Inter Milan thrashed Shakhtar Donetsk 5-0 in the Europa League semi-finals on Monday to set up a final against Sevilla later this week.
Lautaro Martinez opened the scoring in the first half before completing his brace in the second period as Romelu Lukau also netted twice.
Danilo D’Ambrosio was Inter’s other goalscorer as they embarrassed Shakhtar as the final whistle approached.
Here are five things we learned:
A different sort of control in a week of chaos
In the first half of this semi-final, Inter Milan had just 33 percent possession, their lowest in a half this season.
Yet they felt very much in control of the game, for the most part, scoring and preventing Shakhtar Donetsk from managing a single shot on target – evidencing once again how wonderfully frustrating and effective Antonio Conte’s defensive approach can be.
In the second half, Inter then turned up the heat, adding four goals to Martinez’s first-half strike.
The recent single-leg quarter-final and semi-final ties in the Champions League and Europa League have led to plenty of drama, but Conte revelled in the avoidance of such chaos on Monday, making this a tamer affair than most of the other matches across both competitions in the last week or so – even with the late spate of goals.
Inter show Manchester United the way
Inter Milan made the Europa League final a day after Manchester United were eliminated from the competition, and while the surface-level difference between each team’s fortunes may just seem to be one result, it feels like the Italian side are where United could be in more ways than one. Both sides are juggernauts of their nations, seeking to rediscover former glories, but while United have fallen at the semi-final hurdle three times this term, Inter have a final ahead of them and potentially a trophy. Furthermore, they finished second in Serie A – just one point behind champions Juventus.
And it feels as though this is just a season of transition for the Nerazzurri; it is their first under head coach Conte, and their first with a plethora of new signings in the likes of Romelu Lukaku, Alexis Sanchez, Ashley Young and Christian Eriksen. The next campaign will be the real quiz, with Conte and his recruits by then having had more time to gel.
The point here is that, while United are improving, Inter are on a similar journey but are moving at a much quicker pace. And with the irony that the first three of the above players joined Inter from United – outcasts deemed insufficient – it is hard not to draw a link between the clubs.
And although it would be easy to suggest that there are fewer obstacles/opponents in Inter’s way than in front of Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s side, Serie A was very competitive at the top this term; Conte’s men didn’t just have Juve to contend with, but also Atalanta, Lazio and Roma.
Martinez offers timely reminder of his importance
All the talk in the lead-up to Monday’s fixture was about Lukaku, and although the Belgian netted twice on Monday, Martinez also shone as he secured a brace in Dusseldorf.
Lukaku has scored 33 goals this term in proving that his dud season at United last year was not representative of where he is at in his career, and although Martinez has in comparison netted 21 times, that’s still a very impressive return for the 22-year-old.
The livewire Argentine striker has been coveted by numerous clubs around Europe and the aplomb with which he took his goals on Monday evening – one with his head, one with his right boot – was a reminder of why he’s so sought after. It was also a reminder of his importance in Conte’s starting XI.
Aside from his goals, Martinez also demonstrated his tenacity and confidence early in the second period by winning the ball deep in Shakhtar’s half before attempting a lob of goalkeeper Andriy Pyatov on the half-volley. If Inter are to build on this campaign’s pursuit of the Scudetto, it is vital that they hang on to Martinez, for there are few players of his calibre and application around at the moment.
Shakhtar prove to be passengers
Although we earlier alluded to the way in which Inter were able to frustrate Shakhtar, the Ukrainian outfit still should have been able to produce more.
Luis Castro’s side made it too easy for Inter, playing with insufficient imagination and too little risk in Dusseldorf.
At this stage in the competition, of course there is a lot to lose, but a side of Shakhtar’s capabilities should have been confident and daring enough to turn this into a proper contest – something they ultimately never managed to do.
In fact, they capitulated late on, conceding four goals in 25 minutes.
A fitting final awaits on Friday
For the neutrals, Inter Milan vs Manchester United would likely have been the ideal final, but a competitive and dynamic fixture awaits.
Sevilla are kings of the competition, record five-time winners who lifted the trophy three times in a row between 2014 and 2016, and they are a joy to watch.
Inter, meanwhile, demonstrated against Shakhtar how impressive they are up both ends of the pitch, nullifying their opponents while turning this season into their highest-scoring ever (and the result into the most one-sided at this stage in Europa League history). And in Conte, they have a coach who knows a whole lot about winning.
In the final, Inter will likely do what they did here: sit back to an extent and let Sevilla try to solve the puzzle, before getting at the La Liga outfit. It will be intriguing to see if Julen Lopetegui’s team can handle the task ahead.
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