The Premier League misfits on the brink of European glory: Antonio Conte has galvanised a group of cast-offs including Romelu Lukaku, Alexis Sanchez and Christian Eriksen to fire Inter Milan to the Europa League final against Sevilla tonight
- In his first season as Inter Milan boss Antonio Conte has made a European final
- The Italian has proven track record of winning silverware in debut campaigns
- Conte has taken players who struggled in England and revived them in Italy
- Inter face Spanish giants Sevilla in the Europa League final on Friday
When it comes to winning silverware, Antonio Conte is certainly no stranger.
And, thankfully for Inter Milan, the Italian manager is even more accustomed to doing so during his maiden season with a club.
Over the past several years Conte has carved out a reputation for himself as a man who hits the ground running, quickly shaping his teams into ruthlessly efficient outfits to hunt down the biggest prizes.
As Conte stands on the brink of doing this yet again, this time with Inter in the Europa League, Sportsmail takes a closer look at how prior planning and the assembling of a ragtag band of former Premier League misfits has made it possible…
Antonio Conte mastered the Europa League so far this season and now takes aim at the final
Regardless of the club he arrives at, the meticulous Conte already has an idea of the way he wants his side to play and the necessary pieces of the puzzle he would need to make this happen.
The Italian is very specific in this sense, and it has on previous occasions led to much hostility when he does not get his way (see Chelsea failing to acquire Romelu Lukaku during his time at Stamford Bridge).
But now, at Inter, Conte was able to lay down his plans from the outset when the club’s Chinese owners were trying to sell him their dream.
Conte made it known that he needed his favoured figure of a powerful target-man in the final third, who could offer him more dynamism than that of an old-school large-framed striker.
Conte leaves no stone unturned, and arrived at Inter knowing exactly which pieces he needed
He also specified that a playmaker was needed to pull the strings, along with both competence and experience in the wing-back areas in order to allow him to play his favoured back-three formation of central defenders with overlapping attacking full-backs.
A supplementary attacker was also required, to bring added impetus and dexterity to the attacking line.
The players Conte each turned to certainly raised a few eyebrows, though have since carried out their manager’s plan to a tee…
The Premier League misfits
In naming his desired personnel, Conte handed Inter’s owners a list which would not have looked out of place in the compiled annals of a ‘Premier League outcasts XI.’
Conte had seen enough during his time in England to earmark some players existing within the top flight who were both under-appreciated, under-used and also well primed for the adjustment to Italian football.
His top target at the San Siro was to be Lukaku. This time Conte was insistent upon getting his man, and sought assurances from his new employers that this would be carried out.
Manchester United’s willingness to recoup their transfer fee for the Belgian helped no end, and facilitated a piece of business which has since rewarded Conte handsomely.
Romelu Lukaku was aware how badly Conte wanted him before, and has repaid the Italian
Lukaku has been a man reborn this season, with a burning desire to prove critics wrong. Records have tumbled, with Lukaku becoming the first player ever to score in 10 consecutive Europa League games.
His brace against Shakhtar in the semis saw Inter swagger into the showpiece final, and at long last once again look like a European force to be reckoned with. Lukaku also finished the domestic campaign with 23 goals and two assists in 36 games.
Many eyebrows were raised when Conte again swooped in on United to sign Young, but the former Juventus and Chelsea boss knew exactly what he was doing.
Impressed by the role Young filled at Old Trafford, Conte made a swift decision that the consistency of the 35-year-old was exactly what his Inter team would require.
Eyebrows were raised over Ashley Young but the veteran star has slotted in seamlessly
Young has scored four and assisted four in 18 Serie A matches this season since signing in January, with his killer crosses from wing still possessing radar-like accuracy.
He has also featured in each of Inter’s European matches since his arrival. Many questioned whether Young’s days at elite level were over, yet Conte’s faith has been vindicated.
Perhaps the biggest risk, Sanchez arrived at the San Siro with United simply desperate to see the back of him.
Not long ago the Chilean was arguably the best player in the Premier League, but the drastic fall from grace combined with astronomical wages made Sanchez a ticking time-bomb for any club.
Despite this Conte backed his own judgement. He felt he could get the best from Sanchez once more, and instructed Inter to at least bring the former Arsenal talisman in on loan.
Conte kept calm and remained confident he could extract the best out of Alexis Sanchez
Even after a nasty injury early on following his Inter arrival, Conte did not panic. Sanchez was permitted time to return, and coaxed gently into an adjusted role at the San Siro.
And, it’s safe to say this has worked. Much less emphasis is now placed on Sanchez to blitz through the middle of the final third and grasp games by the scruff of the neck. Now, he is encouraged to drift in and out of dangerous areas, and use his mesmerising footwork to pull defenders out of position.
As a result he has provided four goals in 22 appearances, with a highly impressive nine assists. After sitting out the semis due to injury precaution, Sanchez is likely to be unleashed on Sevilla in the final.
Inter have since taken up their option to buy Sanchez, and what a way to end his debut season it would be.
In Moses Conte saw a player with plenty to offer but struggling with a failure to nail down a consistent run.
Knowing the Nigerian well from his time at Chelsea, the Italian boss held the same confidence that the winger-turned-full back could carry out his demands once more.
Victor Moses was known and trusted by Conte, and quickly brought on board in January
While Moses has struggled in fits and starts at the San Siro, he has provided a mightily impressive five assists in 12 Serie A matches.
It certainly helps knowing both the manager and his preferred system to a tee.
Moses entered as a late substitute against Shakhtar to replace Danilo D’Ambrosio, and could play a similar role in the final by using his athleticism to boost Inter in the latter stages.
Another January acquisition, Eriksen is still finding his feet at the San Siro but in acquiring the Dane Conte got the playmaker he desired.
Eriksen has found himself in the rotating role of starting matches from the off, or entering in the latter stages as an energetic and creative outlet. He has one goal and two assists in 17 Serie A appearances, which Conte will naturally look to build upon next season.
But in European affairs Eriksen has come alive, with two goals and one assist in five Europa League matches. The Dane is expected to play an important role in unlocking the Sevilla lines in Cologne.
Christian Eriksen arrived as the playmaker Conte craved, though is still finding his feet in Italy
First season silver
After cutting his managerial teeth among smaller teams in Italian football, Conte found his groove and stormed to maiden campaign success at both Juventus and Chelsea.
With Juve Conte started winning and simply didn’t stop, collecting the league title in each of his three seasons with the club.
Conte is steadfast and rigid in his approach, which won him a glut of trophies at Juventus
At Stamford Bridge, despite doubts hanging in the air surrounding his adjustment to the rigours of English football, Conte overcame a painful teething process to get the Blues singing from his hymn sheet.
Conte’s strict unwillingness to compromise his values is both his biggest selling point and, in some cases, his most worrying downfall.
After piling momentum into Inter’s approach, Conte oversaw an eight-game unbeaten streak to end the season, with his side only dropping six points in draws along the way.
It was enough to push the title race down to the wire, with Inter finishing just a single point behind the often dominant Juventus and signalling their return to the Serie A top table.
Conte is now dead set on making his side Europa champions, before riding the wave of euphoria this would bring into becoming an Italian champion once again next season.
First season success syndrome also struck at Chelsea, where Conte scooped the league title
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