Could Harry Kane land in Paris?

With Kylian Mbappe tipped to join Real Madrid, Paris Saint-Germain are reportedly eyeing replacements.

Mauricio Pochettino has a familiar face in mind…

 

TOP STORY – POCH WANTS KANE IF MBAPPE LEAVES

Paris Saint-Germain head coach Mauricio Pochettino wants to sign Tottenham striker Harry Kane, according to El Chiringuito de Jugones.

That is if PSG star Kylian Mbappe leaves the Ligue 1 champions for LaLiga holders Real Madrid.

Pochettino coached Kane for five years at Tottenham before he was sacked by Spurs in November 2019.

 

ROUND-UP

- Sky Sport Germany claims Bayern Munich star David Alaba will not decide on his future until he has spoken to Barcelona. Marca reported that Madrid had struck a deal to sign Alaba on a free transfer at the end of the season. However, Alaba is reportedly holding out for Barca as the likes of Liverpool, Manchester United and PSG try to lure the Austria international.

Martin Odegaard has asked to leave Madrid on loan due to his lack of game time, reports Marca and Diario AS.

Romelu Lukaku has no intention of leaving Inter for City, says Express Sport. Lukaku spent two years at United before moving to Italy in 2019. Pep Guardiola's City have also been linked with Borussia Dortmund star Erling Haaland amid doubts over Sergio Aguero's future.

- Mundo Deportivo claims Manchester City defender Eric Garcia could join Barca this month or at the end of the season.

Milan are eyeing Barca's Junior Firpo on loan, while Serie A rivals Napoli are also interested, according to Calciomercato.

- Eurosport reports Tottenham are looking to prise Danny Ings away from Southampton. Ings is reportedly stalling on a new contract as he eyes a Champions League club.

Lionel Messi is free to negotiate a move to clubs outside LaLiga and Juan Sebastian Veron thinks Javier Zanetti will be key to Inter's hopes of signing the Barcelona superstar.

Six-time Ballon d'Or winner Messi is in the final six months of his contract at Camp Nou, having failed to engineer a move away during the close season.

The 33-year-old has long been linked with a switch to Serie A giants Inter, where his former Argentina team-mate Zanetti – the Albiceleste's most-capped player of all time – is vice-president.

Former Nerazzurri and Argentina midfielder Veron does not expect Messi to be at Inter next season, but believes it will be down to Zanetti if he does complete a move to San Siro.

"I don't think he can go to Italy. If he will, it is because of Javier Zanetti, who knows him and will try to talk to him, making him feel important again and to explaining the future projects of the club," Veron told Stats Perform News.

"At the end of the day it is purely Messi's decision. But if Inter want to make an attempt, they have to use seduction and get to his heart to draw him near. 

"I don't know how many more years Messi wants to play at this level, but if you want to sign him, Inter have to make Messi their flagship and make clear they want to be at the top level."

After a 2-0 victory over Juventus on Sunday, Inter sit second in Serie A three points behind leaders Milan.

Antonio Conte's side have not been lacking in attack this term, though, with Romelu Lukaku (12 goals, three assists) and Lautaro Martinez (nine goals, three assists) developing a potent partnership in the league.

No forward in Serie A to have played at least 10 games this season has had more Opta-defined 'big chances' than Lukaku, whose tally of 20 is only matched by Edin Dzeko and Cristiano Ronaldo. The Belgium international has the best conversion rate of the trio, scoring from 12 such openings for a 60 per cent success ratio. Ronaldo is second on 55 per cent, while Dzeko is third on 35 per cent.

Messi has scored 11 goals and assisted two more in LaLiga this term, while converting 58.3 per cent (seven out of 12) of his big chances.

The Barca captain's 35 key passes are only bettered by Iago Aspas (37), and his 100 attempts on goal in the Spanish top flight this season are almost twice as many as Karim Benzema (51) in second.

Andrea Pirlo is not about to call time on Juventus' Serie A defence despite fuming at the way they ceded control to Inter in a damaging defeat on Sunday.

Juve are now seven points behind leaders Milan and Inter, and could fall 10 points off the pace if the Rossoneri win on Monday.

The Bianconeri lost 2-0 at Inter, who led through Arturo Vidal's header – one of 11 first-half efforts to Juve's three – and netted again seven minutes after the break as Nicolo Barella ran clear.

The midfield duo were outstanding, with ex-Juve man Vidal gaining possession nine times as well as having four shots, while Barella created the opener for his team-mate and had three key passes, playing a team-high 41 passes in the opposition half.

The Inter pair set a tempo that Juve, coach Pirlo acknowledged, simply did not match.

"We got the attitude wrong from the beginning," Pirlo told Sky Sport.

"When you don't have the anger and determination to try to win duels in these matches, it becomes difficult. We were too passive.

"It's a bad defeat; we didn't expect it. We couldn't have had a worse match than this one, but now we have to raise our heads because we will play a final on Wednesday [the Supercoppa Italiana against Napoli]."

The broadcaster suggested this was the angriest rookie coach Pirlo had been since his appointment, to which he replied: "Yes, because in these matches, you have to have the same desire and the same anger as the opposition in order to be on the same level.

"Then the qualities of the individuals can make the difference."

Despite his frustration at his players in Juve's first Serie A defeat to Inter in eight matches, Pirlo also accepted responsibility.

"The coach is always wrong first of all because it is he who gives the directions," he said.

"So I take my responsibility, because if the team did not do what we wanted, it means that they did not understand what we had to do."

Pirlo was a Juve substitute when Vidal's previous Serie A goal in 2015 clinched the Bianconeri's fourth straight title.

A further five consecutive championships have followed, but a 10th in a row looks tough now, even if Pirlo is not willing to give up hope.

"Our ambitions remain the same," he insisted. "It's a misstep against an important team, but in a long journey there happen to be these missteps."

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.

Inter dealt a blow to Juventus' Serie A title defence and moved level on points with leaders Milan by securing a 2-0 victory at San Siro on Sunday.

Former Juve midfielder Arturo Vidal opened his Inter account with a 12th-minute header and Lautaro Martinez and Romelu Lukaku wasted chances to increase the Nerazzurri's lead.

The Bianconeri were unable to make the most of those reprieves as an emphatic finish at the end of a route-one move saw Nicolo Barella double Inter's advantage.

It was enough to give Antonio Conte a first Serie A win against Juve – the club he led to three straight Scudetti at the start of their ongoing run of dominance – and move the hosts level with Milan, who play their game in hand against Cagliari on Monday.

Cristiano Ronaldo had a goal correctly ruled out for offside but there was no doubt about Vidal's opener a minute later, as the Chile international rose above Danilo to nod Barella's delivery into the left corner.

Martinez should have doubled Inter's lead in the 23rd minute when he blazed over with the goal gaping after Wojciech Szczesny parried Lukaku's shot straight to him.

Striker Martinez again failed to hit the target with his next opening, while Lukaku placed an effort from Barella's cutback too close to Szczesny before half-time.

Inter finally had a second goal in the 52nd minute, Barella surging into a huge gap in the Juve defence and firing Alessandro Bastoni's ambitious pass into the roof of the net.

Andrea Pirlo responded by sending on Dejan Kulusevski, Federico Bernardeschi and Weston McKennie but Federico Chiesa had their best effort in the 87th minute.

Samir Handanovic kept out Chiesa's powerful drive with a superb reaction as Inter held on for an important victory.

What does it mean? Juve with ground to make up

Juve would have closed to within a point of Inter if they triumphed at San Siro, and they would have still had a game in hand on Conte's men and Milan.

However, they missed their chance to make up ground and are now seven points adrift of Inter.

They will find themselves 10 points off the top if Milan win on Monday, meaning winning their game in hand would still not put them firmly in the title picture.

Brilliant Barella

Italy international Barella put in a livewire performance against the reigning champions, creating a game-high three chances – including the assist for Vidal's goal – and producing an emphatic finish early in the second half. After managing one goal and four assists in Serie A last season, he has already scored twice and set up five more in the league in 2020-21.

Vidal sparks controversy

Pre-game footage showed Vidal embracing Giorgio Chiellini and kissing the Juve badge on his warm-up top. He may have followed it up by scoring his first Serie A goal since clinching the title for Juve in May 2015, but his muted celebrations led to much discussion about where his loyalties lie.

What's next?

Juve face Napoli in the Supercoppa Italiana on Wednesday, while Inter travel to Udinese in Serie A on Saturday.

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."

A little before the midway point of the season, heading into Sunday's Derby d'Italia, you could argue Inter have Juventus just where they would have wanted them.

Antonio Conte was brought to San Siro in 2019 and strongly backed in the transfer market with the primary aim of ending the dynasty he launched back in 2011-12 in Turin.

Juve have won every Scudetto since then but are four points behind Inter having played a game less.

Unfortunately for Conte, the Nerazzurri aren't the only side with designs on ripping away the Bianconeri's long-held crown.

Milan remain top of the table despite succumbing to a 3-1 defeat to Juve earlier this month, where they were subjected to arguably the most authoritative display of the fledgling Andrea Pirlo era.

Nine points separate Milan from Atalanta, Napoli and Lazio in fifth, sixth and seventh. Like fourth-place Juve, the former two have a game in hand on the leaders.

Inter are their local rival's nearest challengers, three points from the top and three better off than third-place Roma, who were left with wounded pride by Friday's 3-0 derby defeat to Lazio.

Struggles for consistency and congested title races can be seen across Europe as the effects of truncated pre-seasons and packed schedules continue to shake out.

However, the firepower up front for Inter and Juve provides a strong case for both breaking clear of the pack, while promising a thrilling high-stakes shootout at San Siro.

Lukaku-Martinez partnership brings joy

Conte's second and final season in charge of Chelsea in 2017-18 was soured before kick-off as Manchester United beat him to the signature of Romelu Lukaku.

It was clear that state of affairs did little for either man by the time they finally came together at Inter before the start of last season.

Had Lukaku ranked himself as being among the top five strikers in world football, as he did last month, during the 2019 transfer window, plenty would have sniggered.

But the big Belgian has put a patchy spell at Old Trafford behind him to shine at San Siro.

 

Since the start of last season, Lukaku has 51 goals in all competitions - placing him fourth among players across Europe's top five leagues during that period, in between Lionel Messi in fifth and a certain prospective weekend opponent who is five goals better off.

While not quite as prolific, Argentina international Lautaro Martinez has been a more than able accomplice, racking up 31 in 73 matches over the past season and a half.

Nevertheless, despite this mountain of goals and Inter being Serie A's top scorers, there is a sense that Conte's front two could be more clinical.

No player in the big five leagues with 25 goals or more to their name since the beginning of 2019-20 has a lower shot conversion rate than Martinez's 12.4 per cent.

While Lukaku's conversion rate in 2020-21 is comparatively healthier at 27.9 per cent, in Serie A alone his nine goals from open play come in below an expected goals (xG) figure of 9.8 (Lukaku's three converted penalties do not figure in Opta's xG calculations).

The concern for Conte is that this relative wastefulness takes a heavier toll on the big occasion.

Inter crashed out of the Champions League after winning a solitary group match and have failed to win any of their four Serie A matches so far against last season's top six - a run continued by the raucous 2-2 draw with Roma last time out.

Ronaldo finds ideal foil in Morata

An obvious fear from an Inter perspective is that issues Martinez and Lukaku might have on the grandest stages will only be magnified by comparison to who they face this weekend.

No man in the 21st century has hit the heights of goalscoring obsession known by Cristiano Ronaldo.

Even if Juventus do not have the rampaging version that thrilled at Manchester United and Real Madrid, Ronaldo is raging against Father Time with utter conviction when it comes to putting the ball in the net.

Only Robert Lewandowski - way out in front on 78 - has more than the Portugal great's 56 in the big five leagues from August 2019 onwards.

Among that group of attackers with 25 goals or more, Ronaldo has fired off the most shots with 354. Messi (329) and Lewandowski (297) are not particularly close behind.

Chillingly for opponents, he has found much greater efficiency this season. Ronaldo's shot conversion rate is 23.5 per cent in 2020-21 so far, a 10 per cent increase on the prior campaign. His 11 open-play goals in Serie A have an xG value of 7.9.

 

If there is a new level of serenity to Ronaldo's play, part of the credit can perhaps go to the man alongside him. 

Alvaro Morata was the third corner of the tangled Lukaku-Conte transfer triangle back in 2017, his time at Chelsea proving to be as sapping as Lukaku's at United. A loan to Atletico Madrid arrived midway through 2018-19. 

Despite that move being made permanent, another loan back to Juventus came prior to the current campaign. 

Under his old team-mate Pirlo, Morata looks like a player reborn, scoring 11 times in all competitions. Only four of those have been in Serie A but his seven assists over the course of the campaign are already more than he managed in the past two completed seasons - casting him as the ideal supporting act to Juve's indisputable lead performer. 

One of the best five in the world, one of the greatest of all time, Argentina's next superstar striker or the quiet man from Madrid. On Sunday, one of them is set to step forward and add a key twist to a gripping Scudetto race.

Will a Juventus-Paul Pogba reunion become a reality?

The future of Manchester United star continues to dominate headlines.

A move back to Turin could be on the cards for Pogba.

 

TOP STORY – JUVE TO MAKE POGBA OFFER

Serie A champions Juventus will try to prise Paul Pogba from Manchester United at the end of the season, according to the Calciomercato.

Pogba appears set to leave United following the 2020-21 campaign after his agent Mino Raiola claimed the French midfielder was unhappy in Manchester.

Real Madrid and Paris Saint-Germain have been linked but Juve, who signed Pogba from United in 2012 before losing him to the Red Devils four years later, want to bring the World Cup winner back to Turin.

 

ROUND-UP

- The Telegraph reports Manchester City manager Pep Guardiola will be given £200million to spend on new players in the next transfer window. Borussia Dortmund star Erling Haaland and Inter forward Romelu Lukaku are on the list of potential targets, as well as Benfica's Darwin Nunez amid doubts over Sergio Aguero 's future. Haaland has also been linked with neighbours United , Madrid , Barca , Liverpool and Juve .

Bayern Munich are interested in Madrid defender Eder Militao , claims Mundo Deportivo. It comes as Bayern look to replace David Alaba , who is set to leave the Bundesliga champions on a free transfer. Alaba has been tipped to join Madrid .

Milan  are close to re-signing star pair Gianluigi Donnarumma and Hakan Calhanoglu , says Tuttosport. Corriere dello Sport reports Milan are also nearing a deal to sign veteran forward Mario Mandzukic .

- The Athletic claims Mesut Ozil is poised to leave Arsenal for Turkish giants Fenerbahce after reaching an agreement in principle to terminate his Gunners contract.

- The Transfer Window Podcast claims Madrid are considering the possibility of using Eden Hazard in a deal to lure Kylian Mbappe from PSG.

Memphis Depay has been strongly tipped to move to Barca , however, Ok Diario reports the Lyon captain could join Madrid following Luka Jovic's loan return to Eintracht Frankfurt.

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. 

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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."

Alvaro Morata rates the "incredible" Cristiano Ronaldo as one of the best players of all time and intends to tell his children he played alongside the Juventus forward.

Five-time Ballon d'Or winner Ronaldo has scored 19 goals in 18 games in his third season with Serie A champions Juve.

Morata returned to the Allianz Stadium from Atletico Madrid on an initial loan deal last September and has chipped in with four goals and five assists in 12 league outings.

The pair also spent time together at Real Madrid and Morata says it is a pleasure linking up with the Portugal captain once again.

"It's easy to play with him," he told Sky Sport Italia. "I've known him for some time. On some occasions when a normal person wouldn't score, he scores. 

"In Parma I gave him an assist that only he could see and understand. I understand his movements and what he likes to do. 

"I often take his men away by moving, and I think it helps him not to always have two or three players around him. It's a pleasure to play with him.

"He is still one of the best in football history. He's great, has incredible quality and he can play wherever he wants, whether it is as a number nine, 10 or 11. 

"I can only enjoy it every day, and I hope to support him for a long time to come.

"It's a pride for me. I grew up watching him and when I got here thinking about playing with him and [Paulo] Dybala thrilled me. 

"They are players of a higher level. We have an excellent relationship even off the pitch. I will tell my children that I played with them."

Juventus travel to second-placed Inter on Sunday aiming to bridge a four-point gap to their opponents, whom they have a game in hand over.

As well as pitting together two Italian giants, it will also be a clash between Serie A's two highest scorers this season - Ronaldo (15) and Romelu Lukaku (12).

The 27 goals the pair have netted between them is more than 12 Serie A clubs have netted in total this season.

Morata is looking forward to coming up against another of his former colleagues in Lukaku and hopes to swap shirts with the prolific striker after the match at San Siro.

"Romelu is one of the best strikers in the world, he is complete," the Spaniard said. "He is also a great person, someone I like to see play. 

"At the end of the match I will ask him for the shirt as a souvenir. We will try to stop him on the field, even if it will be difficult. 

"Lautaro [Martinez] is a more versatile player, but Lukaku does things where you can't stop him."

Sunday's Derby d'Italia clash will be the 175th in Serie A history, with Juve's 84 victories in this fixture the most for a team against a single opponent in the Italian top flight.

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."

Substitute Romelu Lukaku rescued Inter with a 119th-minute winner to knock Fiorentina out of the Coppa Italia with a 2-1 win for the second season running.

Lukaku started from the bench ahead of Sunday's Derby d'Italia against Juventus but was called for in the second half after Christian Kouame had cancelled out Arturo Vidal's penalty opener.

There was no immediate impact as the Nerazzurri sought to get their season back on track, having taken just a point from their prior two Serie A matches.

Yet Lukaku made his mark deep into extra time at the Artemio Franchi, powering a header past Pietro Terracciano to book Inter's place in the quarter-finals.

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