(Reuters) – Antonio Conte will head into the Europa League final aiming to win a major trophy in his first season in charge of Inter Milan and extend the barren spell of his Sevilla rival Julen Lopetegui when they clash in Cologne on Friday.
FILE PHOTO: Soccer Football – Europa League – Inter Milan Press Conference – Merkur Spiel-Arena, Dusseldorf, Germany – August 16, 2020 Inter Milan coach Antonio Conte during a press conference UEFA Pool/Handout via REUTERS
The difference in fortunes could not be starker as Conte won three successive Serie A titles with Juventus followed by the 2016-17 Premier League title with Chelsea, while Lopetegui has been unable to claim a single honour at senior level as coach.
The former Rayo Vallecano goalkeeper oversaw the longest trophy-less spell at Portuguese side Porto between 2014-2016 before taking charge of Spain, where he was dismissed a week before the 2018 World Cup having steered his country to the finals.
Lopetegui made way for Fernando Hierro after it was announced he’d be taking over at Real Madrid in August 2018. He only held on to the job until October that year after suffering a 5-1 La Liga thrashing by Barcelona.
The current season finally brought some joy to the 53-year-old, who guided Sevilla to a top-four finish in La Liga and then reached the Europa League final with a combative side whose work rate exceeds its talent.
Sevilla and Inter have won eight titles in Europe’s second-tier competition between them, with the Spanish side chasing a record-extending sixth trophy against their in-form rivals.
Lopetegui conceded denying Inter would be a tall order.
“The team has a very characteristic way of playing, all Conte teams have it,” he told Sevilla’s official website http://www.sevillafc.es.
“It is not easy for such high level players to play in such a peculiar collective way. The squad is full of players with a talent, they will oblige us to play an extraordinary game.
“They are at a magnificent level, a team made to play Champions League football who finished just one point off (Italian champions) Juventus in Serie A, they have magnificent players and an experienced manager.”
Sevilla will need to draw inspiration from their gritty 2-1 win over Manchester United, with Inter strikers Romelu Lukaku and Lautaro Martinez in devastating form as they ripped apart Shaktar Donestk 5-0 in the other semi-final.
Conte acknowledged the goal-hungry pair had developed a lethal partnership since Lukaku joined from United last year despite their individual appetites.
“It was inevitable that, working hard and working together, a connection between the two would develop,” Conte told UEFA’s official website.
“They have the typical selfishness of all strikers, but they also work hard to help the others score.
“We’re playing a team with more experience and the most trophies in this competition in the last decade. It’s a final and only the best teams reach the final, so we need to show that we’re the best if we want to win the trophy.”
Writing by Zoran Milosavljevic; Editing by Christian Radnedge