Inter Milan won their first Serie A title since 2010 and 19th in the club’s history on Sunday.
ROMELU LUKAKU/LAUTARO MARTINEZ
Antonio Conte’s “gentle giant” Lukaku has powered Inter’s front line since his 80 million euro ($89 million) signing from Manchester United just after the coach’s arrival two years ago.
Lukaku, 27, and 23-year-old Lautaro Martinez have formed one of the most formidable attacking duos in Europe, the Belgian scoring 21 league goals so far and the Argentine 15.
“A lot of people turned their nose up when we signed Lukaku and said he was overrated,” said coach Conte. “But I always said that he arrived with potential and if he worked hard he could do extraordinary things.
“Lautaro’s improving hugely in every aspect. (Alexis) Sanchez is also an important player for us, but he has Lukaku and Lautaro ahead of him and this is giving me selection headaches.”
Italy international Barella has also broken through in his second campaign with Inter after five seasons at his hometown club Cagliari.
The 24-year-old midfielder’s partnership with right-back Achraf Hakimi has been productive for Inter with his performances propelling him to an increasingly important role in Roberto Mancini’s Italy team.
“I’m feeling much more confident in my abilities,” said Barella.
“Training with great players has helped me. I’ve studied them and improved by taking inspiration from them.”
Moroccan defender Hakimi took some time to warm up after arriving last summer from Real Madrid for 40 million euros ($48 million) after two seasons on loan at Borussia Dortmund.
The 22-year-old’s pace has proved devastating down the right flank with seven goals in his first season in Serie A, cementing his place as Conte’s first choice right-back.
Conte dubbed versatile ex-Manchester United defender Darmian as being ‘worth 15 points’ after his goals against Cagliari and Hellas Verona snatched vital wins in the title run-in.
“Matteo has carved out an important spot here at Inter,” said Conte of the player capable of playing most positions in the back four.
“There wasn’t any big fanfare when he arrived, but he played for another big club in Manchester United. He’s an exceptional lad, you can always count on him.”
Back-line trio Milan Skriniar, Stefan De Vrij and Alessandro Bastoni also provided the tightest defence in the league with captain Samir Handanovic generally solid in goal.
The Dane’s return to form after a difficult start to life in Italy was one of the keys to Inter’s success in the second half of the season.
The former Tottenham and Ajax midfielder had needed time to adapt to the very tactical Italian league after his arrival in early 2020.
“Conte and I needed to understand each other better,” said Eriksen, 29, who scored a decisive free kick in the Italian Cup against AC Milan, the late equaliser at Napoli, and the first goal in the 2-0 win at Crotone on Saturday which put Inter on the brink of the title.