UNITED STUNNED BY SEVILLA AND SHAKHTAR SHACKLED BY INTER IN EUROPA LEAGUE SEMI-FINALS
By Paul Seaton
Two great games in the Europa League saw Sevilla and Inter Milan advance to the final after dumping Manchester United and Shakhtar Donetsk out of the tournament in two fascinating ties.
Let’s take a look at both semi-finals before we predict who might eventually lift the trophy this Friday night.
Manchester United 1-2 Sevilla
Two of European football’s most successful sides met in Germany as Sevilla came from behind to beat Manchester United in their third unsuccessful semi-final of the 2019/20 season.
United, in truth, were hugely unfortunate not to progress as they smashed 20 shots at Sevilla in an attacking display which deserved more. Strikers Anthony Martial, Marcus Rashford and Mason Greenwood, however, were wasteful and at the other end the three-time Europa League winners Sevilla in the last six years were clinical.
Sevilla got off to the worst possible start as Rashford was fouled and Bruno Fernandes skipped into the air and landed to plant a brilliant penalty kick into the top corner. Having gone ahead, United must have thought it would be a case of how many goals they might score, so frequent were their attacks on an under siege Sevilla goal. Instead, it was the former Liverpool forward Suso who arrived at the far post to knock in an equaliser past a helpless David De Gea.
The second half largely brought more of the same, as United came forward in wave after wave of attacks, missing chances or seeing Sevilla goalkeeper Yassine Bounou make some incredible saves. With 15 minutes to go, a hopeful cross from Sevilla made it right through the United defence, who in Harry Maguire and Victor Lindelof in particular, had looked static.
Former Newcastle striker Luuk de Jong scored his first goal in 12 games as the ball fell at his grateful feet five yards out. He – unlike United – could hardly miss and the match ebbed away from the Red Devils to leave Solskjaer’s men again looking at the final as envious near-misses rather than participants.
Inter Milan 5-0 Shakhtar Donetsk
Antonio Conte’s Inter Milan completely dismantled Shakhtar Donetsk’s Europa League dream on Monday night as Romelu Lukaku continued his record-breaking goalscoring run in the competition.
The Italian side, who finished just a point off Juventus in a title run-in that showed the Milanese team will be a force to be reckoned with in the 2020/21 season, were all over their less-decorated opponents across the 90 minutes, pressing with high wing-backs and attacking at will.
The talented Lautaro Martinez headed the opening goal after a shambolic clearance from Donetsk keeper Andriy Pyatov resulted in a wonderful cross from Nicolo Barella, allowing Martinez to simply glance the ball home.
Inter held their opponents at arms’ length throughout the rest of the match, and eventually wore them out so much that they could score goals almost at will, knocking in four goals in the final 26 minutes of the game. Martinez added to his total and Romelu Lukaku sealed victory with two goals of his own, two excellent finishes albeit with the game already won.
Who’ll win the Europa League Final?
It’s going to be a fascinating tactical battle in Cologne on Friday night as Julen Lopetegui’s pragmatic style combats Antonio Conte’s committed counter-attacking formation.
It’s hard to see either manager making too many changes when their respective systems have worked so well in getting them to the final. Both sides have won their last four games, with Sevilla only conceding one goal in that time and Inter the same.
With such fine margins, the odds of 13/10 for Inter Milan and 5/2 for Sevilla should perhaps be closer, but we still think the bookies have this one right. While Sevilla have scored six times in their last five games in all competitions, Inter Milan have scored 13 in the same period. That tells us that they are more dangerous and although Sevilla have performed miracles in the Europa League for several years, the statistics against United perhaps smoke them out.
Sevilla had just three shots on target in the 90 minutes and scored twice, which says a lot more about United’s leaky defence than Sevilla’s superstar strikers. By contrast, they conceded enough ground to allow the Red Devils to have 20 shots at their goal. That only one went in owed a lot to United’s profligacy, and the heroics of Yassine Bounou.
The sort of performance Bounou turned in during the semi-final is amazing to watch when it happens, but it very rarely happens two games in a row. Inter Milan will get the job done and are a very healthy 7/2 to win with a one goal handicap. The Serie A side showed they can take full advantage of an opponent chasing the game in the semi-final and this would be our advice.
Our tip: Inter Milan to win -1 goal (7/2)