Something is stirring in Milan. After nine long years without silverware and having suffered the disappointment of missing out on their first Serie A title in a decade, Inter Milan thrashed a hapless Shakhtar Donetsk and will travel to Cologne to play Sevilla in Friday’s Europa League final.
Lautaro Martinez showed why he is one of European football’s most coveted forwards with two goals – either side of a Danilo D’Ambrosio header – while Romelu Lukaku scored two more, displaying the type of clinical finishing which his former Manchester United sorely lacked in Sunday’s semi-final.
It was only a few weeks ago that Antonio Conte, in typical fashion, was threatening to end his spell at the Giuseppe Meazza after only a year due to a perceived lack of support from above. Conte’s abrasive style of managing upwards is not for every owner, but it is becoming increasingly difficult to argue with. It gets results.
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Shakhtar actually dominated the play for spells, particularly during a tight first half, though Inter ended it ahead and never looked back. Everything went almost exactly as Conte planned, without Shakhtar registering a shot on target. Martinez, meanwhile, scored with the first of Inter’s, in a brutally simple goal borne of goalkeeper Andriy Pyatov’s error.
Pyatov had only just lowered a hand raised in apology for his misplaced kick when Nicolo Barella’s perfectly-placed cross from the right evaded the heads of the retreating Shakhtar defence and found that of Martinez. A glancing finish looked simple yet was brutally effective, leaving the goalkeeper to only slap the crossbar in frustration.
The celebrations were wild enough for Roberto Gagliardini to accidentally jump straight into the back of D’Ambrosio’s head and momentarily daze his team-mate. Perhaps that explained why, a few minutes later, the full-back was one of three Inter players – along with Martinez and Lukaku – to get in each other’s way and somehow fail to convert from close-range.
Shakhtar had failed to score only once since restart before this game and should have maintained that record shortly after the hour mark, when Junior Moraes met Mykola Matvyenko’s cross with a downward header. It was a nearly a mirror image of Martinez’s chance yet lacked the same conviction and was blocked by the legs of Samir Handanovic.
That was the chance on which this semi-final turned, as no more than two minutes later, it swung Inter’s way decisively. Again, it was a header and this time D’Ambrosio made no mistake, powering through the back of Matvyenko to meet Marcelo Brozovic’s outswinging corner from the right and guide the ball past Pyatov.
It was then that the floodgates then opened. In the space of nine minutes, Inter extended their lead by three goals. Martinez first capitalised on Taras Stepanenko’s dispossession in the middle of the park to shimmy right and apply a finish which demonstrated why he has been courted by the likes of Barcelona of late.
Lukaku had been a strangely quiet presence up to that point but was determined not to let his goalscoring streak in this competition expire before the final. Again, Shakhtar were the architects of their own downfall, with Yevhan Konoplyanka’s careless pass to the edge of his own penalty area picked up by Martinez then slipped through for Lukaku to finish.
The Belgian was not done and showed the type of direct running at opposition defenders which made him such a brilliant – yet strangely unappreciated – success in the Premier League. Davit Khocholava was left in his dust as, with seven minutes remaining, he slipped Inter’s fifth beyond Pyatov.
Sevilla will enter Friday’s final with an extra day’s rest but Inter hardly needed to exert themselves here. If anything, this dominant display against a normally compact and capable side will have struck fear into the Andalusians, and only raised hopes of a return to winning ways among the Nerazzurri in Lombardy.
Internazionale: Handanovic, Godin, de Vrij, Bastoni, D’Ambrosio, Barella, Brozovic, Gagliardini, Young, Lukaku, Martinez.
Subs: Sanchez, Moses, Sensi, Ranocchia, Valero, Eriksen, Padelli, Esposito, Pirola, Biraghi, Skriniar, Candreva.
Shakhtar Donetsk: Pyatov, Dodo, Kryvtsov, Khocholava, Matviyenko, Marcos Antonio, Stepanenko, Marlos, Alan Patrick, Taison, Moraes.
Subs: Dentinho, Tete, Konoplyanka, Solomon, Kovalenko, Maycon, Marquinhos Cipriano, Bolbat, Pikhalonok, Bondar, Trubin, Fernando.
Referee: Szymon Marciniak (Poland).