Antonio Conte praised Inter for their approach to Thursday's Europa League second-leg win over Ludogorets in the round of 32 after being made to play the game behind closed doors.

Goals from Cristiano Biraghi and Romelu Lukaku earned Inter a 2-1 victory at an empty San Siro after Cauly opened the scoring for Ludogorets, who trailed 2-0 from the first leg.

Fears over the coronavirus outbreak in Italy meant supporters were not allowed to attend the match and Inter head coach Conte admitted the tie had an eerie feel to it.

"I've also played behind closed doors with Italy against Croatia," he told Sky Sport Italia. "The atmosphere is strange and doesn't make things easy as it's like a training session.

"I have to say that my players took the right approach today, even if we fell behind. We made changes, giving other players some minutes, and now we move on."

Inter's home league clash with Sampdoria last weekend was postponed in wake of the virus spreading, while Sunday's blockbuster trip to Serie A leaders Juventus will also be behind closed doors in Turin.

Conte's Nerazzurri lost their last league match 2-1 to second-placed Lazio and trail Juve by six points with a game in hand to play.

Conte admitted the Derby d'Italia clash, as well as an the upcoming trip to Napoli, will go a long way to determining just how close his side are to seriously challenging for silverware.

"We started this run of games and there is an important match coming up against Juventus," he said.  "Once we reach the end of this period, we'll understand how distant we are from a winning level. 

"I am convinced this will give us more clarity on where we are now, the length of the road ahead of us and the work that still needs to be done."

Inter started with a back three against Ludogorets but reverted to a flat-back four in the second half, with Christian Eriksen and Marcelo Brozovic linking up in central midfield.

"We need to work on the ideas and have had time in training," Conte said. "The postponement of the game with Sampdoria last week gave us time to test out something new, which can be used either at the start of a match or during the 90 minutes.

"When you have two strikers, it's inevitably harder work for the midfielders. For those who play with one centre-forward, two wingers or a trequartista, there are more players ready to help cover defensively. We always need to find the right balance depending on the characteristics of the opponents we are up against."

Juventus' derby d'Italia against Inter will be one of five Serie A matches played behind closed doors this weekend due to ongoing fears over the spread of the coronavirus in Italy.

Milan's home fixture with Genoa, Udinese against Fiorentina, Parma's clash with SPAL and Brescia's trip to Sassuolo will also kick off in front of empty stadiums.

Inter's Europa League last-32 second-leg tie at home to Ludogorets on Thursday also took place without fans in attendance and a Serie A statement on Thursday confirmed their trip to Allianz Stadium would do likewise.

The Nerazzurri's fixture against Sampdoria was postponed last weekend in one of four Serie A abandonments.

Towns in northern Italy have been on lockdown after 229 confirmed cases of coronavirus, with seven people having died.

Speaking prior to the Ludogorets fixture, Inter boss and former Juve coach Antonio Conte told Sky Italia: "I think playing behind closed doors is not beautiful

"Football needs the public and to feel the whole atmosphere around it. It is the most beautiful thing.

"Having said that, we refer to the decisions made for health reasons, but I hope that everything will return to normal as soon as possible."

Inter are six points adrift of leaders Juve with a game in hand. 

Antonio Conte admitted games are not the same without the presence of fans as Inter prepare to host Ludogorets at an empty San Siro on Thursday.

UEFA announced Inter and Ludogorets will meet behind closed doors in the second leg of their Europa League tie due to concerns over the coronavirus outbreak in Italy.

And Inter travel to title rivals Juve just three days later, with six points separating the sides as third visits first in Serie A.

It has not yet been confirmed whether fans will be allowed to attend the Derby d'Italia, but Nerazzurri coach Conte is keen to see supporters allowed inside the Allianz Stadium.

"I think playing behind closed doors is not beautiful," Conte told Sky Sport Italia. "Football needs the public and to feel the whole atmosphere around it. It is the most beautiful thing.

"Having said that, we refer to the decisions made for health reasons, but I hope that everything will return to normal as soon as possible."

The outbreak of the virus, which originated in China, saw Inter's clash with Sampdoria one of four Serie A fixtures to be postponed last Sunday.

But after returning to action against Ludogorets, Conte's side have a crucial stretch with matches against Juve and then Napoli, who hold a 1-0 first-leg lead in the Coppa Italia semi-finals.

"We have a very concentrated schedule," Conte said. "The fact that the match with Samp has been postponed changed the situation a bit.

"But we trained to prepare for this cycle of matches: only at the end will we see what Inter can do."

Inter boss Antonio Conte is not concerned about Lautaro Martinez's head being turned after the striker was lauded by Barcelona star Lionel Messi.

Martinez has been strongly linked with a move to Camp Nou as a long-term replacement for Luis Suarez and was this week hailed as "spectacular" by compatriot Messi.

The 22-year-old reportedly has a €111m release clause in his contract and has also been touted as a possible target for Manchester United, Manchester City and Real Madrid.

Despite the growing interest in Martinez, however, Conte is confident the Argentina international is only focused on helping Inter.

"The boy is fully concentrated," Conte said at a news conference on Saturday. "He is doing well and must continue in this way. 

"He has grown a lot over the last year and is only 22. He is committed and I am happy to have him available."

Inter recovered from back-to-back defeats in the league and cup with a 2-0 win over Ludogorets in the first leg of their Europa League last-32 tie on Thursday.

Conte's men face a quick turnaround for Sunday's visit of Sampdoria in Serie A and the head coach is anticipating a difficult test against the relegation battlers.

"Playing on a Thursday makes things difficult as you only have one day to prepare for the next game," he said. "It is something we will get used to over time.

"Sampdoria are in good shape, despite losing last week. We will have to be very focused to get the three points.

"They have a highly experienced coach in Claudio Ranieri and experienced players like Fabio Quagliarella, who amazes me every year."

Conte will wait until Sunday before making a decision on whether to start Marcelo Brozovic, who has been struggling with a knock but took part in training on Saturday.

Brozovic's return could see Christian Eriksen used in an advanced midfield position behind Martinez and Romelu Lukaku, with Conte happy to try out different formations.

"It depends on the game and the opponent. You can try different things but don't forget you have to field a balanced team," he said. "We will see if this is the right time to do it."

Christian Eriksen is yet to reach peak physical condition after joining Inter from Tottenham, according to head coach Antonio Conte.

Eriksen, who signed for the Serie A club in January, scored his first goal for Inter in Thursday's 2-0 Europa League last-32 win away at Ludogorets.

The Denmark international opened the scoring with a fine strike and also hit the crossbar with a powerful drive before Romelu Lukaku's late penalty put the Nerazzurri in complete control ahead of next week's second leg in Milan.

However, Conte feels there is a lot more to come from Eriksen.

"I'm happy for him, the goal always gives confidence," Conte told Sky Sport Italia after Inter bounced back from successive domestic defeats in Bulgaria.

"Christian just needs to work to find the right physical condition, to find the brilliance of his best moments at Tottenham.

"He can do even more than what he showed us today, but we are very happy because we know what he can give us."

Inter were again without goalkeeper Samir Handanovic, although deputy Daniele Padelli was completely untested as Ludogorets mustered only a single shot.

"It is a situation that we monitor day by day," Conte said of Handanovic, who has a hand injury.

"We have confidence in Daniele Padelli, and when he is ready to resume his place, he will. Until then, we continue with Padelli."

Christian Eriksen can help to raise Inter's collective level once he adapts to the side, according to head coach Antonio Conte.

The Denmark international has featured five times for Inter since completing a reported €20m (£16.9m) move from Tottenham in the January transfer window.

He has been restricted to one start and has yet to score or assist a goal for his new club, but Conte has called for patience before seeing the best of Eriksen in an Inter shirt.

"I see too much anxiety and little serenity," he said at Wednesday's news conference. "There is great serenity on our part. 

"The player wants to make himself available and we are calm.

"Every single player must think about improving himself, without thinking about who is next to him. We need individual growth, which can be put into the collective."

Conte will wait until Thursday before deciding whether to start Eriksen in the first leg of Inter's Europa League last-32 tie with Ludogorets.

Alexis Sanchez is also in line to feature from the start at Ludogorets Arena and Conte expects to see more from the on-loan forward once he gets a run of games under his belt.

"He has come back from a bad injury - he's been out for three months," Conte told reporters. 

"He is recovering well and is ready to start the game. We are talking about a player who hasn't played much in the last two years.

"He has to find the best physical shape and in this way it can help us achieve our goals."

Inter make the trip to Bulgaria on the back of just a second Serie A loss of the campaign last weekend, a 2-1 defeat to Lazio seeing them drop to third in Serie A.

"We were disappointed by the result, but not the performance," Conte said. "Lazio are one of the form sides in Italy right now.

"We put in a good performance and resume with our belief and our desire to improve - that must be our only objective.

"We're in Europe and it's right to give it our best, respect the competition as much as possible."

Antonio Conte said Scudetto challengers Inter gifted two goals to Lazio and were "scared" in the second half of their 2-1 Serie A loss on Sunday.

Inter's half-time lead was erased as Ciro Immobile and Sergej Milinkovic-Savic completed a comeback for Lazio, who leapfrogged the Nerazzurri into second position.

Conte's side started the weekend ahead of defending champions Juventus on goal difference but by the end of their trip to Rome, Inter were three points off the pace in the race for the Scudetto.

After the blockbuster showdown in the Italian capital, Inter head coach Conte told Sky Sport Italia: "I think it was a good performance, it's the result I didn't like and the way we conceded the two goals, as we gifted them to Lazio.

"We were not impeccable, but inevitably in these big games, the details become decisive and the margin of error becomes reduced. It's part of a growth process, there was some naivete and these lads must try to be more relaxed in these situations.

"We were too soft on the two goals. We had other situations this season where we had taken the lead and threw points away, for example also Barcelona and Borussia Dortmund [in the Champions League], games we had in our grasp and ended up losing.

"As I said, this is a growth process and we have to go through it so that we can face every situation the right way. Straight after the restart, it was as if we were scared. That has to improve.

"The lads worked hard and I thank them for that. We are trying to irritate the teams at the top, it was a 'head-to-head' with Lazio and we ought to be proud to have been in this situation in the first place. At the same time, we must improve if we are to continue causing problems up there."

Ashley Young had given Inter the lead on the stroke of half-time – the former Manchester United captain and full-back becoming the first English scorer for the Nerazzurri in Serie A since Paul Ince in 1997.

Young has impressed since arriving from Old Trafford in January and the veteran said: "We've got a lot of games coming up, we've got to dust ourselves off pretty quick and get ready for the next game.

"Of course we're still in it [title race], there are plenty of games, plenty of points up for grabs and I'm sure we'll get back to winning ways."

Antonio Conte is convinced Lautaro Martinez remains fully focused on Inter amid speculation linking the striker with a move away from San Siro.

Martinez has shone for Inter alongside Romelu Lukaku this term, scoring 16 goals across all competitions for the Serie A leaders.

His form has seen him linked with a transfer to some of Europe's other major clubs, with Barcelona reportedly eager to secure the 22-year-old as a long-term replacement for Luis Suarez.

Conte, though, dismissed the suggestion Martinez will be disrupted by speculation over his future.

"Lautaro is only 22, but he is very mature. He has a wise head on his shoulders," Conte told a news conference ahead of Sunday's crunch Serie A encounter with title rivals Lazio.

"Transfer rumours mean very little. There is always paper talk. Players remain focused throughout.

"The players know what is asked of them. Rumours count for very little, zero. Players need to focus on the pitch."

Conte insists Inter's entire focus is on maintaining their title challenge, though he believes they will face a Lazio side that is ahead of the Nerazzurri in terms of their development on Sunday. 

"Winning is not easy, especially in Italy. In recent years only one team has won the league," Conte added. 

"It is similar in France and Germany. Lazio have won cups and trophies recently but it has taken time. They have kept the core of the squad. Plus they have strengthened each year. They are a strong side, who are ahead of us in terms of their journey. 

"Lazio have worked well off the pitch, work and planning is important, but so is patience. You need time and patience in football. That is the only way to grow which is our aim."

Antonio Conte feels Inter's derby victory over Milan took away a lot of "nervous" energy as his side fell to a limp Coppa Italia semi-final first-leg loss at home to Napoli.

The Nerazzurri fought back to defeat their rivals 4-2 in a barnstorming Serie A encounter on Sunday.

It was a different story on this occasion, though, as Inter struggled to get out of second gear and succumbed to a 1-0 loss thanks to Fabian Ruiz's excellent second-half strike.

Speaking to Rai after the game, head coach Conte said: "The derby took away a lot of energy, especially nervous. 

"I made five changes from Sunday to bring in fresh legs, but Napoli beat Juventus, Lazio and Liverpool this season, so that means they've got quality there. 

"I'd say that, after Juventus, Napoli have the most impressive squad in Serie A.

"Gennaro Gattuso was smart to sit back, wait and go on the counter. We had the chances and it would've been a fair result if we had played out a draw.

"When you're up against defensive teams like this, you have to move the ball around faster and create spaces.

"We are at the start of this journey, so if some think we are at the same level as a side that was at the top for many years, then I say we're a long way off and have to use these defeats to improve."

Christian Eriksen was again only among the Inter substitutes, with Conte explaining the Denmark playmaker is still finding his best form after being in and out of Tottenham's team.

"He is certainly a player of quality, he needs to rediscover that intensity, seeing as he hasn't played much in the last six months," the ex-Italy boss said of Inter's January arrival.

Antonio Conte believes "everything will depend on Juventus" in the Serie A title race despite Inter moving top of the table with Sunday's Derby della Madonnina win.

A second-half comeback saw Inter recover from 2-0 down to beat Milan 4-2 in a pulsating derby at San Siro.

Marcelo Brozovic, Matias Vecino, Stefan de Vrij and Romelu Lukaku scored in the second half, moving Inter level on points with Juventus.

But Conte said the title was not in Inter's hands, with Juve chasing a ninth straight Scudetto.

"It is a dream for us, as well as for Lazio. It can be like that also for Atalanta or Roma," the Inter head coach told a news conference.

"We are talking about a championship dominated by one team over the years that fully deserved to win.

Conte added: "Everything will depend on Juventus. I have heard also some Juventus players saying so.

"At the same time, we must be ready."

Goals from Ante Rebic and Zlatan Ibrahimovic had put Milan in control before Inter's fightback, with Conte's side drawing level just eight minutes into the second half.

Conte said Inter's improved depth was helping, having added Christian Eriksen, Ashley Young and Victor Moses to his squad in January.

"Honestly, we never had major physical problems," he said.

"The only issue is that in the first part of the season we had to play mostly with the same players.

"When the same people play every three days it is inevitable that you will pay a price in terms of physical condition.

"Today, we have the chance to make some more turnover."

Antonio Conte admitted Inter were at risk of "a hammering" before they came from two goals down to beat Milan 4-2 in the Derby della Madonnina and go top of the Serie A table.

Goals from Ante Rebic and Zlatan Ibrahimovic put Milan two ahead at half-time, but quickfire strikes from Marcelo Brozovic and Matias Vecino levelled the contest inside eight minutes of the restart.

Stefan de Vrij gave Inter the lead before Romelu Lukaku capped an unforgettable evening for the Nerazzurri with a stoppage-time goal, and Conte was full of praise for his gutsy side's comeback.

"It was a special night, that's for sure," Conte told Sky Sport Italia. "The first half saw us in real difficulty, perhaps more than we've ever been this season, and there was the risk of a hammering.

"Instead, we did well to get the balance back, to understand where we had to improve, to have faith in what we were doing and the credit goes to these lads.

"Aside from the result, I am happy to see them resist under blows and turn it around, as that means they are preparing for something truly important.

"It's still very early to talk about something we can for now dream of. We can have a dream."

Despite Inter's second-half transformation, Conte had little to say about his half-time team-talk and instead claimed his share of responsibility for a calamitous first-half display.

Inter face Napoli in their Coppa Italia semi-final first leg on Wednesday before taking on fellow title-chasers Lazio in Serie A on Sunday, and Conte looked ahead to a crucial run of games.

"It's going to be a very intense period for us coming up and, after that, I think we'll have a better idea of our potential and our real capabilities," said the Inter boss.

"We can't achieve everything from one day to the next, but we are building. These lads proved they have great strength and guts today.

"I didn't need to talk much at half-time. I think in difficult situations, you have to be very clear and take responsibility. I had a large share of the responsibility for the fact we were losing 2-0 at half-time.

"We stayed together, from start to finish, and found our way out of a tough situation. We have to keep this evening in mind, as it will help us be a team in future and deal with similar difficulties."

When the Inter and Milan starting XIs lined up before a cacophonous San Siro on Sunday, there were all the usual sights.

Fierce, steely stares, necks being flexed, legs shaken out. Big-match anxiety writ large.

Then there was Zlatan Ibrahimovic, turning around wide-eyed to survey the scene and wearing a big grin.

Perhaps he knew all along. Or thought he did.

Ibrahimovic's return to this fixture was a blessing for Milan, largely because it diverted the attention away from the gulf that has opened up between themselves and their great rivals since Antonio Conte took charge of the Nerazzurri.

"He is a champion who gives Milan quality and charisma," Conte said of Ibrahimovic in the build-up, although even in acknowledging this he could scarcely have envisaged the first-half evisceration his title-aspirants would endure, before turning the tables to top the table with a 4-2 derby win for the ages.

Now 38, Ibrahimovic's frequent aggrandisement – which always seemed to pinball between self-deprecation and a yawing lack of self-awareness – has come to grate as much as it entertains.

It was easy to conclude a Milan marooned in mismanagement and mediocrity had bought into the myth rather than the aging man the wrong side of major knee surgery when they offered him a route back from his expected retirement home in Major League Soccer.

The Rossoneri entered Sunday's game seven places and 19 points shy of Inter, but yet to taste defeat in the seven matches since Ibrahimovic's second debut.

In this Derby della Madonnina – a fixture where he, of course, knows both sides of the divide – he was Milan's talisman.

Stefano Pioli's team drove forward from kick-off and there were 67 seconds on the clock when Ibrahimovic lashed over on the volley from Samu Castillejo's cross.

The most striking element of the veteran's early contribution was his capacity to elevate those around him. Castillejo always had someone to hit from the right flank and was a constant threat, while Ante Rebic looked more like the player from Croatia's run to the 2018 World Cup final as opposed to the beleaguered individual Milan were recently hoping to send packing back to Eintracht Frankfurt.

The twinkle-toed Hakan Calhanoglu was the pick of the bunch, rifling against the post after nine minutes and popping up with palpable menace across the final third thereafter, never far away from a shrewd pass or lay-off to Ibrahimovic.

Inter were struggling to get out of their own half and, in line with trepidation painted across a touchline-prowling Conte, they fell behind.

Of course Ibrahimovic was involved, muscling above Diego Godin to knock down Castillejo's cross for Rebic to scramble past a bizarrely hesitant Samir Handanovic.

A VAR review did not spare Godin, the sort of reprieve it is hard to imagine would sit well with the gloriously grizzled centre-back. In mano-e-mano combat he simply came off second best to an opponent on a mission.

If Ibrahimovic's role in the opener was about brute strength, for number two he resorted to stealth, stealing into space at the far post as Milan Skriniar's gaze was diverted to the ball. Soon enough it was behind him and being nodded into the net by the man of the moment. Arms aloft, script fulfilled.

Only Conte and his warriors in blue and black, with the blood of an undulating Scudetto race in their nostrils, had other ideas.

Antonio Candreva thumped goalwards in the 51st minute. Blocked. Marcelo Brozovic thumped harder. 2-1.

In a flash, it was all square as a darting Alexis Sanchez was played onside by Andrea Conti's heal and he cut back for Matias Vecino to score.

Godin supplied the pass to Sanchez and the sense of Inter's centre-backs being freed from their earlier Ibrahimovic ordeal was underlined by Stefan de Vrij heading home, putting them on course for the sweetest of victories.

Ibrahimovic thundered a long-range free-kick just wide, crashing it into the advertising hoardings with the same force Milan's earlier dreams met reality, and a towering header hit the post.

Having just about negotiated the man with the occasional God complex, Conte brought on Victor Moses to set up a fourth for the prolific Romelu Lukaku. It's 54 points apiece with Juventus at the summit and Inter, with goal difference in their favour, might just have taken a significant step towards their promised land.

Inter came from two goals down to earn a famous 4-2 victory over Milan in a gripping Derby della Madonnina that sent the Nerazzurri top of Serie A.

Zlatan Ibrahimovic returned to haunt his former club with a goal and an assist for Ante Rebic as Milan raced ahead before half-time, but the 38-year-old striker could not maintain his unbeaten run since returning to San Siro in January.

The Rossoneri's hopes of causing an upset faded in the space of two second-half minutes that saw Marcelo Brozovic and Matias Vecino plunder quickfire goals to get Inter back on level terms.

Antonio Conte's men took the lead 20 minutes from time through Stefan de Vrij's superbly executed header and Romelu Lukaku scored in second-half stoppage time to make sure his side leapfrogged Lazio and Juventus into top spot.

Antonio Conte predicted the Milan derby will stoke strong emotions for Zlatan Ibrahimovic, and said he has "great respect" for the Rossoneri striker.

Milan are unbeaten in five Serie A games since Ibrahimovic arrived on a free transfer from LA Galaxy in January, the 38-year-old scoring once in the league and once in the Coppa Italia.

After missing Milan's 1-1 draw against Hellas Verona due to an illness, Ibrahimovic is expected to be available for selection on Sunday.

Stefano Pioli's men trail Inter by 19 points ahead of the Derby della Madonnina but Inter boss Conte said Ibrahimovic's uplifting effect on his team-mates would make for a better game at San Siro.

"I think it's nice to see all the players available in the most important games," Conte told reporters. "The spectacle benefits.

"He is a champion who gives Milan quality and charisma.

"I have great respect for Ibra, he is a former Inter player and I think that for him, in terms of emotions, it will be a strong game."

Conte was asked about the fitness of Samir Handanovic, after the Nerazzurri goalkeeper suffered a hairline fracture in his left hand, but gave little away.

"The medical staff can speak about specific situations - they are much more competent than I am," he replied.

He spoke more positively about Christian Eriksen's progress, the midfielder having played twice since joining Inter from Tottenham, in a 2-0 Serie A win at Udinese and a 2-1 Coppa Italia victory over Fiorentina.

Asked how long the 27-year-old needs to be 100 per cent fit, Conte said: "I hope not so much. He played part of the match against Fiorentina and started in Udine.

"He needs the right time to learn my ideas but he is a very intelligent boy. He quickly understands our game principles and I'm happy for that.

"Eriksen is a player who arrived at Inter with precise characteristics. We bought him for a certain way of playing.

"Let's not forget that in Italy there is much more tactical emphasis and more is asked than abroad. Often they are not very fixated on some situations: it is right that he has his time to get into his idea of ​​the game."

A season is a long time in football.

Rewind to 2018-19 and Inter pipped Milan to the fourth and final Champions League spot by a solitary point.

Fast forward to this season and Milan find themselves ninth and 19 points adrift of their title-chasing Serie A neighbours in February.

As Milan and Inter prepare for Sunday's latest instalment of the Derby della Madonnina, we look at why the Rossoneri have fallen so far behind the Nerazzurri this term.

 

COACHING APPOINTMENTS

Inter brought in a winner. The Suning Holdings Group were determined to sign former Juventus and Chelsea boss Antonio Conte and they got their man. 

Milan were linked to Conte, but Paolo Maldini and the red half of the city were never able to provide the funds necessary for his arrival. Instead, Milan turned to Marco Giampaolo as the replacement for Gennaro Gattuso. There were high hopes for Giampaolo, given the brand of football on show during his time at Sampdoria. However, cracks quickly appeared and he was sacked after just seven games, which included a 2-0 loss to Inter.

That led to Stefano Pioli. An unpopular choice having previously coached Inter, Maldini and the board found themselves under pressure. Despite hardly being an exciting appointment following spells at Fiorentina, Lazio, Bologna and Palermo, Pioli has overseen some improvement. Milan have gone seven games without defeat, though the jury is still out.

 

SIGNINGS

Finances help but recruitment could not be further apart. Boosted by the income of Champions League football and the demands of Conte, Inter have splashed the cash in 2019-20. It took a club-record transfer to prise Romelu Lukaku from Manchester United. Stefano Sensi, Nicolo Barella, Christian Eriksen, Alexis Sanchez, Diego Godin, Ashley Young, Victor Moses and Cristiano Biraghi have all joined the blue half of Milan and made impacts. Valentino Lazaro also arrived but has since moved to Newcastle United on loan.

The additions of Gonzalo Higuain and Leonardo Bonucci were supposed to awaken sleeping giants Milan in 2017, helping to restore their glory days, but the transfer market has not been kind to the Rossoneri. Milan's recent woes can be traced back to the signing of Krzysztof Piatek last term. The Poland striker had taken Italy by storm just six months into his move to Genoa with 19 goals in 21 appearances in all competitions. It prompted Milan to spend big and while there were glimpses of his talent, Piatek's January switch to Hertha Berlin proves they were hasty in their decision to entrust him with the iconic number nine shirt.

The purchase of Theo Hernandez has proven to be a bargain, while Rafael Leao and Ismael Bennacer are some of Maldini and Zvonimir Boban's better deals when you compare them to the likes of Rade Krunic, Leo Duarte and Ante Rebic – who up until the turn of the year was virtually non-existent.

Then there is Zlatan Ibrahimovic. His return in January raised some eyebrows, given his age at 38, but the superstar striker has provided leadership and character to the dressing room, helping the team on a seven-match unbeaten run. A rare tick for Milan in recent transfer windows.

 

OFF THE FIELD

Inter are a club thriving on and off the pitch. Conte and CEO Giuseppe Marotta – his trusted friend at Juventus – have the Nerazzurri dreaming of the Scudetto. Milan, on the other hand, could not be further away from ending a title drought dating back to 2011.

A lot of Milan's problems stem from ownership and numerous changes at the top. The last time Milan claimed the Scudetto, Silvio Berlusconi was in charge and Ibrahimovic was playing alongside Ronaldinho, Gattuso and Alessandro Nesta. Since then, a Chinese consortium pledged to lead Milan back to the promised land in 2017. It turned out the new owners did not have the funds required and it led to Elliott Management taking over. The change in ownership sparked upheaval – CEO Marco Fassone and sporting director Massimiliano Mirabelli were replaced, while Leonardo came and went.

While doubts remain over Maldini and Boban, Milan need a period of stability – especially off the field – to help get back to challenging for domestic and European honours.

Page 4 of 9
© 2020 SportsMaxTV All Rights Reserved.