regular-article-logo Saturday, 23 September 2023

Champions League: Romelu Lukaku hits his stride, but Inter not taking AC Milan for granted

Inter Milan striker, on loan at Inter from Chelsea, has struggled with injuries and form this season, but has scored three goals in his last three games

Reuters, AP/PTI Milan Published 16.05.23, 04:09 AM
Romelu Lukaku.

Romelu Lukaku. File photo

Inter Milan striker Romelu Lukaku has entered the final month of the season in the “best possible way”, manager Simone Inzaghi said on Monday ahead of the return leg of their Champions League semi-final tie against rivals AC Milan.

Lukaku, on loan at Inter from Chelsea, has struggled with injuries and form this season, but has scored three goals in his last three games.


Asked if the Belgian had returned to the level he had displayed during his first spell at Inter — during which he scored 64 goals in two seasons and won the Serie A title — Inzaghi told reporters: “You know him, you know what he can do. That’s what we expected during the year, unfortunately something unforeseen happened to both him and (Marcelo) Brozovic that took away two players who were indispensable for so many months.

“I can think of important games played without them, but what you see is a Lukaku who arrived at the last month in the best possible way.”

However, Inzaghi added that there are still some doubts over the 30-year-old’s fitness, saying, “three games a week at the moment, I don’t even know if he can manage them...”

Inter have a 2-0 lead over Milan ahead of the second leg at the San Siro on Tuesday as they look to reach the final for the first time since they were crowned European champions in 2010.

The Italian side had a similar lead heading into their quarter-final second leg against Benfica, and Inzaghi said his message to his players was the same as it had been ahead of last month’s tie.

“I said it before Benfica, it will take a cool head and a warm heart. I will be repetitive, but it’s the only way for matches like this,” Inzaghi added.

“Tomorrow (Tuesday) we know it’s one of the most important games in Inter’s history. Tomorrow we know we have an advantage, deservedly so, but we won’t just have to manage it. We’ll have to play as Inter, knowing that we have a strong team in front of us.

“We know we are 90 minutes away from a dream, which I and these wonderful guys had.”

Inzaghi added that forward Joaquin Correa, who was taken off at half time during Inter’s 4-2 win over Sassuolo on Saturday, could return for Tuesday’s match.

Inter head into Tuesday’s match on a run of seven victories in all competition. That has left it on the brink of another treble after beating Milan in the Italian Super Cup back in January and also qualifying for the Italian Cup final.

Inter are also on course to qualify for next season’s Champions League competition as it is third in Serie A, a point above Lazio.

Leao boost for Milan

AC Milan forward Rafael Leao could be fit for Tuesday’s match, manager Stefano Pioli said on Monday, providing a major boost to his side.

Portuguese winger Leao, 23, missed the first-leg defeat and also sat out Saturday’s shock loss to Spezia in Serie A after sustaining a thigh injury in Milan’s league win over Lazio earlier this month.

Leao has been one of Milan’s most influential players this season and registered 13 goals and 10 assists in all competitions. “He is better, as are (Rade) Krunic and (Junior) Messias,” Pioli said when asked about Leao.

“If everything goes as it should, they will be available.”

Pioli said he is confident Milan will be able to pull off a comeback at the San Siro after last week’s dispiriting first-leg defeat in which they conceded twice inside the opening 10 minutes.

Seven-time European champions Milan have not reached the Champions League final since their last triumph in 2007.

“We have an important goal in mind — to win the game and to qualify for the final, which nobody would have predicted, just as at the beginning of the year no one would have predicted our presence in the semi-final,” Pioli said. “We haven’t talked about Spezia, only about tomorrow... We know we are starting with a disadvantage, but have the quality to overturn it.

“Now more than ever, nobody thinks Milan can reach the final. I know we can play a great game and I know how strong my players are... We’ve made some mistakes, but the past is irrelevant.”

Semi-final 2nd leg

Inter vs AC Milan (12.30am IST Wednesday; Live on Sony Sports Ten 2)

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