Internazionale vs Bayer Leverkusen: Europa League Preview and Prediction
Antonio Conte has a habit of winning silverware in his first season with clubs. His Internazionale side might have missed out on the scudetto and Coppa Italia, but the Europa League is still for the taking.
The nerazzurri take on Bayer Leverkusen in the one-legged quarterfinal being played at the Mieker Spiel-Arena in Dusseldorf.
Internazionale disposed of Spanish outfit Getafe in the Round of 16 to reach the quarterfinals. Leverkusen got the better of Scottish giants Rangers by an aggregate score of 4-1 to setup the tie with the Italian powerhouse.
Champions League at stake for Die Werkself
Despite being in the running for a Champions League spot, Leverkusen were pipped by Borussia Monchengladbach for the fourth spot in the 2019-2020 Bundesliga season.
A loss to Hertha Berlin on the penultimate gameweek as well as losing to VfL Wolfsburg and Bayern Munich helped Die Borussen capture fourth place.
Winning the Europa League is the only option now for Peter Bosz to qualify for Europe’s elite tournament.
Internazionale, on the other hand, lost out on the Serie A title by only a point. They have already secured a Champions League spot for the 2020-21 season. The Europa League, however, is their only option to finish the season with a trophy.
Round of 16 performance
Leverkusen had to play two legs against Rangers and the German side had an easy time facing Steven Gerrard’s men.
Die werkself defeated the Gers at the Ibrox, 3-1. Kai Havertz, Charles Aranguiz and Leon Bailey found the net with George Edmundson scoring for the hosts.
In the return leg at the BayArena, Leverkusen found the lead in the 51st minute via Moussa Diaby and held on to record a 4-1 aggregate win. Considering this was the first piece of competitive action for Bayer Leverkusen after a month, the German side did well to get a win.
Inter had to play Getafe in a single-legged Round of 16 clash as their first leg was cancelled due to the coronavirus pandemic.
Romelu Lukaku and Christian Eriksen put two past the azulones at the Veltins Arena to reach the Europa League quarterfinals.
Head to Head
The pair have only met twice in their history, that too in the 2002-03 Champions League.
Il Biscione defeated Bayer Leverkusen in both of their matches in the second group stage of the 2002-03 Champions League.
Inter won the first tie at the San Siro, 3-2 and the next one at the BayArena, 2-0.
Conte will be without the services of midfielders Matias Vecino and Stefano Sensi for this game.
The Uruguayan is out with a knee injury and the Italian is sidelined due to a biceps issue.
Aranguiz will play no part in this game as the Chilean is suspended. Paulinho will also not be a part of Bosz’s squad as he is out with a torn cruciate ligament.
Romelu Lukaku vs Sven Bender
Having scored in all of his Europa League appearances with Internazionale so far, Lukaku is the biggest attacking threat on the pitch.
The Belgian has had a superb debut season with the nerazzurri. He has formed a great partnership up front with Lautaro Martinez and has been Inter’s top-scorer this season.
German veteran Sven Bender will have a hard time dealing with the Belgian’s directness and eye for goal. Lukaku is especially dangerous when he drifts to the left and then moves inside to finish off moves.
Bender will have to mark Lukaku closely but also not move away from his defensive zone. This is going to be tricky matchup for the German.
Stefan de Vrij vs Kai Havertz
Where Inter have Lukaku, Leverkusen can rely on Kai Havertz to be a major factor in the goalscoring department.
The 21-year-old German had another strong season and inevitably, has been linked to a move to Europe’s elite clubs with Chelsea being the likely destination.
As it stands, he’s still part of Leverkusen and Bosz will be looking at his quickness and sublime ball control to break down Inter’s sturdy defense led by Stefan de Vrij.
The Dutchman spearheaded the 2019-2020 Serie A’s best defense and was named the Serie A defensive MVP for the season. Sitting at the base of a three-man defense, de Vrij excels at intercepting opposition passes and clearing danger.
How the Dutchman deals with Havertz’s pace and quick feet will be an interesting watch, especially when Leverkusen will be launching counterattacks.
Marcelo Brozovic vs Kerem Demirbay
In the absence of Aranguiz, Bosz will look to Kerem Demirbay to dictate proceedings from the middle.
That, however, will be difficult as Marcelo Brozovic is likely to control possession for Inter for swathes.
The Croatian is the metronome for Conte’s side and his distribution is key to initiating attacking moves.
Leverkusen will have to limit Brozovic’s passing range for which both Demirbay and Exequiel Palacios will have to press high. The Croatian also possesses a strong long-range shot and cutting down space around the box will be very important.
At the same time, Brozovic will also have to be aware of the threat that Leverkusen’s midfield poses. The Croat will have to lift his weight in the defensive department and prevent Demirbay from providing to the likes of Havertz, Leon Bailey and Kevin Volland.
Inter, possessing a better squad and having greater match fitness, are my pick for the win.
Had it been a two-legged tie, the nerazzurri would have definitely progressed.
A one-legged tie makes increases uncertainty and considering that Die Werkself have a game-changer like Havertz, they stand a stronger chance of progressing than they would have in a two-legged quarterfinal.
While Leverkusen’s defense is competent, I do not see them stopping Lukaku and co. from finding the net. Internazionale should win this game by a margin of two goals.
Predicted scoreline: Internazionale 2-0 Bayer Leverkusen