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Inter 5-0 Shakhtar: Martinez and Lukaku braces help thrash Ukranian outfit and put them through to their 10th European final

Antonio Conte’s future appears to be very much dependent on their success in ending a 10-year European trophy drought, following his criticism of the club’s owners in recent weeks.

Conte’s remarks could be understood given Romelu Lukaku’s relentless scoring record of netting in nine consecutive Europa League outings stretching back to his Everton days.

And on Monday evening, it was Lukaku and the younger crop of Inter stars that set the club through to their 10th European final.

The club possess loftier ambitions than the three Uefa Cups they won in seven years in the 1990s, and Monday night may prove that Conte is beginning to build the efficient machine that drove Chelsea to the 2017 Premier League title. 

There was barely a noticeable passage of play before 23-year-old midfielder Nicolo Barella looked up and delivered a pinpoint cross to 22-year-old striker Lautaro Martinez, whose own glance ensured he nodded past Andriy Pyatov – who had started the counter with a poor clearance – at the Merkur-Spiel Arena in Dusseldorf.

The header was Inter’s 107th goal of the season, matching their club record from 1951 and 2007, and doing so in a half where they enjoyed just 33% of possession, their lowest this season.

But while Inter were starved of possession, they could easily have made it two, but Danilo D’Ambrosio appeared to get in Lukaku’s way from Ashley Young’s cross.

Shakhtar Donetsk were the antithesis of Conte’s gameplan, weaving pretty patterns in midfield but failing to register a shot on target and of note until Marcos Antonio’s effort just skimmed over the bar with two minutes of the first half remaining.

Barella meanwhile was a live wire for much of the first half but failed to see his energy replicated from the other 21 players on the pitch.

However, following what were presumably some spirit-raising words from Conte and Shakhtar boss Luis Castro to their respective sides, there appeared to be a glimmer of hope of a more engaging contest similar to the one in Cologne the previous evening.

Martinez threatened to net his 21st goal of the season to the 20th he had already scored, but his delightful chip was pawed away by Pyatov before Lukaku tried to spark a quiet evening into life with a right-footed effort that – had it curled as intended – would have provided Inter with a second. 

But despite the chances, Inter were reminded of their delicate lead when Junior Moraes found space between Alessandro Bastoni and Stefan de Vrij but headed the cross straight at a grateful Samir Handanovic.

But not soon after the reminder had arrived Conte and his side were breathing a sigh of relief as D’Ambrosio stole in at the back to head home a corner from the right. 

The floodgates very much began to open after that, and after Lukaku spurned a golden chance, Martinez expertly controlled following Taras Stepanenko’s error to curl beyond Pyatov.

In truth, the Italian side could have gone close to matching Bayern Munich’s humiliation of Barcelona on Friday, but their job had already been completed as they aim to win their first trophy in nine years.

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