After a protracted season disrupted by the coronavirus pandemic, we are finally one game away from determining the 2019-20 Europa League winners.
Spanish outfit Sevilla take on Italian giants Inter Milan on Friday night with the showpiece being held at the Stadion Koln in Cologne, Germany.
Both sides will be confident of victory but how do they match up? Sportsmail takes a look at the two teams ahead of kick-off…
Sevilla and Inter are two of the most successful in the competition’s history (either as the Europa League or in its previous guise as the UEFA Cup).
In fact, nobody has won this trophy more times than Sevilla who have it lifted it on five separate occasions. Their triumphs have comes in spades with their maiden 2006 win being followed up a year later, then victory in 2014 was repeated in 2015 and 2016. They are yet to lose in a final of this competition.
Inter Milan have won this trophy three times – with their triumphs all occurring during the 1990s (1991, 1994 and 1998). This places them joint-second alongside Liverpool, Juventus and Atletico Madrid. Unlike Sevilla though, the San Siro outfit have been on the losing side once in a final – coming up short on penalties to Schalke in 1997.
Rather surprisingly this is the first-ever European meeting between Sevilla and Inter Milan.
Route to the final
It’s been two contrasting routes to the final for Sevilla and Inter. For the former, they’ve been in the competition since the start. Drawn in Group A with Qarabag, APOEL Nicosia and Dudelange; the LaLiga outfit cruised through to top spot as they won their first five games – having scored 14 goals and conceding just two.
Next up was Cluj in the last 32 whom they scraped through via away goals. The first leg in Romania ended 1-1 with the return counter in Spain finishing 0-0. Italian outfit Roma awaited them next following the season restart and they were dispatched 2-0 in the last 16.
The quarter-final and semi-final stages provided Premier League opposition in the shape of Wolves and Manchester United. Lucas Ocampos’ 88th-minute winner saw Sevilla beat Wolves 1-0 – in a game where the Spaniard’s goalkeeper Yassine Bounou saved Raul Jimenez’s 13th-minute penalty.
Sunday’s semi-final against United was as equally as tight. After falling behind to an early Bruno Fernandes penalty, Sevilla equalised through Suso in the first half before Luuk de Jong won the match with 12 minutes remaining.
Meanwhile, for Inter their route in the Europa League began in last 32 after they finished third in their Champions League group behind Barcelona and Borussia Dortmund. However, since dropping down to this competition, Inter have won all five of their matches this season.
First up was Ludogorets in the last 32. The Italian giants won the first leg 2-0 in Bulgaria before completing the tie with a 2-1 victory back at the San Siro. Once the season restarted, they were drawn to play Getafe in the last 16.
Romelu Lukaku and Christian Eriksen were on the scoresheet to provide a 2-0 win. Next came Bayer Leverkusen in the quarter-finals – a match they won 2-1 with all three goals scored within the first 25 minutes.
And on Monday, Inter produced their best performance of the tournament so far as they crushed Shakhtar Donetsk 5-0 in the semi-finals. Lautaro Martinez and Lukaku both scored a brace, while Danilo D’Ambrosio got the other.
How are they likely to line-up?
It will be contrasting formations in Cologne. Sevilla are likely to stick with their 4-3-3 formation which has served them well.
Ex-Manchester City winger Jesus Navas will form part of a back four at right back that will include Sergio Regulion at left back. The latter is on loan from Real Madrid but his performances have attracted interest from Chelsea.
In midfield Ever Banega will pull the strings, while Ocampos will form part of their front three alongside Suso and Youssef En-Nesyri.
For Inter, they’ll be playing 3-5-2. Veteran Samir Handanovic will be in goal, while the defence will include the experience of the wily Diego Godin.
Former Manchester United captain Ashley Young will be at left-wing back, while the three in midfield will likely be Nicolo Barella, Marcelo Brozovic and Roberto Gagliardini. And up front will be the deadly duo of Lukaku and Martinez.
So, what are the key battles then?
Diego Carlos vs Romelu Lukaku
This is probably the biggest match-up of the final. Sevilla defender Diego Carlos is a no-nonsense centre back but is rash and prone to losing his head a little bit.
The Brazilian has conceded successive penalties in the quarter-finals and semi-finals for scything down opponents. He’s going to face an almighty battle against Lukaku who has scored 33 goals in all competitions in his debut Inter season. T
he Belgian’s tally is the most by an Inter player since Samuel Eto’o scored 37 in 2010-11.
Ever Banega vs Marcelo Brozovic
In midfield we have two slick operators going head-to-head. This will be Banega’s swansong at Sevilla with the Argentine leaving the club at the end of this season.
An intelligent midfielder, the 32-year-old will be looking to make his side tick. Meanwhile, Inter’s Brozovic is a box-to-box midfielder who will be looking to play on the front foot, while also disrupting Sevilla’s rhythm.
Suso vs Ashley Young
It’s Liverpool versus Manchester United of some sorts with Sevilla’s right winger Suso (ex-Liverpool) set to go up against Inter left-wing back Young (ex-United).
Suso will be keen to exploit any spaces that Young leaves behind him when going forward, while equally the latter will be trying to force him back at every opportunity.
And the battle in the dugout?
In their maiden seasons at their respective clubs, Antonio Conte and Julen Lopetegui are both managing in their first-ever major European club final.
The duo are two of six managers to have managed at least 10 Europa League games with a win ratio of 70 per cent or more.
Conte’s record is second-best (played 13, won 10, win ratio = 77 per cent), while Lopetegui’s is fourth-best (played 11, won eight, win ratio = 73%).
Domestically both managers have qualified for the Champions League next season with top-four finishes (Sevilla finished fourth in La Liga, while Inter came second in Serie A – a point behind champions Juventus). After a long campaign, both would love nothing more than to end it with Europa League silverware.
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