Antonio Conte says Romelu Lukaku and Lautaro Martinez can still improve as Inter prepare to face Shakhtar Donetsk once again.

The Nerazzurri made light work of Shakhtar in their previous meeting, winning 5-0 in the Europa League semi-final in August.

Lukaku and Martinez each scored twice in that emphatic victory in Dusseldorf as they became the first Inter striker duo to hit at least 20 goals each in a single season since Adriano and Obafemi Martins in 2004-05.

Lukaku, whose 34 goals in all competitions was the best tally for a player in his first season at the club since Ronaldo 22 years ago, has already hit seven goals in six appearances in 2020-21.

But Inter boss Conte expects both players to get better as he attempts to re-establish the club as a major force in the Champions League.

"They made huge improvements and they can become even more important for the team," Conte said on Monday ahead of Inter's Group B game with Shakhtar.

"In order to compare them with other [great strikers] at European level, we need to win, it's the only way to carve out an important place in Europe."

Conte also warned against any sort of complacency against a Shakhtar side that stunned Real Madrid with a 3-2 win in Spain on matchday one.

"The two situations [last season's semi-final and this match] can't be compared," he said. "In August, we were perfect both in defence and attack. We'll need another careful performance.

"They are very strong, most of them are Brazilian players, very fast and skilful. It's no accident they won in Madrid, so we'll need a lot of attention. We want play a good game."

Shakhtar boss Luis Castro also hopes there is no repeat of the previous meeting, in which Inter scored four in 19 minutes in the second half.

"It showed what I already knew about football: everything can happen so suddenly," he said. "We were only one goal down at the break but after their second goal, the game was slipping through our fingers.

"However, tomorrow isn't decided yet. I'm learning all the time, and my biggest lesson from that game is that you have to keep going no matter what is happening around you."

Antonio Conte has hailed the improvement in Romelu Lukaku's all-round game after another decisive display from the Belgian in Saturday's 2-0 Serie A win over Genoa. 

Lukaku's 10th goal in eight matches this term for club and country put them ahead at Stadio Luigi Ferraris before Danilo D'Ambrosio added a second to move the visitors up to third.

The former Manchester United striker now has 22 goals for Inter since his Serie A debut in August 2019, excluding penalties, which is more than any other foreign player in the competition.

Conte says he has been a long-time admirer of Lukaku and has been impressed with how he has added more to his game than just goals over the past 12 months.

"Romelu is a different player to what he was a year ago," he told Sky Sport Italia. "I always said in the past he was a rough diamond that I wanted to work with. 

"He is working and you can see just the way he receives the ball, the way he moves. Everything has improved."

Christian Eriksen was handed his first league start in a month but struggled before his departure shortly before the hour mark, failing to register a single shot or any key passes. 

Conte was frustrated at being asked about the 28-year-old but did concede he needs to improve his "intensity".

"I think you're getting too focused on this Eriksen issue," he added. "You've been underlining and asking about him since January. He is part of the squad, like everyone else. He plays if he deserves it and won't play if he doesn't.

"You see Christian's characteristics. I am trying to get the best out of him, but I don't like that you keep trying to make me speak ill of Eriksen rather than praise others.

"He is with us, that's not a problem. It's inevitable we need to find the right way to get the best out of him. At times it works, at others it doesn't. We need to work with him and get him to increase the intensity. 

"He's trying, he's giving it all, but we can't keep analysing and underlining how Inter play when Eriksen is on or off the field. It's not fair."

Following an opening 2-2 draw with Borussia Monchengladbach in Group B, Inter are back in Champions League action on Tuesday with a trip to Shakhtar Donetsk. 

Romelu Lukaku maintained his hot scoring streak as Inter battled to a 2-0 victory over Genoa at the Stadio Luigi Ferraris to snap their three-game winless run.

Inter lost 2-1 to bitter rivals Milan last weekend, either side of draws with Lazio and Borussia Monchengladbach, and they made hard work of overcoming Genoa on Saturday.

The Nerazzurri failed to register a single shot on target in the first half of a league game for the first time under Antonio Conte, who has been under increasing pressure.

But Inter made the breakthrough thanks to Lukaku's 10th goal in eight matches this term for club and country, which Danilo D'Ambrosio added to 11 minutes from time as the visitors moved up to third.

Antonio Conte is confident he will be given time at Inter and highlighted the work of Liverpool boss Jurgen Klopp as an example of what can be achieved with the right backing.

Inter have gone three games without a win heading into Saturday's league trip to Genoa, including a chastening 2-1 loss against bitter rivals Milan last weekend.

The Nerazzurri finished a point behind Serie A champions Juventus in Conte's first full season and lost to 3-2 to Sevilla in the Europa League final.

But Conte is happy with the progress made by his side and hopes to take inspiration from "war machine" Liverpool, who were rewarded for constant improvement under Klopp with the Champions League title in 2019 and Premier League crown in 2020.

"We must always give 110 per cent to try to get a good result, in addition to the performance," Conte said at Friday's pre-match news conference.

"We need to work hard. As an example I take Klopp's Liverpool. It was four years without winning - now they are a war machine.

"We are building something important. I don't know if it will lead to winning something in the short term, but I know for sure that it is a right path.

"Even from the outside, seeing Inter, you get the idea of ​​a solid structure unlike in other years. This gives me happiness."

Inter have conceded eight goals at this stage of a Serie A campaign for the first time since 2011-12 and let in two more in Wednesday's 2-2 Champions League draw with Borussia Monchengladbach.

Conte accepts Inter have to shore up at the back but reiterated he is content with the overall performances of his players, arguing his side have yet to be second best in a game.

"If we look at what we are trying to do, how we are trying to involve the whole squad, then it's inevitable that the characteristics of some performers change from last year," he said.

"We scored many goals and could have scored more. We conceded avoidable goals and often due to individual situations that we can improve.

"We will continue to work, to play games. Up to now, there hasn't been a single team that has been superior to us."

Inter's trip to Genoa is their third match in eight days and they have a trip to Shakhtar Donetsk to come on Tuesday, before the visit of Parma four days later.

"It is important we manage the situation and preserve the players as best we can, while playing in the best possible way," Conte said.

"The two things have to be combined. Some players are always playing so we need to protect them from a physical and phycological point of view."

Inter have won their last four Serie A meetings against Genoa by an overall score of 16-0, and only once in their Serie A history have they won five in a row without conceding against a single opponent - versus Atalanta from 1951 to 1953.

Zinedine Zidane led Real Madrid to LaLiga glory last season as Los Blancos dethroned bitter rivals Barcelona.

But, Zidane's position is far from certain amid a run of consecutive defeats in 2020-21.

Madrid are reportedly willing to part with their head coach if he cannot arrest the club's slump.

 

TOP STORY – ZIDANE FACING SACK

Real Madrid head coach Zinedine Zidane could be sacked if results do not improve in the team's next two games, according to L'Equipe.

Zidane is under mounting pressure following back-to-back defeats after Madrid were stunned by newly promoted Cadiz in LaLiga and shocked by Shakhtar Donetsk in the Champions League.

The Frenchman – in his second spell in charge of the Spanish capital club – is facing a crucial period ahead of Saturday's Clasico against Barcelona and a Champions League date with Borussia Monchengladbach.

Madrid great Zidane has guided Los Blancos to two LaLiga titles and three Champions League trophies during his time in charge.

 

ROUND-UP

- Calciomercato says Barcelona are ahead of Serie A titleholders Juventus in the race to sign Wolves star Adama Traore. The Spanish speedster has also been linked to Premier League champions Liverpool and Manchester City.

Manchester United and Chelsea are set to rival Bundesliga champions Bayern Munich for Gladbach midfielder Denis Zakaria, reports Bild.

- Calciomercato reports Milan are looking to sign Dinamo Zagreb midfielder Lovro Majer. The 22-year-old has already been linked with Borussia Dortmund, Fiorentina, Leeds United, Valencia and Sevilla.

Former Italy, Juventus and World Cup-winning boss Marcello Lippi said he is "definitely done" with coaching.

Lippi has been without a job since resigning as China head coach in November last year following a 2022 World Cup qualifying defeat to Syria – his second stint in charge of the Asian nation lasting just six months.

The 72-year-old tasted silverware with Italy, Serie A giants Juventus and Chinese powerhouse Guangzhou Evergrande but the Italian great will not be returning to the dugout.

"I'm definitely done with the coaching job," Lippi told Radio Sportiva. "That's right, it's enough.

"Maybe I could be useful in other roles, let's see. But nothing until spring."

After spells with Atalanta and Napoli, Lippi took charge of Juventus in 1994 – guiding the Bianconeri to three Serie A titles and the club's last Champions League trophy in 1995-96.

Across two stints as Juve coach, sandwiched in between a one-year tenure with rivals Inter, Lippi won five Serie A trophies, four Supercoppa Italiana crowns, the Champions League, UEFA Super Cup, Intercontinental Cup and Coppa Italia.

After leaving Juventus in 2004, Lippi helped Italy to World Cup glory in 2006 and he was re-appointed by the Azzurri in 2008 following two years away from the national team.

In China, Lippi joined Guangzhou Evergrande in 2012 and claimed three Chinese Super League titles and the AFC Champions League trophy to go with Chinese FA Cup and Chinese FA Super Cup success.

 

Antoine Griezmann could be set to renew his contract at Barcelona.

The France international has faced criticism for failing to live up to expectations since joining Barca from Atletico Madrid last year.

However, Griezmann may join the list of players renewing with the LaLiga giants.

 

TOP STORY – GRIEZMANN SET FOR BARCELONA RENEWAL

Griezmann could be among the next group of players to renew at Barcelona, according to EFE.

It claims Sergio Busquets and Sergi Roberto may also re-sign, amid reports players are reducing their wages at the club.

It comes after Barcelona announced the re-signings of Marc-Andre ter Stegen, Gerard Pique, Frenkie de Jong and Clement Lenglet on Tuesday.

Griezmann scored 15 goals in 48 games for Barca last season, while he is yet to net in four appearances in 2020-21.

 

ROUND-UP

- A former Barcelona head coach could be set for a new job. Marca reports Palmeiras have made a move for Quique Setien after the departure of Vanderlei Luxemburgo.

- Despite signing Nathan Ake and Ruben Dias in the close season, Manchester City are reportedly look for another defender. Fabrizio Romano suggested the Premier League giants are monitoring Villarreal centre-back Pau Torres.

- Christian Eriksen's Inter future remains uncertain. CalcioMercato reports Inter turned down a loan bid from Borussia Dortmund in the close season, but the Serie A club could be open to the midfielder leaving in January.

- After Virgil van Dijk suffered a serious knee injury, Liverpool are linked with defenders. The Sun says Brighton and Hove Albion would demand at least £50million for Ben White if the Premier League champions make a move for the centre-back in January.

Antonio Conte said he has nothing to "reproach" his Inter players for despite needing a 90th-minute equaliser from Romelu Lukaku to salvage a 2-2 Champions League draw against Borussia Monchengladbach.

Inter appeared to be on their way to victory courtesy of Lukaku's first goal shortly after the interval, but a Ramy Bensebaini penalty and a late strike from Jonas Hofmann looked to have sealed all three points for the visiting Bundesliga side on Wednesday.

Lukaku bundled in from close range in the closing stages, though, to snatch a share of the spoils for Inter, who lost Alexis Sanchez to an adductor injury at half-time in the Group B showdown in Milan midweek.

Inter netted a 90th-minute equaliser in their opening group-stage game for the second consecutive Champions League campaign, while the Nerazzurri have only won one of their last six opening Champions League fixtures.

Inter head coach Conte refused to be too hard on his players and said the loss of full-back Achraf Hakimi due to a positive coronavirus test shortly before the game had a significant impact on his side's preparations. 

"We have to concentrate on doing our best on the pitch," Conte told Sky Sport Italia. "That's all we have to do. It wasn't easy today to receive the news at 5pm that Hakimi was positive. 

"Up until this morning, he was training with us. He was meant to start, so we'd prepared all the tactical situations.

"I told the lads to face every situation with heads held high. It wasn't easy on a psychological level, but the lads showed they are good men as well as good players.

"Tonight we did well against a team with a great deal of potential, one that has technical quality as well as physicality.

"I don't remember a Samir Handanovic save, whereas we had the chances to win the game. I have nothing to reproach the lads for.

"Inevitably, we can improve in some situations where there are errors and we have to work on whittling those down."

Lukaku cut a frustrated figure despite his late equaliser and said Inter need to show more resilience after their winless run was extended to three games in all competitions.

The Belgian star has now scored in each of his last nine European fixtures across the Champions League and Europa League (11), extending the longest-ever such run by a player for Inter.

"This is not a good result in my view, because we can do better," he said. "We must keep working and be stronger mentally because it's not an easy moment for us and we have to keep believing in our quality. 

"Now we need to be stronger, above all mentally, and do better in defence, as we conceded two goals due to our errors. We made so many mistakes and wasted chances up front too, so if we don't take those we are made to pay at this level."

Alexis Sanchez suffered an adductor injury in Wednesday's 2-2 Champions League draw with Borussia Monchengladbach, Inter confirmed. 

Sanchez, making just his second start of the season, was replaced by Lautaro Martinez at half-time after a disappointing opening 45 minutes in the Group B opener.

Serie A club Inter revealed post-match that Chilean forward Sanchez had been taken off after experiencing tightening in his right adductor. 

No player completed fewer than his 11 passes during the first half, while the former Manchester United man lost possession eight times and won just one of his nine duels. 

Inter were indebted to a 90th-minute equaliser from Romelu Lukaku – his second of the game – to salvage a point against Bundesliga visitors Gladbach on matchday one.

Romelu Lukaku scored in the 90th minute as Inter salvaged a 2-2 draw with Borussia Monchengladbach in a dramatic clash in Champions League Group B.

Lukaku opened the scoring four minutes into the second half at San Siro with his 10th goal in his last nine European appearances, but Gladbach had the victory in their grasp after Jonas Hofmann struck late on.

Antonio Conte's side tasted defeat to city rivals Milan in Serie A last time out and looked set to be heading for another loss when Hofmann raced through to slot home following Ramy Bensebaini's equaliser from the spot.

Yet Inter had the final say, with Lukaku on hand to bundle home his second from a corner and snatch a share of the spoils.

Inter star Achraf Hakimi has tested positive for coronavirus ahead of Wednesday's Champions League group match against Borussia Monchengladbach.

Hakimi is "totally asymptomatic" after his diagnosis emerged from the latest round of UEFA tests ahead of the Group B contest at San Siro.

The 21-year-old, in his first season at Inter after a superb spell with Borussia Dortmund, has played in all four of his team's Serie A matches this season, including their 2-1 loss in Saturday's Milan derby.

Hakimi will now enter a period of quarantine and can only come back once he has returned a negative result.

"Achraf Hakimi has tested positive in the latest round of UEFA checks (required by hygiene protocols) undertaken ahead of tonight's game against Borussia Monchengladbach," Inter said in a statement.

"The Inter full-back is totally asymptomatic and will now follow the procedure set out by the health protocol."

Inter have had to deal with a host of positive results in recent weeks. 

Alessandro Bastoni and Radja Nainggolan have recovered while Ashley Young, Roberto Gagliardini, Ionut Radu and Milan Skriniar are among those still waiting for the all-clear to return.

Luis Figo has called on "everyone" in football to oppose a potential European Premier League, saying the competition would "destroy football as we know it".

A Sky News report on Tuesday claimed Liverpool and Manchester United were among clubs in England, France, Germany, Italy and Spain to hold talks over a breakaway competition.

Wall Street bank JP Morgan is said to have prepared a $6billion (£4.6bn/€5.1bn) funding package, while FIFA was reported to have given its support to the proposals.

The alleged plan follows failed attempts from the same two elite Premier League clubs to push through Project Big Picture, which would have secured increased voting rights on matters in England for 'big six' clubs.

As with Project Big Picture, though, the mooted European Premier League has been met with opposition.

Former Barcelona, Real Madrid and Inter winger Figo, who briefly ran for FIFA presidency in 2015, has added his voice.

Responding to comments from ex-United captain Gary Neville, who described the idea as "another wound for football", Figo made his displeasure clear.

"What I read about this Super League idea will destroy football as we know it," said the 127-cap Portugal international, who retired at Inter in 2009.

"It's all about greed and keeping the game for a few elite clubs, while killing the other clubs and leagues that fans love.

"Football should unite! Everyone should oppose it!"

Figo's decision not to continue with his pursuit of the FIFA presidency five years ago came due to his refusal to "go along with" a process that delivers "absolute power to one man".

European football's governing body and Champions League organisers UEFA had opposed a potential "super league" on Tuesday, saying the competition would "inevitably become boring".

The existing Champions League structure is set to be revamped after the 2023-24 campaign, with plenty of posturing around the elite club game in Europe focused upon what shape this might take, although the backers of the European Premier League purportedly have ambitions to launch as early as 2022.

What does the future hold for Kylian Mbappe?

For so long, the Paris Saint-Germain forward has been tipped to join Real Madrid.

However, Mbappe is believed to be attracted to the idea of leaving Parc des Princes for Anfield.

 

TOP STORY – MBAPPE INTRIGUED BY LIVERPOOL

Paris Saint-Germain star Kylian Mbappe is interested in a move to Premier League champions Liverpool, according to Le Parisien.

Mbappe is contracted to PSG until 2022 but the France international forward has reportedly made it clear he has no plans to extend his deal in Paris.

He has long been linked with LaLiga champions Real Madrid, though the 21-year-old is attracted to Liverpool's style of play. Barcelona have also emerged as a possible destination.

 

ROUND-UP

Zinedine Zidane retains the backing of Madrid following last week's shock defeat to newly promoted Cadiz, says AS. Head coach Zidane has come in for criticism after Madrid's first loss of the season. While delivering LaLiga glory last term, Zidane is reportedly under pressure to succeed in the Champions League following their last-16 exit in 2019-20.

- The Daily Star says Arsenal outcast Mesut Ozil is wanted by MLS outfit DC United. Wayne Rooney previously played for DC between 2018 and 2020.

- Todofichajes claims PSG and United are interested in Inter midfielder Christian Eriksen, who has struggled to establish himself in Milan since arriving from Tottenham in January.

Tottenham are close to agreeing a contract extension with Spurs star Son Heung-min, reports The Athletic.

Holders Bayern Munich begin their Champions League defence with the visit of Atletico Madrid on Wednesday, in a game that will pit Robert Lewandowski against Luis Suarez.

Liverpool, winners in 2019, travel to Ajax, and Real Madrid host Shakhtar Donetsk, with two of the competition's most successful clubs hoping to avoid some worrying runs of defeats.

Antonio Conte's Inter tackle Borussia Monchengladbach and Manchester City host Porto, a team who boast a rather unfortunate record when it comes to games on English soil.

Here is some of the key Opta data from day two of matchday one.

Ajax v Liverpool: Can Firmino stop the rot?

This will be Liverpool's first meeting with Ajax since the 1966-67 European Cup, when the Dutch side prevailed 7-3 on aggregate in the last 16.

Liverpool's campaign last season ended at the same stage with back-to-back losses to Atletico Madrid. Should they lose in Amsterdam, it will be the first time since Brendan Rodgers was in charge in October to November 2014 that they have suffered three consecutive Champions League defeats.

Perhaps Roberto Firmino is the man to help them. He has been directly involved in 26 goals (15 scored, 11 assisted) in 33 Champions League matches; since his debut in 2017-18, the only other player with 10 or more goals and assists in that time is Kylian Mbappe (13 goals, 13 assists).

 

Bayern Munich v Atletico Madrid: Lewandowski has history in his sights

Bayern were the first team in history to win every game en route to lifting the trophy last season, and their 11-game winning run is already the longest ever in the competition.

Should Robert Lewandowski score, he will become the first player to do so in 10 Champions League group games in a row. He currently shares the record of nine with Cristiano Ronaldo, who did so from 2012 to 2014.

Atletico have only won twice in their previous 10 group games away from home, but Luis Suarez could give them the boost they need – he has scored five goals in his last five starts in the competition, as many as he managed in his previous 31 starts combined.

 

Real Madrid v Shakhtar Donetsk: Zidane puts 100 per cent record on the line

Real Madrid have been in the Champions League group stage 28 times and have never failed to reach the next round. Leeds United, who did so twice, are the only other team to feature in more than one group stage and boast a 100 per cent record.

That said, Madrid lost their final two games last season – both legs of the last-16 tie with Manchester City – and losing to Shakhtar Donetsk would put them on a three-match losing streak in the Champions League or European Cup for the first time since September 1986.

With captain Sergio Ramos injured, Zinedine Zidane will have concerns about his defence. At least the forward line is in capable hands: Karim Benzema has managed four goals and two assists across six consecutive home games in the competition, and Shakhtar have failed to keep a clean sheet in 22 Champions League matches in a row.

Manchester City v Porto: More English misery?

Porto have played 20 away games against English sides in Europe and have failed to win any. In fact, they have lost 17 of those games and have not scored in the previous seven. They do at least go into this contest off a run of just two defeats in 16 Champions League group-stage matches.

City have a pretty strong recent record in the group stage, having gone unbeaten in 11 games since a surprise 2-1 loss to Lyon in September 2018. They also have Raheem Sterling in sharp form: the forward has scored 20 goals in the competition since his debut for City in September 2015, a tally only Harry Kane can match among English players in that time.

 

Other fixtures:

Inter v Borussia Monchengladbach:

9 – Romelu Lukaku has scored nine goals in 11 appearances in European competition for Inter. Since the start of last season, only Robert Lewandowski (15) and Erling Haaland (10) have netted more across the Champions League and Europa League.

8 – Strike partner Lautaro Martinez has scored five in six Champions League starts and eight in 14 in Europe overall for the Nerazzurri.

 

Salzburg v Lokomotiv Moscow:

10 – Since September 2018, Lokomotiv Moscow have lost 10 Champions League games, more than any other club in that time.

16 – Salzburg scored 16 group-stage goals last season but finished third in their group. The only other team to score that many and get knocked out were Chelsea in 2012-13.

 

Midtjylland v Atalanta:

16 – Atalanta have scored at least once in 16 of their previous 17 European games, including nine in three matches in last season's knockouts. Josip Ilicic has nine goals in 13 European appearances for the club.

18 – Midtjylland conceded 18 goals in eight matches in the 2015-16 Europa League, their previous involvement in Europe. No team conceded more that season.

 

Olympiacos v Marseille:

3 – This will be Andre Villas-Boas' first Champions League game since March 2016. He has lost his most recent three matches in the competition.

41 – Steve Mandanda has made 41 appearances in the competition, the most for any Marseille player in history. The goalkeeper accounts for 37 per cent of the total games played by current Marseille players in this tournament.

Inter are in a stronger position to fulfil their desire to be contenders in the Champions League, according to Antonio Conte.

Conte's side finished behind Barcelona and Borussia Dortmund in last season's group stage but managed to reach the Europa League final, where they were defeated by Sevilla.

The Nerazzurri secured a return to the Champions League by finishing second to Juventus in Serie A last term and begin their new European campaign at home to Borussia Monchengladbach on Wednesday.

Inter have won just two of their past 10 games in Europe's premier club competition, but Conte believes the experience of 2019-20 will hold them in good stead this time around.

"Now we are more experienced for sure, after what we did last term and the Europa League final. This increased the experience level of the whole squad," said Conte.

"Now we can also count on [Arturo] Vidal who has plenty of experience. From this point of view we are a more prepared team.

"We must be the masters of our own destiny. We want to be positive, but at this moment it is difficult to say where we can go.

"Our aim is to be contenders. We aim to play the kind of football that made us runners-up in the league and Europa League finalists last season. Sometimes we do that perfectly, sometimes we have to improve."

Alessandro Bastoni will only be fit enough for the bench against Gladbach after recovering from coronavirus, though Alexis Sanchez is ready to start after coming off the bench in the derby defeat to Milan on Saturday.

Inter have also been drawn against Real Madrid and Shakhtar Donetsk in Group B and Conte could not help but smile when informed of a view from Spain that put his team as favourites ahead of LaLiga's champions.

"I don't know if that's the case. We are talking about the team that won LaLiga last season and that have great champions," he said.

"It makes me smile to hear that they are not the favourites. If we question Real Madrid because they didn't make moves in the transfer market and we don't consider them favourites, it means that football is changing and maybe I have lost sight of reality."

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