Inter’s progress in Germany has reignited a long-lost love affair with a competition they cherished back in the 1990s. In order to truly rekindle that romance, they must dethrone the modern-day kings of the Europa League. Sevilla are one of the continent’s top teams and are in sparkling form heading into Friday’s showdown. The Nerazzurri must be at their best if they hope to defeat them.
The past 15 years have been full of glorious European nights for Los Hispalenses. Their five Europa League/UEFA Cup titles, a tournament record, have all come in the last decade and a half. That includes an incredible hat-trick in 2014, 2015 and 2016. They have never lost a final in their favourite competition, and that glorious history should spur them on. Furthermore, the experience of key players Jesús Navas and Éver Banega, who each have two winner’s medals from those past successes, could prove invaluable.
Ex-Inter man Banega will be contesting his last match with the Andalusians before completing a move to Saudi Arabian side Al-Shabab. The Argentinean maestro moved to Italy in July 2016, but was back in Spain less than a year later after failing to hit the heights during his 33 appearances in all competitions. He has always shone for Sevilla, however, and has been a crucial cog in their run to Cologne.
The veteran schemer will not be the only familiar face to followers of Italian football. The two wide forward positions in Julen Lopetegui’s 4-3-3 are reserved for ex-Milanisti Suso and Lucas Ocampos, while former Palermo creator Franco ‘Mudo’ Vázquez could make an impact off the bench. The Serie A connection even extends into the director’s box, where Monchi has rehabbed his reputation after a mixed spell at Roma.
Centre-backs Diego Carlos and Jules Koundé were two excellent pieces of business last summer, while fellow newcomer Ocampos struck 14 times in La Liga. Sevilla love to attack down the wings, where full-backs Sergio Reguilón and the aforementioned Navas are instructed to advance upfield at every opportunity.
Los Hispalenses often control possession and territory, but such an aggressive strategy comes with inherent risks. They are susceptible to the counter-attack, as was seen in the recent triumphs over Wolves and Manchester United. Antonio Conte’s charges are likely to sit off and wait for opportunities on the break, where the quality of Romelu Lukaku and Lautaro Martínez could make the difference.
For all their talent, Sevilla do not possess a Number 9 who can compete with either member of Inter’s lethal strike partnership. Likely starter Youssef En-Nesyri scored eight league goals, while Luuk de Jong found the back of the net on six occasions. Neither should inspire fear in an Inter backline that was Italy’s best in 2019-20.
With Sevilla set to take the game to their more illustrious opponent, Friday’s final will hinge on how Inter cope defensively. If they can repel the waves of Spanish pressure, the Nerazzurri should find joy from balls into space.
The Europa League has never seen success like Sevilla’s, but the Andalusians have never faced a team of Inter’s level at this decisive stage, either. A serial winner like Conte will not be cowed by those five trophies, and he will transmit that conviction to his troops. It won’t be easy, but the Nerazzurri have every chance of ending a decade of disappointment with some silverware.