There was always the threat of Pazza Inter rearing its ugly head, but Inter Milan’s 2-1 win over Bayer Leverkusen proved to be a smooth affair from the Nerazzurri perspective. Inter raced out to an early 2-0 lead in the 21st minute, but a prompt Leverkusen response set the rest of the match on a knife edge. Antonio Conte’s side preserved its lead, however, and advanced to the Europa League semi final.
Leverkusen may have started the match with loads of possession, but it was Nicolò Barella who found the opener in the 15th minute. The 23-year-old settled a loose ball at the top of the box, and sent a curling effort with the outside of his boot into the bottom corner of the goal.
Barella soon had a chance for a second, but put a point-blank effort directly at the keeper even as the far post loomed inevitably open. Fortunately, that miss was soon rectified thanks to Romelu Lukaku’s goal just a minute later. In the 21st minute, the Belgian received an Ashley Young pass in the box, staunchly held off a defender, and spun goalwards. Then, while being pulled to the ground, Lukaku sent the ball past the goalkeeper and trickling into the back of the net from the top of the six-yard-box. This marked the ninth Europa League match in a row where the 27-year-old has found the back of the net, a record run.
Inter’s two-goal advantage met an early end, however. After some sloppy defending, Kai Havertz found an unencumbered look at goal from the side of the six-yard-box. Havertz struck the ball at mid-height to the near post, but Samir Handanovic could only knock it into the roof of the net in the 24th minute.
The wild nature of the game continued in the 26th minute, when Danilo D’Ambrosio thought he’d won the Nerazzurri a spot kick. From close range, he poked the ball into the upper arm of Daley Sinkgraven, who’s hand was tightly tucked in and moving away from the ball. Rightfully so, VAR overturned the penalty.
Leverkusen controlled possession in the slowly paced remainder of the half, but failed to penetrate the Inter backline. Inter, though, was buzzing in the final third and should have entertained a bigger lead at the interval if not for a few missed chances.
The game opened up and was end to end play in the second forty five. Inter, though, was the most dangerous. The Nerazzurri had plenty of chances to put the game to bed, including two close range Alexis Sánchez shots that were saved. The door remained open for Leverkusen, though Inter’s defense made sure that very little could squeeze through.
Inter was awarded a penalty in the 89th minute, when Christian Eriksen was taken down in the box. VAR stepped in again, though, overturning the call after spotting a Barella handball in the build up. The scoreline stayed at 2-1 in Inter’s favor all the way to the final whistle, and sends Inter to it’s first European semi-final since the 2009-10 season.
The Nerazzurri was clearly the superior side against Leverkusen, and that was even more apparent from the stats.
Bayer may have had 64% possession, but it certainly couldn’t convert that into chances. The German side seemed to hit a black and blue striped wall before it could enter the final third. Havertz was ineffectual other than the goal, while his attacking companions were practically non-existent. Out of nine shots, a mere two were on target, while only 44% came from inside the box compared to Inter’s 61%. Speaking of the Nerazzurri, Inter’s attack was firing on full cylinders. Conte’s side totaled 18 shots from a meager 36% of the ball, and as shown by the touches map, was able to pierce much deeper into Bayer’s half. Lukaku continued his superb run of form, and in addition to the goal, tallied four shots, all on target. He picked up a slight knock in the final stages of the match, but it seemed to be a contact injury.
Inter has an entire week (!!!) off until the semi-final on Monday against either Ukrainian Shakhtar Donetsk or Swiss side Basel. Forza Inter!