Inter head coach Antonio Conte believes Italian football's "hate" culture has worsened since he returned to Serie A.

Cagliari fans subjected Inter striker Romelu Lukaku to monkey chants before he took a penalty when the sides met in Serie A on September 2.

On Monday Italian television station TopCalcio24 dropped pundit Luciano Passirani and apologised after he made a racist comment about Lukaku.

Conte resumed his management career in his homeland when he joined Inter in May following two seasons in the Premier League with Chelsea.

The 50-year-old was speaking at a news conference on Friday ahead of their San Siro clash with city rivals AC Milan, which has been called the 'Derby Against Racism'.

"I came back after three years and found everything worse," Conte said.

"A lot of hatred, resentment. It is only to insult and foment hatred. This is very bad. This exists in Italy and is getting worse and worse.

"I had the luck to have an experience in England, where they throw them [supporters] in jail and throw away the keys, they don't come to the stadium anymore.

"We need to improve. That's why in England you see families at the stadium. I repeat: we have to improve everyone.”

Conte also took a swipe at the media and claimed they perpetuate the problem to a large degree by stoking up rivalries.

He continued: "I found an Italy worsened to the nth degree and we are all guilty. Including you [the media] who are sitting there. We are not exempt.

"It is easy to make articles after something has happened and to put yourself on the side of reason. 

"They are articles that foster lack of respect. We will all have to do an examination of conscience. I repeat: I had been absent for three years, I found something multiplied many times. 

"I think it is anti-educational towards the generations that are coming because they are born in front of the keyboard reading hate and violence.

"The solution would be to send positive messages. Do not stir up violence and accentuate the rivalry.

"I think that communication has a very important role in this because the reader can read hatred or positive things and can continue on a certain wave."

AC Milan are set to launch an anti-racism task force to tackle discrimination in Italian football.

Milan's initiative had been several months in planning but, following several high-profile incidents in Italian football, they accelerated matters to launch at the Derby della Madonnina against bitter rivals Inter on Saturday.

The contest has been rebranded the "Derby Against Racism", as the Rossoneri aim to "demonstrate solidarity with some of the most high-profile targets of the negative behaviour".

The decision to bring the announcement forward comes in the wake of Milan midfielder Franck Kessie and Inter forward Romelu Lukaku suffering alleged racist abuse during matches in September.

An Italian football pundit was also suspended from television show TopCalcio24 for using a racist remark when praising the performances of Lukaku.

Announcing the campaign, Milan CEO Ivan Gazidis said: "Italian football needs to wake up and take a strong stance against racist behaviour.

"AC Milan will take a leadership position on this issue, promoting basic human values that are relevant to us all. Football provides a powerful example of the strength of unity and teamwork.

"Diversity, inclusion and tolerance enhance the strength of the team, the club and of society as a whole. We believe that we have a moral obligation to do everything we can to address this issue.

"This first significant step aims to visibly demonstrate that we will be proactive in our efforts to tackle racism in football. These values transcend football rivalries and we are delighted to have the support of Inter for this initiative."

Marco Giampaolo is convinced AC Milan's players will adapt to his style of play as he talked down the importance of this weekend's derby with Inter.

Former Sampdoria boss Giampaolo was hired in June after Milan missed out on Champions League qualification by a single point under Gennaro Gattuso last season.

The Rossoneri failed to register a shot on target in their 1-0 loss at Udinese on the opening weekend of the Serie A season, but they have since earned 1-0 wins against Brescia and Verona.

Giampaolo has reportedly toyed with the idea of reverting to a three-man defence but, speaking on the eve of the showdown with bitter rivals Inter, he vowed to stand by his tactics until his players get it right.

"Defeating Verona was an important step. The team is improving game after game," he told reporters.

"The team understand well and knows my football philosophy and what I want to present.

"During the summer the team played in the way we wanted them to, in the league they did less.

"Perhaps we are struggling because we are still trying to adapt. We had players coming back late from various international tournaments.

"I am convinced that working together we can reach a high level of football. It doesn't mean we will win everything but I'm convinced we will have an easy and clear playing identity. The key is to work together."

Inter are favourites for the first Derby della Madonnina of the season after winning their opening three league matches under Antonio Conte.

Giampaolo acknowledged what is on the line at San Siro this weekend, but insisted it is still too early in the campaign to be a defining match.

"Our goal is to win. It's important to play well and maintain our project but at the same time we have to give the fans the exploits they aspire for," he said.

"You need to be tactically sound. This is certainly one of the most difficult games we can play so we have to be out our very best.

"It is definitely an important game as it always has been. I don't know whether Inter are in a better shape than us. I am confident in my team.

"The derby is a crossroad for Milan? No, but the derby is important. It's not fundamental or crucial - it's only the fourth game."

Giampaolo was also forced to play down rumours of a falling out with Lucas Paqueta, who appeared to take a dig at his coach on social media after being accused of being 'too Brazilian' with his style of play.

"We had a chat," Giampaolo said. "The media like to make a big deal out of nothing. It was a good way to sell papers ahead of the derby but there's nothing major between us."

Inter Miami have found their star signing, set to land Manchester City playmaker David Silva.

The MLS side, set to start playing next year, have been linked with numerous big names, with Barcelona star Lionel Messi among them.

But they appear to have found the man to lead them into their debut campaign.

 

TOP STORY – DAVID SILVA SET TO JOIN MLS SIDE INTER MIAMI

David Silva is likely to join Inter Miami at the end of the 2019-20 season, according to the Independent.

The 33-year-old has previously said this campaign would be his last with Manchester City, the club he arrived at in 2010.

David Beckham is a co-owner of Inter Miami and it seems they are set to land the star they have been chasing.

ROUND-UP

- Unsurprisingly, Erling Haaland's Champions League exploits have led to interest from a couple of Europe's biggest clubs. The RB Salzburg forward, 19, scored a hat-trick against Genk on Tuesday. Barcelona have watched Haaland previously, according to Mundo Deportivo, while The Sun reports Manchester United have also joined the race for the Norway international.

- Barcelona may be busy in January, but only with departures. Marca reports the LaLiga giants are not planning to make any signings despite continued interest in Paris Saint-Germain star Neymar, but are considering selling first-team players Ivan Rakitic, Samuel Umtiti and Arturo Vidal.

- Mason Greenwood is set to re-sign with Manchester United. The Sun reports the forward, who scored his first senior goal for the club in the Europa League on Thursday, will sign a new contract before his 18th birthday on October 1, taking his wages from £800 to £25,000 per week.

- Antoine Griezmann made the move from Atletico Madrid to Barcelona in the close season and the forward received quite the bonus. The France international landed a €14million commission to sign for Barcelona, according to El Mundo.

- Like Haaland, another RB Salzburg player is being chased by a Premier League club. Arsenal have made a fresh approach for playmaker Dominik Szoboszlai, according to The Sun, having also chased the 18-year-old Hungarian during the close season.

- There appears to be some tension at Inter. Romelu Lukaku and Marcelo Brozovic exchanged words in the dressing room and had to be separated by team-mates after a 1-1 Champions League draw at home to Slavia Prague on Tuesday, according to La Gazzetta dello Sport.

Kaka insists it is still too early to judge AC Milan head coach Marco Giampaolo, while he is tipping his former side to earn bragging rights against Inter this weekend.

Giampaolo was poached from Sampdoria during the close season and has made a steady if unspectacular start to life at San Siro.

Milan failed to register a shot on target in their 1-0 loss at Udinese on the opening weekend of the Serie A season but have since responded with back-to-back 1-0 wins against Brescia and Hellas Verona.

Next up for Giampaolo's men is Saturday's clash with league leaders Inter and Kaka, who spent two spells with Milan in his playing days, has stressed the importance of taking three points from the first Derby della Madonnina of the season.

"I think for Milan the derby is really important, because it's the first one and it's Milan against Inter," he told Omnisport. "We're playing at home and it would be nice to see Milan win a derby like this. 

"Inter have started the season very well, but in my opinion Milan will win. It will be good for their Scudetto chances. If they want to win the league, it's important that they win this game."

Milan turned to Giampaolo after finishing a point outside the Champions League qualifying places last season.

"So far I think he's done good. He's OK," Kaka said. "If I'm not wrong it's just three games [in charge]. 

"What he's doing he's doing good. We will see. As a Milan supporter I'm expecting that Milan can win something this year and at least come back into the Champions League."

Marco Giampaolo and AC Milan are bringing back the Rossoneri identity as they eye a long-awaited return to the Champions League, according to former goalkeeper Zeljko Kalac.

Milan have not featured in the Champions League since 2013-14 after narrowly missing out on qualification by a single point under Gennaro Gattuso last season.

The Italian giants – seven-time winners of the European Cup/Champions League – have since turned to former Sampdoria head coach Giampaolo in their pursuit of a return to the premier club competition.

Milan great Zvonimir Boban, who won the Champions League and four Serie A titles during his time at the club, has also returned to San Siro as chief football officer, while legendary former captain Paolo Maldini is technical director.

Kalac – winner of the Champions League, UEFA Super Cup and Club World Cup during his four years at Milan – believes the 18-time Serie A champions can build on Gattuso's work with Giampaolo's entertaining brand of football.

"They've appointed a very good manager," ex-Australia international Kalac told Omnisport ahead of Saturday's derby against Inter. "The way I think they'll play and the way Giampaolo will get them to play, it will be very good for Milan.

"Milan have always been known as a footballing team. All the success we've had and in the Champions League, it's because of the way they play football – it's a brand.

"They want to bring that back. With Maldini being back and Boban too, you're bringing back legends. The culture of the club. You can't forget what Gattuso done, he brought back the Milan culture. They'll just go forward from that."

"If they can get into the top four and qualify for the Champions League, that's a very big success," Kalac continued, with Giampaolo's side collecting six points from their opening three games. "They were close under Rino, it was a good push. It's where they belong, a club of Milan."

Milan were active again in the transfer market – Giampaolo trying to shape his squad with the deadline-day signing of Croatia star Ante Rebic after bringing Theo Hernandez, Rafael Leao, Ismael Bennacer, Leo Duarte and Rade Krunic to the club.

Rebic – who scored 10 goals across all competitions during a memorable run to the Europa League semi-finals last season – was linked to Inter before joining Milan from Bundesliga outfit Eintracht Frankfurt.

The 25-year-old returns to Italy, having previously struggled after moving to Fiorentina from RNK Split in 2013, before being loaned out to RB Leipzig and Hellas Verona.

"I don't see why not. We all have our ups and downs in football," Kalac said when asked if Rebic can be a success in his second stint in Serie A. "The one thing at Milan that people don't realise, the expectations are so high. It doesn't matter who you play against, they expect you to win. You need to win and supporters expect it. The club is built to win.

"Once these players play and train regularly, they work out things together and combinations form. I've seen many great players come to Milan and not be successful because it's a different expectation. When you're the main man or focal point at a smaller club, it's easier because the team works for you. Whereas at Milan, you need to be part of the parcel in the big cog, but he can be a success."

Rebic will have his first taste of a Milan derby against a high-flying Inter side looking to make it four wins from four Serie A matches under coach Antonio Conte.

Inter are two points clear atop the table following the arrivals of Conte, club-record signing Romelu Lukaku, Diego Godin, Stefano Sensi, Nicolo Barella, Alexis Sanchez and Cristiano Biraghi.

"They've recruited really well," Kalac, who predicted a draw in the first Milan derby of the season, said. "It all starts with the recruiting of the head coach – Conte is fantastic. They've brought in some really good players who will be successful.

"But I think it will still take time. They won't have instant success but they will go very close. I think [eight-time reigning champions] Juventus this season, if there's any season to win it off them, it's this term."

Antonio Conte shouldered the blame for Inter's 1-1 draw against Slavia Prague as their Champions League campaign got off to a slow start. 

The hosts needed an injury-time equaliser from Nicolo Barella just to earn on a point on Tuesday, with Peter Olayinka having given the Czech side a deserved lead.

With Group F also containing Barcelona and Borussia Dortmund, the result represents a missed opportunity for Inter and Conte could offer no excuses.

"Slavia Prague certainly played in a very European way, aggressive and with intensity," the Inter coach told Sky Sport Italia.

"We didn't do well to find solutions and get around that. In other games, we were up against sides who sat back and waited for us, whereas Slavia attacked us. We struggled and to be honest I am not satisfied with the performance.

"I must be the first to take responsibility, because evidently I didn't have the effect I wanted in my initial choices or in explaining the kind of match we were going into.

"We could've done far better, this is not the kind of football we are training to play. We've got to improve in terms of character too, but when I talk about a growth process, it goes through games like this too, as I know what kind of situation this is."

The nature of the performance was a concern to Conte, who suggested his side had plenty of room for growth, but warned fans not to expect instant results.

"Slavia beat us in terms of intensity, determination, pace," said the former Chelsea boss. "We showed nothing of our ideas of football. You seem to think I arrive here, touch and the ducklings turn into swans.

"There's a lot of work to do and we need to improve, but that was not our football. When I say we shouldn't let ourselves get swept up in enthusiasm, I mean it. I am here to help these lads improve, so put the blame on me.

"I refuse to talk about individuals, because we were all below par, starting from me. I am the first onto the naughty step, the main dunce.

"I generally hate the long ball and run routine, as that is not our football, but that's what we largely did. It wasn't the plan."

An injury-time equaliser from Nicolo Barella denied Slavia Prague a famous Champions League win over Inter at San Siro on Tuesday.

The champions of the Czech Republic were not expected to escape from a daunting Group F that also contains Borussia Dortmund and Barcelona but looked on course for a deserved victory in Milan through Peter Olayinka.

Slavia could have added to their tally and were punished in second-half stoppage time, as Barella's shot bounced through a crowded box and into the left-hand corner to ensure the game finished 1-1.

Inter started slowly until Stefan de Vrij headed over when unmarked six yards out, before Lautaro Martinez fired narrowly wide.

Danilo D'Ambrosio's header was denied by Ondrej Kolar, who was then lucky not to give away a goal as he made a mess of an attempted clearance but Inter were largely lifeless in the first half.

Kolar had to react smartly to stop Stefano Sensi's cross creeping in and then keep out Martinez's rebound, before Kwadwo Asamoah avoided a red card following a VAR review for a foul on Ibrahim Benjamin Traore, who had to be substituted.

It was his replacement, Jaroslav Zeleny, whose first-time shot was superbly saved by Samir Handanovic only for Olayinka to pounce and turn the ball high into the net to give Slavia their shock lead.

Buoyed by the breakthrough, Slavia continued pressing high and should have scored a second through Lukas Masopust, who blazed over the bar from the edge of the box.

It was substitute Barella who rescued a result for Antonio Conte's side, his half-volley finding a way into the net after Sensi's free-kick had crashed off the crossbar.

What does it mean? Conte's Champions League return off to a bleak start

Conte could not match his domestic success in Europe with Juventus and this was an uninspiring start to Champions League life with Inter.

In a group containing Barca and Dortmund, a draw at home to the weakest of the four teams - on paper at least - has put the Nerazzurri at a disadvantage after only one matchday.

Slavia might just fancy one or two more shocks, though, given the nature of their performance here.

Soucek supreme

Slavia captain Tomas Soucek was efficient on the ball and proved a valuable screen to the back four, keeping Inter's limp attack nullified.

Martinez a figure of frustration

Having missed two presentable opportunities, Martinez was booked for dissent after conceding a free-kick near his own penalty area, compounding an unhappy outing.

What's next?

Inter, who face AC Milan in the derby this weekend, head to Barcelona on Champions League matchday two on October 2. Slavia host Borussia Dortmund.

Cagliari will not be punished for racist abuse aimed at Inter striker Romelu Lukaku, the Italian Football Federation (FIGC) has confirmed.

Lukaku was subjected to monkey chants as he prepared to take a penalty in the Serie A meeting between the sides earlier this month.

Cagliari subsequently vowed to ban the supporters responsible but rejected "silly stereotypes" about the behaviour of their fans, while Lukaku called on football authorities and players to "unify" in the fight against racism.

The FIGC said it would investigate the incident but on Tuesday its Giudice Sportivo panel ruled Cagliari would not be punished over the abuse aimed at the Belgium international.

"The head of the public order stated that police of Cagliari had spotted that in the phases preceding the penalty kick, and only on that occasion, from the sector "Curva Nord", usually occupied by the home supporters, there were chants, shouts and arguments against the athlete Lukaku, who was preparing for the penalty," said a statement. 

But it was concluded the club would not be punished due to the "size" of the chanting and the perception that there was too much shouting and whistling to identify its "discriminatory" nature.

Cagliari, however, were fined €5,000 after fans launched plastic bottles on to the pitch against Inter.

The abuse aimed at Lukaku is the fourth high-profile occasion Cagliari have been involved in such incidents in just over two years.

In May 2017, Pescara's Sulley Muntari was booked for complaining to the referee about racism and was later given a one-match ban for walking off the pitch, while Juventus midfielder Blaise Matuidi claimed in January 2018 he was abused.

Last season Matuidi's then club-mate Moise Kean was targeted with the Sardinia club escaping punishment as Serie A felt the chants "had an objectively limited relevance to race".

Meanwhile, Italian sports pundit Luciano Passirani, who was suspended by television channel TopCalcio24 after saying the only way to stop Lukaku was to give him "10 bananas", has denied being racist.

He told Corriere dello Sport: "I have been in the world of football for 40 years and have never received a suspension for behaviour in any of the roles I have held, but I accept the decision made against me.

"I would not like to pass for a racist. My partner who has lived with me for 17 years is black, I have two black grand-daughters. I am not a racist and I believe I am an educated person in every respect.

"In my career I met so many black players and I never had any problems."

Lionel Messi has his sights on a record set by Real Madrid great Raul when Barcelona face Borussia Dortmund on Tuesday, as the Champions League proper gets started for the 2019-20 season.

Barca's talisman is back in their squad for the trip to Germany after missing the start of the campaign with a calf injury and, while he is unlikely to start, few would bet against him having a decisive impact if he does make an appearance.

Reigning champions Liverpool begin their title defence at Napoli in what will surely prove to be a tricky test, although Sadio Mane will be aiming to equal a record set by Didier Drogba.

There will also be Champions League bows in the dugout for Frank Lampard and Sylvinho.

Below, we examine the key data for Tuesday's encounters...

Salzburg v Genk

0 - Salzburg have not lost any of their last 18 home matches in European competition (W14 D4 – including qualifiers), with their most recent defeat at home coming in October 2016 against Nice in the Europa League.

1 - Genk forward Mbwana Samatta scored nine goals in 12 appearances in European competition last season and he also finished with 23 goals in the Belgian top flight in 2018-19. Should he play in this match, he will be the first Tanzanian player to make an appearance in the Champions League.

 

Napoli v Liverpool

5 - Napoli have won just one of their past six European meetings with English clubs, losing the other five in this run and failing to score in the most recent three. That one victory was against Liverpool last season, though.

15 - Liverpool forward Sadio Mane has scored 14 goals in 24 Champions League appearances. Should he score in his next outing, he will equal Didier Drogba's record of needing just 25 appearances to score his first 15 goals in the competition, a record for any African player.

 

Inter v Slavia Prague

20 - Inter will be making their 20th appearance in the Champions League/European Cup – only Juventus (34) and AC Milan (28) have had more among Italian sides (including 2019-20).

24 - Inter forward Alexis Sanchez has been involved in 24 goals (12 goals, 12 assists) in his 52 Champions League appearances, but none of these involvements came in six games in the competition for Manchester United, the club he left on loan last month.

 

Borussia Dortmund v Barcelona

33 - Lionel Messi has scored against 32 of the 37 different opponents he has faced in the Champions League. Should he score against Dortmund, the Barcelona star will equal the competition's record for different teams scored against, set by Raul (33 clubs).

2 - Borussia Dortmund have won just two of their past eight Champions League home matches (D2 L4), losing their most recent match 1-0 against Tottenham in the last 16 in 2018-19.

 

Lyon v Zenit

1 - Lyon boss Sylvinho will manage in the Champions League for the first time, also becoming the first non-Frenchman to take charge of the club in Europe's elite competition. The Brazilian made 32 Champions League appearances as a player for Barcelona, Celta Vigo and Arsenal, scoring three goals.

58 - Zenit captain Branislav Ivanovic could make his first Champions League appearance since March 2016 (for Chelsea) in this match. He has made 58 appearances in the competition; only Dejan Stankovic (87) and Predrag Djordjevic (62) have made more among Serbian players.

 

Benfica v RB Leipzig

10 - Benfica are Portugal's sole representative in the 2019-20 Champions League, making it the first time in a decade that there is only one Portuguese club in the competition.

3 - Timo Werner scored three goals from just seven shots on target in the Champions League back in 2017-18, more than any other RB Leipzig player. He went on to net seven times in European competition that term, the highest total by an RB Leipzig player in a single season.

 

Ajax v Lille

6 - Ajax won six games in the 2018-19 Champions League, as many as they did in their previous four participations in the competition.

11 - Including qualifiers, Lille have not won any of their past 11 European matches in all competitions (D6 L5) and scored only five goals in these games.

 

Chelsea v Valencia

102 - Frank Lampard will take charge of a Champions League game for the first time in his managerial career. As a Chelsea player, he made 102 appearances in the competition and is one of only 22 players to have played 100 games or more in the tournament with the same club.

2 - Valencia have reached the Champions League in consecutive seasons for the first time since 2012-13 (three in a row), which was also the last time they made it to the knockout stages of the competition, before being beaten by Paris Saint-Germain in the last 16.

Ole Gunnar Solskjaer appears set on his determination to bring young British talent to Manchester United.

There are four English names on the United manager's radar, apparently, as he looks to rebuild the team into a title-winning force once more.

The end of the season could potentially see a spend of a similar magnitude to the £150million, more or less, that he spent on Harry Maguire, Aaron Wan-Bissaka and Daniel James this year.

 

TOP STORY - MADDISON AND SANCHO TOP SOLSKJAER'S WISH LIST

As per ESPN, Manchester United will pursue deals for Borussia Dortmund star Jadon Sancho and Leicester City's James Maddison in 2020.

Manager Solskjaer is set on his policy of recruiting young, hungry British talent and remains keen on signing Sancho, who was reportedly a target this year.

United believe Leicester could sell Maddison for around £70m and are also interested in Newcastle United's Sean Longstaff, Bournemouth striker Callum Wilson and Stoke City's Nathan Collins.

 

ROUND-UP

- Barcelona have been ordered by a judge to pay a €300 fine or play a match behind closed doors as part of Atletico Madrid's complaint against the transfer of Antoine Griezmann, Marca say. Atleti believe they are owed more than the €120m Barca paid to activate his release clause.

- The Daily Mail report Napoli are interested in Celtic forward Odsonne Edouard, a player they value at around €34m (£30.1m). 

- A handful of reports in Italy suggest Bernard Arnault, the billionaire owner of Louis Vuitton, is interested in buying Serie A giants AC Milan

- Back with Manchester United, and Calciomercato say JuventusInter, Milan and Borussia Dortmund are all keeping an eye on Nemanja Matic, who has grown frustrated at his reduced role in Solskjaer's plans.

The 2019-20 Champions League gets under way with the usual suspects among the favourites for the title: Barcelona, Manchester City, Paris Saint-Germain, Real Madrid and holders Liverpool.

Madrid face PSG in a blockbuster opening clash but the most interesting stories in the group stage could be bubbling under the surface, with Atalanta among the clubs making their competition debuts.

Stars such as Cristiano Ronaldo, Lionel Messi, Eden Hazard, Sergio Aguero and Mohamed Salah could dominate but the stage is set for many others to make their names among Europe's elite.

Omnisport picks out 10 players who may have a huge impact on this season's Champions League.


MATTHIJS DE LIGT - JUVENTUS

Juventus may have preferred to slowly integrate De Ligt into their defence after he joined from Ajax. But a long-term injury to captain Giorgio Chiellini means the Netherlands centre-back has been pressed into action already. De Ligt has made a stumbling start in Turin but his leadership helped Ajax reach the semi-finals last season, knocking Juve out along the way. If they are to recapture the Champions League title, De Ligt is set for a key role at the back.


JOAO FELIX - ATLETICO MADRID

Antoine Griezmann's move to Barcelona left Atletico with a huge hole to fill in their attack, with the Rojiblancos breaking their club record to sign Joao Felix from Benfica. There is no doubting the 19-year-old's extreme talent but whether or not he is ready to lead Atleti to Champions League glory after some perilously near misses in recent years remains to be seen.


JADON SANCHO - BORUSSIA DORTMUND

Another teenager, England star Sancho is already one of the most dangerous forwards in world football. The 19-year-old has already contributed two goals and four assists in the Bundesliga this term, while he opened his international account with a brace against Kosovo last week. Perhaps most impressive about Sancho is his decision-making in the final third where he is clinical, especially on the break. Dortmund are in a tough Group F with Barcelona, Inter and Slavia Prague.


RODRI - MANCHESTER CITY

European success continues to elude City but the capture of Rodri from Atletico could help them finally go to the next level in the Champions League. Control has been an issue for Pep Guardiola's men in the knockout rounds but Spain midfielder Rodri, seen as a successor to Sergio Busquets internationally, should enable them to dominate possession more than ever.


PHILIPPE COUTINHO - BAYERN MUNICH

Having struggled to justify his move to Barcelona, Brazil playmaker Coutinho has been given a fresh start with Bundesliga giants Bayern Munich. His arrival ought to help address the loss of James Rodriguez after his two-year loan from Real Madrid ended. Bayern are looking for a first European crown since 2012-13 with Coutinho needing to step up.


ERLING HAALAND - SALZBURG

One of Europe's most in-form strikers, Haaland hit eight league goals in six games for Austrian champions Salzburg before the international break. The Leeds-born 19-year-old, son of former Manchester City midfielder Alf-Inge Haaland, shot to fame when he scored nine goals in Norway's 12-0 win over Honduras at the Under-20 World Cup earlier this year.


LAUTARO MARTINEZ - INTER

Inter and Dortmund look likely to be scrapping for second spot in Group F, so Antonio Conte will want a big impact from Lautaro Martinez. The Argentina attacker should get more chances to impress after the departure of compatriot Mauro Icardi to PSG on loan and he showed he is in fine form by hitting a hat-trick in a friendly defeat of Mexico during the international break.


DANI OLMO - DINAMO ZAGREB

Having led Spain to glory at the European Under-21 Championship this year, Olmo was one of Europe's most in-demand players. Bayern Munich, Atletico Madrid, Manchester United and Tottenham were all linked with the 21-year-old, who was retained by Dinamo instead. He offers a genuine threat in the final third, having scored eight league goals last term, and Dinamo have a real chance of qualifying from Group C behind likely winners Manchester City.


ALEJANDRO GOMEZ - ATALANTA

In the same group, along with Shakhtar Donetsk, are Champions League newcomers Atalanta, who thrilled in Serie A last term. Finally getting a chance to shine in the Champions League, Gomez may not get another opportunity to adorn this competition. One of the most consistent performers in Italy's top flight, the 31-year-old could help Atalanta become the tournament's surprise package.


MASON MOUNT - CHELSEA

A transfer ban has forced Europa League winners Chelsea to reassess their squad with new England international Mason Mount among those making the most of their chance under Blues head coach Frank Lampard. Three Premier League goals have helped the 20-year-old, who played under Lampard at Championship side Derby County on loan last season, settle in quickly. The Champions League is his next test.

Antonio Conte is committed to building a "special" Inter side but has called for patience from fans and media alike ahead of the Nerazzurri's Champions League meeting with Slavia Prague.

Inter have won all three of their opening Serie A fixtures under Conte and sit top of the table.

Head coach Conte, though, has insisted patience will be required throughout the campaign, conceding the Champions League will make it more difficult for him to pin down Inter's new style of play.

"It will be hard to play on more than one front. The more time you have the easier it is for the coach and also for the players to recover," Conte told a news conference.

"The Champions League is a great source of motivation, we all want to do well and go far for the fans too, but it is not easy for me in my goal of creating a side with an identity.

"There is real desire to create something special, we are laying solid foundations for something important.

"It is vital we keep our feet on the ground, but the enthusiasm must come from the results, from our hard work and our aims, so time and patience is needed.

"I played in three Champions League finals and coached Juventus in the Champions League too, my record there was good.

"At Chelsea too, I coached in the Champions League, this is my fourth season as a coach in the Champions League, but it takes time to win it, you need experience, you need to create a side with an identity.

"In the past I have coached sides still being built. It has not been easy for me."

The arrival of Romelu Lukaku and Alexis Sanchez have boosted Inter's attack, while Conte's side have scored seven and conceded just once in their three league matches so far.

Lukaku has scored twice so far, though had to be taken off with an injury midway through the second half against Udinese on Saturday.

"Lukaku will train today," Conte said when asked if the forward was fit.

"He had a back injury against Udinese but we will see and evaluate his fitness."

An Italian sports programme has suspended pundit Luciano Passirani after he made a racist remark on air about Inter striker Romelu Lukaku.

Passirani made the comment on TopCalcio24 on Sunday while praising Lukaku's performances for Inter this season after the Nerazzurri earned a third win from as many Serie A games by beating Udinese 1-0.

A clip was subsequently shared on social media and Passirani has now been banned from appearing on the show.

"Mr Passirani is 80 years old and to compliment Lukaku he used a metaphor that turned out to be racist," programme director Fabio Ravezzani, who also confirmed Passirani had apologised, stated.

"I think it was a terrible lack of momentary lucidity. I cannot tolerate any kind of errors, even if momentary."

Lukaku made the switch to Inter from Manchester United in the August and has scored twice in three Serie A outings thus far.

Lukaku was the target of abuse in Inter's win over Cagliari last month.

Monkey chants could be heard as the Belgium striker converted a penalty in the 2-1 win, with Lukaku posting on Instagram afterwards: "Football is a game to be enjoyed and we shouldn't accept any form of discrimination that will put our game in shame.

"Ladies and gentlemen it's 2019 – instead of going forwards we're going backwards."

If losing your manager was bad enough, imagine losing your star defender?

Liverpool boss Jurgen Klopp and centre-back Virgil van Dijk are attracting some serious interest from across Europe.

Now, LaLiga's powerhouse duo are reportedly eyeing the Reds pair.

 

TOP STORY – BARCA AND MADRID WANT KLOPP AND VAN DIJK

According to AS, LaLiga champions Barcelona and rivals Real Madrid are set to go head-to-head to try to prise Klopp and Van Dijk from Liverpool.

Klopp and Van Dijk helped lead Liverpool to Champions League glory last season, while the Reds are challenging for Premier League honours this term having narrowly missed out to Manchester City in 2018-19.

With Barca head coach Ernesto Valverde and Madrid counterpart Zinedine Zidane under some early pressure in Spain, Klopp and Van Dijk are reportedly "two priorities" for both clubs.

 

ROUND-UP

Real Madrid have the budget to sign Paris Saint-Germain superstar Kylian Mbappe at the end of the season, reports AS. Madrid's financial accounts have been revealed, with €156million in liquid assets at their disposal, as well as €285m in credit. Los Blancos are reportedly planning to persuade the France forward, who is contracted until 2022, not to re-sign in the French capital in an effort to force the club's hand.

Lionel Messi to MLS? There has been talk about Messi and David Beckham's incoming franchise Inter Miami following a report claiming a delegation had been sent out to open negotiations for the Barcelona captain. However, Goal says Messi has had no contact with Beckham's Miami.

Manchester United are trying everything to re-sign star goalkeeper David de Gea. According to the Times, United have offered De Gea a new contract with no wage drop if the Red Devils do not qualify for the Champions League. The Spain international, who is out of contract at the end of the season, reportedly has a four-year deal on the table worth £13.5m a season.

- Staying at Old Trafford, and Record and O Jogo both report United are back in for Benfica star Ruben Dias. The 22-year-old defender was linked to the Manchester club before the transfer window closed. Now reports claim a United official was in attendance for Benfica's 2-0 win over Gil Vicente.

Inter are hoping to sign Mario Gotze from Borussia Dortmund, according to Calciomercato.com. Gotze's contract expires at the end of the season and Antonio Conte's Inter are eyeing the Germany attacker on a free transfer.

- Velez Sarsfield's Thiago Almada is still on the radar of Manchester City, says Record. City had a bid rejected during the transfer window but Pep Guardiola's side remain keen on the 18-year-old.

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