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."

UEFA has confirmed all their other matches this week are unimpacted by the coronavirus outbreak after the decision for Inter's Europa League match against Ludogorets to be played behind closed doors.

Inter and Ludogorets will clash in the second leg of their last-32 tie at San Siro on Thursday without any supporters present due to concerns over the spread of the virus in Italy, where there have been more than 300 cases and 11 deaths.

The confirmation of the match taking place behind closed doors was taken on Tuesday and followed the clash between Antonio Conte's side and Sampdoria being one of four Serie A fixtures postponed on Sunday.

But there will be no restrictions for attending supporters or alterations to fixtures for any of the other Europa League matches on Thursday or the two Champions League contests taking place on Wednesday.

"All other UEFA matches scheduled this week will go ahead as planned and at this time there are no restrictions for attending supporters," read UEFA's statement.

"UEFA will continue to closely monitor the situation regarding Covid-19 and to liaise with relevant authorities in this respect."

The future of Lautaro Martinez could also have an impact on Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang.

Martinez is wanted by Barcelona and Real Madrid, while Aubameyang is reportedly eyeing an Arsenal exit.

Both players could be at different clubs in 2020-21.

 

TOP STORY – MARTINEZ OUT, AUBA IN?

Inter will look to replace Barcelona target Martinez with Arsenal star Aubameyang, according to Calciomercato.

Martinez has been heavily linked to LaLiga champions Barca as well as Real Madrid, Manchester United and Manchester City following his exploits for Inter.

The Daily Mail claims Arsenal are considering selling forward Aubameyang, who is out of contract in 2021, and he could be targeted by Inter should Martinez leave San Siro.

ROUND-UP

- Kepa Arrizabalaga is Chelsea's record signing but his future at Stamford Bridge is in doubt. El Chiringuito TV reports Chelsea have offered out-of-favour goalkeeper Kepa plus €30million (£25m) to Atletico Madrid for Jan Oblak.

Madrid are ready to offer €70m to Napoli for star midfielder Fabian Ruiz, claims Calciomercato. City and Barca are also reportedly looking to sign the Spaniard.

- Manchester Evening News writes that United have stepped up their interest in Aston Villa captain Jack Grealish. It comes as the Daily Express claims United are likely to offload Jesse Lingard and Andreas Pereira.

- Calciomercato says Inter are ready to battle Europe's elite for the signing of Gent star Jonathan David. The Canada international is wanted by the likes of United, Borussia Dortmund, Arsenal, Tottenham and Ajax.

Juventus hold an interest in Lyon midfielder Houssem Aouar, according to Calciomercato. Aouar is an option for Juve should the Serie A champions fail in their efforts to sign either United midfielder Paul Pogba or Brescia's Sandro Tonali.

Barcelona were held to a 1-1 draw away to Napoli on Tuesday, extending their unimpressive winless run in Champions League knockout matches in Italy to six.

Quique Setien's men fell behind late in the first half to Dries Mertens' gorgeous 25-yard strike, seeing the Belgian go level with Marek Hamsik as the club's all-time leading scorer on 121.

Barca did rescue a draw that at least sees them return home with an away goal, and therefore an advantage, with Antoine Griezmann equalising despite an otherwise anonymous outing.

Still, Barca - who had Arturo Vidal sent off towards the end - remain winless away to Italian opposition in the knockout phase of the Champions League since a 1-0 victory at Milan in April 2006, when Napoli's incumbent coach Gennaro Gattuso was in the Rossoneri midfield.

Following Tuesday's stalemate, we look back at the other results in this run...

Inter 3-1 Barcelona, 2009-10 (semi-final first leg)

The good old days, when Jose Mourinho v Pep Guardiola was about as gripping as it got. Although the tie was billed as being pragmatism v flamboyance, it was the typically disciplined Inter who thrilled in a 3-1 first-leg win in San Siro. Pedro opened the scoring, but the hosts ultimately romped to victory through Wesley Sneijder, Maicon and Diego Milito. The Italians succumbed 1-0 in Barcelona after the dubious sending off of Thiago Motta, but they clung on to spark comically passionate celebrations from Mourinho and Inter went on to lift the trophy.

Milan 0-0 Barcelona, 2011-12 (quarter-final first leg)

Barca certainly couldn't be accused of failing to dominate in San Siro in 2012, as they controlled much of the game in Italy, but Messi and company failed to find a way through. Luca Antonini was crucial to that, making a brilliant last-ditch block late on to ensure Milan went to Camp Nou with a fighting chance. As it was, Barca had too much for them in the second leg, Messi scoring two penalties as they claimed a 3-1 win.

Milan 2-0 Barcelona, 2012-13 (last-16 first leg)

A major shock saw Barca seemingly staring at an early exit in 2012-13, with Sulley Muntari and Kevin-Prince Boateng scoring in a 2-0 win in San Siro. The Rossoneri had been forced to defend desperately at times, before stealing two goals in the second period. Thankfully for Barca it didn't prove costly, as they crushed Milan 4-0 in the return leg, with Messi's brace added to by David Villa and Jordi Alba. It made Barca the first team to overturn a two-goal first-leg deficit without scoring an away goal.

Juventus 3-0 Barcelona, 2016-17 (quarter-final first leg)

Massimiliano Allegri's Juve became 'nearly men' in the Champions League, but there was also no doubting their class, as the 3-0 win over Barca in April 2017 showed. It was a commanding display in Turin, with two-goal Paulo Dybala turning on the style. Giorgio Chiellini rounded off the win that rarely looked like being overturned in Barcelona despite drawing inspiration from their comeback against Paris Saint-Germain in the previous round. Juve held out for a 0-0 draw.

Roma 3-0 Barcelona, 2017-18 (quarter-final second leg)

Barca have been involved in some monumental Champions League comebacks and turnarounds in recent years – on this occasion they were the victims. After winning 4-1 at Camp Nou, needing some luck to do so as they produced an unimpressive display, Barca looked destined for the semi-finals, but in Rome they were completely outmanoeuvred by an energetic Roma. Goals from Edin Dzeko and Daniele De Rossi left Barca twitching ahead of the latter stages and Kostas Manolas' header eight minutes from time secured a famous result, dumping Barca out of the competition.

Perhaps Jadon Sancho will remain at Borussia Dortmund beyond this season.

Sancho, 19, has been heavily linked with a move to the Premier League after impressing with the Bundesliga side.

But the England winger could yet stay at Dortmund a little longer.

 

TOP STORY – SANCHO MAY STAY AT DORTMUND BEYOND THIS SEASON

Sancho is happy at Dortmund and an exit in the close season is not certain, according to Ruhr Nachrichten.

The teenager is contracted at the club until 2022 so may at least begin the 2020-21 campaign at Dortmund.

Liverpool, Manchester City, Manchester United and Chelsea are all reportedly interested in Sancho.

 

ROUND-UP

- Staying at Liverpool and the Premier League leaders may have received more good news. Sport1 reports RB Leipzig star Timo Werner's release clause is £25.2m (€30m) plus a guarantee of performance-related bonuses. Previous reports said the forward's release clause was £50.4m (€60m).

- Marcelo Brozovic has done enough to impress Antonio Conte. CalcioMercato reports Inter are ready to begin contract talks with the Croatia international, who is set for a salary increase but could also have his release clause of €60m removed. Brozovic's current deal runs until 2022.

- Could George Clooney be set for a foray into … Malaga? AS reports a group with business links to the American actor are in talks to buy a stake in the Spanish club.

- With his Manchester United contract expiring at season's end, Nemanja Matic appears set for a move from Old Trafford. CalcioMercato reports the midfielder's agents have offered the 31-year-old to Milan, Juventus and Inter.

- Leicester City are considering offering defender Christian Fuchs a new deal, according to the Daily Mail. Fuchs is out of contract at the end of the season.

UEFA has announced Inter and Ludogorets will meet behind closed doors at San Siro in the second leg of their Europa League tie on Thursday.

The decision has been taken by the governing body due to concerns over the coronavirus outbreak in Italy. Two people have died in the country while reports say dozens more have tested positive.

Bulgarian champions Ludogorets had demanded assurances that it was safe to travel to Milan in a statement released on Sunday, calling on UEFA to provide swift clarification.

Inter, who won the first meeting 2-0 thanks to goals from Christian Eriksen and Romelu Lukaku, will stage the return fixture without any fans present inside the famous venue.

"Earlier in the day, the Milan club sent a letter to Ludogorets, announcing that the city's health authorities allowed the match to be held without fans," a statement on Ludogorets' website read.

"The European headquarters informs Ludogorets that it will demand the decision of the Milan medical authorities. UEFA also announces that it is monitoring the situation in Northern Italy and will react immediately if changed.

It was confirmed by Inter in a statement on Monday that no spectators will be present for the encounter.

Inter's clash with Sampdoria was one of four Serie A fixtures to be postponed on Sunday, while there are doubts over whether their upcoming trip to Juventus will go ahead.

Italy prime minister Giuseppe Conte has said all of the top-tier Italian games, including the blockbuster showdown in Turin, could be called off due to the virus, which originated in China.

Juventus president Andrea Agnelli made clear public health comes first amid the possibility of further fixtures being postponed in Serie A – even if that means his club taking on Inter behind closed doors.

Following the recent outbreak of the coronavirus in Italy, the decision was taken to call off four of the top-flight games scheduled to take place on Sunday, including Inter's clash with Sampdoria.

Italy prime minister Giuseppe Conte has said all of Serie A's week 26 fixtures could yet be postponed, with the country taking preventative measures following the death of two people, as well as dozens more reportedly testing positive for the virus.

Table-topping Juve – who played on Saturday, triumphing 2-1 at SPAL – are due to host third-place Inter on Sunday, though a media report has suggested the game could go ahead but without fans present at the Allianz Stadium.

Agnelli admitted during an appearance on Radio 24 that such a situation would not be ideal, but understands the bigger picture considering the situation.

"At this moment, the priority for the country is the protection of public health," he said.

"Starting from this, there is a dialogue with those who have to decide, but we will accept the decisions that are taken.

"The interruption of the sports system is difficult; the schedule is clogged. Starting the championship late – and not playing in the Christmas break – means that if you miss a game it becomes difficult to recover."

On the prospect of playing Inter without supporters present, or possibly even at an alternative venue, he added: "Organising a match like Juve-Inter in a different stadium is extremely complicated.

"I'm sorry about the show itself because the championship is affected because of a historic game of football. But we must preserve the priority: public health."

Erling Haaland has taken the world by storm since joining Borussia Dortmund in January.

Already stunning Europe with his exploits for Salzburg, Haaland has scored 12 goals in eight appearances as a Dortmund player.

Now, Real Madrid could be about to come sniffing in their pursuit of goals.

 

TOP STORY – HAALAND AN OPTION FOR MADRID

Borussia Dortmund sensation Haaland could be a cheaper alternative for Real Madrid instead of Paris Saint-Germain star Kylian Mbappe, writes Marca.

Mbappe has long been linked with a move to Madrid, where Zinedine Zidane is a keen admirer of his fellow Frenchman.

However, 19-year-old Dortmund recruit Haaland – whose €75million release clause is set to kick in next year – has emerged as an option for Madrid, with PSG set to demand a mammoth fee for Mbappe.

 

ROUND-UP

- Reports linking Inter star Lautaro Martinez to Barcelona are gathering steam and Calciomercato says the LaLiga champions want to start negotiations by May. Madrid and Manchester United are also reportedly interested.

- Staying at Camp Nou and Barca are keen on signing Valencia centre-back Hugo Guillamon, according to Sport. The 20-year-old will be available on a free transfer at season's end.

Bayern Munich are interested in RB Leipzig defender Dayot Upamecano but Kicker claims the Bundesliga champions believe he is too expensive at €60m. Upamecano has been linked to Arsenal, Tottenham, Barca and Madrid.

- Remaining in Munich and Kicker also says Bayern are unconvinced by the €100m price tag of Bayer Leverkusen midfielder Kai Havertz, whose admirers include the likes of Liverpool and United.

Italy prime minister Giuseppe Conte revealed all of Serie A's Week 26 fixtures, including the blockbuster showdown between Juventus and Inter, could be postponed due to coronavirus fears.

The outbreak of coronavirus in Italy forced four top-flight matches to be postponed over the weekend, including Sunday's clash between Scudetto hopefuls Inter and Sampdoria.

Italy's move came as part of preventative measures against the spread of the coronavirus, officially named COVID-19 which originated in China, after two people died and dozens more reportedly tested positive.

Now, upcoming fixtures across Italy's leagues are in doubt, with Serie A leaders Juve scheduled to host Inter in Turin on March 1.

"I don't think that in just one week we'd be able to slow down the contagion so much that we could resume sporting events," Conte told Rai.

"We are constantly monitoring the situation and will evaluate. We'll see the evolution of the contagion and evaluate postponing all next week's matches."

Juve are a point clear atop the table following Saturday's 2-1 victory away at bottom side SPAL.

Cristiano Ronaldo marked his 1,000th career appearance with a goal, scoring in an 11th consecutive top-flight match – matching a feat previously achieved by Gabriel Batistuta and Fabio Quagliarella.

In-form Lazio were also in action on Saturday and edged Genoa 3-2 to extend their unbeaten streak to 20 games, while Inter are six points off the pace with a game in hand.

Bulgarian champions Ludogorets have demanded assurances that it will be safe to travel to Milan for Thursday's Europa League clash with Inter after Italy's coronavirus outbreak.

Christian Eriksen and Romelu Lukaku scored as Inter beat Ludogorets 2-0 in the first leg in Bulgaria, but reports have already suggested the San Siro return match could be played behind closed doors.

Inter's game against Sampdoria on Sunday was postponed over local health concerns, with Italian prime minister Giuseppe Conte confirming the fixture was one of several that would not go ahead.

Italy is battling to contain the virus, which is officially named Covid-19, after the deaths of two people and confirmation that dozens more have tested positive.

In a statement issued on Sunday, Ludogorets expressed their concern and appealed to Inter and UEFA to provide swift clarification.

The statement said: "FC Ludogorets have formally asked UEFA and FC Inter about the situation in the Italian region of Lombardy, whose capital is Milan. Coronavirus-infected cases have been reported there in recent days.

"More than 600 supporters of the Bulgarian champions are expected to support their favourites at the San Siro on Thursday (February 27) in the rematch of the 1/16 finals of the Europa League.

"Many of them have already purchased plane tickets, and there is organised bus travel from Bulgaria to Italy.

"Ludogorets expect an official statement from the European headquarters and a quick explanation from Inter about the situation in the city. If received, the club will immediately notify supporters of the situation in Milan by a message on its official website.

"PFC Ludogorets will liaise with Bulgarian diplomatic authorities on the situation in Italy."

Inter's game against Sampdoria and two other Serie A matches have been postponed following the recent coronavirus outbreak in Italy.

At a news conference, Italian prime minister Giuseppe Conte confirmed Sunday's fixtures in the Lombardy and Veneto regions, including the Hellas Verona-Cagliari and Atalanta-Sassuolo clashes, would not go ahead.

The move comes as part of preventative measures against the spread of the coronavirus, officially named Covid-19, after two people died and dozens more reportedly tested positive.

Saturday's scheduled Serie B match between Ascoli and Cremonese was earlier postponed and up to 88 amateur football matches were also called off, according to Italian news agency ANSA.

In a short statement, Inter announced only that their meeting with Sampdoria at San Siro was postponed "to a later date".

The third-placed Nerazzurri sit six points behind Serie A leaders Juventus, who won 2-1 against SPAL on Saturday.

Sunday's three other games are expected to go ahead as planned.

Genoa are due to host title-chasing Lazio, with Torino to face Parma and Roma entertaining Lecce.

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's first goal for Inter helped Antonio Conte's men earn a battling 2-0 away win against Ludogorets in the opening leg of their Europa League last-32 tie.

The Serie A side were not at their best at Ludogorets Arena on Thursday but scored the opener from the best move of the match, Eriksen curling home from the edge of the box.

January signing Eriksen hit the crossbar from distance and Romelu Lukaku's late penalty confirmed a victory for the Nerazzurri that saw them bounce back from successive domestic defeats.

Inter, who began with Lukaku on the bench, struggled to impose themselves in the opening exchanges but Ludogorets goalkeeper Plamen Iliev had to make a smart stop to keep out Cristiano Biraghi's volley in the 25th minute.

The upright kept out Alexis Sanchez's clever flick after the restart, then Lautaro Martinez lashed a long-range strike narrowly over the crossbar as Inter increased the tempo.

Iliev made another fine save to turn away Eriksen's bouncing 20-yard volley, but the goalkeeper could do nothing about Inter's first goal in the 71st minute.

Sanchez and substitute Lukaku were involved in patient passing in the build-up, with Eriksen sweeping an excellent finish out of Iliev's reach.

It was almost 2-0 moments later as Eriksen's thumping drive beat Iliev but not the woodwork, Lukaku's arrival having given Ludogorets more to think about in defence.

Ludogorets, who were without their star striker Claudiu Keseru due to injury, failed to record a shot on target and face an uphill battle at San Siro next week after Lukaku converted from 12 yards in added time following Anicet Andrianantenaina's handball.


What does it mean? Inter get the job done

After consecutive defeats in the Coppa Italia and in Serie A to Napoli and Lazio respectively, Inter again found it difficult to produce their best football but they ground out a much-needed win. It is doubtful whether Conte values Europa League success over the Scudetto, though.

Iliev unlucky to miss out on clean sheet

Ludogorets had their backs against the wall for much of the game and relied on goalkeeper Iliev to keep them in the tie. He made a handful of excellent stops in a superb individual showing.

Martinez unable to justify Messi praise

Labelled "spectacular" by Argentina team-mate Lionel Messi in the build-up to the game, reported Barcelona target Martinez made very little impact before he was replaced by regular strike partner Lukaku.

What's next?

Ahead of next week's second leg, Inter host Sampdoria on Sunday while Bulgarian league leaders Ludogorets are away to Etar on the same day.

Gennaro Gattuso has confirmed Napoli could be without key defender Kalidou Koulibaly for next week's Champions League game against Barcelona.

Injuries have hampered the Senegal international this season and he has only played one Serie A match since the turn of the year.

Napoli head to Brescia on Friday before hosting Barca four days later in the first leg of their last-16 tie with the LaLiga champions.

And Gattuso, whose side have won five of their past six games in all competitions, is unsure whether Koulibaly will be available.

"We'll need to objectively see what he has," Gattuso told reporters on Thursday. "He has swelling, so we need to listen to how he feels. 

"Right now I have opted, together with the medical staff, to keep him sidelined for seven to 10 days.

"We will evaluate after that how he feels physically. He will tell us how he feels."

Napoli's improved form has lifted them to ninth in Serie A but they are 12 points behind fourth-placed Atalanta in the race for Champions League qualification.

Gattuso is staying focused on the trip to second-bottom Brescia - with Koulibaly not included in the Napoli squad - rather than allowing the looming Barca game to act as a distraction.

"I haven't heard anyone talk about Barcelona," Gattuso added. "We haven't prepared for Barcelona yet. We have prepared for the match against Brescia. We will think about Barcelona on Saturday after the analysis of the match against Brescia."

Napoli striker Fernando Llorente will miss the Brescia game due to flu.

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