Inter on a mission, not in transition - Inzaghi hails high-flying defending champions

By Sports Desk November 27, 2021

Simone Inzaghi scoffed at the idea of this being a "transition year" for Inter as the reigning Serie A champions showed they are firmly in the title hunt again.

Wholesale change at San Siro has not affected the Nerazzurri's ambition, and a 2-0 win at Venezia ramped up pressure on early front-runners Napoli and Milan.

Inzaghi arrived in the close season to replace Scudetto-winning boss Antonio Conte, while star men Romelu Lukaku and Achraf Hakimi left in big-money transfers. Christian Eriksen has been unavailable since suffering a cardiac arrest at Euro 2020 while on Denmark duty.

Inter appear to have chosen shrewdly by bringing in Inzaghi from Lazio as head coach, while players such as Hakan Calhanoglu and Edin Dzeko have been acquired too.

Calhanoglu's fourth goal of the season – matching his Serie A haul for previous club Milan last term – put Inter on their way against Venezia, before Lautaro Martinez made sure with a stoppage-time penalty.

For Calhanoglu, this was the third successive Serie A game in which he has scored, the first time he has achieved that feat.

Inter duly moved within a point of Napoli and Milan, who are in action on Sunday, and Inzaghi said: "Some people said this was supposed to be a transition year to rebuild. I came in and the club helped me in everything. These players are magnificent and I think we're getting better by the day. We have to keep going like this.

"I'm coaching a group of great players and great men. We got straight down to work in the summer and despite losing Lukaku, Hakimi and Eriksen, we brought in players suited to the way we want to play. Now we're continuing to grow one step at a time."

 

Inter were dominant and deserved winners at Stadio Pier Luigi Penzo, capping a week in which they made sure of their place in the Champions League knockout stage by beating Shakhtar Donetsk. They also beat Napoli last weekend, inflicting a first league defeat of the season on Luciano Spalletti's men.

"It's a great period for us and this was a big week," Inzaghi said, quoted on Inter's website.

"We played some lovely football and the only downside was we couldn't get the second goal to put it to bed earlier. Leaving the game open against a dangerous, well-drilled side like Venezia is always risky. But it was our third game in a short space of time and the lads did a fantastic job."

There were drawbacks to the win in Venice, with Inzaghi reporting Matteo Darmian suffered a "twinge in his thigh".

"Hopefully it's nothing serious. He's a very important player for us," Inzaghi said.

And Calhanoglu came off early in the second half having needed a thigh massage during the interval.

Inzaghi said the Turkish midfielder was "doing brilliantly" for Inter, adding: "After three consecutive games I didn't want to risk him so I took him off 10 minutes into the second half."

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  • Liverpool, PSG... Newcastle? Where next for Barcelona outcast Dembele? Liverpool, PSG... Newcastle? Where next for Barcelona outcast Dembele?

    Ousmane Dembele's Barcelona career appears to be drawing to a close, with the club's director of football Mateu Alemany confirming on Thursday that he is up for sale.

    Dembele's representatives have been in talks with Barca since July over a new contract for a player that arrived at Camp Nou in 2017 in the wake of Neymar's departure to Paris Saint-Germain.

    Barca splashed the cash – €105million, to be exact – to bring the winger in from Borussia Dortmund, where he had enjoyed a wonderful campaign in 2016-17 after a move from Rennes.

    Despite Xavi wanting to keep the player, an agreement between the club and Dembele's camp has not been reached and the stand-off has now resulted in Alemany publicly stating the France international will no longer play for Barca now he has turned down their latest offer.

     

    Dembele has struggled to establish himself as a key player at Barca due to injuries and some reported attitude issues, albeit he has hardly been at Camp Nou during the most stable period.

    He has managed 31 goals and 22 assists in 129 appearances since his debut in September 2017, meaning he has been directly involved in 0.63 goals per 90 minutes, but he has played in just 52 per cent of Barca's LaLiga matches in that time.

    Barca's plan is to move Dembele on now but, with his contract up at the end of the season, potential suitors may wish to bide their time and sign the attacker on a free transfer.

    Stats Perform explores some possible destinations.

    Liverpool

    Could a move to Anfield be on the cards for Dembele? He has often been linked with Liverpool in the past, and Jurgen Klopp's direct approach could well suit a player that performed so well in the Bundesliga – a competition renowned for aggressive pressing and counter-attacks, which the Reds have down to a tee in the Premier League.

    There is the small matter, of course, of Mohamed Salah. Arguably the best player in the world at the moment, the Egypt star plays predominantly from the right, in Dembele's preferred position. However, there is uncertainty over Salah's future, with a new contract not yet agreed. His deal runs out in 2023 and Dembele could present an ideal rotation option and eventual successor. Klopp would surely back himself to get the best out of the 24-year-old.

     

    PSG

    A team reported to hold a firm interest is Ligue 1 giants PSG. It would be ironic should Dembele – the man signed by Barca to replace Neymar – ended up playing alongside the Brazil star in Paris.

    PSG already, of course, have a star-studded attack. But with Kylian Mbappe expected to leave at the end of the season and Lionel Messi, Neymar and Angel Di Maria not getting any younger, Dembele could provide a relatively cost-effective replacement, and a return to France might reignite his career.

    Bayern Munich

    Or could a move back to the Bundesliga be the trick for Dembele? Bayern Munich have plenty of top-quality wing options, with Serge Gnabry, Leroy Sane and Kingsley Coman, who has just signed a new long-term deal, complimented by youngster Jamal Musiala. Yet in all competitions this season, Dembele has created 2.4 chances per 90 minutes played, and that is better than any of Bayern's current wingers other than Sane (2.6).

    His 6.7 dribbles attempted per 90 ranks behind only Musiala (7.8) and he leads the way in shots (4.5). Most important, perhaps, is Dembele's tendency to cross. He has delivered 6.7 open-play crosses per 90 in 2021-22, exactly two more than Bayern's best wide player in this metric (Coman - 4.7), something that Robert Lewandowski would surely relish.

    Borussia Dortmund

    This may seem an unlikely move, but what about heading back to Dortmund? Dembele was a superstar at Signal Iduna Park in his first spell there, although fans did not take kindly to his wish to leave, and that may well mean this would not get off the ground.

    But, putting any negative emotions to one side, Dortmund have a vibrant attack under Marco Rose, though are likely to lose Erling Haaland in the close-season. While Dembele's wages might be an issue right now, should he remain at Barca for the rest of the season, could Dortmund use funds generated from a possible Haaland sale to bring back a player who played a direct hand in 30 goals (10 goals, 20 assists) and created 100 chances across all competitions in 2016-17.

     

    Juventus

    Another elite club that could provide a new lease of life for Dembele is Juve. The Serie A giants are not involved in the title race this season, at least according to their coach Massimiliano Allegri, though he will know the Bianconeri nevertheless must challenge for silverware in Europe or in the Coppa Italia. 

    Dembele could provide the spark that is missing in Juve's attack, especially with Federico Chiesa expected to miss at least six months with a serious knee injury, while Dejan Kulusevski has been rumoured to be on the transfer list.

    Newcastle United

    One of these clubs is not like the others but, given their new-found wealth – and, perhaps, the need to make a real statement signing – maybe it would be foolish to discount Newcastle.

    Whether Dembele would fancy swapping Barcelona for the north east of England and a Premier League relegation battle in January is of course up for debate, though what would not be up for debate is Newcastle, with their Saudi Arabia-backed ownership, having the funds to pull such a signing off.

    Dembele would represent a step up in quality and would surely be an instant fans' favourite at St James' Park and alongside Allan Saint-Maximin on the other flank, provide some added star power to help Newcastle survive and, possibly, thrive in future seasons.

  • Arteta urges Arsenal to 'defend ourselves on the pitch' after hitting out at 'lies' Arteta urges Arsenal to 'defend ourselves on the pitch' after hitting out at 'lies'

    Mikel Arteta has urged his Arsenal players to do their talking on the field against Liverpool after accusing unnamed parties of "lying" about the reasons behind Sunday's north London derby postponement.

    The Gunners had a request to call off the match against fierce rivals Tottenham accepted by the Premier League on Saturday due to having a lack of players available to choose from.

    However, Arteta's side were accused of exploiting the Premier League's rules for a game to be postponed, with the majority of their players absent due to injury, suspension or Africa Cup of Nations duty.

    Arsenal had only one confirmed positive COVID-19 case at the time of lodging an application to get the derby called off, but the Premier League deemed they were unable to meet the required number of available players – 13 outfielders and a goalkeeper – despite their Under-23s having a squad of 16 for a game on Friday.

    Speaking on Tuesday, Tottenham head coach Antonio Conte felt the decision to postpone the match was "very, very strange".

    But Arteta hit back at Arsenal's critics in response to Conte's remarks and added: "We're not going to let anybody damage our name or try to spread lies."

    Doubling down on those comments, Arteta said: "We have to defend ourselves. The best way to do that is demonstrate who we are, and the best way to do that is on the pitch.

    "Whoever is saying we are trying to do something we are not, that's a lie. We have all the evidence we have to provide. 

    "You have to provide evidence individually, all the MRIs, all the COVID cases that you have, you have to put it on the table, you have to explain it, you have to answer more questions and you have to go again and do it. We've done all the right things."

    As the fallout from Sunday's derby cancellation continues, Arsenal have a crucial EFL Cup semi-final second leg against Liverpool to prepare for on Thursday.

    The tie is delicately poised following last week's goalless draw at Anfield, where Arsenal held on with 10 men for more than an hour after Granit Xhaka's sending off.

    And for Arteta, the match at Emirates Stadium represents a chance for his young squad to continue their development by reaching a major final.

    "I can sense the excitement when they're training. They're really looking forward to it. The majority of them have not experienced [a semi-final]," he said.

    "It's why you play football, it's why you want to play for this club, to win trophies. We want to go through and then go and win it, which is the best memory you can have."

    Arsenal confirmed on Thursday that defender Pablo Mari has completed his loan move to Serie A side Udinese.

    Mari, who has made 22 appearances for the Gunners in all competitions, will remain at the Dacia Arena for the remainder of the season. 

  • Dembele told to leave Barcelona 'immediately' after turning down latest contract offer Dembele told to leave Barcelona 'immediately' after turning down latest contract offer

    Barcelona director of football Mateu Alemany has informed Ousmane Dembele to "leave the club immediately" after repeatedly turning down the offer of a new contract.

    The Catalan giants have been in talks with the France international since July over extending his existing deal, which runs out at the end of this season.

    Dembele has struggled to establish himself as a key player at Camp Nou since joining from Borussia Dortmund in 2017 for an initial €105million due to persistent injury setbacks.

    Barca head coach Xavi recently insisted Dembele could become the "best in the world" in his position as he underlined his desire for the forward to agree fresh terms.

    However, the 24-year-old's agent Moussa Sissoko this week told RMC Sport that he would not bow to "pressure" from Barca over his client's future. 

    Sissoko also accused the club of making "threats of no longer playing in the side" rather than engaging in productive talks with Dembele.

    That led to Xavi issuing an ultimatum on Wednesday when telling the former Dortmund attacker to either agree to the offer on the table or be sold in the January window.

    And after he was left out of Barcelona's squad for Thursday's Copa del Rey last-16 tie with Athletic Bilbao, Alemany revealed time has now run out for Dembele.

    "With Ousmane and his agents we started conversations around the month of July," Alemany told Barca TV.

    "In all this time, almost seven months, we have talked, Barca has made different offers, we have tried to find a way for the player to continue with us.

    "Those offers have been continuously rejected by his agents. It seems obvious that the player does not want to continue at Barcelona and is not committed to our future project.

    "We told him and his agents that he must leave the club immediately because we want to have players committed to the project.

    "We expect a transfer to take place before January 31. The sporting consequence is that we don't want to have players who don't want to be at Barca.

    "The fact that he was not in the [squad] list for today is the consequence of this whole process. The coach has our full support, it's a consistent attitude."

    Dembele has played just six times in LaLiga this season and in just over half of Barca's league games since his arrival four-and-a-half years ago.

    He has managed 31 goals and 22 assists in 129 appearances since his debut in September 2017, meaning he has been directly involved in 0.63 goals per 90 minutes.

    That puts him on a par with compatriots Kingsley Coman and Anthony Martial among players from Europe's top five leagues, and just behind Liverpool star Sadio Mane (0.64).

    His goal tally has also come from an expected goals (xG) of 23.7, suggesting Dembele's finishing has been of a high standard, given the quality of chances that have come his way.

    However, to put Dembele's injury issues into some context, the 129 games he has played for Barca is 91 fewer than team-mate Sergio Busquets over the same period.

    Dembele has reportedly drawn interest from a host of Premier League sides, including newly-rich Newcastle United, as well as Paris Saint-Germain, Juventus and Bayern Munich. 

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