All good things have to end eventually, but how the curtain closes is up for interpretation. In the case of Antonio Conte’s first and perhaps last season at the helm of Inter Milan, it was in cruel and wild fashion. Inter fell in the Europa League final by a scoreline of 2-3 to Sevilla, but how the game winner came about was especially painful. Romelu Lukaku was superb this season, scoring 34 (!) times and by and far proving to be worth every penny that Inter paid for him. That it would be an own goal from the Belgian that lifted Sevilla to its record sixth EL title, though, was something only Pazza Inter could dream up. Alas, it did, and here we are. Second place for the second time this season.
The game started perfectly for Inter when Lukaku drew a penalty just three minutes in. The forward was played in behind, but Diego Carlos manhandled him to the ground in the top of the box. The Brazilian received a yellow for his troubles, but a red card wasn’t out of the question. Lukaku stepped up confidently and scored the spot kick.
After that, though, it was all down hill. A concentrated spell of Sevilla pressure in the final third saw the Spanish side equalize in the 12th minute. A powerful Jesus Navas cross was redirected goalwards by Luuk de Jong from inside the six-yard-box, and Samir Handanovic failed to react in time.
The Nerazzurri had a shout for a second penalty in the 17th minute. Diego Carlos again was in the thick of things, this time blocking a cross with his hand. It very easily could have been a penalty, but to be fair, he did have very little time to react.
Sevilla’s continued dominance of possession and control of the game saw it take the lead in the 33rd minute. An Ever Banega free kick was again met by the head of De Jong, who sent the ball looping into the far post netting.
Inter, though, responded immediately. On another set piece in the 35th minute, Diego Godin headed a Marcelo Brozovic delivery home, to tie the game at 2-2.
Sevilla was clearly the better side in that half, with 62% possession and twice as many shots as Inter (8-4). Inter, on the other hand, made its attacks count and scored on both of its shots on target.
Sevilla started the second half on the front foot, but fizzled out by the 60th minute. The much slower paced game looked there for the taking, but neither team found that extra push. In the 65th minute Lukaku found himself in a one on one with Sevilla’s netminder, Yassine Bono, but the 29-year-old expertly closed down Lukaku and made the save.
That miss proved costly. Diego Carlos made up for his penalty (and the two others that he’d conceded throughout the knockout stage) with an acrobatic goal in the 74th minute. The ball went spiraling into the air before being bicycled goalwards by the center back. The shot appeared to be going wide, but Lukaku deflected it into the roof of the net.
Antonio Conte finally made some substitutions in an attempt to salvage the game, but Sevilla fell back into a defensive shell. Inter had one chance to tie things up, when Alexis Sanchez rescued the ball from a goalmouth scramble and sent a trickling effort past the out of position goalkeeper. Jules Kounde, however, raced back in time to clear the ball off the line.
That was that. Inter never got anywhere near breaking down Sevilla’s defensive blocks, while the incredible amount of time wasting from the Spanish side didn’t help, either. The wait for a trophy goes on.
This Inter was unrecognizable from the one that beat Shakhtar 5-0. Much of that may go down to the opponent, as Sevilla is a lot tougher to beat than the Ukrainian side, as Inter found out yesterday. Sevilla clearly was the superior side and deserved the win. On paper, though, this game was very even.
Both team’s heatmaps are very similar, as neither side dominated one particular aspect of play. Possession was 57-43 in Inter’s favor, and while Sevilla outshot the Nerazzurri 14 to 9, both teams each landed 5 attempts on target. Even so, Inter’s attack was definitely off. Lautaro Martinez was invisible and Lukaku couldn’t impact the game in ways we’re used to seeing. The defense was the biggest issue, though. Inter conceded as many games in that match as it had the eight prior, and of course this was the most important.
Another year goes by, and Inter’s trophy drought continues. One of the men most responsible for this seasons ups and downs, Antonio Conte, may leave, and send the club into more chaos with just under a month until next season begins. But either way, Inter is on the rise. A year ago, a Europa League final and second place in the league would have been unheard of. Now, its a disappointment. No matter who the coach is next season, Inter can only keep improving.