Inter proved they have what it takes to maintain a serious title challenge this season by defeating reigning champions Juventus 2-0, according to Arturo Vidal.

Vidal opened the scoring against his former club at San Siro on Sunday, heading home a cross from Nicolo Barella to find the net in Serie A for the first time since his goal clinched the Scudetto for Juve in May 2015.

He became the first ex-Juve player to score for Inter in the Derby d'Italia since Christian Vieri in 2004 and the eighth player to score for both sides in the fixture.

Lautaro Martinez and Romelu Lukaku missed opportunities to add to Inter's tally but Barella made no mistake with an emphatic finish in the 52nd minute.

The Nerazzurri consequently claimed their first league win against Juve since September 2016 and their first with a clean sheet since April 2010.

Antonio Conte's side moved level with Serie A leaders Milan on 40 points and opened up a seven-point advantage over the reigning champions.

Milan can restore their three-point cushion by beating Cagliari in their game in hand on Inter on Monday, but Vidal does not think Conte's men are going to fall away.

"It's important for me and for the team. It was a very difficult game against the best team in Italy," Vidal told Sky Sport Italia.

"I am glad to have scored my first goal for Inter, very happy. I think we proved that we are up to the task of fighting for the Scudetto.

"This gives us the confidence to keep pushing, to believe we can win the Scudetto, as we beat the strongest team over the past nine years. We believe that we can go all the way."

Ahead of kick-off, Vidal was seen kissing the Juve badge on Giorgio Chiellini's training top while the pair shared a hug. He then celebrated his goal in a muted fashion.

Conte led Juve to three straight Serie A titles to start their ongoing period of dominance and finally got his first league victory over them at the fourth attempt.

Despite Inter coming out on top and Juve being seven points adrift, Conte still believes the Bianconeri are the team to beat in the race for the title.

"In order to beat a team like Juventus, which for all the Italian clubs are the reference point, we have to put in a great performance. We did that," said Conte.

"We prepared well and it's satisfying to see that we were right about the things we thought could hurt Juventus. The lads followed the plan perfectly and I am very happy for them because these are games that must give you self-belief, let you understand you are on the right path.

"We already saw the fruits of this process last season and we are continuing to see them this term. Juventus were an important reference point, a side that dominated Serie A for nine years, having done exceptional work both on the field and as a club.

"I still maintain Juve have a gap not just from Inter, but all the other clubs, but we are working to close the gap."

In what appeared to be a dig at his club, Conte added: "If people think we are the favourites now, imagine if we'd been able to work in the transfer market in August. We'd be massive favourites!"

If Juventus are "a benchmark" and "a reference point", as Antonio Conte suggested pre-match, the Inter head coach can now feel much more positive about his side's Scudetto hopes after a superb 2-0 win.

Conte, formerly the main man in Turin, had good reason to be pessimistic even as the Nerazzurri entered the Derby d'Italia four points ahead of the champions.

Juve were the only Serie A opponents against whom Conte possessed an 100 per cent losing record, beaten in each of his prior three matches against his former club.

And Inter's misery in this fixture extended beyond the start of Conte's reign, going seven without a win as Juve used meetings with the Nerazzurri to consolidate their domestic dominance.

Indeed, there was little reason heading into this match to doubt Juve's credentials, with Andrea Pirlo's side seemingly building up a head of steam in his rookie season.

The Bianconeri had followed up a shock December defeat at home to Fiorentina with four straight successes in all competitions, scoring 13 times in the process.

Among those victories was a deserved triumph at league leaders Milan. Juve had not won at both Milan and Inter in the first half of a Serie A season in 80 years; they now had the opportunity to do so in consecutive away games.

But preparations were not ideal. Cristiano Ronaldo, like opposite number Romelu Lukaku, had not been able to enjoy the week of rest he had set aside, instead called from the bench in a midweek Coppa Italia tie and forced to see out extra time.

Ronaldo played on the fringes at San Siro, his most notable involvement an 11th-minute tap-in ruled out for offside, with the clash between two of Serie A's foremost scorers not panning out as many would have imagined.

Lukaku was as influential as ever in the Inter attack, running Giorgio Chiellini ragged as he contested 15 duels, winning nine, earned three fouls and conceded two, and created three chances.

There was no goal for the forward, though, as the game was decided in the midfield, where Inter were even more impressive, setting the tone right from the outset.

Marcelo Brozovic anchored the side, Nicolo Barella buzzed all over the pitch, and Arturo Vidal - the subject of a clip on social media that appeared to show him kissing the badge of former club Juve pre-match - made clear where his loyalties now lie.

Conte had failed to offer an explanation for some slow starts so far this season but certainly had no need to worry about that issue on this occasion. By half-time, Inter's only concern could have been their failure to add to a lead secured by Vidal.

The midfielder, whose previous Serie A goal back in 2015 had won Juve the title, spread the ball wide to Barella moments after Ronaldo's disallowed goal and then ran onto the subsequent cross, towering over Danilo to nod beyond Wojciech Szczesny and offer a muted celebration.

That was one of 11 first-half Inter efforts, their joint-high this season. Juve mustered just three before the break, a joint-low for them.

But this unpredictable Inter side had led 4-1 and trailed 2-0 respectively on the previous two occasions they had attempted 11 shots in the opening 45 minutes this term.

Juan Sebastian Veron, a former Inter star, told Stats Perform News prior to this game the Nerazzurri would "need to be decisive". Despite the opener, they were anything but.

Vidal's wait for his next Serie A strike should have lasted only three minutes, but he blazed over. Then so too did Lautaro Martinez after Szczesny saved from Lukaku.

Martinez shot wide and Szczesny again denied Lukaku, before scrambling to retrieve Barella's deflected drive. A one-goal first-half deficit felt like an escape for Juve.

But if the Bianconeri were going to make their hosts pay, a swifter start to the second period would have to follow.

Instead, Inter scored with their very first shot after the break and finally the game was beyond Juve. A slipping Alessandro Bastoni's low, long pass somehow tore a gaping hole through the visiting defence and Barella, a deserving scorer, held off Chiellini and Gianluca Frabotta to finish high into the net.

Rather than call on Weston McKennie and Dejan Kulusevski to build on an advantage, as against Milan, Pirlo turned to the pair in a desperate, failed rescue bid.

Juve still had 32 minutes to forge a response after reinforcements arrived, but one strong Samir Handanovic save from Federico Chiesa was all they had to show for a period of pressure.

Inter could have added further goals on the counter yet will worry not. Indecisive, perhaps, Conte's side ended the weekend level on points with Milan. It is now for Pirlo and Juve, seven points back, to rise to this benchmark.

Juan Sebastian Veron always doubts whether Inter can win a game and thinks they need to be more clinical like Juventus, who he never feels will lose.

Inter will leapfrog local rivals Milan and go top of Serie A on Sunday if they defeat Juve in a league game for the first time since September 2016, having drawn two and lost five of their past seven matches.

Andrea Pirlo's side sit four points behind the Nerazzurri but possess a game in hand, so following up their victory over Milan in their previous away league game would put them firmly back in the title race.

However, they have not beaten both Inter and Milan away from home in the first half of a Serie A season since 1930-31.

Former Inter midfielder Veron acknowledged that Juve are not playing at the same level that has seen them win nine straight Scudetti, but he believes they still have a killer edge that is missing in Antonio Conte's team.

"I follow Juve a little bit. I follow Inter more. Juventus must find again what they got in the past years. They felt unbeatable," Veron told Stats Perform News.

"Keeping the same level for many years is very hard. Juve did it. Perhaps this year things haven't gone as they wanted.

"On the other side, Inter have responsibilities. They are looking for the best way to be a great team again. It's not easy. They must find consistency in their results and their football. They must play in the right way.

"When you watch Juve, you know they will win. When you watch Inter, you know it's 50-50. They need to be decisive to gain results."

He added: "For me, the first thing about this match is the morale boost it can mean. That's for sure. After that, you play for points that are important as well.

"But [for Inter] being able to win after a long time would be, for a team who needs victories, important for the title race. For me, it's the most important thing for them."

Veron won the 2005-06 Serie A title - awarded due to Juve's involvement in the Calciopoli scandal - and the Coppa Italia twice during his two seasons on loan at Inter from Chelsea, but the club have not lifted any silverware since 2010-11.

Conte has come under pressure after failing to end that wait in his first campaign at the helm and Veron thinks the coach could use some stronger personalities in his squad.

"It is normal that [Conte] feels pressure from fans who want to win. The club signed stronger players, but it is not so easy to be consistent. You must gain results to get the right winning mentality," said Veron.

"Perhaps they need a player with a strong personality. You asked me for some names [from Inter's past for today], I could have told you three or 10. But today's football is different because of the money.

"It depends on clubs' strategies. In clubs like Inter you need to be used to pressure. In the end, the solution is to build the right team able to handle the pressure. But it takes time."

Antonio Conte has plans to utilise Christian Eriksen in a deeper role for Inter, despite speculation linking the midfielder with a return to former club Tottenham. 

Eriksen looked poised to leave Inter after the club's CEO Giuseppe Marotta revealed he had been placed on the transfer list before the mid-season break. 

That followed a difficult start to the season for the Denmark international, which saw him start just four league games and fail to claim an assist. 

Reports suggest a reunion with Spurs, where he scored 51 goals in 226 Premier League matches, could yet happen during the January transfer window, but it appears there may still be a future for the 28-year-old at the Nerazzurri. 

Deployed at the base of Inter's midfield for Wednesday's Coppa Italia win over Fiorentina, Eriksen enjoyed a fruitful outing. 

No player on the pitch made more than his four key passes, while he completed the most passes in the opposition half of any Inter player (45) and gained possession a team-high nine times. 

 | TRAINING

Sights firmly set on #InterJuventus 

 https://t.co/Eul74bCSh1

Powered by @lenovoitalia @Lenovo #training #InterXLenovo pic.twitter.com/bFftutd80a

— Inter (@Inter_en) January 15, 2021

While Marcelo Brozovic is likely to return to that position for Sunday's Derby d'Italia with Juventus, Conte suggested he could look to use Eriksen there more frequently. 

"We must get the best out of our squad," Conte told a media conference. "It is inevitable to have him [Eriksen] behind Brozo [Brozovic] because we do not have this kind of player in the squad who can be a playmaker in front of the defensive line. 

"We are trying to get the best of Christian in that position, even if he played both as an attacking and an inside midfielder already. 

"It is good for the team and myself having the opportunity to use him in different roles in the midfield."

Second-place Inter go into Sunday's clash four points ahead of Andrea Pirlo's Juve, who are fourth. 

Juventus may not be leading the way in Serie A but they continue to be the benchmark in Italian football, according to Inter boss Antonio Conte.

Juve have secured the title for nine successive seasons in the top flight but face a battle to stretch that streak into double figures under Andrea Pirlo's leadership.

Milan lead the way in the table having lost just once in 17 league games so far, while Inter and Roma also sit above the reigning champions in the table.

However, as far as Conte is concerned, the Bianconeri remain the team to beat in the competition.

"We know Juventus are a benchmark. They are the side we must look to, one that have dominated in Italy," he told the media ahead of Sunday's showdown with Juventus at San Siro.

"They are a side that could show us where we are at - Juve are a reference point for us."

A former player for Juve who went on to win Serie A three times while in charge in Turin, Conte praised the way his old club have always looked to build from a position of strength.

He pinpointed the additions made in the transfer market - including Alvaro Morata and Dejan Kulusevski - as a major reason for Juve continuing to set the standard.

"The gap has been narrowed but no one has done it definitely in Italy," Conte said.

"In the past nine years they have dominated. They have done well in all areas. They have managed to change and adapt, they have made the squad younger and fresher.

"This year they have a structure which has always won. Plus they have added Morata, for example. Each year they do a great job of trying to improve.

"I do not think in Italy there is anyone at that level yet. Sides have improved but not cut out the gap to Juventus. We cannot think anything else than that."

Inter have achieved five consecutive home Serie A wins – the last time they managed six in a row was back in December 2018 - but have not beaten Juve at San Siro in the league since September 2016.

Conte has yet to register a Serie A win in games against his former employers, losing all three past meetings.

Andrea Pirlo says Antonio Conte is the person who inspired him to move into coaching and is fully aware of the mind games being used by the Inter boss ahead of Sunday's Derby d'Italia.

Midfield great Pirlo worked under Conte for Juventus and Italy during his illustrious playing career before retiring in 2017 and taking up his first managerial role with Juve last August.

Pirlo has made an inconsistent start to life in the Allianz Stadium dugout, but his side have won their last three league games to move to within four points of second-place Inter with a game in hand.

Despite being a further three points behind leaders Milan, Conte suggested ahead of Juve's trip to San Siro that the reigning champions remain the Scudetto favourites given they have won it nine years in a row.

The first of those title wins came with Conte in charge and Pirlo a regular in midfield, and the latter is not reading too much into the comments of his former head coach, who he still admires greatly.

"He likes to do this, I know him well," Pirlo said at Saturday's pre-match news conference. "He tries to take the pressure off his team and put it on us. 

"We have no problems, we are Juventus, we have been winning for nine years and it is normal that we have more pressure. 

"But they too have been built to win, and they are no less than us. It will be a great match between two teams that have the same ambition."

Pirlo previously described Conte as "the best coach he has ever worked with" and has opened up on the part the 51-year-old has played in his career.

He said: "Antonio was the first one who made me think about studying as a coach. I am grateful to him because he taught me so much as a player and from there I thought about a future as a manager. 

"He is making a career of the highest level and has a great human depth but tomorrow we will be opponents. We have two different characters and maybe that's why we get along.

"There is still great esteem and great affection. He gave me a lot and made history at Juventus."

Juve are the only team against which Conte has always lost as manager in Serie A (three out of three), with the Bianconeri unbeaten in nine of their last 10 away league meetings in this fixture.

However, Inter have won five in a row on home soil in the league - the last time they won six on the spin was in December 2018 - and Pirlo is anticipating a tough match against an expensively-assembled side.

"Initially I expect an aggressive Inter who will want to give rhythm to the match," he said. "We have prepared ourselves for this must not be afraid, even in such an important match. It will be a tactical match but we must also be free of our heads. 

"A victory can give us an important boost because it is Inter-Juventus. It is a game that goes beyond three points. It is not only important for the championship standings but for everything else. 

"There is great attention and great concentration because we compete against a great team with great champions. They have strengthened during the summer, while we have made a journey towards the future.

"They have put players in the team for the present. We are two teams that will fight until the end for the victory of the championship."

Matthijs de Ligt, Alex Sandro and Juan Cuadrado will play no part after recently testing positive for coronavirus but Aaron Ramsey, Giorgio Chiellini and Weston McKennie are all in contention to start.

Juve have yet to lose a league game in which De Ligt has not started this term, drawing four and winning three, and Pirlo is happy with the options available to him at the back.

"De Ligt is important but let's remember that we also have other champions behind us," he said. "We will field players of great depth who have been at this level for many years. 

"This is certainly an absence that we would have done less willingly but we feel even stronger with the return of Chiellini and with [Leonardo] Bonucci."

Romelu Lukaku hopes Inter are learning as they continue to struggle to perform consistently over 90 minutes despite sitting second in Serie A and reaching the quarter-finals of the Coppa Italia.

Lukaku headed an extra-time winner to see off Fiorentina 2-1 in the Coppa on Wednesday, his 119th-minute goal settling a tie in which Inter had led at half-time through Arturo Vidal's penalty.

A dominant first 45 minutes had seen the Nerazzurri attempt eight shots to Fiorentina's one, while having 56.6 per cent of the possession.

But Christian Kouame equalised after 57 minutes, prior to Lukaku's introduction as a substitute, as the Viola outshot their visitors nine to six in the second period.

For Inter, it was a second successive match in which they lost the initiative, even if Lukaku's goal this time meant they advanced to face Milan in the last eight.

At Roma on Sunday, despite trailing at half-time, quickfire goals from Milan Skriniar and Achraf Hakimi had Antonio Conte's men in front before they conceded a late leveller.

Ahead of the Roma game, Conte had bemoaned Inter's inability to make fast starts, having led at the interval just four times in Serie A this term.

But Lukaku is now concerned by his team's displays from half-time onwards, a period in which they have scored an impressive 30 goals and conceded just 12 in the league.

"I don't know why it happens," Lukaku told Rai Sport. "We already said it after the draw against Roma that it shouldn't happen, but it happened, even if we still won this time.

"We are young, we must learn from these things, but we want to improve."

Having booked the meeting with Milan, a fixture he was reluctant to immediately discuss, Lukaku acknowledged there were still positives.

"We are happy to have won a difficult match against a great coach [Fiorentina's Cesare Prandelli]," he said. "We are happy and we want to continue like this."

Turning focus back to Serie A, Inter face champions Juventus next on Sunday, with the Derby d'Italia rivals determined to win to keep the pressure on leaders Milan.

"I expect a tactical match between two teams who are doing good things," Lukaku added. "Juventus are a big team. We want to prepare well for this match."

Romelu Lukaku has power like NBA great Shaquille O'Neal, according to his Inter team-mate Nicolo Barella. 

Inter are just three points adrift of city rivals Milan at the top of Serie A ahead of a key week that sees them face Fiorentina in the Coppa Italia and champions Juventus in the league. 

Lukaku has made an impressive impact at San Siro since joining from Manchester United in 2019. 

He scored 34 times in all competitions last season and has already racked up 16 goals in 2020-21. 

The Belgium international's 12 league strikes this season are second only to another former United star, Juventus forward Cristiano Ronaldo (15). 

Barella has relished the chance to play alongside Lukaku with Inter. 

"He has physical power like Shaquille O'Neal: they make power their greatest strength," Barella said to DAZN. 

"Nobody can move him - even in training, three players are needed to stop him. But he is also so much more [than power]. 

"Romi is a great leader: he manages to have a good word for everyone, he has a good relationship with everyone and then on the pitch he is decisive like no other.  

"He arrived and it was incredible: he already spoke Italian! But for him it must be easy, he knows all the languages of the world!  

"He is a force of nature." 

Inter improved to second place in Antonio Conte's debut season last year, though they are still waiting for their first trophy since 2011 after agonisingly losing the Europa League final to Sevilla. 

"Losing the Europa League final was the biggest disappointment of my football career," added Barella, who went on to praise the coaching of Conte. 

"We deserved it, deserved to win that cup. 

"At home I am very ordered and now I'm becoming a little bit like that on the pitch too, all thanks to Antonio Conte. 

"Before I was more free-spirited, now the coach has given me many ideas, he taught me to choose the moments. I study a lot on the pitch. 

"Playing with great champions I try to steal something from each of them, I observe them and I try to make the best parts of their game mine."

Antonio Conte defended his late substitutions after Inter were held to a 2-2 draw at Roma on Sunday.

The Nerazzurri looked set to secure three precious points in the battle between two title hopefuls at Stadio Olimpico, but Gianluca Mancini denied them with an equaliser after 86 minutes.

Lorenzo Pellegrini put Roma in front in the first half, but two goals in the space of seven minutes after the break from Milan Skriniar and Achraf Hakimi gave Inter a deserved lead.

Conte withdrew Hakimi, Lautaro Martínez and Arturo Vidal before Mancini struck in the closing stages, and the Inter boss explained why he made those changes following a result which leaves second-placed Inter three points behind leaders Milan.

He said: "Vidal asked to be replaced due to injury, Lautaro gave a lot in those 75 minutes, also because I asked him to lower himself next to Vidal in the non-possession phase.

"Hakimi also ran a lot and was losing important balls. This is the third game in seven days. Inter must have an important squad to aspire to something important.

"I don't see why [you should] not use players from the bench. I think that in the end the anxiety of the important result also takes over. That mentally leads you to lower yourself.

"But from the bench we asked [the players] to press high, because going deeper is not a good thing."

Conte said he was pleased with the way his players responded to a midweek defeat to Sampdoria.

Asked about Inter's second-half display, he said: "I think that we played well, in the first half too. Let's not forget that Roma are fighting for the same thing we are and are just three points behind us.

"Going away to the third-placed team in the league and playing like this means we're an organised and strong team.

"We had the chance to kill off the game but couldn't manage it and let Roma back into it late on - because we were out of energy. It's a shame because, with two minutes to go, we were beating a strong side."

Matteo Darmian was replaced by Ashley Young in the first half and Inter revealed the full-back suffered a suffered a severe contusion to his left hip bone.

Antonio Conte is at a loss to understand why Inter struggle to get going in games this season as they look to get back to winning ways in Serie A.

Inter were 2-0 down to Sampdoria by half-time in their previous outing and, despite Stefan de Vrij's header in the second period, could not complete a comeback. 

With Milan losing to Juventus in midweek, Inter sit just one point behind their league-leading city rivals, though have a tough visit to third-place Roma to come on Sunday. 

Inter had more attempts, more possession and attempted more passes in the second half against Sampdoria than they did in the first – continuing a trend which has been prevalent throughout the campaign. 

Across their 16 Serie A games, Conte's side have managed 13 goals from a total of 116 attempts - of which 36 were on target - in the opening 45 minutes of proceedings.

In contrast, when looking at their second-half numbers, Inter have scored 28 times having attempted 133 shots, with 57 of those hitting the target. 

Inter have also crafted more chances and more big opportunities after the break, while their passing accuracy remains similar (86.10 per cent in the second half in contrast to 86.87 per cent in the first). 

Conte, however, is unsure as to why his team are having such issues. 

"I don't know if there is an explanation, last year it was the opposite," the Inter boss told a news conference.  

"If now the opposite is happening, I don't know why. The approach has always been the right one, even against Sampdoria, we dominated and then we went down by two goals. 

"The attitude must be considered and ours has never been wrong."

Conte also reaffirmed that there will be no business done by Inter in the January transfer window, seemingly casting doubt over whether Christian Eriksen will, as previously expected, leave the club this month. 

Inter's chiefs have confirmed that Eriksen is free to depart Inter, with the Denmark playmaker having created just six chances from open play this season, failing to register either a goal or assist during his nine league appearances. 

Asked if speculation over Eriksen's future was impacting his squad, Conte said: "I'm not talking about it, whoever wants to is free to do so. We must try to do our best on the pitch, from here until the end of the season."

Antonio Conte felt Inter were hard done by as their Scudetto ambitions suffered a blow with a 2-1 defeat at Sampdoria. 

Alexis Sanchez missed a first-half penalty before Antonio Candreva converted from the spot for the hosts at the Stadio Luigi Ferraris. 

Keita Balde doubled Sampdoria's advantage in the 38th minute and, although Stefan de Vrij reduced the deficit and Romelu Lukaku - short of match fitness - came off the bench, Inter were unable to pull level. 

Milan host champions Juventus in a mouth-watering San Siro clash later on Wednesday, where victory would increase the Rossoneri's advantage over Inter at the summit to four points. 

The result halted an 11-match unbeaten run for Conte's men and he refused to be too harsh on his players after they failed to overcome a chastening first half. 

"We found ourselves going from the missed penalty to having a penalty against us. There was this one-two from Sampdoria that clearly created some difficulties for us," he told reporters. 

"At the same time, the team was doing well, in the first few minutes they created a lot of scoring situations. Sometimes you lose games you deserve to lose, other times there are situations where you can score and you don't." 

Despite those missed chances and struggles in attack for Lautaro Martinez, Conte refused to blame Lukaku's recuperation from a thigh strain for Inter falling short.

"It wasn't the first time we played without Romelu, we know that he is a player with certain qualities, but he wasn't 100 per cent and you saw it when he came on," he said. 

"Sorry because I think we deserved something more." 

Christian Eriksen was also introduced from the bench, despite being told he can leave Inter this month. 

"I always try to exploit the players according to the situations that arise and I am at the club's complete disposal on every decision," Conte explained. 

"I get to work, as I have always done since I have been at Inter, but every decision will always be shared." 

Inter return to action with a crunch clash against third-placed Roma on Sunday.

Antonio Conte called on Arturo Vidal to improve after conceding a penalty that gave Inter brief concern in their 6-2 win over Crotone.

The Nerazzurri were ultimately comfortable victors at San Siro on Sunday as Lautaro Martinez scored their first perfect hat-trick since Mauro Icardi's against Atalanta in March 2017.

However, Inter had been level at 2-2 at half-time following Vidal's needless error.

After Martinez's first effort and a Luca Marrone own goal turned the match around following Niccolo Zanellato's Crotone opener, Vidal charged towards Arkadiusz Reca and stepped on his foot in the area to concede a penalty, which Vladimir Golemic converted.

Inter coach Conte was worried at that stage the setback might affect his side, looking to win an eighth successive league match for the first time since 2008.

But Vidal was replaced at the interval and an assured second-half display saw Martinez score twice more either side of an excellent Romelu Lukaku effort, before Achraf Hakimi completed the scoring.

Conte told Sky Sport Italia: "We did well to turn it around, then the naivety on the penalty could have created anxiety and nervousness.

"But we did well to get back on track and bring home another win.

"We had good answers today, also because we had started in the right way. Then there was this corner where they surprised us [for Zanellato's goal]."

The penalty was the only foul Vidal committed before his premature withdrawal, but he won just two of his five duels and Conte was not impressed.

"Arturo has important margins for improvement," Conte said. "He definitely needs to work. Keep your head down and keep working.

"Nobody is guaranteed a place here and he has to prove he deserves to play. He must do much better than what he is doing.

"From what we've seen so far, there are too many ups and downs, and we can't afford them. He knows this, he knows he has to train harder.

"Maybe when you play in big teams, sometimes this aspect takes a back seat. Here instead you have to raise the level, he knows that. We'll give him time."

Far more impressive was Lukaku, who created the first Inter goal for Martinez, had a hand in the next two and then scored the fourth before he hobbled off with an injury.

Having seen his outstanding number nine net his 35th goal in his 50th Serie A game, Conte will hope he does not have to face a spell without the striker.

Inter are in action again as soon as Wednesday, facing Sampdoria, and the coach was waiting to hear more on Lukaku's problem.

"He told me he had a small quadriceps strain," Conte said. "We'll see tomorrow if he's at risk for the Sampdoria game.

"We took him off straight away. I don't think it's anything serious."

Milan Skriniar bailed out goalkeeper Samir Handanovic and maintained Inter's winning run in a 2-1 victory at Hellas Verona to keep the pressure on title rivals Milan.

The Nerazzurri were made to work for their seventh straight Serie A success - a result that took them two points above their city neighbours, at least until the Rossoneri hosted Lazio later on Wednesday.

Skriniar's 69th-minute header proved decisive after Handanovic had gifted an equaliser to Ivan Ilic, cancelling out Lautaro Martinez's second-half opener.

The defender's first Serie A goal since February 2018 brought to a close a promising first section of the season for Antonio Conte's side, able to take in the Milan match and enjoy Christmas regardless, firmly back in the Scudetto hunt.

A stale first half did not produce a chance of note until the 26th minute when Federico Dimarco got in on the left but found Handanovic to be his equal from a tight angle.

Giangiacomo Magnani enjoyed his physical battle with Romelu Lukaku, but a slack pass set Inter away and the striker squared for Martinez to stab goalwards and draw a sharp save from Marco Silvestri.

Verona could not keep the Argentina international at bay again six minutes after half-time as he ran across Matteo Lovato to meet Achraf Hakimi's cross and aim a volley beyond the goalkeeper and in off the post.

An inexplicable error let the home side back into the match, however, as Handanovic dropped a simple Marco Faraoni centre and Ilic was alert enough to beat Skriniar to the loose ball inside the six-yard box.

If Handanovic looked to his centre-back to share the blame, Skriniar responded in impressive fashion with a towering header that left Silvestri rooted and restored an Inter lead they this time would not relinquish.

Antonio Conte has no explanation for Alexis Sanchez's fitness issues but is frustrated by the Inter forward's "constant" injuries.

Sanchez has been out of action since just his sixth Serie A start of the season - five of which have ended with a win - against Cagliari on December 13.

The former Manchester United flop has featured in nine of Inter's 13 league games this term, scoring two goals and providing two assists in 538 minutes on the field.

Chile team-mate Arturo Vidal, who has started eight times, returned from his own injury in the final 24 minutes of Sunday's win over Spezia.

Coach Conte was asked on Tuesday, speaking ahead of the trip to Hellas Verona the following day, if the national team had contributed to the pair's problems.

Reinaldo Rueda, the Chile coach, clashed with the Nerazzurri during the November international break as both players were called up for World Cup qualifiers.

"I don't know if it's a problem for the national team or the player," Conte told a news conference. "But the constant fact is that Sanchez is often injured."

Sanchez was signed on a free transfer from United in August following an initial loan spell and attention is now turning to what business Inter can do in the January window.

Reports in Italy suggest there will need to be departures - notably Christian Eriksen - if Conte is to be able to bring in attacking reinforcements such as Alejandro Gomez or Gervinho.

But the former Italy boss was reluctant to discuss plans ahead of a meeting with the club's board.

"My evaluation is not important now," he said. "What is important is what the club has done in these four months in which we have worked.

"We will meet in the days after the match against Verona, during the Christmas period.

"It is right to have a follow-up to the meeting in August after decisions were made that were accepted by everyone. It is right to sit down and understand what solutions we have in mind and whether we want to face them."

Inter will be top of the table at Christmas should they better rivals Milan's result against Lazio on Wednesday.

However, Conte is pleased for league-leading Rossoneri coach Stefano Pioli - previously at Inter - and recognises there is work still to do for his own side.

"[Milan] are doing very well; I'm happy for Pioli," Conte said. "At a football level, we are trying to make a path that will lead to Inter at the top of the table.

"It is a path that has begun and is continuing, a path made of work, alongside a parallel corporate one, about which you would have to ask the club."

Antonio Conte focused on Inter's consistency, rather than an unspectacular performance, after a 2-1 victory over Spezia saw them extend their winning run to six in Serie A. 

Inter struggled to get going at San Siro and created precious few opportunities in a first half that saw promoted Spezia actually have a greater share of the possession. 

But Achraf Hakimi struck to cap off a fine move early in the second half and Romelu Lukaku's penalty left Spezia with too much to do, even with a late consolation deep into stoppage time. 

It is the first time Inter have won four successive Serie A home games under Conte, while their 18 points from the previous six league matchdays is at least four more than any other team. 

Conte is grateful Inter are finally finding stability and dismissed the importance of the display as the Nerazzurri remained just a point behind leaders Milan. 

"We are at the sixth victory in a row and these wins are welcome, because by giving consistency you remain at [near] the top of the standings," he told Sky Sport Italia.

"We knew it would be complicated, Spezia are an organised team that has closed all the spaces, they have physically strong players. In the first half we did not create a lot. 

"It's a good win, considering that we play every three days and there is a bit of tiredness. It's useless to hide, now let's grit our teeth and try to finish this block [of fixtures] in the best way. We must have courage, without being fearful." 

Attention quickly turned to Atalanta star Alejandro Gomez, whose future remains a source of speculation after a reported row with coach Gian Piero Gasperini. 

Inter have been linked with the Argentinian, though Conte was unwilling to discuss the player. 

"I have too much respect for my players to talk about that," he said. "After Hellas Verona, we will also understand what the club expected from the team. 

"It will be right to make some assessments with the club, in an intelligent and serene way, to understand a little what can be done and what not." 

Page 1 of 15
© 2020 SportsMaxTV All Rights Reserved.