Lautaro is sure of his place, doubts about his partner: Edin so far favorite in the Champions League, Romelu is in the best shape and has had an account with Pep for 10 years…
In this long run-up on his Bosnian partner and rival, Romelu Lukaku burns for various reasons. He would like to steal Dzeko’s place once and for all as he thinks back to the Europa League final he lost in 2020 and never went down. That wasn’t enough, he also weighs the desire to demonstrate to the English that he is not the wreck described by the tabloids, but one of the most lethal center forwards on the square. More than once, then, the thought of Big Rom has also flown to Pep, but not for those old Manchester derbies played in the United shirt. Rather, the time when Guardiola was teaching in Munich came back to mind. Romelu has, in fact, already played in a final against a team coached by the Catalan visionary and it is not a sweet memory: in the 2013 European Super Cup, exactly ten years ago, Bayern, just entrusted to Pep, mocked Chelsea on penalties who had embraced Mourinho again.
In this battle between old enemies on the bench, Romelu was just a 20-year-old looking for himself who had just returned from loan at West Bromwich and was temporarily parked in the Blues: he entered the first half of extra time in place of Fernando Torres and took the last penalty very badly, the one decisive saved by Neuer. A lot of water has flowed under the bridges, now Romelu has Zen calm and the efficiency of a machine from the penalty spot: he has scored 18 penalties out of 18 for the Nerazzurri. Three days later the Super Cup went to Everton and his career started to take the right direction. In a proud guy like the Belgian, that defeat in Prague has settled over the years together with a sense of guilt: to erase it from his mind and heart, he would now like to disappoint Guardiola, preferably by starting the final. Rom used every single session to show Inzaghi that he is in the best physical condition since he returned to Milan, and the values collected in Appiano are there to confirm it: the Belgian is undoubtedly hotter than the Bosnian. Yet Edin is still slightly ahead in the hierarchy of Simone Inzaghi, grateful to the center forward who played as a starter in all the great nights of the Cup. Certain details, however, are for the attention of the staff: despite having only lined up for a total of 144′ and never starting from the start in this Champions League, Rom is the only one to have scored or provided assists in every round: goals in rounds, round of 16 and quarterfinals plus decisive pass in the semifinals.
Dzeko also has arguments to feed his motivation: the Champions League final, the highest peak of his career, is a passing train now, at 37 years and 85 days old. It’s hard to imagine that other opportunities will come: «It’s my first final, and maybe even the last! I want to enjoy it … », he told British broadcaster BT Sport yesterday. In him, the memory that takes away sleep is that of the 2018 semi-final lost in the Roma shirt against another Englishman, Liverpool, and moreover, as a former City star, the desire multiplies. Dzeko has always joked with those around him about the passing of time, but he knows that thanks to his age he could even enter the history books: if he scores in Istanbul, he would become the “oldest” scorer in a final in the history of the Champions League, overcoming the record set by Maldini (36 years and 333 days), which the AC Milan player had reached in the same stadium in the 2005 final. Dzeko, who pulled the cart for a long time during the year, however saw the comeback up close behind this Romelu rampant. With the latest goals especially in Serie A, Lukaku has even reached him: in the abacus both center forwards have scored 14 goals. But since April, participating in 15 total goals with 9 centers and 6 assists, the Belgian has even done better than the android Haaland, stopped at 14. This is why Romelu is making doubts grow even in a habitual like Simone: a sprint overtaking on Edin it is difficult, not impossible. But it is the relay that guides the coach’s thoughts: whoever starts, the forwards will still alternate. One will have to tire Pep’s power plants, the other will have to hit them in the last half hour.
June 8, 2023 (change June 8, 2023 | 11:32 am)
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