Football Features

“El Toro gored Shakhtar senseless” – Five things learned as Inter Milan book Europa League final spot with massive win

By Muhammad Butt

Published: 22:21, 17 August 2020

In a one-sided night of football, Inter smashed Shakhtar Donetsk in the Europa League semi-final.

The win puts Inter into the showpiece final against five-time champions Sevilla. What did we learn?

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1. El Toro gores Shakhtar

Lautaro Martinez hadn’t played too well since emerging from the Covid-19 hiatus. Some say his head has been turned by a prospective move to Barcelona in the summer, and it certainly did seem that way. Before tonight he had scored just three times since Inter returned to action, and what’s worse is he hadn’t really played well either.

Not so tonight. Faced with a big game against a feisty opponent, the striker known as “El Toro” gored Shakhtar senseless with a sensational performance. He opened the scoring just short of 20 minutes in with a delightful run and header. He kept on battling and then later in the game almost chipped Pyatov from distance, then he did make it 3-0 with a delicious slotted finish from distance before finally finding Romelu Lukaku with a stunningly deft clipped pass, registering an assist as the Belgian scored.

This was a masterclass from Inter’s incredible Argentine, a case study in just why Barcelona want him to replace Luis Suárez and also why Inter are so hesitant to let him go and do just that. An absolutely supreme player whose defensive intensity, positional intelligence and all-around skill-set would make him an asset to any side in the world.

2. Lukaku is finally a freight train

Romelu Lukaku is a player of fantastic athletic and technical gifts, yet for the vast majority of his career he has only really elected to make use of his technical skills. His turns, his dribbling, his unbelievable shooting. He is so often hesitant or even just bad at making use of his physical gifts (which is sadly ironic given all many pundits ever speak about is his “pace and power”).

Anyway, today against Shakhtar the Belgian was mostly playing second fiddle to Lautaro Martinez. He scored his first goal off a pass from the Argentine, a crisp finish to make it 10 Europa League games in a row with a goal. A mighty impressive feat (he’s the first to ever do that) but one that he topped mere minutes later when he picked up the ball 40 yards from goal, turned to face it and just hit the turbo button.

Lukaku took off, blitzing by his marker with a supreme use of pace and power before once again reminding everyone of his scintillating shooting technique with an unerring finish beyond Andriy Pyatov.

Suddenly a quite emphatic 3-0 win was a terrifyingly dominant 5-0 victory and even Sevilla had to be shaking in their boots at the prospect of having to deal with a rampant Romelu Lukaku that has finally learned to harness his freight train physique. Lethal technique you can handle, pace and power you can handle, all three together in one striker that is in the form of his life? Duck and cover!

3. Shakhtar come up short

It has to hurt for Shakhtar to come so far only to fall so spectacularly before they even made the final. A side usually fizzing with energy, creativity and intent fell so flat. They had one fantastic chance to equalise when Junior Moraes headed right at the goalie, but beyond that they never truly troubled Samir Handanovic and were only not out of the match because Inter didn’t really care to push them too much.

The second Inter decided to just go on out and win the game, they did so with ease. Shakhtar’s Brazilian contingent was powerless to watch, which is a sad indictment of how far they have fallen given that this is the club that introduced Fernandinho and Willian to European football. And when you consider just how fantastic and successful those two have been, it’s a bit of a shame that Shakhtar can’t lift one of their current crop to that same sort of level.

4. Nico Barella makes things happen

In terms of Inter midfielders to get credit; everyone heaps praise on Marcelo Brozovic or Stefano Sensi, but Nico Barella has emerged into a serious tone-setter for the Nerazzurri. After opening the scoring against Leverkusen with a delicious trivela finish, today he helped open the scoring by pouncing on a loose pass from Andriy Pyatov, driving wide and then sending in a delicious cross for Lautaro Martinez to score.

And that sums up what Barella brings. Whilst Brozovic (and Ricardo Gagliardini) keep things ticking over in the middle of the park, blocking off opponents and keeping Inter solid, Barella is given license to push forward and make things happen in the final third. Back before he joined Inter, he was linked with a move to Chelsea and you could see why Maurizio Sarri wanted him, and you could see how Frank Lampard could have used him, but their loss is Inter’s gain and the Italian midfielder is a consistent producer of action for his side. A difference-maker, a fire-starter. Take your eyes off him for a second and he’ll pick your pocket, kick your ankles and then either score, or assist.

5. Inter set up a blockbuster final with Sevilla

Spain vs. Italy, two of the three “top five” leagues excluded from the final four of the Champions League, will go to head-to-head in the Europa League final in a match that is a bizarre clash of different levels of pedigree and reputation.

Looking purely at the names on the team-sheet, you would be a fool to suggest that Sevilla could even threaten Inter. And sure enough if you watched the semi-finals, that hypothesis would also hold up.

But then you consider that Sevilla are a club that has won five Europa Leagues in the last sixteen years, including three-in-a-row half a decade ago. And that their semi-final was less spectacular but they were playing a superior side (much like Inter would be) and had to dedicate significant energies to keeping that high-powered attack to just one single goal.

You could make an argument for both sides to win, as they both have strengths and weaknesses. As much as many will lament the elimination of Manchester United, Inter vs. Sevilla is the best possible Europa League final we could have gotten. Drink it in, because it should be a classic under the Friday night lights.

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