Lautaro Martinez declared Inter showed their true colours in Sunday's 3-0 derby victory over Milan at San Siro.

The Nerazzurri moved four points clear at the top of Serie A thanks to a double from Martinez and Romelu Lukaku's 23rd goal of the season in all competitions.

Lukaku crossed for his strike partner to nod in after only five minutes and each of them scored after the interval to put the game beyond Milan's reach.

Having been eliminated from European competition in December and beaten in the Coppa Italia semi-finals by Juventus, the Scudetto remains Inter's only hope for silverware in 2020-21.

Martinez is now determined to end the club's 11-year wait to become champions of Italy again.

"This is what we are: we're united, we work every day to give our best and to reach as high as we can, and today we proved it," Martinez told DAZN.

"We run and fight together; you can see it on the pitch. We have suffered a lot this year: two eliminations from the Coppa Italia and the Champions League. This [Serie A] is the only goal left and we're fighting for it. We're happy to be ahead of everyone else."

Lukaku became the first Inter player since Benito Lorenzi in 1950 to score in four consecutive league derbies against Milan.

Martinez believes the Belgium international can still get better as he aims to win a first club trophy since the Belgian Pro League with Anderlecht in 2010.

"Lukaku can improve a lot," Martinez said. "He's 27 years old, he works and he makes himself available to his team-mates. He's a great person on and off the pitch and we're happy to have him with us."

Inter were mostly in control of the contest but were indebted to goalkeeper Samir Handanovic in the first three minutes of the second half, as he twice denied Zlatan Ibrahimovic in quick succession before tipping a Sandro Tonali shot over the bar.

"Handanovic is always ready. We're happy because, when we need him, he always responds," Martinez said.

"We also should have been more focused [early in the second half], but we're happy to have played a good game and to have got three points."

Franck Kessie had touched the ball only five times before Milan fell behind to Inter at San Siro.

The midfielder proclaimed beforehand that the Rossoneri had no reason to be fearful going into the 174th Milan derby in Serie A history. Far from it. "We'll win the derby and return to the top of the table," he told La Gazzetta dello Sport. "We're a group that has grown through difficulty. We believe in the Scudetto."

That pre-match optimism vanished after those first five minutes on Sunday. So, too, did the sense that this Milan really do believe they can end a 10-year wait to win Serie A. With one swing of Romelu Lukaku's left foot – his crossing remains a hugely underappreciated skill – Lautaro Martinez had an easy header and Inter had it all in their hands: the momentum, the match, and the title race.

Inter now lead the standings by four points, with 14 matches to go, after this 3-0 rout. While that hardly seems an unbridgeable gap, the Nerazzurri have for some time looked the strongest contenders: since exiting European competition in December, they have failed to win just five of 17 games in all competitions, while they have only lost once in the league since Milan won the reverse fixture last October.

Sporting director Piero Ausilio has assembled an experienced squad at great expense, with each arrival tailored to Antonio Conte's exacting standards. It took time, and no little public squabbling, but the Inter boss has finally crafted the sort of team that was expected of him: a powerful, purring results machine.

They were in charge from the moment Martinez planted his header past Gianluigi Donnarumma. They tightened up, harried Hakan Calhanoglu, and broke at speed, and it could easily have been 2-0 or 3-0 before half-time. With a little under half an hour left, it was, as Martinez's poacher's finish and Lukaku's awesome run and strike killed the game stone dead.

In many respects, this result should not have come as a shock. Inter are further down the road towards a restoration of past glories, while Milan have been overachieving for the past year. That they came into this contest just a point off the lead was mostly down to a spectacular run that had long surpassed sustainability. They lost twice in Serie A in the whole of 2020, saw a 27-game unbeaten run only ended by champions Juventus last month and reached the halfway stage of the season with 43 points, their best tally in 60 years.

If it's a surprise that Milan have lost four league games already in 2021, it's only because Stefano Pioli has spent much of the past year defying expectations, imbuing players with the sort of confidence that led to Kessie's unfortunate prediction.

Things could have been different here had it not been for a five-minute masterclass from Samir Handanovic, who twice saved implausibly from Zlatan Ibrahimovic and then tipped a Sandro Tonali strike over just after the interval. But for the 36-year-old's heroics, Milan's early second-half pressure may have given Inter a game to chase, instead of giving them the freedom of the final third to pick through on the counter.

So it was that Lukaku's nerve-settling goal was cheered by the Inter bench almost as loudly as a trophy win. The smiles and high-fives followed; Christian Eriksen was positively beaming as he went off after 78 minutes, his transformation from invisible to undroppable now complete. It showed what Inter know to be true: Serie A is their sole remaining commitment this season and it's firmly under their control.

Inter moved four points clear at the Serie A summit thanks to a resounding 3-0 derby triumph over faltering rivals Milan on Sunday.

Lautaro Martinez scored twice and Romelu Lukaku was also on target, helping Antonio Conte's in-form side make it five wins in their past six league outings to take a firm grip on the title race in Italy.

This was the first time since April 2011 that the city rivals had met when occupying the top two positions in the table, with that season finishing with Milan crowned as champions.

A repeat for the Rossoneri looks increasingly unlikely as their worrying dip in form continued, though they were somewhat unfortunate to come up against a goalkeeper in supreme form.

Samir Handanovic twice repelled Zlatan Ibrahimovic in quick succession early in the second half before Martinez's second goal of the contest, with Lukaku then putting an emphatic seal on the victory in the 66th minute.

However, it was Martinez who had crucially headed Inter in front inside five minutes. Lukaku initially saw his attempted low cross blocked, but a second, floated delivery picked out his team-mate to head past Gianluigi Donnarumma, making his 200th Serie A appearance.

Milan were grateful Lukaku did not take a glorious opportunity before the break, the Belgian striker failing to apply the finishing touch to Ivan Perisic's inviting cross as he missed the ball completely.

Stefano Pioli's team started the second half with a flurry of opportunities; Handanovic spectacularly turned away an Ibrahimovic header at a corner before producing a point-blank block to again deny the Swede when the ball came back into the penalty area.

Inter's captain also pushed a rising drive from Sandro Tonali over the crossbar, maintaining a lead they soon doubled when a clinical counter-attacking move allowed Perisic to pick out Martinez, who fired in with his left foot.

Lukaku put the game well beyond Milan with a fine solo effort, finishing a powerful run from deep in Milan's half with a low shot that flashed beyond Donnarumma. In doing so, he became the first Inter player to score in four successive Serie A derbies since 1950.

Milan goalkeeper Gianluigi Donnarumma has reached the notable milestone of 200 Serie A appearances, shattering a record in the process.  

Donnarumma made it to his double century when starting in the derby against Inter on Sunday, with San Siro hosting a pivotal battle between the top two in the table.  

At 21 years and 361 days, the Italy international is comfortably the youngest to achieve the feat in the competition since the switch to three points for a win in 1994-95.

The great Gianluigi Buffon (24 years and 83 days) previously held the record.  

Donnarumma was handed his league debut at 16 by then-Milan boss Sinisa Mihajlovic in October 2015. He has saved 73.09 per cent of the shots faced during his career in the Italian top flight, as well as also keeping out eight penalties.  

When compared to fellow keepers who have played in at least 10 Serie A games this season, only Lukasz Skorupski (73.26) at Bologna and Genoa's Mattia Perin (72.41) can better Donnarumma's save percentage of 72.15. 

However, his long-term future at Milan still remains unclear. Head coach Stefano Pioli recently said he remains confident the player will reach an agreement over a new deal before his current terms expire in June.

The 174th Milan derby in Serie A saw the rivals go into the contest occupying the top two spots in the standings for the first time since April 2011. The Rossoneri won 3-0 on that occasion and went on to finish the season as champions. 

Real Madrid, Manchester United, Barcelona, Manchester City, Chelsea and Juventus.

Europe's elite are lining up to sign Erling Haaland, but who will he join?

Whoever it is, Haaland is set to command a mammoth contract.

 

TOP STORY – HAALAND ASKING FOR LUCRATIVE DEAL

Borussia Dortmund star Erling Haaland wants a contract in the region of £78million (€90m) as speculation intensifies over his future, according to the Daily Star.

Haaland is a player in demand following his exploits for Bundesliga side Dortmund, linked with the likes of Real Madrid, Manchester United, Barcelona, Manchester City, Chelsea and Juventus.

The report claims Haaland wants a five-year deal worth around £300,000 (€346,000) per week.

 

ROUND-UP

- Should Kylian Mbappe leave for Madrid, Ligue 1 champions Paris Saint-Germain want to replace him with Tottenham star Harry Kane, claims the Mirror.

- Bild says Chelsea, Liverpool and United are interested in signing RB Leipzig defender Ibrahima Konate. His centre-back partner Dayot Upamecano is set to join Bayern Munich at the end of the season, having been linked with the Premier League's elite.

Liverpool are preparing a £40m bid for Brighton and Hove Albion defender Ben White, reports Football Insider. Jurgen Klopp is desperate to bolster his injury-hit defence amid a difficult 2020-21 campaign.

- The Daily Mail says United are considering a move for Everton youngster Jarrad Branthwaite. The 18-year-old defender has impressed since joining the Toffees.

Leipzig lead the race to sign Ajax sensation Brian Brobbey, according to Diario AS. United, Milan and Bayern have also been linked.

Milan and Inter target Odilon Kossounou – who plays for Club Brugge - is also wanted by Premier League duo Arsenal and Wolves, claims The Sun.

- Calciomercato reports Juventus are eyeing Leicester City winger Timothy Castagne, who arrived from Atalanta at the start of the season.

Stefano Pioli and Antonio Conte are relishing the prospect of a possible Scudetto shoot-out in Sunday's Derby della Madonnina.

Inter lead Milan by one point at the Serie A summit heading into this weekend's showdown after leapfrogging their bitter rivals last week.

With nine-in-a-row champions Juventus eight points adrift of top spot, albeit with a game in hand to play, the title is looking likely to end up at San Siro this season.

Milan are seeking a first Scudetto since 2011, a year after Inter last prevailed, and Sunday's game may go a long way towards determining who finishes top come the end of the campaign.

It is the first time the sides will meet holding the top two positions in the table since April 2011 and Conte is expecting a unique derby in the behind-closed-doors contest.

"It will be different to the previous derbies because of the teams' high positions - first and second," Conte said at a news conference on Saturday.

"This is very satisfying for the city of Milan. There is a lot at stake, certainly more than just local pride.

"We have to do our best to win the game and stay top of the table. It is an important match. When the table is like this you need to be even more determined."

Milan beat Inter 2-1 in October and are seeking a league double over their city rivals for the first time since 2010-11.

However, Inter won last month's eventful Coppa Italia quarter-final tie by the same scoreline and Pioli is anticipating a cagey affair in this latest tussle.

"Tomorrow we will play a derby like we have not seen for many years, with a lot on the line," Pioli told reporters.

"Both us and Inter have a clear identity. The derbies are always balanced matches with many goalscoring opportunities.

"It is not necessarily decisive for the fate of the championship, but it is important because we have been in the lead all season."

The big talking point from the most recent meeting between the sides was the coming together of Zlatan Ibrahimovic and Romelu Lukaku.

But Conte, who won three titles during his time in charge of Juventus, does not believe tempers will flare this time around.

"It's going to be a match with two teams trying to win and surpass each other," Conte said.

"We must never forget that, even if this is a big game and a derby, it remains a sport. I don't predict much tension in the atmosphere.

Ibrahimovic has scored 10 goals in all competitions in this fixture, including eight for Milan, and Pioli would not swap his striker for Inter star Lukaku.

"I respect Lukaku, but I prefer Ibra," Pioli said. "Tomorrow's game must be a collective effort; we must play as a team. It is the collective that highlights the qualities of the individual.

"We have to play well because we know how to do it, we have the technical qualities."

Asked how his Inter side plan to deal with Ibrahimovic, Conte said: "You neutralise threats by working as a team and reducing the errors.

"Ibrahimovic is a top player who is doing very well for Milan. He has already scored against us this season, but that doesn't necessarily mean he will score again."

Milan have lost three league games since the start of 2021 - one more than over the whole of 2020 - and were held 2-2 by Red Star Belgrade in the Europa League on Thursday.

Pioli, who has constantly played down his side's title aspirations, accepted an improvement is required on the back of some below-par displays.

"We did not raise our levels against Red Star - even the defensive phase did not see us as solid and compact," he said.

"Tomorrow we must be very careful and determined. Our goal is to give the best, then we'll see what we've achieved at the end of the season."

Milan midfielder Franck Kessie has declared the Rossoneri will win Sunday's derby against Serie A leaders Inter.

The 174th Milan derby in Serie A history will be the first since April 2011 that sees the two teams occupying the top two spots in the table.

That game ended in a 3-0 win for Milan that helped to propel them to their most recent Scudetto triumph, but Inter have the form heading into the latest contest: they have won four of the previous five encounters and are a point clear at the top of the table after winning 12 of their previous 15 league games.

Stefano Pioli's side have lost three times in seven Serie A matches, as many as in their previous 41, and this year have already surpassed the two league losses they suffered in the whole of 2020.

Still, Kessie is in no doubt about their chances of moving back to the top with a victory at San Siro.

"There are still a lot of games left. And even if it seems there are lots of difficulties, we'll win the derby and return to the top of the table," he told La Gazzetta dello Sport.

"We're a group that has grown through difficulty. We believe in the Scudetto. Everyone knows that, in Italy, you can beat the leaders and lose against the side bottom of the table. You don't have to be worried."

Zlatan Ibrahimovic has scored 10 times in Milan derbies, with eight of those goals coming for Milan, including three in their two meetings this season.

The veteran striker netted twice in the 2-1 win in October in the reverse league fixture and opened the scoring in the Coppa Italia quarter-final last month, but he was then sent off in a game Milan went on to lose 2-1.

Kessie, though, is backing his team-mate to step up and take a penalty against his old club if the chance comes his way.

"If there's a penalty, Ibra will take it. And he'll be happy with the result," Kessie said.

"From a technical point of view, he is unsurpassed. As a team-mate, he always gives you something more. You don't often find champions with this personality."

Kessie has developed into a key part of Pioli's plans. The 24-year-old has played 31 times in all competitions in 2020-21 and won a combined 150 tackles and duels, the most of any midfielder at the club.

Kessie's leadership on the pitch has helped him to earn the nickname of 'the president' – although he revealed there is another side to that story.

He explained: "I once arrived at Milanello and parked in [former CEO Ivan] Gazidis' spot. They told me I couldn't park there, and I replied, 'What's the problem? I'm the new CEO of Milan'."

Sunday's Milan derby will be unlike any seen for much of the past decade: a battle between two genuine Scudetto contenders.

Inter head into the game, the 174th league meeting with their city rivals, at the top of Serie A. They are just a point above Milan, with 16 rounds remaining, after a run of 12 wins in 15 games.

The last time these sides met in the top flight while occupying the top two positions in the table was back in April 2011, when a 3-0 win for the Rossoneri helped propel them to their most recent title.

Much of the focus will be on star strikers Romelu Lukaku and Zlatan Ibrahimovic. They scored all three goals in Milan's win in the reverse fixture and clashed on the pitch in the Nerazzurri's more recent Coppa Italia triumph.

However, according to esteemed former Milan coach Arrigo Sacchi, the real star of the show might be found in Inter's midfield.

"Those looking for the prototype of the modern footballer should look at Nicolo Barella and they will be satisfied," Sacchi said in his column for La Gazzetta dello Sport.

"The Inter player plays for the team and with the team, he attacks and defends, attacks with courage and fights to win the ball back.

"I've been following Barella since he was a kid. He came into Italy's youth teams when I was the Azzurri's technical director. He was not a phenomenon, he was physically frail, he did not have an incredible technique, yet he managed to reach very high levels.

"This shows that at the base of any successful career there is always hard work, training, the spirit of sacrifice and the desire to improve day after day."

For Sacchi, Barella represents the paragon of the modern player. But what makes him so effective?

BOX-TO-BOX BRILLIANCE

Barella is enjoying the best season of his career in terms of goal involvements, with three scored and eight assisted in 32 games in all competitions. Only five Serie A midfielders have been directly involved in more goals.

The 24-year-old has created 42 chances from open play across all competitions this term, only Milan playmaker Hakan Calhanoglu (44) has more among players in Italy's top flight, while Barella has also completed 469 passes ending in the final third, the highest number of any midfield player among Italy's top-tier sides.

Of course, as part of a three-man central midfield under Antonio Conte, creating opportunities is not enough (just ask Christian Eriksen). And, as Sacchi pointed out, Barella's impact is equally impressive when it comes to keeping the opposition away from your own goal.

He is third among Serie A midfielders for tackles won in 2020-21 (35, behind Adrien Rabiot and Marten de Roon), and third for duels won (175, behind Juraj Kucka and Sergej Milinkovic-Savic). That's a continuation of combative play honed at Cagliari, where, in his final two seasons, he was top of the league's midfield rankings with 480 duels won.

 

"COURAGE"

Sacchi spoke glowingly of Barella's bravery, of how an unassuming youngster developed into Serie A's most influential midfielder so early in his career.

He's right – there's a boldness to Barella's play that sets him apart.

In Serie A this season, he has completed 87 progressive carries in which the ball was moved between five and 10 metres up the pitch, which is the most of any attacking midfielder in the league. Twelve of his carries have ended in a chance being created, the fourth-best tally among players in his position.

These kinds of plays help Inter keep possession and limit the risk of losing the ball in dangerous areas. Indeed, Conte's side have faced only 18 shot-ending high turnovers of possession in Serie A this term, the lowest figure in the league, while only Napoli (230) and Juventus (212) have faced fewer pressed sequences than the Nerazzurri (232).

Once in more promising positions, Barella is still the man pulling the strings. His tally of shot build-up involvements – a measure of a player's involvement in sequences ending in a team-mate's shot on goal or chance created – stands at 60, the most of any attacking midfielder in the league.

Looking at sequences where players are involved in the build-up and also create the chance at the end, Barella is third in the division for his position with eight, just two behind Lorenzo Insigne and Ruslan Malinovskiy.

 

CONTE'S LIEUTENANT

Barella's eagerness to be at the heart of matters on the pitch extends to when Inter don't have the ball – at both ends of the pitch.

As well as being third among midfielders this term for tackles and duels won, Barella is fifth for regaining possession, having done so 168 times. When it comes to winning back the ball in the final third, he is top of the pile with 26 (both across all comps).

This, too, helps to set the tone for Inter's approach. In Serie A in 2020-21, they have made 190 high turnovers, a tally bettered only by Gian Piero Gasperini's Atalanta pressing machine (251). Plus, only Atalanta (129) and Juve (128) have had fewer high turnovers against them than Inter (130). It's an impressive combination, and Barella is integral to it.

As Sacchi said: "A detail that is far from negligible is the desire to put the group at the top of one's thoughts and, in this way self-centeredness, a disease of modern football, is fought and defeated.

"Barella is proving to be a driving force."

 

Stefano Pioli insists Milan are focusing only on the first leg of their Europa League tie with Red Star Belgrade, despite a huge derby with Inter coming up this weekend.

The Rossoneri have slipped off top spot in Serie A, with Saturday's surprise loss away to Spezia allowing their city rivals to take over at the summit. 

Next up in the league is a showdown with Inter at San Siro on Sunday, though not before Milan travel to Belgrade to continue a European campaign that began way back in mid-September of last year. 

Milan had to come through qualifying in the Europa League, needing a penalty shoot-out success over Rio Ave to make it to the group stage, and Pioli is determined to extend their run beyond the last 32. 

"No one can ever forget all the joy and emotions brought by the win against Rio Ave, so we have to put on the pitch this joy and these emotions on Thursday," Pioli told the media ahead of Thursday's game against Red Star.

"We want to amaze in this competition too.  

"We have lots of games ahead, all even more important and decisive, with the two legs of the last-32 tie being a knockout round.   

"The coming Serie A games will be equally important with 16 games to go until the end of the league, plus, hopefully, we have 8-10 games left to play in the Europa League.  

"Now is the moment to prove we're up to the task – but we have the quality to do so, with the desire to go to the end of both competitions."

Even with the setback against Spezia, Milan are on course to achieve their target of securing Champions League qualification through a top-four finish in Serie A.

The Europa League also offers an alternative route, so Pioli has no plans to prioritise one competition over the other at this stage of a demanding campaign.

"We're a team with a young average age and we need at certain stages to show our qualities, to grow and better understand situations that are different," he said.

"Even (technical director and club legend) Paolo Maldini not long ago stated that Milan needs two consecutive seasons in the Champions League to get back to its high standards. This is our objective. 

"To achieve that, we can either win the Europa League or finish in the top four of the league. This is what we are focused on – and we will fight until the end to achieve it."

Demonstrating his commitment to the tie, Pioli has included Zlatan Ibrahimovic in the squad to travel to Belgrade, while Ante Rebic is also included after missing the Spezia defeat through injury.

Milan are looking to win three consecutive matches in a major UEFA European competition for the first time since a four-game streak between September and November 2008.

Romelu Lukaku answered any recent criticism aimed in his direction against Lazio and Christian Eriksen is starting to understand what Inter require of him, says Nerazzurri coach Antonio Conte.

Inter bowed out of the Coppa Italia at the semi-final stage after a goalless draw at Juventus ensured a 2-1 aggregate defeat, but a 3-1 triumph over Lazio on Sunday saw Conte's side leapfrog rivals Milan at the top of Serie A.

Lukaku scored twice in the first half to move on to 300 career goals, and Lautaro Martinez was on target after Gonzalo Escalante had replied for the visitors at San Siro.

Speaking about the Belgium striker's showing, Conte told Sky Sport: "Romelu, like the whole team, gave a great response. Lautaro did, so did Ivan Perisic, the defenders, Marcelo Brozovic. They all stepped up.

"Some were starting to murmur about Lukaku after the Coppa Italia and a few lacklustre performances, suggesting he had some psychological blowback from that, but there are moments when you are not at 100 per cent.

"He came back firing on all cylinders and we need this Romelu. We need this determination and passion from everyone in the team."

Eriksen signed from Tottenham amid much fanfare in January 2020 but struggled to hit the ground running and was heavily linked with an exit last month.

However, the Denmark playmaker stayed put and has since impressed, something Conte puts down to becoming familiar with the requirements of Italian football.

"I think Christian had a few problems settling in, understanding Italian football, which is very difficult and tactical compared to the Premier League. There is also a far greater intensity now than in previous years here," Conte added.

"We tried in every way to settle him in, even changing tactical system. I think now he has made a step towards us, is starting to understand Italian, which is an important development too. He is understanding what we need.

"Eriksen was very focused when defending as well as attacking. He has a different power to his leg now after the fitness work.

"He's an extra option for us and I am more comfortable relying on him now."

Next up for Inter is a huge derby clash with Milan, a match that is sure to have huge ramifications on the outcome of the Scudetto.

Conte is relishing the challenge after seeing off a Lazio side that had won six straight league games.

"This was an objective we'd been chasing for a long time, to get to the top of the table, we achieved it after a game against a very strong team," he added.

"I congratulate Lazio and Simone Inzaghi, as they are tough, organised and with a lot of quality.

"The fact they were coming off six consecutive victories shows their strength, but at the same time it shows our mental strength.

"I am happy for the lads, inevitably this must be a starting point for us and not the finish line. We know the next game is the derby with Milan, going into it ahead is obviously much better.

"It's going to be a fascinating game between two teams who have strong ambitions."

Romelu Lukaku scored twice and assisted another to help Inter to a 3-1 win over Lazio that lifted Antonio Conte's men above bitter rivals Milan to the top of Serie A.

Milan's shock 2-0 loss to Spezia on Saturday opened the door for Inter and they pounced at San Siro on Sunday, taking a one-point lead into next weekend's huge Derby della Madonnina.

Lazio were furious with the awarding of Inter's 22nd-minute penalty as replays appeared to show Wesley Hoedt, drafted in after Stefan Radu was injured in the warm-up, got some of the ball before taking out Lautaro Martinez.

Lukaku converted and added a second ahead of half-time with the assistance of VAR, before teeing up Martinez to seal the points after Gonzalo Escalante had given Lazio some temporary hope.

There had been little between the sides prior to the controversial penalty call, with the VAR standing by referee Michael Fabbri's decision to point to the spot for Hoedt's challenge on Martinez.

Lukaku sent Pepe Reina the wrong way to extend his perfect penalty record in Serie A to 10 from 10, and the Belgium international did not have to wait long for the landmark 300th career goal for club and country.

It had an element of fortune about it as Marcelo Brozovic slid in on Manuel Lazzari and the ball ricocheted into the striker's path, though it took a lengthy VAR check to ascertain that Lukaku was level with the last man when the initial pass was played.

Lazio had found the net in each of their past 17 league outings, however, and they kept that run going when Sergej Milinkovic-Savic's free-kick heavily deflected off substitute Escalante and beat Samir Handanovic on his 500th Serie A appearance.

But just when the visitors had some momentum on their side, Lukaku charged down the right, held off Marco Parolo and unselfishly squared the ball for Martinez to tap into an empty net.

Reina denied Lukaku a hat-trick with a good save down low but Inter, knocked out of the Coppa Italia by Juventus in midweek, retained their two-goal cushion to move to the summit.

Romelu Lukaku scored twice in the first half of Inter's Serie A clash with Lazio on Sunday to bring up the 300th goal of his career.

The Belgium striker opened the scoring from the penalty spot at San Siro and added a second late in the opening period - the goal allowed to stand after initially being ruled out for offside.

Lukaku moved onto 56 goals for Inter in all competitions since joining from Manchester United in August 2019, 16 of those coming in the league this season.

That is one fewer than the 27-year-old has scored for his national side at senior level, though he still has some way to go before equalling the 87 netted for Everton between 2013 and 2017.

Lukaku's other goals were scored for United (42), Anderlecht (41) and West Brom (17). He failed to register for Chelsea, despite spending three years on the London club's books - two of those out on loan - and making 15 appearances.

Lazio can win Serie A's Scudetto race this season according to Christian Vieri, who lauded Simone Inzaghi's "amazing" team.

Spearheaded by highly rated head coach Inzaghi, talisman Ciro Immobile and star midfielder Sergej Milinkovic-Savic, Lazio are once again challenging in 2020-21.

Lazio can move to within six points of top spot with victory over second-placed Inter on Sunday as they prepare for a blockbuster Champions League last-16 tie against holders Bayern Munich.

Inzaghi has renewed Lazio's fortunes since taking charge in 2016, guiding the capital club to Coppa Italia (2019) and Supercoppa Italiana (2017 and 2019) success. The Biancocelesti had not celebrated silverware since 2013.

Ahead of the Inter showdown, Lazio have found the net in each of their past 17 Serie A games – they last went on a longer streak in October 1994 (18).

Lazio have also gained the most Serie A points in 2021 (19). They are the only unbeaten side (W6 D1) – having also conceded the fewest goals (four, level with Genoa) since the turn of the year.

Vieri spent a year with Lazio in 1998-99 – scoring 14 goals in 28 appearances under Sven-Goran Eriksson as the club won the UEFA Cup Winners' Cup and Supercoppa Italiana alongside Alessandro Nesta, Pavel Nedved, Marcelo Salas, Sinisa Mihajlovic and Dejan Stankovic before a then-record move to Inter – and he hailed the work of Inzaghi.

"He has been there for four years. You can't change coach every year," ex-Italy striker Vieri told Stats Perform News. "Coaches need time. All the teams that are changing every year aren't doing well.

"Lazio are doing amazing. They have an amazing director – [Igli] Tare, fantastic. They have big players at Lazio.

"Lazio are a fantastic team. They played amazing football. In the Champions League and qualified very easy.

"Lazio are there to win everything. Lazio can win the Scudetto, you never know. Let's see what happens in the Champions League. Anything can happen, but they're doing amazing."

Lazio have not won the Scudetto since 1999-2000 – Inzaghi was part of that triumphant team as a player – but threatened to end their drought last season.

They were only a point adrift of Juventus when the league was suspended due to the coronavirus pandemic in March last year.

But when the 2019-20 campaign resumed, Lazio stumbled and eventually finished third – four points behind Juve as the Turin powerhouse claimed a ninth consecutive Serie A crown.

"Everyone stopped playing, not only Lazio. The thing is, when you play and you don't need to win the Scudetto, you play with no pressure," the 47-year-old Vieri explained.

"When they say to you, there's 8-10 games to go and we have to win all eight, and tomorrow we have to win, it changes. You stop sleeping. You're nervous because you have to win.

"One thing is winning the game and no one says anything – you're second or third but no one expects you to win. But when they say there's five games to go and you have to win all five, that changes everything.

"When they started again after COVID-19, they had to win the last six or seven games and didn't do that. Juventus are used to the pressure. That's how it is."

If reports are to be believed, Lionel Messi will leave Barcelona at the end of the season.

However, his next destination remains a mystery.

The United States, though, could be next on the list for the record six-time Ballon d'Or winner.

 

TOP STORY – MIAMI MOVE ON THE CARDS FOR MESSI?

Lionel Messi could be keen on joining David Beckham's Inter Miami in MLS, claims Sport.

Messi, whose contract is set to expire, is tipped to leave Barcelona at the end of the season amid strong links to Ligue 1 champions Paris Saint-Germain and Premier League giants Manchester City.

But the six-time Ballon d'Or winner could be lured to the United States, where Beckham co-owns Inter Miami.

 

ROUND-UP

- According to The Sun, Manchester United are battling Barca and Real Madrid to sign Sevilla centre-back Jules Kounde. United are reportedly determined to bolster their defence and Kounde has emerged as a key target.

Liverpool have made Torino defender Bremer their top transfer target at the end of the season, reports the Mirror. Despite the January arrivals of Ozan Kabak and Ben Davies, Liverpool still want to strengthen their defence.

- Spanish journalist Siro Lopez says Sergio Ramos has made his decision to leave Madrid. It comes as the likes of United, PSG, Juventus and Chelsea eye the superstar Madrid captain on a free transfer.

Madrid are interested in Real Betis midfielder Nabil Fekir, reports Estadio Deportivo. Inter, Valencia, Atletico Madrid and Napoli are also believed to be eyeing the Frenchman.

Antonio Conte has apologised for his actions during Inter's Coppa Italia exit to Juventus, saying he should have "reacted differently" after he was "insulted".

The Inter coach, previously in charge in Turin, aimed an insulting gesture at Juve chairman Andrea Agnelli as the pair traded comments at the Allianz Stadium.

The Bianconeri earned a goalless draw to advance to the final 2-1 on aggregate, but Conte was apologetic when revisiting the incident ahead of Inter's Serie A meeting with Lazio on Sunday.

However, the former Italy boss, who said after the game Juve "need more sportsmanship and respect", suggested he was insulted first.

Conte said: "I want to only talk about football during the press conference, so I will say this before we begin: I am here to apologise.

"I reacted in the wrong way to being insulted. I could have reacted differently and that would have been more positive.

"I am sorry and I will learn from this for future reference. The insults and provocation should not be an excuse, because I still shouldn't have responded like that.

"Everyone saw what happened; that is important to me.

"However, we as coaches, players and presidents are meant to set an example and therefore I should have reacted to insults and provocation in a different way - perhaps with a thumbs up or applause, to show I could hear what was being said, but it would've been a more positive response.

"Having said all that, now we should concentrate on the game. People want to talk about football, not gossip."

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