Sevilla vs Inter Milan | Friday 21st August 2020, 20:00 | BT Sport
Undoubtedly the two best teams in this season’s Europa League will meet in Friday’s final in an empty RheinEnergieSTADION in Cologne.
It’s not the surroundings both sets of players deserve for their efforts to get this far, brushing aside all in their path with stout defensive organisation throughout the competition and experienced heads leading the way to play some of the best football of their careers.
For Sevilla, the Europa League has become a competition they have fallen in love with many times over. No club has won the trophy as many times as Los Nervionenses with all five triumphs coming since 2006, winning three in succession at one point.
Any fan that has watched their team take part in the Europa League knows just how tough it is to reach the latter stages given the gruelling Thursday-Sunday nature of the fixtures you have to contend with and the relatively unknown and unpredictable quantities you’re coming up against, particularly in the early stages, so Sevilla’s success is nothing short of astonishing.
Although the likes of Lucas Ocampos have received much of the plaudits for their goals and assists in another solid season for the Andalusians, it’s stalwarts such as Jesus Navas and Ever Banega that have been the backbone of the squad and produced tremendous consistency despite their advancing age.
Banega will play his last ever match for the Spaniards here before departing to play in Saudi Arabia. The midfielder is in his second spell in southern Spain after, ironically enough, a one year stint at fellow finalists Inter back in 2016.
At 32, it seems criminal that he’s moving away from top level football as he’s shown over the past few weeks how good at dictating the tempo he still is. His range of passing is superb, his set-pieces create plenty of chances for his teammates and he’s versatile enough to operate in a more defensive or attacking midfield role.
Being his last game, there’s plenty of angles you could consider here such tackles, a card or even to win Man of the Match. All of those will be leans for me in the build-up to the game, with the line-ups an indication as to what kind of role he’ll be asked to play by manager Julen Lopetegui.
Sevilla dominated Wolves in the Quarter-Finals, were ruthlessly efficient against Manchester United in the semis and, with their record in this competition, you certainly wouldn’t rule out a sixth edition of the Europa League trophy being lifted by Navas come the end of the contest.
Inter finishing with a flourish
On the flip side, Inter themselves have enjoyed a fruitful debut season under Antonio Conte after pipping Atalanta to second place in Serie A late on and now reaching their first final for nine years. It’s been a rough few years for the black and blue half of Milan both domestically and in Europe, rotating managers like no tomorrow, signing a huge number of players as a result and suffering from a complete lack of consistency.
Only since Conte’s arrival has an air of structure rang true, with the 3-5-2 system getting the best out of a squad packed with great talent at both ends of the pitch. To concede just 36 goals in 38 Serie A games was mightily impressive and the likes of Diego Godin and Stefan de Vrij have contributed to that massively.
The team’s Expected Goals Conceded (xGA) total was 39 so they slightly outperformed that but both numbers were the best in the division and a clear sign of the progress being made under the Italian’s stewardship.
The betting angles
It’s de Vrij who has peaked my interest in recent weeks. The Dutchman has been lauded with praise this year and rightly so with his free transfer move from Lazio back in 2018 continuing to look like one of the bargains of the most recent transfer windows. In European competition, Inter have been increasingly willing to get stuck into the tackle, partially as they’ve had more defending to do competing against top level sides more regularly compared to Serie A.
In the middle of the centre-back trio, de Vrij has been no different and has landed two or more successful tackles in six of his last seven games in either the Europa or Champions League, rising to four in the semi-final against Shakhtar. Tackle numbers for Sevilla’s opponents have been high throughout the season in this competition so on that basis, the defender to have two or more tackles in the game with SkyBet at 6/4 looks like good value for a single point play.
My final selections of the final will revolve around the man in-form – Romelu Lukaku.
Much-maligned during his time in England, the move to Italy has seen him grow in strength and the big front man has now scored in 10 consecutive Europa League matches. Sure, some of the teams faced during that run can hardly be considered formidable, but it’s testament to the striker’s potency in front of goal and his blossoming partnership with Lautaro Martínez which has brought about such rewards.
The Belgian is 7/5 to score anytime here but I'd prefer to get a bit more value in backing him to score first in the match, something he's done on 10 occasions for club and country across 2019/20. He's averaging 3.6 shots per game in the Europa League and although this will be a tough test, Big Rom will be full of confidence given his recent run.
Inter have scored the opening goal in all seven of their European games away from the San Siro this season but with Inter to score first priced at 4/5, the 9/2 on Lukaku finding the net before anyone else – boosted with Pokerstars – seems the better way to go.
Given his shot averages and his run of managing at least three in four of his last five European matches, the 11/10 Bet365 are offering on Lukaku to have Over 2.5 Shots is an extra bet I'm going to add in for some interest, with hopefully one of those efforts being the opening goal!
The outrights are very tough to call and I think the bookies are pretty spot on in making Inter the favourites given their semi-final demolition and their final third threats but if Sevilla can take advantage of the higher percentage of possession I’d expect them to have, we could be in for a close contest.
The game to go to extra-time at 12/5 could peak some interest, especially if both teams feel their way into the game in the first half hour in what will be an intriguing tactical battle.