Monday, 03 May 2021 11:48

By Lehlohonolo Lehana.

Inter Milan have ended their 11-year wait for the Serie A title and former Manchester United striker Romelu Lukaku has been at the heart of their success.

When the Belgian made the £74m switch to the Nerazurri in August 2019, he had big boots to fill, replacing Mauro Icardi as Inter's main striker.

Although the Argentine's time at Inter was tainted by off-field controversy, on the pitch he was one of their most reliable performers, with 111 goals in 169 Serie A starts.

Lukaku left United with 42 goals in 96 games across two years, but his scoring tailed off, with 26% of his tally coming in the first two months of his Old Trafford career, and he received criticism for a perceived lack of workrate, a wayward touch and wasteful finishing.

But the 27-year-old has risen to the challenge at Inter and has even surpassed Icardi's scoring rate to help bridge the gap to the top and end Juventus' nine-season Serie A dominance.

At Everton and Manchester United, Lukaku would often be deployed as a lone striker.

It shows the development in his game that not only is he part of a 3-5-2 system that maximises his strengths, but his play is also now refined enough to extract the best from his strike partner, Lautaro Martinez.

The duo have a natural chemistry. When Martinez drops deep to create, Lukaku will run in-behind.

When Lukaku uses his hold-up play to pin defenders back, Martinez will make a run off him.

Both players can serve as the creator or goalscorer, which makes them a very difficult partnership to defend against.

In 64 starts together, they have assisted 18 goals for each other - while assisting or scoring an additional 87 goals between them.

Inter finished a substantial 21 points behind Juve in 2018-19. But the arrivals of Lukaku and head coach Antonio Conte enabled a title challenge last season, as they finished second, one point behind Juve, before going all the way this time around.

The city of Milan erupted into a cacophony of car horns after the final whistle confirmed Inter as champions, with four matches to spare, and fans immediately started gathering in the main square in front of the cathedral to celebrate.

Thousands of Nerazzurri fans congregated in Piazza Duomo, with flags and scarves, chanting and singing as they jumped and clapped with little heed to coronavirus restrictions. Almost all wore masks but many were pulled down below their chins.

"We are, yes, we are. Champions of Italy. We can finally scream it, after dreaming of it, after keeping it hidden in the depths of our hearts, after holding on to it like a precious dream that we did not want to waste," read a lengthy statement on the Inter website.

Juventus president Andrea Agnelli congratulated his Inter counterpart Steven Zhang on the Chinese-owned club’s success.

The Lombardy side had not won Serie A since Jose Mourinho’s historic Champions League, Serie A and Coppa Italia treble in 2010.

Their last trophy was the Coppa Italia in 2011 and they missed out on the Champions League for six seasons before Luciano Spalletti returned them to Europe’s top club competition in 2018.

Conte is the 13th coach since Mourinho to sit on the Nerazzurri bench and the club has changed hands twice over the past decade.

Billionaire Massimo Moratti, whose family controls Italian oil refiner Saras Group, sold to a consortium led by Indonesian business tycoon Erik Thohir in 2013, with Chinese electronics retailer Suning Holdings Group taking a majority stake in 2016.