Inter Milan vs Shakhtar Donetsk
Monday, 17-08-2020 @10pm
Merkur Speil-Arena, Dusseldorf
Ref: Szymon Marciniak (Poland)
With over half of their European fixtures having been against Spanish and German opposition this season, Inter have certainly not been provided with the easiest of times on the continent.
However, despite having been edged out by Barcelona and Borussia Dortmund in the Champions League, Antonio Conte’s side have responded with victories over the likes of Getafe and Bayer Leverkusen in this competition.
After a late rally to claim the runners-up spot in Serie A, Conte is now two wins away from having had an outstanding first campaign at San Siro during what has been a period of transition for the club.
While Inter have undoubtedly benefitted from Romelu Lukaka’s 31 goals, Conte has not been shy in making full use of a widely-talented squad, giving his side an extra edge heading into the closing stages of Serie A and this competition.
Nevertheless, despite justifiably being regarded as the marginal favourites ahead of Man United, I Nerazzurri cannot afford any complacency against a Shakhtar side which may relish their tag of underdogs.
Luis Castro has only been in charge of this group of players for 14 months, but the Portuguese has already guided Shakhtar to their best European effort since 2016.
Having agonisingly missed out on a place in the knockout stages of the Champions League, the Ukrainian giants have responded with entertaining victories over Benfica, Wolfsburg and Basel respectively.
Like Lukaku’s role at Inter, Shakhtar have a talisman in Junior Moraes who is clear in the scoring charts with six strikes in Europe this campaign, with regular support coming from many of the club’s creative players.
While recording back-to-back triumphs over Inter and either United or Sevilla would be regarded as a monumental shock, do not write off the Hirnyky after they found the back of the net on seven occasions in their last two outings.
Inter will have to make do without Alexis Sanchez after the Chile international suffered a muscular injury in training.
Matias Vecino also finds himself out of contention, putting Conte in a position where he may select the same starting XI.
That would see Milan Skriniar and Christian Eriksen remain among the replacements.
Castro will welcome Davit Khocholava back into his Shakhtar squad after the Georgian completed a ban.
However, after the manner of the win over Basel, Castro could opt to retain the same side.
Inter Milan will appear in the semi-final of a European competition for the first time since the 2009/10 in the UEFA Champions League (winning the competition that year), whilst this is the eighth time the Italian side have reached the semi-finals of the UEFA Cup/ Europa League – more than any other side. The only previous meeting between Inter and Shakhtar Donetsk was in the 2005/06 UEFA Champions League qualifying phase, with Inter winning 3-1 on aggregate across two legs. Since dropping out of the UEFA Champions League, Inter have won all four of their UEFA Europa League games this season – they last won five consecutive matches in major European competition (excluding qualifiers) between December 2009 – April 2010 (a run of six) on their way to the UEFA Champions League final. Shakhtar Donetsk are looking to reach only their second ever UEFA European final, last achieving that feat in the 2008/09 UEFA Cup, knocking out Dynamo Kiev in the semi-final and beating Werder Bremen in the final. In the quarter final, Inter’s Romelu Lukaku became the first player in UEFA Cup/ Europa League history to score in nine consecutive matches a run stretching back to November 2014 with Everton. The Belgian striker has been involved in 15 goals in his last nine UEFA Europa League matches (12 goals & 3 assists). Junior Moraes has been directly involved in seven goals in seven UEFA Europa League appearances for Shakhtar Donetsk (5 goals, 2 assists), with all of these games coming in the knockout phase of the competition.
The other Europa League semi final
-Man United 1-2 Sevilla