Tuesday August 11 2020
Inter's Europa show of strength

Antonio Conte’s Inter vision is taking shape in the new format and, if they can just learn to kill off games that they dominate, Richard Hall believes they are Europa League favourites.

To say Inter dominated a good Bayer Leverkusen, is no exaggeration. Antonio Conte’s men booked their place in the Europa League semi-finals with a display that would send a message to the remaining teams in the competition. The game was not perfect, but it was one of the best examples they have produced of what the coach is trying to achieve. The on-field partnerships, the work rate and the technical side of the game are allowing the Nerazzurri to finish the season in a domineering manner and potentially with a trophy.

After the match Conte said he was ‘very satisfied’ with the performance and one can see why. They had gone 2-0 up early on thanks to the ever-improving Nicolò Barella and the fearsome Romelu Lukaku. It looked as though they would be out of sight, but this is Inter, after all. Nothing comes easy. Kai Havertz’s quick response meant that right until the end the German side were still in the game, somehow.

Before showering the well-deserved praise on the Milanese, there is a criticism. For months, Inter have failed to kill off games that they have dominated, and this was more of the same. The failure to do this meant that his team had to continue to play at breakneck speed, as whilst they have improved defensively too this season, there is still a question as to whether they can sit back and absorb pressure, especially from a team with quality in the offensive ranks like Leverkusen.

The format of this competition seems to fit with Conte’s way of playing. Rather than a tactical chess game over two legs, he can unleash his ‘Blitzkrieg’ approach and allow his players to try to kill the game early and over 90 minutes. Last night was an example. Had this been two legs and at San Siro, Inter would have gone 2-0 up and then conceded an away goal. Leverkusen would have not needed to panic in such circumstances and could have sat back and defended, trying to take the game and the away goal back to Germany. Instead they knew that they needed to equalise and so had to press forward, leaving them open for Inter’s blistering counters.

It should’ve been four or five goals for Inter, but that’s not including the two penalties that were quite rightly revoked after VAR on-field reviews. Take note, Champions League referees, that is how you use VAR when situations are not entirely clear.

Lukaku was simply unplayable at times, his strength batting away defenders like irritating insects, scoring the goal even after he’d been dragged to the ground by a blatant foul. That was a record-breaking goal too, as he became the first man ever to find the net in nine consecutive Europa League games, surpassing the eight set by Alan Shearer when it was still called the UEFA Cup. The Belgian was a huge expense last summer, but Conte deserves all the credit in the world for refusing to give in. The coach had already wanted to work with Lukaku at Chelsea, imaging how differently his career could’ve gone if the striker had united with Conte earlier…

It's not just goals that Lukaku brings, because he is a true leader and the antithesis of the man he replaced, Mauro Icardi. While the Argentine vanished for most of the match until it came time to tap in, Lukaku is everywhere, defending, battling, attacking and combining. He even puts crosses in, for crying out loud. He arrived already speaking excellent Italian and was refreshingly magnanimous in his post-match interview, declaring teammate Barella ‘man of the match.’

It is true that the ex-Cagliari midfielder has been in majestic form of late. His ability to break up the play, his incredible range of passing, his work rate and his calmness under pressure has seen him become essential to this side. His ability to run from deep and the fact that he will not shy away from a long-range shot will have some Inter fans of a certain vintage remembering Lothar Matthaus.

Inter are in their first European semi-final since the Treble in 2010, but this is also easily the best chance an Italian club has ever had of winning the Europa League. This tournament was so often shunned for taking away valuable energy in the closing months of the Serie A season, so playing it as a standalone competition is finally allowing it to gain focus. FC Basel or Shakhtar Donetsk don’t seem more of a threat than Bayer Leverkusen were, but everyone is looking forward to a potential Final with a Manchester United side that needed extra time to beat FC Copenhagen. How fitting would that be for Lukaku and Alexis Sanchez to conclude their best seasons in years?

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Have your say...
@I MISS JUVE IN SERIA B come on, take off your bias.... Inter could have scored 2 or 3 more goals but Lukaku is terrible in front of the GK. Leverkusen had one chance and they scored!
on the 14th August, 2020 at 1:52am
@Gman Agreed. Also winning the UEL would raise Inter's coefficient and give them a top seeding in UCL, ergo, a greater chance of making it out of the group stage and better still winning the group.
on the 13th August, 2020 at 8:10am
@Frank, go away.
The Scudetto does not make you a top 10 European side either. Should teams not play to win it also? It's a building block trophy for Inter and winning can help give them the belief they can compete in Europe. Loosing it would be worse for both the team and this coach psychologically and would continue a drought of not being able to win "anything" in Europe. You certainly can't call yourself a great team if u can't win this trophy and Inter have nothing left to play for atm.
on the 12th August, 2020 at 3:17pm
@ MARCO BRANCA - Juventus get themselves knocked out early in Europe for fear they will meet Liverpool.
on the 12th August, 2020 at 8:09am
Let's all keep calm here. This is, after all, the second tier European competition. It will be more important for Inter to finally get out of the group stage of the UCL next season than crow about making a Europa league semi or even win it. Winning this trophy does not automatically make you a top 10 side in Europe.
on the 12th August, 2020 at 3:00am
Yeah easy europa league alright, even Juve as italian champion back then, already reached semi final but kicked out by Benfica. As the champion, when you lose against much inferior oppositions, it brings shame to the league. Now people who don’t follow serie-A will think italian league is so weak that even midtable french club can humiliate italian champion.

Before you make fun of the others, try to have some pedigree first in europe. Now go back consoling yourself about your new coach
on the 11th August, 2020 at 8:45pm
@I MISS MARCO BRANCA AT INTER... you didn't say where Juve compete? Oh! wait, nowhere! I missed you anyway.
on the 11th August, 2020 at 8:23pm
@putuco... Leverkusen weren't lightweight, the way Inter approached the game made them look lightweight, or at least you can say maybe they were not up their usual standards for this season. Contrary to their defense their attacking department is really good, kind of football that harms Italian style. ... You must have watched another game because this match was fun to watch!
on the 11th August, 2020 at 8:21pm
I asked someone if Inter can win Europa league and they said "anything that Juve does not compete for, they have a chance of winning" I mean how hard can it be, even Sarri won it !
on the 11th August, 2020 at 7:27pm
Not sure if I watched the same match but that Leverkusen side was very lightweight. Inter was nothing special, they won with the less effort. A terrible match
on the 11th August, 2020 at 6:11pm
Inter have changed their model for the better over the last few years. There has been a nice mix of talented young Italian players (Barella, Bastoni, Sensi and Biraghi) and foreign players (Lukaku, Martinez, Eriksen and De Vrij) brought in. Add experienced players like Godin, Sanchez and Young, who are probably no longer in their peak but can surely help these younger players develop, this squad has tremendous potential to achieve great things - so long as the owners keep Conte at the helm.
on the 11th August, 2020 at 3:46pm
@sam and @JUVE FAN... " Lothar Matthaeus is the greatest pure central midfielder EVER" can't agree more than that! Say what you want but I have yet to see a player like him! But Barlla seems to be destined to greatness like mentioned, probably not as high as Matthaeus but on his own. I don't mind to eat my words if he comes even better!!! ...and thanks for nice words @JUVE FAN.
on the 11th August, 2020 at 3:15pm
There is no doubt that Inter and Conte have fired a early warning shot to Serie A and all of European football. It seems the team has finally found its purpose and is now playing hard for all 90 minutes plus.
With deep pockets and an onfield leader like Lukaku there confidence continues to build and they will contend. If Conte can control his own character and focus on football as he did at Juve and Chelsea there is no question that he is a winner and knows how to push his team to succeed.
on the 11th August, 2020 at 2:36pm

Barella is not fast and doesn't have the power of matthaeus. I'm not denying that barella is a good player he is but that comparison is like comparing insigne to messi. It's an insult to anyone who's been watching football as long as I have ( last 40 years)
on the 11th August, 2020 at 1:16pm
Still a long way to go, but they'll be favs to reach the final now.

If they do, they'll be the first Italian side to reach a EL final since 1999 - a truly shameful record.

But this is Inter, so expect a few problems before they even think about winning this.

2 games to turn this from a decent season to a very good one.
on the 11th August, 2020 at 12:54pm
I did say in an earlier post that Inter's attacking options were the best in Serie A. If Lukaku was playing alongisde Ronaldo and Dybala then we'd still be in the Champion's League. Serie A needs Inter to win the trophy but it'll be hard against probably Man U or Seville, assuming they get through the next round.
on the 11th August, 2020 at 12:01pm
Barella is an absolute star and gem of inter and italy future. Those who doubted he was worth the 50m at the start of the season would happily pay a lot more now. Still has a lot of room to grow but nice to see him delivering on the promise shown at cagliari. Would be nice if he was faster but the way he can go past an opponent then just as easily dispossession them is magical. Most of the poor results inter had this season occurred when he wasn’t in the team. Must stop getting so many cards!!
on the 11th August, 2020 at 11:42am
Sam - Barella has explosive pace, and power and potential scoring ability as he is now showing, he has a at least 8 years at top level (takes him to 31) to prove how good he can be. Doesn't need to be a Lotha, has plenty of time to create his own legacy.

Nice to see Inter going for it and not bottling it like Juve in europe.
on the 11th August, 2020 at 11:38am
When FI update their Serie A teams for 2020/21 (i.e. Bennevento)?
on the 11th August, 2020 at 11:32am
Barella is a very good player but please, lothar matthaeus is the greatest pure central midfielder EVER. Barella doesn't have his pace or power or scoring ability ( even though he got a good goal). Barella is a workhorse with very good teamwork ability and decent technique. Agree with everything else.
on the 11th August, 2020 at 10:56am

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