.
The Italians meanwhile eased past Ludogorets, negotiated tricky ties against Getafe and Bayer Leverkusen, before last weekend’s demolition of Shakhtar.
For two sides of both attacking prowess and defensive austerity in equal measure, Friday evening’s final is set up as a tantalising prospect.
Whilst both sides have already qualified for next season’s Champions League, the award of promotion to the top table of club competition will mean little for the winner, but far more appealing, the Europa League crown brings with it great rewards and prestige.
This will be a close contest.
The 2020 UEFA Europa League final takes place on Friday night in at the RheinEnergieStadion in Cologne, Germany, kick-off 20:00 UK time.
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