There's a fascinating Europa League final in store, and Kevin Hatchard believes Inter Milan will win a high-quality clash with Sevilla in Cologne...
"Sevilla looked vulnerable against Manchester United, and I can't see Inter being as profligate in front of goal."
Sevilla v Inter
Friday August 21, 20:00
Live on BT Sport
Lopetegui inching towards redemption
Benjamin Franklin, one of the Founding Fathers of the United States of America, once said "it takes many good deeds to build a good reputation, and only one bad one to lose it." Sevilla boss Julen Lopetegui knows the veracity of that sentiment better than most. Having negotiated with Real Madrid to take over at the Bernabeu without the knowledge of the Spanish football authorities, Lopetegui was sacked as the coach of his country on the eve of the 2018 World Cup. His chance to lead Spain to global glory was squandered, and all for a club that jettisoned him after 138 days.
To give Lopetegui credit, he has at least restored his reputation as a coach with Sevilla this term, although some will never forgive him as a man. The Andalusians qualified for the Champions League by finishing fourth in La Liga, and they have caught the eye in the latter stages of the Europa League. Roma were swatted aside in a 2-0 victory, Wolves also found they couldn't lay a glove on them in a quarter-final that ended 1-0, and Manchester United frittered away a lead and a host of chances as they lost the semi-final 2-1.
Sevilla have now put together an unbeaten run of 20 matches in all competitions, a sequence that stretches back to February 9. In those 20 games, Sevilla have kept 11 clean sheets, although they were indebted to keeper Yassine Bounou against United. The Moroccan arrived in Germany for this mini-tournament as a backup for the injured Tomas Vaclik, but he has performed heroically.
In midfield, Ever Banega has produced a string of classy performances, and on the flanks, Lucas Ocampos and Suso have provided width and variation to the attack. However, there are concerns. Centre-back Diego Carlos has had a strong season, but he can be very rash at times. He gave away penalties against Wolves and Manchester United, and it will be fascinating to see how he handles the threat of Romelu Lukaku and Lautaro Martinez. Sevilla also take risks when they push full-backs Sergio Reguilon and Jesus Navas up the pitch, leaving plenty of space in behind.
There are no fresh injury concerns for Lopetegui, and he could name an unchanged line-up. Lucas Ocampos is expected to shake off a muscle injury, while striker Luuk de Jong is pushing for a start after scoring the winner in the semi-final.
Conte a step from elusive European success
If Antonio Conte was a stick of rock, that rock would have the word "winner" written all the way through it. The intense and irascible Italian even named his daughter Vittoria, which means "victory". He won the Scudetto five times as a player, and three times as a coach. He led Chelsea to Premier League glory in 2017 and FA Cup success in 2018.
The hole in Conte's coaching CV is the lack of a continental title, and he now has the chance to fill that void. The complete 90-minute performance he has been seeking since this competition resumed finally arrived in the semi-finals, as the Nerazzurri shredded Shakhtar Donetsk 5-0. Inter were rock-solid in defence, creative in midfield and deadly in attack.
Getafe, Bayer Leverkusen and Shakhtar have all been vanquished in just under a fortnight, and it's worth remembering that Inter finished just a point behind Juventus in Serie A. Inter have conceded just one goal in their last seven games, and they haven't lost since the first week of July.
The incredibly consistent Romelu Lukaku has spearheaded the charge. The Belgian has scored in ten straight UEL games, a tournament record. He netted 23 goals in his first Serie A season, and has 33 goals in all competitions. The great Ronaldo, regarded as one of the best strikers of all time, scored 34 goals in his first season at Inter. Lukaku is likely to be the vanguard in an unchanged line-up.
Inter are worthy favourites
The semi-finals have pushed me towards Inter here. Not only were Inter incredibly dominant against Shakhtar, but Sevilla looked vulnerable for big parts of their game against Manchester United. Had Bounou not produced second-half heroics, Sevilla would be back in Spain already.
I think Diego Carlos might have a nightmare trying to deal with Martinez and Lukaku, and Youssef El-Nesyri may struggle to dent that Inter trio at the back.
I'll back Inter to win inside 90 minutes at [2.24], but you could also back them just to win the final at [1.68], which would therefore include extra time and/or penalties.
Backing goals is a value bet
Over 2.5 Goals is trading at [2.12], and I think that's a decent price. That bet landed in both semi-finals, and it's worth noting that Inter have scored at least twice in 14 of their last 16 matches. If Inter get the first goal, and Sevilla have to open up and chase, I can see Inter getting plenty of chances to score.
Penalty drama ahead?
Sevilla conceded spot-kicks in their quarter-final and semi-final, and nearly conceded two against United. Lukaku and Martinez will be a real handful for Diego Carlos and Jules Kounde, and I can see another spot-kick being awarded. You can back Inter at 4/1 to score a penalty, and you can get a price of 11/1 for them to miss one.
Lukaku to extend streak
Lukaku has been unplayable in this tournament, and I'm pleasantly surprised to see him priced at [2.7] to score in 90 minutes. His strike partner Lautaro is priced at [3.05], but it's worth noting he has scored in just three of his last 15 appearances.
Europa League Finals 2020 Germany P/L
Points Staked: 10
Points Returned: 10.61
P/L: +0.61 points
Back Inter to win at [2.24]
Back Romelu Lukaku to score at [2.7]