It was a summer of upheaval at Inter Milan last year with the Nerazzurri spending over 100 million euros ahead of their highly-anticipated return to the Champions League. Inter wasted no time revolutionizing their roster, adding the much maligned Manchester United duo - Romelu Lukaku and Alexis Sanchez - to their attack and reinforced their rearguard with the experience of Diego Godin.
Their arrivals have since offered Antonio Conte’s side a new dimension - propelling Inter to the Europa League final - but it is a transfer that flew under the radar that has arguably had the biggest impact.
Eager to bolster its midfield, Inter agreed a 40 million euros transfer for Cagliari captain Nicolò Barella. The 23-year-old has made the transition to Inter look a seamless one and has since emerged as one of the first names on Conte’s team sheet.
Barella most recently announced himself on the world stage with a scrumptious outside-of-the-foot finish against Bayer Leverkusen in the Europa League quarterfinal, opening his account for the tournament. Beyond his goal, Barella was sensational against the Germans, constantly on the move both in and out of possession.
The former Cagliari man continued his fine form in the semifinal, teeing up Lautaro Martinez wonderfully for a header for the first goal in Inter’s 5-0 rout. Barella was once again among Inter’s standout performers, dominating the proceedings in the midfield.
The Nerazzurri will now take on Sevilla on Friday, with the Italian international emerging as one to watch in the final.
Barella initially came through Cagliari’s youth ranks and made an immediate impact with his hometown club. The midfielder became the youngest ever player at Cagliari to wear the armband in 2017, when he was handed the captaincy at 20 years old.
Barella has established himself as a leader both on and off the pitch and despite his inexperience, he has developed into a crucial locker room presence at Inter. The 23-year-old has since featured in 39 games in all competitions this season, indicating his importance in Antonio Conte’s setup.
The Italian international is at his best operating from the right-hand side of a midfield three as a mezzala, offering him the freedom to bomb up and down the pitch at will. In many ways, Barella is a prototypical box-to-box midfielder and is characterized by his incredible work rate. Playing under Conte can be demanding - especially as a midfielder - but Barella has since proven up to the challenge.
Barella has demonstrated a keen eye for goals since joining, as evidenced by his wonderful finish against Bayer Leverkusen. The 23-year-old regularly gets forward in support of Inter’s front two and is always looking to make the most of his powerful shot. Barella has already registered two goals in seven appearances with Italy’s senior setup.
Barella will need to be at his very best against Sevilla on Friday as we approach the business end of the tournament. The Andalusians have developed a reputation as Europa League specialists over the years, winning the title for three consecutive years from 2014 to 2016. Conte’s new-look Inter side, however, has marched to the final and is undefeated in its last 10 games. With Barella firing on all cylinders, Inter may just beat Sevilla at its own game and deliver Inter’s first European trophy in a decade.