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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Lautaro Martinez hit a perfect hat-trick and Romelu Lukaku sparkled as Inter defeated Crotone 6-2 at San Siro to turn up the heat on Milan at the start of 2021.

Inter moved top of Serie A at least until Milan's meeting with Benevento later on Sunday as they recovered from a testing first half to ease past their struggling visitors.

It was all square at the break after Martinez cancelled out Niccolo Zanellato's opener and was in close attendance for a Luca Marrone own goal prior to Vladimir Golemic's equalising penalty.

But Martinez completed his treble following the interval, while Lukaku, involved in the first four Nerazzurri goals, was also on target and Achraf Hakimi swept in the sixth in a fifth straight home win.

Only an apparent injury to the outstanding Lukaku put a slight dampener on a day that had started in laboured fashion.

Crotone struck first as a smart set-piece routine created an angle for Junior Messias to loft in a left-footed cross and find Zanellato all alone six yards out, able to head in via the post.

But Inter were level when Lukaku's excellent reverse pass set Martinez clear to fire right-footed beyond Alex Cordaz, and more fine work from the former Manchester United forward turned the game on its head.

Lukaku seized on Arturo Vidal's tackle in the midfield and fed Nicolo Barella, who was taken wide by a heavy touch but managed to cut the ball back for Marrone to stab into his own net in front of Martinez.

Vidal's next contribution was rather more rugged, however, as he stepped on Arkadiusz Reca's foot in the area to concede a spot-kick - awarded following a VAR review - which Golemic dispatched.

Martinez restored Inter's lead 12 minutes after half-time, keeping his cool on his left foot as Marcelo Brozovic prodded the ball on following a backheel from Lukaku, who got the goal he deserved soon enough, too.

The game's standout performer span away from Sebastiano Luperto and sold Cordaz a dummy to leave a simple finish, although he then indicated an issue with 15 minutes remaining and was quickly substituted.

Martinez remained on the pitch to nod in the rebound when Cordaz saved from Ivan Perisic, Lukaku's replacement, and Hakimi had the final say.
 

What does it mean? Your move, Rossoneri

Milan are the only remaining unbeaten team in Europe's 'top five' leagues but will have to maintain their pace to keep clear of Inter on this evidence.

The Nerazzurri have won five in a row at home in Serie A for the first time since 2018 and look a match for any opponent with Martinez and Lukaku in top form.

Landmark Lukaku looks the part

This was Lukaku's 50th Serie A appearance and his tally of 35 goals in that time has only been bettered by five players in the three-point era.

It was the front man's work as Inter's battering ram that was most impressive here, however, finishing with just a single assist from his only key pass but winning both his duels and holding the ball up brilliantly to create the space for Martinez to have seven attempts.

Marrone endures torrid time

Marrone's own goal under pressure from Martinez epitomised a dreadful outing for the former Juventus defender.

He might have found his own net again early in the second half and was a liability throughout despite weighing in with four clearances, three interceptions and a tackle.

Key Opta Facts

- Inter have won eight Serie A games in a row for the first time since December 2008.
- Inter have scored at least 40 goals in the first 15 Serie A games played for the first time since 1950-51 (45 in that case).
- Crotone have conceded at least six goals in a Serie A match for the first time in their history.
- Martinez's treble is the first perfect hat-trick from an Inter player since Mauro Icardi in March 2017 (vs Atalanta).

What's next?

There is no easing back into league action in 2021 as Inter are playing again as soon as Wednesday, visiting Sampdoria. Crotone host Roma the same day.

Lautaro Martinez hit a perfect hat-trick and Romelu Lukaku sparkled as Inter defeated Crotone 6-2 at San Siro to turn up the heat on Milan at the start of 2021.

Inter moved top of Serie A at least until Milan's meeting with Benevento later on Sunday as they recovered from a testing first half to ease past their struggling visitors.

It was all square at the break after Martinez cancelled out Niccolo Zanellato's opener and was in close attendance for a Luca Marrone own goal prior to Vladimir Golemic's equalising penalty.

But Martinez completed his treble following the interval, while Lukaku, involved in the first four Nerazzurri goals, was also on target and Achraf Hakimi swept in the sixth in a fifth straight win.

Only an apparent injury to the outstanding Lukaku put a slight dampener on a day that had started in laboured fashion.

 

Inter president Steven Zhang has denied rumours that he is looking to sell the Serie A giants.

Italian outlet Il Corriere dello Sport reported on Saturday that Rothschild Bank has a mandate to find new minority shareholders.

It was also claimed a full sale of the club was a possibility, but Inter have moved to dismiss the story with a statement posted on their official website.

"With regard to some speculation published today, with particular reference to the hypothesis of the sale of Inter, president Steven Zhang categorically denies what was wrongly reported and specifies that this is news without any basis," it read.

Chinese company Suning Holdings Group acquired a majority stake in Inter in June 2016, with Zhang replacing Erick Thohir as president in October 2018 at the age of 26.

Inter were runners-up in Serie A last season – their highest league finish since 2010-11 – and reached the final of the Europa League.

Jose Mourinho does not expect Tottenham to do much business in the January transfer window, while he was left frustrated by the postponement of Wednesday's scheduled match with Fulham.

Spurs brought in Matt Doherty, Pierre-Emile Hojbjerg, Joe Hart, Sergio Reguilon, Gareth Bale, Carlos Vinicius and Joe Rodon in the last transfer window, as Mourinho aimed to bolster his squad.

An 11-match unbeaten run following an opening day defeat to Everton seemingly put Spurs in the title race, though two successive losses and a draw in their previous three outings has seen Mourinho's team drop off the pace.

Dele Alli and Harry Winks have both been linked with moves away from Tottenham in the upcoming window, but Mourinho insists he is not expecting the club to be busy.

"Not expecting, no. Times are not easy," he told a news conference ahead of Saturday's clash with in-form Leeds United.

"The club made a big effort in the summer to try and build a good squad. Honestly, if something good happens to us it will be a big surprise for me.

"I don't feel the right to ask for something. One thing is to analyse, which of course I do. One thing is to commit to the analysis and write a report and be committed to that, which of course I do, because I have to be professional.

"Another thing is to demand, which I never do, and another thing is to ask [for a player], which I never do, because I respect the effort that the club has made."

Spurs do now have a game in hand following the postponement of their clash with Fulham, which was cancelled just hours before kick-off due to a coronavirus outbreak in the Cottagers' squad.

It is a decision that left Mourinho frustrated.

"I don't want to speak too much about it, just to say that it felt unprofessional, but that's the way it is, that's the way it was," he said.

"We were preparing ourselves for that match. Of course, we didn't play, and that is disruptive of what is a week of work.

"The training sessions before that, they would be different if we weren't going to play that game. People can say it is good that we didn't play.

"It would be good for me if we didn't play and I knew that we don't play, because then I could have a different cycle in the training sessions. But not to play, not to train how we would like in the days before, of course it doesn't help."

Asked if an element of fairness has been lost amid the disruption, Mourinho said: "It's a special season with special circumstances. I think we have to say that it is going to be fair. If we don't say that, it is better not to be involved, but I believe that even from before the season started, it was immediately in the wrong way.

"To start the season with clubs having a match in hand is immediately a wrong start, and the season started in September and only in the last week of December were we informed about when these matches would be played.

"Now it is not about just these matches, but a few more. There are lots of things that are not right, but it is what it is, what is possible to have. We have to say it's fair."

SKRINIAR THE SOLUTION FOR SPURS?

If Spurs were to move into the transfer window in January, then what areas of their squad would be the priority?

Spurs had just three attempts on target against Wolves, with their last coming in the 21st minute, but they have plenty of attacking talent. Vinicius was signed as a back-up to Harry Kane in 2020, though has played just 12 minutes of Premier League football. The Brazilian has netted three times in five Europa League appearances, however.

Further support in the forward areas comes from Bale, though the Welshman has struggled for fitness so far.

Hojbjerg and a revitalised Tanguy Ndombele have impressed in midfield, and though Sami Khedira has been linked, perhaps the biggest need for Spurs is in defence.

Tottenham have now dropped nine points this season due to conceding goals in the last 10 minutes of matches, the most of any side in the Premier League.

Milan Skriniar was reportedly a target in the close season, and the Inter defender is a commanding, composed presence.

He has tallied up 24 clearances and 15 tackles – more than any other central defender in Inter's squad – in 10 Serie A games this season, while he ranks joint-fourth in the team for interceptions (11).

Those clearance numbers would rank him behind just four Spurs players, though Tottenham's tendency to sit deep and allow crosses into their box perhaps skews those figures.

Last season, with 39 tackles, Skriniar ranked behind only Marcelo Brozovic (67) in Inter's squad, and Stefan de Vrij for clearances (83 compared to 115).

Inter midfielder Radja Nainggolan has returned to Cagliari on loan for the remainder of the 2020-21 Serie A campaign.

The 32-year-old has featured just five times for Inter in all competitions this term, each of those appearances coming from the bench.

He spent the duration of last season on loan at Cagliari, where he also played for four years earlier in his career, and has now returned to the Sardegna Arena.

In fact, since the start of the previous decade, no foreign player has played more times for the club in Serie A than the former Belgium international, who has made 157 appearances in Italy's top flight.

Cagliari confirmed the loan signing – which is not thought to contain the option of a permanent deal at the end of the campaign – on their official website on Thursday.

Nainggolan's time on the field in the first half of the campaign totalled just 43 minutes and the former Belgium international is now looking forward to playing regularly again.

"I'm happy to be here," he told reporters on Wednesday. "I want to rediscover the joy of playing football that was taken away from me in this first part of the year.

"The team is strong and competitive and with many promising young players.

"I've read many things but I can say I'm intact and can't wait to play. Will I stay permanently? I'm being moved left and right, so let's see."

Nainggolan, who scored six goals and provided seven assists in 26 league appearances last term, may only have played four times in Serie A this season but he made his impact felt.

No Inter player has attempted more passes per 90 minutes than the former Roma man's 85.5, with Andrea Ranocchia (81.14) and Marcelo Brozovic (80.41) next on the list.

He also tops the metric for the number of passes in the opposition half per 90 minutes (67.5), an average of 54 of those being successful, significantly more than Brozovic's 40.26.

Will Paul Pogba return to Turin?

Pogba's future at Manchester United is in doubt, with the World Cup-winning Frenchman reportedly looking to leave the Theatre of Dreams.

Juventus are keen to re-sign Pogba – who initially left United for the Italian giants in 2012 before returning to Manchester four years later.

 

TOP STORY – JUVE WANT POGBA REUNION

Signing Manchester United star Paul Pogba remains the dream for Juventus, according to Calciomercato.

Pogba is eyeing an Old Trafford exit amid growing links to former club Juve and LaLiga champions Real Madrid.

Juve are keen on reuniting with Pogba, though Sassuolo's Manuel Locatelli, Lyon star Houssem Aouar, Udinese midfielder Rodrigo De Paul and Roma sensation Nicolo Zaniolo are alternatives.

 

ROUND-UP

The past 12 months saw another Juventus title in Serie A, but 2020 comes to a close with Milan back in the trophy hunt at the top of the table.

Although the Rossoneri have not won the Scudetto since 2011, they lead the way through 14 matches heading into the new year.

Rivals Inter are a point further back, while Juve are back in sixth after losing their unbeaten record last time out against Fiorentina.

To mark the end of an intriguing year, Opta calculated a 'Top XI' for Serie A in 2020, including a host of big names - but notably missing one superstar.

GOALKEEPER: MARCO SILVESTRI

Hellas Verona have conceded just 14 goals so far this season and, across the year as a whole, Silvestri saved 74 per cent of the shots he faced, trailing only Juan Musso among keepers with at least 10 appearances.

DEFENDER: JUAN CUADRADO

Juventus' converted winger Cuadrado continues to display his attacking qualities from right-back. Among all defenders in 2020, he played the most passes into the opposition half (1,044) and trailed only Cristiano Biraghi (eight) for assists with a haul of seven.

DEFENDER: MATTHIJS DE LIGT

Lining up next to his Bianconeri team-mate, De Ligt has played a huge role in Juve's continued success. They won 65 per cent of their Serie A matches and conceded 1.0 goals per game with the Dutchman in the side in 2020, coming out on top just 36 per cent of the time while conceding 1.4 goals on average when he was missing.

DEFENDER: FRANCESCO ACERBI

Lazio's form has fallen away a little this season, but Acerbi is certainly not to blame. He recovered the ball 177 times in the league in 2020; Rafael Toloi (179) was the only centre-back to do so on more occasions.

DEFENDER: THEO HERNANDEZ

The first Milan entry unsurprisingly belongs to left-back Hernandez. He was directly involved in 11 goals (six goals, five assists) in 2020 and also completed the most successful dribbles in the competition (57).

MIDFIELDER: RODRIGO DE PAUL

De Paul has been linked with a host of clubs, including Inter, where another player in this list would surely thrive on his service. The Udinese midfielder played more accurate crosses (36) than anyone else in Serie A this year.

MIDFIELDER: FRANCK KESSIE

A key part of Milan's climb up the table, Kessie has been a dominant force in the middle of midfield. He recovered the ball 246 times in 2020, the most of any outfield player in the league.

MIDFIELDER: HAKAN CALHANOGLU

Once Kessie wins the ball, it is over to Calhanoglu to get Milan on the attack. He created 99 chances and provided 14 assists in 2020, both league highs.

FORWARD: ALEJANDRO GOMEZ

Talisman Papu Gomez looks set to leave Atalanta in January but starred again in what may prove to be his final full year in Bergamo. Complementing his creative talents, he led the press by winning possession 28 times in the final third of the pitch - ranking third in this regard.

FORWARD: ROMELU LUKAKU

Zlatan Ibrahimovic has been outstanding back at Milan, but he does not make the cut. Nor does Ciro Immobile. It is Inter striker Lukaku who leads the line after scoring 22 times in 2020, the most of any player to attempt fewer than 100 shots. Sixteen were from open play, behind only Cristiano Ronaldo and Immobile (both 17).

FORWARD: CRISTIANO RONALDO

Who else? Aged 35, Ronaldo scored 33 times in the league for Juve in 2020. Only Felice Borel (41 in 1933) and Gunnar Nordahl (36 in 1950) have ever topped that mark in Serie A.

Not content just to lead the Italian top flight, Ronaldo has the edge over Robert Lewandowski (32) across Europe's 'top five' leagues heading into the final matches of 2020. He scored the most goals across the continent in five calendar years between 2011 and 2019.

Lionel Messi is entering the final six months of his Barcelona contract. The end of an era is, potentially, in sight and that would usher in a strange new world, particularly for Barca and his possible next employers.

Messi declared his desire to leave Barcelona back in August, but the club and then-president Josep Maria Bartomeu stood firm – their talisman and most iconic player in the institution's modern history was reluctant to drag them through the courts.

Although his initial announcement came as a shock, in some ways it was entirely predictable. The turmoil engulfing Barca's hierarchy and their decision-making in the past few years looked destined to come to a head – there would be major consequences, and Messi leaving was always going to be the worst-case scenario.

The departure of Bartomeu and the likelihood of Joan Laporta being his successor certainly improve Barca's chances of keeping Messi, but as he heads into the final six months of a contract that ends on June 30 he can start to discuss free transfers with other clubs.

Messi leaving Barca appears a real possibility. What will determine his next destination? Romance? Trophies? Vengeance?

If it's the latter, we have a few tongue-in-cheek destinations in mind, however unlikely they may be…

Real Madrid

Imagine the chaos, the hysteria. If Barca have angered him so much, what better way to really get his own back on them? Moving to the Santiago Bernabeu would be a remarkable switch, the ultimate act of vengeance. Luis Figo had a pig's head thrown towards him when he returned to Camp Nou after joining Madrid – you can only wonder what reception would await Messi if he were to commit the cardinal sin of crossing that divide.

Stoke City

There is a running joke in England that Messi "wouldn't be able to do it on a wet and windy night in Stoke". It derives from pundit Andy Gray, who in 2010 claimed – without a hint of irony – that Messi would "struggle on a cold night at the Britannia Stadium". His comment became embellished, but was regularly used as a stick to beat Messi with by Premier League fans who wanted to accentuate the physicality of England's elite division. Based on the idea Stoke were scrappy and the city sees more than its fair share of bad weather, as well as the stadium's renown for being windy, it was seen as the Premier League's grimmest away trip. After earning millions every season for the past 15 years or so, why not take a modest deal to prove he can in fact do it on a wet and windy night in Stoke?

Inter

The player rivalry that has defined the past 13 years or so at the top of football has been Lionel Messi v Cristiano Ronaldo. During the latter's days at Real Madrid, the pair were involved in some of the most enthralling matchups in world football as they tussled in a host of Clasicos and often played decisive roles in LaLiga title races. But their rivalry didn't stop there – it extended to their domination of prestigious individual awards, such as the Ballon d'Or; Messi has six to Ronaldo's five. Why not rekindle that fire by joining Juve's rivals Inter? The Derby d'Italia could usurp El Clasico as the world's most-anticipated club game.

Borussia Dortmund

For all of Messi's apparent issues with the Barca board, it seems unlikely that he doesn't still love the club – after all, he was signed up as a 12-year-old. The 8-2 Champions League defeat to Bayern Munich back in August will have hurt. How better to get revenge than to move to Die Roten's arch-rivals Dortmund? He could be the final piece of the puzzle that finally overthrows Bayern's Bundesliga dominance.

Lionel Messi's days at Barcelona appear to be numbered, with the club captain and talisman heading into the final six months of his contract. 

As such, he can begin discussions with other clubs ahead of a potential free transfer once his contract expires on June 30. 

Messi, 33, set things in motion back in August when he rocked world football by publicly confirming his desire to leave the only club he has ever represented as a professional, and with whom he has won everything. 

Barca's surrender to Real Madrid in LaLiga's title race and the 8-2 thrashing at the hands of Bayern Munich in the Champions League appeared to be the final straw for Messi earlier this year, though the departure of president Josep Maria Bartomeu might have improved the club's chances of keeping him. 

Additionally, Joan Laporta is the favourite to succeed Bartomeu in next month's election, but if he cannot persuade Messi to stay then football looks set to see a move that will rank as one of the most seismic in the history of the sport. 

So, where could Messi end up next?

Newell's Old Boys

Messi's relationship with the public in Argentina has often been strained due to the fact he moved to Barca at the age of 13 and developed in their famous La Masia academy. But he started out at Newell's five years prior to that and a return to his hometown of Rosario would be an understandable move as he enters the latter stages of his career. Unrealistic? Perhaps, but it's a move all football romanticists would love to see.

Manchester City

While his form this term may have been somewhat disappointing by his usual standards, Messi undoubtedly still has the quality to play at the highest level. City, managed by former Barca boss Pep Guardiola, are said to have been looking into the feasibility of bringing the Argentina superstar to the Etihad Stadium. Media reports have suggested he could spend a few years in Manchester before then being sent to sister club New York City FC in MLS for the final seasons of his career. City are certainly one of a handful of clubs that could match Messi's huge wages, and there is a strong lure given the Blaugrana alumni running the show at City.

Paris Saint-Germain

PSG have been right at the forefront of this saga since the very start in August. Thomas Tuchel, since sacked of course, was asked about the possibility of signing Messi as early as his Champions League final post-match media duties. The Ligue 1 champions have never shied away from splashing the cash – they paid Barca a world record €222million for Neymar and shelled out €180m on Kylian Mbappe. If Messi wants to win another European crown before retiring, few clubs are better positioned to help him achieve that, and the chance to link up with Neymar again might be too good an opportunity to turn down.

Inter

Even before there was any doubt about Messi's future at Barca, Inter were the main club linked with an audacious attempt to sign the 33-year-old. The Suning Holdings Group ownership makes them one of the few clubs alongside City and PSG that have the financial capacity to offer him a sizeable contract, and they do appear to be getting back to the level expected of them since the arrival of Antonio Conte as coach. Links with Inter have cooled in recent months, but they cannot be ruled out yet. The chance to battle old foe Cristiano Ronaldo in Serie A may prove an enticing prospect, too.

Al-Sadd

Things could have gone very differently for Barca had club legend Xavi been handed the reins in January instead of Quique Setien. As it happened, the iconic former midfielder felt it was not the right time to return to Camp Nou and chose to remain at Al-Sadd. A link-up with his former team-mate in Qatar could be an option for Messi, though there is every chance Xavi finds himself back in Catalonia in the not-too-distant future.

Inter striker Romelu Lukaku has credited Jose Mourinho with turning him into more of a team player and sees similarities with Harry Kane's development at Tottenham.

Lukaku has been in fine form since joining Inter from Manchester United in August 2019, scoring 34 goals in 49 Serie A appearances.

That is a tally bettered only by Juventus forward Cristiano Ronaldo (43 goals in 43 games) and Lazio star Ciro Immobile (45 in 49) over the same period.

The 27-year-old's return of one Serie A goal every 116 minutes for Inter compares favourably to his one goal every 179 minutes for United across two Premier League seasons (28 goals in 66 matches).

But Lukaku is grateful to have worked under Mourinho at Old Trafford, with the Portuguese now getting the best out of Spurs talisman Kane, who has nine goals and 10 assists in 15 league games this term.

"Mourinho taught me to work better with the collective, both in terms of pressing and to position me better on the field," he told Sport/Voetbalmagazine. 

"Just look at what he's doing with Harry Kane now."

Lukaku was not in the final running for The Best FIFA Men's Player award this year, which was won by Bayern Munich striker Robert Lewandowski.

But with 15 goals in 18 appearances in all competitions for Inter this campaign, the Belgium international feels he is certainly among the top five best strikers in the world.

"Now? In the past five months, yes," he said. "I don't want to rank that from one to five, but I'm a part of it right now."

Lukaku is now playing under Antonio Conte and is often partnered with Lautaro Martinez in attack for an Inter side one point off top spot in Serie A.

Inter scored 108 goals in all competitions in 2020 - their joint-most in a single calendar year since 1929-30 - while their 34 goals in 14 Serie A games this season are their most at this stage of a campaign since netting the same number in 1960-61.

Lukaku and Martinez have combined for 17 of those league goals in 2020-21, and the former United man was always confident he could strike up a strong partnership with the Argentina international.

"Before I arrived here, I watched some Inter matches and sometimes saw Lautaro only in the front," he said. 

"I immediately felt it could click if they put us in the rush together. Sometimes it's his day, other times it's mine. If you accept that, everything will be fine."

Lukaku added: "I used to find myself most dangerous when I was facing the target. I am fast, can eliminate my direct opponent with a dribble, or swerve to the left but also to the right. 

"That was my game in the past, also because I was often in teams that bet on the counter-attack. But the national team has obliged me to adjust my playing style.

"With Belgium, we quickly became the team with the most ball possession that got the least space. Roberto Martinez did everything he could to make me feel more comfortable with my back to goal, both with the national team and Everton back then. 

"At the age of 20, I still had a lot to learn, but I soon realised that if I would train on that aspect, I could do what I wanted in a match."

Thomas Tuchel's tenure as Paris Saint-Germain head coach is all but over.

Tuchel will reportedly be replaced by Mauricio Pochettino, despite leading PSG to Ligue 1 glory last season and the Champions League final.

Can former PSG defender Pochettino help the French giants conquer Europe?

 

TOP STORY – POCH SET FOR PSG

Mauricio Pochettino has agreed terms to take charge of Ligue 1 champions Paris Saint-Germain, according to Fabrizio Romano.

Thomas Tuchel's sacking is set to be announced after striking a deal with PSG to leave immediately – the compensation worth €6million, reports Bild.

Former Tottenham manager Pochettino is now poised to return to PSG, where he played between 2001 and 2003.

 

ROUND-UP

Diego Costa has requested to leave Atletico Madrid in January, claims Diario AS and Marca. If Costa is unable to depart during the next window, the veteran striker will farewell Atletico on a free transfer at season's end.

Wolves have joined the chase to sign Real Madrid outcast Luka Jovic, says The Athletic. Wolves are keen to bolster their attack following Raul Jimenez's serious injury and Jovic has emerged as a loan option for the Premier League side. Milan have also been heavily linked with the Serbia international.

Georginio Wijnaldum wants time to reflect on Liverpool's contract offer, reports Fabrizio Romano. Wijnaldum is set to become a free agent amid links to Barca.

- The Mirror reports Arsenal are circling for Brighton and Hove Albion full-back Tariq Lamptey should Hector Bellerin depart for Barcelona. Lamptey has been linked to Manchester City and Bayern Munich.

Sevilla are eyeing a January swoop for Marseille star Florian Thauvin, according to Andaluz Estadio Deportivo. Milan have also been tracking the Frenchman.

- Corriere dello Sport says Juventus and Inter remain keen on signing Udinese's Rodrigo De Paul. Meanwhile, Ilbianconeri claims Juve have been offered Arsenal outcast Mesut Ozil.

Manchester United remain in contact with Moises Caicedo's agents to sign the Independiente del Valle sensation, says Romano. The 19-year-old Ecuadorian midfielder wants to move to Old Trafford.

What does the future hold for Phil Foden?

Foden is highly rated at Manchester City, but he is struggling for regular game time.

Could Real Madrid prise the Englishman to the Santiago Bernabeu?

 

TOP STORY – LOS BLANCOS EYE FODEN

LaLiga champions Real Madrid are ready to pounce for Manchester City's Phil Foden, according to the Mirror.

City sensation Foden has been struggling for regular game time under manager Pep Guardiola, starting just five of his 10 Premier League appearances this season.

Madrid have emerged as serious suitors for the 20-year-old sensation and there is a growing belief that he could be prised to the Spanish capital.

 

ROUND-UP

Arsenal are considering a move for Borussia Dortmund winger Julian Brandt, reports The Athletic. Out of favour at Dortmund this season, Arsenal manager Mikel Arteta is reportedly keen to reinforce his struggling side in January.

Manchester United could send Donny van de Beek to Inter on loan as they look to bring in Christian Eriksen from the Serie A side, claims Calciomercato. Eriksen is set to leave Inter in January and the Danish midfielder has been linked to Arsenal and Paris Saint-Germain.

- As question marks grow over Samir Handanovic, Calciomercato says Inter are considering Udinese goalkeeper Juan Musso as a successor to the long-serving Nerazzurri star.

Madrid are confident of re-signing veteran star Luka Modric, according to Fabrizio Romano. It comes as Madrid still try to negotiate a new contract with captain and soon-to-be free agent Sergio Ramos, who has been linked to the likes of Juventus, PSG, United and City. Modric has previously been a target for Inter and Milan.

Luka Jovic would not be against a return to Eintracht Frankfurt but the out-of-favour Madrid forward is eyeing Milan, reports Calciomercato.

Arturo Vidal has claimed his former club Juventus, rather than leaders Milan, represent the greatest threat to Inter getting their hands on the Scudetto.

The Milan giants were first and second heading into the Serie A winter break, with Inter just a point behind their San Siro rivals.

Defending champions Juventus stood a further nine points back, albeit with a game in hand, after a painful defeat to Fiorentina last Wednesday halted their unbeaten run in the league.

Vidal enjoyed four highly successful years at Juventus from 2011 to 2015, winning the Serie A title in each of his four seasons as the Bianconeri began their reign of dominance.

This season sees Juventus attempt to clinch a 10th successive league crown, but all the signs point to their task being more difficult than in recent campaigns.

Andrea Pirlo is bedding in as head coach, and six draws in their opening 13 games have seen Juve drop off the pace.

It means Milan can go after a first title since 2010-11, while Inter last landed the silverware a year earlier. 

Still, it would be rash to exclude Juventus from the title conversation, with Vidal wary of their threat.

"Juventus are the most dangerous opponents," Vidal told Sky Sport Italia.

"They are strong, they have faith in what they do, they have been winning for nine years but they never want to be satisfied and they have everything to confirm themselves as the strongest team again this year. But for our part we have confidence in the work we are doing."

Vidal has been reunited this season with his former Juventus boss Antonio Conte, who led the Turin giants to a hat-trick of Scudetto successes before leaving to coach Italy.

The Chilean midfielder sees Conte's Nerazzurri being ready to sustain their early challenge and avoid the downturn in results that saw them fall away in the 2019-20 campaign.

Winning their final three games of last season saw Inter finish just one point behind Juventus, but the title had been wrapped up with two games to spare.

"Last year Inter were close to winning the Scudetto," Vidal said. "They were a young team that worked hard, but made mistakes in decisive moments, matches in which you cannot make any missteps.

"This year we must be careful, concentrate, it's a difficult moment but we all have to get the most out of it and make fewer mistakes than last year to reach our goal, which is the Scudetto."

Vidal has yet to deliver his best form for Inter and the 33-year-old feels he is still finding his way, saying that "little by little I will reach my classic position".

Across his four championship seasons at Juventus, Vidal scored 35 goals, had 20 assists and created a total of 199 chances for others.

In 12 Serie A games for Inter, his numbers show no goals yet, one assist and eight chances created.

His tackle success rate this term is only 50 per cent too, whereas it was above 70 per cent in each of his four campaigns at Juve, and as high as 83.91 in his final campaign there.

Vidal knows Conte has his back, having spoken about the possibility of reuniting since before he was signed from Barcelona in September.

He added: "I had this opportunity and I said, 'Yes, I want to follow you and do my best to win together again'."

Milan maintained ensured they will end 2020 atop Serie A as Theo Hernandez's stoppage-time goal secured a 3-2 win over Lazio at San Siro on Wednesday.

Stefano Pioli's side wasted little time stamping their authority on the game, racing into a two-goal lead inside 17 minutes courtesy of Ante Rebic's header and Hakan Calhanoglu's penalty.

Luis Alberto and Ciro Immobile – who had a spot-kick saved prior to the Spaniard's goal – restored parity by finding the net either side of the interval, but Hernandez powered home from a corner in the 92nd minute to dramatically seal the three points for the Rossoneri.

The result restored Milan's one-point lead at the Serie A summit after neighbours Inter had temporarily leapfrogged them following a 2-1 win over Hellas Verona earlier in the day.

 

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