Inter CEO Giuseppe Marotta played down speculation linking star forward Lautaro Martinez to Barcelona and Manchester United.

Martinez's fine start to the season has seen him emerge as a target for LaLiga champions Barca and struggling Premier League giants United.

The 22-year-old Argentina international, whose agent has talked up interest from Barca in the past, has scored seven goals this term.

Asked about rumours that Barca and United are poised to activate Martinez's €111million release clause, Marotta told Sky Sport Italia: "This is all media talk.

"Our players are happy to be with us and a player must express its desire to leave if he wants to go. We don't tend to sell important players, Inter are a very important club.

"Of course, part of this job is to deal with situations as they present themselves."

Martinez, who arrived from Racing Club in 2018-19, has scored five Serie A goals this term and seven across all competitions for Antonio Conte's Inter.

Inter defeated Bologna 2-1 on Saturday to stay within a point of defending champions Juventus after 11 games.

Maurizio Sarri accepts Juventus could not be "beautiful" in a 1-0 Derby della Mole win at Torino due to their opponents' tactics and the state of the pitch.

Juve reclaimed top spot in the Serie A table from Inter thanks to a second-half strike from Matthijs de Ligt, the defender scoring his first goal for the club.

It was an underwhelming performance from the defending champions, who have now won on 10 of their past 11 visits to their city rivals, but head coach Sarri felt they were always likely to be short of their fluid best.

"This was a very difficult game and it was clear Torino would be extremely determined from the start," Sarri said to DAZN.

"So, the first phase of the plan was just to contain them and take control of the match later on, then close it towards the end.

"It was a tough game, full of intensity, physicality and tough tackling. It's not really suited to our characteristics, but we managed to get it done.

"This was not the game where we could try to be beautiful. The opposition's tactics, current form and the state of the pitch all meant we were forced to play with elements that are not our usual approach. 

"It's reassuring that we were able to win anyway."

Aaron Ramsey came off the bench in the second half but Sarri indicated the Wales midfielder is not yet fit enough to start matches.

"[Federico] Bernardeschi has more dynamism and forward runs, whereas Ramsey is better at passing," Sarri said.

"Ramsey was out injured for a month, but I don't feel he has 90 minutes in his legs. It is good to have players who can come off the bench and change gears.

"De Ligt struggled in the first 20 minutes, but then got into the game and had a very good second half.

"Alex Sandro seemed a little tired and it was only right to give him some rest.

"Mattia De Sciglio had been out for a while, so he was a little rusty, but once he too got into the rhythm, he did better."

Matthijs de Ligt said it was special to open his Juventus account with a Derby della Mole winner against Torino that sent the champions back to the top of the Serie A table.

De Ligt has been criticised for some erratic displays since joining from Ajax but the Netherlands centre-back came up with a crucial second-half goal in a 1-0 victory in Saturday's clash.

He turned home from close range after substitute Gonzalo Higuain knocked a corner into his path to help Juve reclaim top spot from Inter, who won 2-1 at Bologna earlier in the day.

"I am really happy, of course," De Ligt said to DAZN.

"It was a really important game, as Inter won also. We won 1-0 and it was my goal, so [it was] really special."

De Ligt was arguably fortunate not to concede a penalty for handball in the first half, but the defender feels referee Daniele Doveri made the right decision not to point to the spot.

"I am just standing like this and the ball hit me," he said. 

"I knew immediately it was not a penalty, because the rules are if my arms are down here, it's not a penalty."

De Ligt is confident he is starting to grow into his surroundings after finding the transition a little challenging following his move from Ajax for an initial fee of €75million.

"Obviously, when you come to a new club, it's always going to be hard," the 20-year-old added.

"It's going well, the guys made me feel welcome and I think I'm improving every game.

"I hope that I showed tonight what I can bring to the team.

"My team-mates are really nice, Higuain gave me an amazing assist and I'm really happy."

Matthijs de Ligt scored his first Juventus goal as the Serie A champions earned a 1-0 win at rivals Torino in the Derby della Mole.

The start of De Ligt's Juve career has not been easy but the Netherlands centre-back had a moment to remember in the 70th minute of a bad-tempered clash on Saturday.

Juve had been unable to break the deadlock but when Gonzalo Higuain knocked a corner into his path, De Ligt showed a striker's instinct to break Salvatore Sirigu's resistance.

Victory moved Juve back to the top of the Serie A table above Inter, with the Bianconeri now having won on 10 of their past 11 league visits to Torino.

With Walter Mazzarri seeking his first win over Juventus since 2011, handball appeals were rejected in both penalty areas during a stodgy opening.

Juve took until the 32nd minute to create a clear chance, Paulo Dybala dancing into the box but placing his shot too close to Sirigu, the Torino goalkeeper then making a comfortable save to keep out Cristiano Ronaldo's snapshot.

The pressure in Torino's box grew in the minutes before half-time, Sirigu showing strong reactions when Matthijs de Ligt diverted Ronaldo's cross-shot at goal.

Sirigu made another smart stop to keep out Ronaldo in the 56th minute, diving low to his right, before Maurizio Sarri replaced Dybala with Higuain.

The substitute's stunning volley was tipped on to the crossbar in sensational fashion by Sirigu, but the goalkeeper was beaten from the resulting corner as De Ligt turned home from close range.

Wojciech Szczesny prevented Cristian Ansaldi giving the hosts a rapid response as Juve closed out yet another derby victory to pile more pain on Torino, who had an injury-time equaliser from Bremer rightly ruled out for offside.

What does it mean? Juventus back on top

Romelu Lukaku's late double at Bologna earlier in the day sent Antonio Conte's Inter top of the table but Juve regained the summit with their hard-fought victory.

Mazzarri's days in charge of Torino may be numbered as his side have only taken two points from their past six league games, leaving them 13th in the table.

Sirigu heroics in vain

Torino's goalkeeper produced a wonderful performance between the posts, but it was not enough to keep a clean sheet against the attacking might of the champions. Sirigu's save to keep out Higuain's terrific strike was superb, but he was beaten moments later.

Dybala unable to unlock the door

Argentina attacker Dybala went into the derby in good form, with three goals in his past three games for Juve, but he was far from his best and only managed to get one of his three shots on target. It was no surprise to see him make way in Sarri's first change.

What's next?

Juve go to Lokomotiv Moscow in the Champions League on Wednesday before hosting AC Milan in the league four days later. Torino will seek their first win since September when they head to struggling Brescia on Saturday.

Zlatan Ibrahimovic joining Bologna is a real possibility, according to the Serie A club's sporting director Walter Sabatini.

Ibrahimovic is set to become one of world football's most in-demand free agents with his LA Galaxy contract set to expire next month.

The MLS side are keen to extend their association with the former Sweden striker, who has suggested on social media he could return to Spain.

A-League club Perth Glory are among the teams to have confirmed their interest in Ibrahimovic, who has also been heavily linked with Napoli and a possible return to Manchester United.

It appears Bologna are also keen on the 38-year-old.

"Zlatan Ibrahimovic to Bologna is a real possibility," Sabatini told Sky Sport Italia. "Trust me, it's not impossible.

"He's considering our offer because he wants to help Sinisa Mihajlovic.

"We're trying to make it possible. It'd be fantastic. Let's see..."

Bologna 12th in the Serie A table with one win in their past eight league games after Saturday's 2-1 home loss to Inter.

Mihajlovic, the club's coach, has been undergoing treatment for leukaemia after confirming his diagnosis in July.

Ibrahimovic, whose former clubs also include Ajax, Inter, Barcelona, AC Milan and Paris Saint-Germain, has hit 53 goals in 58 MLS games for Galaxy.

Inter head coach Antonio Conte believes his side's fighting spirit will help sustain their efforts to challenge Juventus for the Serie A title.

Conte's side came back from a goal down at Bologna on Saturday to clinch a 2-1 victory which kept the pressure up on defending champions Juventus.

Romelu Lukaku secured the points for Inter with an injury-time penalty after he had earlier cancelled out Roberto Soriano's opening goal for the hosts, moving Conte's men top and two points clear of Juve, who have played a match less.

Conte told Sky Sport Italia: "Our objective was to become credible, to emerge with a shirt soaked through with sweat. We are achieving that.

"I knew that this job was a very, very difficult challenge for me in many ways.

"I like to seek out something tough, as my history speaks for itself, I always arrived in critical moments for top clubs and with hard work took them back to where they deserved.

"I did that at Juventus and at Chelsea, I hope with hard work to do the same at Inter.

"What makes me happy is working with a group of great lads who give everything and today they didn't let their heads drop or negative thinking to set in.

"The lads showed great inner strength to fight back and turn it around. We can be proud of what we're achieving this season."

Conte has urged his players to simply ignore Juventus' results and instead only concentrate efforts on what they can influence.

"We need to focus on ourselves and not think about what anyone else is doing," Conte said.

"We must work on improving ourselves and sending these signs to above all our fans.

"It's an excellent sign, because it can be too easy to judge when things are going well.

"A team that reacts to difficulties and turns them into a victory is a great sign."

Conte was also impressed with the manner in which Lukaku and Lautaro Martinez linked up.

Belgium international Lukaku took his tally to nine goals in 11 Serie A matches for Inter with that brace.

Although Martinez did not get on the scoresheet, his rapport with Lukaku on the pitch caught the eye.

"Potentially they can be the Inter partnership for another 10 years," added Conte.

"I had studied Lautaro a little before coming here. He is a centre-forward, but at the same time also a second striker, so he's atypical.

"Lukaku is an unusual striker too, because he has this physicality of a centre-forward, but if you give him space to run into, he is devastatingly fast.

"Above all I'm happy with the work they are both doing off the ball."

Romelu Lukaku was Inter's hero, converting an injury-time penalty for his second goal of the game as Antonio Conte's men came from behind to beat Bologna 2-1 at Stadio Renato Dall'Ara.

Despite enjoying the better of the first half, title-chasing Inter looked set to drop points when Roberto Soriano opened the scoring in the 59th minute, courtesy of a shot that took a deflection off Stefan de Vrij.

However, Lukaku pulled the Nerazzurri level with 15 minutes remaining, pouncing to convert a rebound from a tight angle.

And the striker held his nerve from the penalty spot to secure three points after strike partner Lautaro Martinez had been clumsily fouled by Riccardo Orsolini.

Bologna's players and coaching staff were left furious by the decision to award Inter a spot-kick, soon after former Inter forward Rodrigo Palacio had seen an appeal of his own turned down at the other end, but Inter will not care after they claimed their ninth win from 11 league games to reclaim top spot ahead of Juventus' clash with Torino.

AC Milan boss Stefano Pioli has told his players to have faith in themselves if they are to turn their around their flagging Serie A campaign.

Suso's 63rd-minute free-kick earned Milan a 1-0 win over SPAL at San Siro on Thursday, giving Pioli the first victory of his fledgling reign at the third attempt.

A fourth win of the season lifted the Rossoneri into the top half of the division, six points adrift of a Champions League qualification berth.

Milan host fifth-place Lazio on Sunday and have tough games against Juventus and Napoli before the end of the month, but Pioli is looking up the table rather than down.

"We have to have belief," he told Sky Sport Italia. "If you believe in something, it becomes possible and you commit yourself day and night to obtain it.

"This has to be our attitude. We will see at the end of the season, but we must show spirit and determination."

Asked if victory against champions Juventus next week would act as a turning point in the season, Pioli said: "In the minds of the players, I think so. 

"Beating a very strong team would increase our confidence. But first we have to beat Lazio to improve our position, then we will prepare for the match against Juventus."

Pioli's coaching methods have gone down well with Milan's players, Lucas Paqueta this week admitting to being "confused" by former boss Marco Giampaolo's tactics.

"I have confidence in all my players and put them in the right positions to express their quality," Pioli said. "I adapt to the characteristics of my players."

Cristiano Ronaldo's mother believes an unspecified football "mafia" could prevent the Juventus forward from winning a sixth Ballon d'Or because of his nationality.

Speaking at an event in Portugal, Dolores Aveiro claimed conspiratorial forces are the reason her highly decorated son has not further embellished his long list of achievements.

The former Manchester United and Real Madrid star earned global fame and adulation for his performances in the Premier League and LaLiga but slipped to second in the 2018 Ballon d'Or rankings while midway through his first Serie A campaign.

In September, he finished third in the voting for the title of The Best FIFA Men's Player, behind Lionel Messi and Virgil van Dijk.

Fellow five-time Ballon d'Or winner Messi is the only other player to have claimed the prestigious award on more than three occasions.

"There is a mafia in football, that's the right word to describe it," Dolores Aveiro told Portuguese media.

"If you look at everything that's happened you will realise that it is because of the mafia.

"If Cristiano was Spanish or English, they would not do what they did to him, but since he is Portuguese and from Madeira, well, this happens."

Ronaldo, Juve's record signing, was named Serie A's Most Valuable Player at the end of the 2018-19 season and helped Portugal triumph in the Nations League.

The 34-year-old's mother expects those efforts will be enough for him to beat Barcelona captain Messi to a sixth Ballon d'Or when the 2019 winner is announced.

"I don't know if he will receive it, but I am confident and I think he deserves it," she said, despite fearing he will be the victim of bias.

"If we analyse what he did during the season, he deserves it."

A new striker in January is a priority at Manchester United and reports suggest a familiar face could make a sensational return to England.

Ole Gunnar Solskjaer has previously said the club will be doing business after Christmas, with a striker still required following the departures of Romelu Lukaku and Alexis Sanchez.

Marcus Rashford has scored three goals in his previous two matches, while Anthony Martial marked his return from injury with a goal against Norwich City last Sunday, but a surprising name could provide the answer to United's depth issues up top.

 

TOP STORY – MANCHESTER UNITED MAKE CONTACT WITH IBRAHIMOVIC

Manchester United have made contact with former striker Zlatan Ibrahimovic, according to TuttoMercatoWeb.

Ibrahimovic scored 30 goals in MLS for LA Galaxy in 2019, but they were eliminated from the post-season after a 5-3 defeat to cross-town rivals LAFC in the Western Conference semi-finals last weekend.

Interest in the former Barcelona, Inter Milan and Paris Saint-Germain striker has increased since the end of LA Galaxy's season with the Swede still believing he can contribute at the highest level.

The 38-year-old is currently a free agent and scored 29 goals at Old Trafford in a brief spell with the club previously.

ROUND-UP

- One player who may create funds for Manchester United's January business is defender Chris Smalling, but Corriere dello Sport claim the Red Devils want double the €10 million price Roma are expecting to pay for him. 

- AS are reporting Edinson Cavani is weighing up his future at Paris Saint-Germain with Atletico Madrid and Inter Miami keeping tabs on the Uruguayan.

Stefano Sensi is currently on-loan at Inter Milan from Sassuolo, but Sport claim Sensi's agent is in Barcelona as speculation of a move to the Spanish champions grows.

- The Daily Mail claims Wolves will turn to Lille defender Gabriel Magalhaes in January as they seek reinforcements to cover the injured Willy Boly.

- Chelsea are interested in signing Hertha Berlin winger Javairo Dilrosun when their transfer ban expires, according to Calciomercato.

- L'Equipe say Nantes are among several clubs showing interest in free agent forward Hatem Ben Arfa.

Udinese have sacked head coach Igor Tudor following heavy defeats to Atalanta and Roma.

Tudor oversaw a 7-1 loss in Bergamo last Sunday, followed by a 4-0 defeat at home to Roma on Wednesday. The results have left Udinese just three points clear of the relegation zone in Serie A.

Luca Gotti was placed in charge temporarily, but former Italy Under-21 coach Luigi Di Biagio and ex-AC Milan boss Gennaro Gattuso are the frontrunners to take over on a permanent basis.

"It is a very sad day. The days of the games with Atalanta and Roma were very sad, but this day is even more sad because we had to take the measure to release Tudor," said technical director Pierpaolo Marino to Udinese TV.

"It is very painful but necessary to make a change. Tudor has paid [with his job], but he is not solely responsible for this situation.

"We thank Tudor but we must turn the page and now it is on the team to take responsibility."

Juventus head coach Maurizio Sarri thinks "something has changed" mentally for Gonzalo Higuain since his difficult loan spell with Chelsea.

Higuain joined the Blues on loan in January but could not offer consistent form in front of goal, scoring just five times in 18 appearances in all competitions.

The striker's long-term future at Juve seemed to be in doubt when Sarri took charge in Turin, but the Argentina international has looked rejuvenated in the early months of the season.

The 31-year-old has managed a modest three goals in 11 appearances but has generally performed well alongside Cristiano Ronaldo or Paulo Dybala in attack.

Sarri thinks there has been a significant change in Higuain's mentality since a worrying moment during his final few months in charge of Chelsea.

"Gonzalo is a great player who had spent a difficult season," Sarri said of the former Napoli forward, who is expected to have recovered from a head injury in time to face Torino on Saturday.

"This summer, I saw him train with an exceptional level of motivation. In London, I had heard some comments by him that I hadn't liked at all, but now it's all to the contrary, which meant something had changed in his mind. And when he has high motivation, he is a very important player."

Sarri, who is unsure whether midfielder Aaron Ramsey will be fit for the derby, watched his side stay a point clear at the top of the table thanks to a 2-1 win over Genoa on Wednesday.

Ronaldo scored the winner from the penalty spot in the 96th minute having seen an earlier goal disallowed for offside following a VAR review.

There was greater controversy in Napoli's 2-2 draw with Atalanta, when the visitors' 86th-minute equaliser at the San Paolo was allowed to stand after VAR decided not to award a penalty to the home side.

Head coach Carlo Ancelotti was sent off for his protests and Sarri admits he is also not a fan of the way the technology is being used in Italy.

"I've honestly never thought or spoken about it very much. I prefer it when referees make their own decisions on the pitch. This is a strictly personal opinion," he said.

"Rules are different now and not all of them are agreeable, including, for instance, the latest specifics on handball, about which, to be honest, despite trying to read many times, I don't much understand.

"We have to comply with these rules. Even in everyday life, there are many rules I consider absurd, but I can't make myself go to prison by violating them. These are rules we have to respect.

"If you ask me if I like it, I'd say no. It was brought in to right macroscopic wrongs, but if you need VAR four times per game, I guess it's impossible to make four big mistakes per match. In the rest of Europe, VAR usage is much more limited."

Antonio Conte is not concerned about speculation linking Lautaro Martinez with Barcelona and has challenged the Inter forward to take his game to the next level.

Reports in Spain have suggested Barcelona are eyeing the Argentina international as a long-term replacement for Luis Suarez, while Manchester United are also rumoured to be interested in the player.

Martinez scored for Inter in their 2-1 Champions League loss at Camp Nou last month and already has seven goals in all competitions this term, striking up an excellent partnership with Romelu Lukaku.

Yet despite the speculation, Conte has told the 22-year-old to continue working hard if he wants to maximise his obvious potential.

"We look to the present to build the future," Conte said at his pre-match news conference ahead of Saturday's trip to Bologna.

"He is working well and has made good progress. He can still make further progress because he is still only 22 years old.

"He has to continue to work hard. Much of the transfer talk comes from that and it cannot be seen as a problem at this moment - there are bigger concerns.

"He must try to be more selfish when he has a chance to score. It's all part of his growth process. I want to improve all of my players.

While Martinez has thrived under the coaching of Conte, team-mate Valentino Lazaro has struggled since arriving from Hertha Berlin in a €22million deal during the close season.

Amid talk that Inter are looking to bring in a new right-sided player, Conte has vowed to give the Austria international a chance to justify his price tag.

"He has been used seven times this season and for his national side he is very promising," he said. "At Hertha there is less pressure than he has found in Milan. 

"He is working hard and we will give him the opportunities to start games. It was a big investment for him."

Inter have won eight of their opening 10 league matches - equalling their best Serie A return at this stage - but are still one point behind champions Juventus.

The Bianconeri's period of dominance started with Conte at the helm, but the Italian coach has played down comparisons between his first seasons at Juve and his early work at Inter.

"There is an important difference - we did not have cup competitions in the first year at Juve," he said. "We could dedicate ourselves, heart and soul, to the league. We played in the league, and then the league again.

"It is not the same thing here - the expenditure is very high. One thing that I am sure of, here we also have to play a thousand miles per hour. If we take our foot off the accelerator, it will be difficult to win games.

"We must sweat for the victory. That is beyond doubt and must be clear to all the players."

Miralem Pjanic admits Juventus are putting themselves in "a bit of danger" by failing to be more ruthless in front of goal.

Juve are unbeaten in 13 competitive matches under Maurizio Sarri in 2019-20, sitting top of Serie A after 10 rounds and with two victories from three games in the Champions League.

However, they have at times struggled to win matches comfortably - they have only scored more than twice in a game on two occasions this term and their most recent four victories have all been with a 2-1 scoreline.

Pjanic missed the latest triumph over Genoa, which looked set to finish in a draw until Cristiano Ronaldo scored a penalty in the 96th minute, but the midfielder will likely return to the starting line-up for the derby with Torino on Saturday.

While he has thrived under Sarri's system, Pjanic has called on Juve's forwards to do more with the chances that are coming their way.

"What I like about [Sarri's] vision is the one-, two-touch game, making the ball move more than us, because the ball always travels faster," he said to Tuttosport.

"Although, recently we've been seeing out matches with few goals compared to what we're creating, and this puts us in a bit of danger and doesn't give us all the satisfaction we could have for how we play.

"We have to be more clinical and take more chances. This will also make opponents have more respect and fear than us.

"Calm and clarity will come once we start to score more, and we'll then keep doing so because this team has so much quality that we'll be able to score goals from every angle. But we have to be more clinical."

Ronaldo was guilty of missing opportunities against Genoa but Pjanic was mostly relieved they got the win in the end, given Inter remain just a point behind them in the table.

He added: "It happens to everyone, but luckily we won in the end and they're three important points, given the results: Inter had won, Napoli lost points...

"It was important to keep up and move forward and to do so until March, which will be the most important month, and maybe see if we can stretch ahead a little."

Barcelona are planning for life after Luis Suarez.

With Suarez now aged 32, the clock is ticking on his career at Camp Nou.

Barca are identifying potential replacements and have their sights on an Argentina international setting Serie A and Europe alight.

 

TOP STORY – MARTINEZ INTERESTS BARCA

LaLiga champions Barcelona are interested in Inter star Lautaro Martinez, reports Mundo Deportivo.

Ernesto Valverde's Barca are looking for a long-term replacement for Uruguay forward Luis Suarez, who turns 33 in January. 

And the front page of Friday's newspaper says Argentina international Martinez fits the bill for Barca amid reported interest from Manchester United.

 

ROUND-UP

Roma have opened talks with Manchester United about signing Chris Smalling permanently, according to the Express. Smalling is on loan from United and the English defender scored his first goal for Roma during the week. The Red Devils are reportedly seeking £17.2million (€20m).

- Remaining at Old Trafford and Sport Italia claims Paul Pogba was close to joining Paris Saint-Germain during the previous transfer window. Pogba was heavily linked to LaLiga giants Real Madrid and former club Juventus .

- Tuttosport says Juventus are ready to make another attempt to sign Real Madrid midfielder Isco. The Spain international has struggled for regular game time and Madrid are reportedly holding out for €70m. The Italian champions have also been linked to Manchester United teenager Tahith Chong, who is out of contract at the end of the season, via the Daily Mail.

- Barcelona's Arturo Vidal is ready to snub the Chinese Super League in favour for a move to Inter, says InterNews. Vidal continues to be heavily linked to a reunion with former Juve boss Antonio Conte at Inter, while Chinese giants Shanghai SIPG are reportedly interested.

United could be set for a raid on Juve. Tuttosport claims the Old Lady will allow Emre Can to leave in January as United, Bayern Munich and PSG eye the Germany international.

- According to the Daily Mail, former Manchester United and Chelsea manager Jose Mourinho is the front-runner to replace Unai Emery at Arsenal. Emery is under mounting pressure in London.

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