Lautaro Martinez was not one of Inter's six goalscorers on Wednesday, but Antonio Conte is remaining relaxed about the striker's struggles.

The Nerazzurri enjoyed a comfortable evening as they thrashed bottom side Brescia 6-0 to move back to within eight points of Serie A leaders Juventus.

Ashley Young, Alexis Sanchez and Danilo D'Ambrosio all scored in the first half, with Roberto Gagliardini, Christian Eriksen and Antonio Candreva also on target after the break.

Conte left top scorer Romelu Lukaku on the bench for the first 68 minutes, and though Martinez was given a chance from the off, his failure to get on the scoresheet means he has just one goal across his past 10 appearances in all competitions.

Martinez, who has scored 12 times in Serie A this season, missed the target with two good chances and kicked the post in a clear sign of frustration when thwarted by goalkeeper Jesse Joronen on another occasion.

"We can't hold anything against him, especially in terms of his commitment," Conte told DAZN of a player rumoured to be of interest to Barcelona.

"He deserved a goal and the personal satisfaction that comes with it. I'm very calm, I've got a great group of guys, professionals who want the best for Inter.

"Because of that, we can have flaws or get things wrong during games, but I'm still able to remain calm because of the professionalism and generosity of this group.

"My only regret this year is that we paid a big price for our naivety."

With Martinez having another off-night, and Lukaku only appearing for the closing stages, it was Young and Sanchez who shone at San Siro.

The two combined for the opening goal, one of two assists for Sanchez, who also scored his first Inter goal since September from the penalty spot.

The 31-year-old Chilean still looks a long way from the player who impressed at Arsenal prior to joining Manchester United in 2018, but Conte is pleased with the path the Inter loanee is now on.

"We brought him here for his qualities," Conte added.

"Unfortunately, we lost him as an option for a long time. He's now starting to find his feet, even if he's still not the Sanchez I was such a big fan of in England.

"What I can say, however, is that he's on the right track, he put in a great performance today. Having all my forwards available makes me feel more relaxed."

Real Madrid or Manchester United? 

The two European giants appear to be the likeliest options for Jadon Sancho, who continues to be linked with a move away from Borussia Dortmund. 

Sancho has been tipped to make the move to Old Trafford but the England international could be set to grace the Santiago Bernabeu instead. 

 

TOP STORY – MADRID AND UNITED FIGHTING OVER SANCHO

Real Madrid and Manchester United are going head-to-head to sign Borussia Dortmund star Jadon Sancho, according to Le10 Sport.

Sancho has been tipped to leave Dortmund for United, though Madrid, Chelsea, Liverpool, Barcelona and Paris Saint-Germain have all emerged as possible destinations.

Zinedine Zidane reportedly wants to bring Sancho to Madrid as Dortmund demand a huge fee.

 

ROUND-UP

- Could Sergio Aguero and Milan Skriniar be set to swap clubs? Calciomercato reports Inter are eyeing Manchester City star Aguero in a deal that would see Nerazzurri defender Skriniar move in the opposite direction. Inter could be in the market for a forward as Barca eye Lautaro Martinez, while Pep Guardiola's City are desperate to bolster their defence.

- There has been no decision on David Alaba's future, according to Bild journalist Christian Falk. The Bayern Munich star has been linked to City, Juventus, Chelsea and PSG.

Mauricio Pochettino is in talks to take over Portuguese giants Benfica, Record says. Pochettino has been out of work since he was sacked by Tottenham in November.

- Calciomercato claims Milan's hierarchy will confront Mino Raiola in the next 48 hours to try to finalise a new contract for star goalkeeper Gianluigi Donnarumma.

Arsenal have made an offer for Levante midfielder Enis Bardhi, reports Onda Cero. Fiorentina and an unnamed Bundesliga club are also interested.

Barca and Juve are expected to announce the swap deal involving Arthur and Miralem Pjanic on Monday after undergoing medicals, according to widespread speculation. Arthur will join Juve, while Pjanic is set to replace the Brazilian at Barca.

Cristian Stellini acknowledged Inter cannot hope to gain plaudits for performances until they start to take their chances after overcoming a scare against Parma in Serie A.

Inter trailed until the 84th minute following Gervinho's opener, but quick-fire goals from defenders Stefan de Vrij and Alessandro Bastoni secured a dramatic 2-1 away win on Sunday.

The Nerazzurri had 24 shots in all, including seven from reported Barcelona target Lautaro Martinez – who has scored just once in his past five Serie A appearances.

Assistant coach Stellini – taking on media duties as Antonio Conte served a touchline ban – recognised the need for third-placed Inter to improve in front of goal, with Martinez's strike partner Lukaku also wasteful.

"We've created a lot of chances in these games since the restart," Stellini explained. "But we need to start converting them, because that's what changes opinions on performances and matches.

"We still need to grow into the new aspects of our way of playing, but right now we're having a lot of opportunities to cause issues in the opposition penalty area.

"It wasn't easy tonight, but we reacted and controlled the game and the victory is deserved. These kinds of matches are won by knowing to wait for the right moment.

"We were hardly in a lot of trouble against Napoli [in the Coppa Italia semi-final second leg], created a lot, and still didn't win."

The coach was encouraged by Inter's fighting spirit, however, adding: "I think it's a deserved win, because other than the space we allowed Parma, who are a very dangerous side on the break, we managed the game well, creating plenty of chances to score ourselves.

"It's not easy to have all our players at 100 per cent right now. Two of our three defenders tonight hadn't played for months.

"We showed an important response. We expected it from the lads and they didn't disappoint."

"It wasn't easy tonight, but we reacted and controlled the game and the victory is deserved. These kinds of matches are won by knowing to wait for the right moment.

"We were hardly in a lot of trouble against Napoli [in the Coppa Italia semi-final second leg], created a lot, and still didn't win."

The coach was encouraged by Inter's fighting spirit, however, adding: "I think it's a deserved win, because other than the space we allowed Parma, who are a very dangerous side on the break, we managed the game well, creating plenty of chances to score ourselves.

"It's not easy to have all our players at 100 per cent right now. Two of our three defenders tonight hadn't played for months.

"We showed an important response. We expected it from the lads and they didn't disappoint."

Inter – eight points adrift of Serie A leaders Juventus and four ahead of fourth-placed Atalanta – host lowly Brescia in Milan on Wednesday.

Inter chief executive Giuseppe Marotta said the club are not looking to sell Lautaro Martinez amid strong links to Barcelona.

Martinez has been strongly tipped to swap Inter for LaLiga champions Barca at the end of the 2019-20 coronavirus-hit season.

Barca are reportedly struggling to meet Inter's demands, with a release clause of €111million for the Argentina international.

Inter CEO Marotta was again asked about Martinez prior to Wednesday's thrilling 3-3 Serie A draw against Sassuolo.

"We have been very clear on Lautaro, stating more than once, Inter are a noble club and have no intention of selling the best players," Marotta told DAZN. "That goes for Lautaro.

"If the player does not manifest the desire to leave – and he has not – then there's no reason why he should go to another club."

Martinez came off the bench in the 62nd minute but he was unable to help Inter claim all three points at San Siro, where Sassuolo twice came from behind inside the final nine minutes.

The 22-year-old has scored 17 goals across all competitions for Antonio Conte's Inter this season.

Martinez and third-placed Inter will be back in action away to Parma on Sunday.

The queue to sign Borussia Dortmund star Jadon Sancho is long.

Manchester United, Liverpool, Chelsea, Manchester City and Real Madrid are all reportedly eyeing the England international.

United, though, are prepared to wait.

 

TOP STORY – UNITED TO BIDE TIME OVER SANCHO

Manchester United are waiting for Jadon Sancho's price to drop before making a move for the Borussia Dortmund star, according to the Daily Mail.

Sancho has been tipped to join Premier League giants United at the end of the season, though Liverpool, Chelsea, former club Manchester City and Real Madrid are also believed to be interested.

However, United are hoping to drive down the £100million (€110m) price tag.

 

ROUND-UP

Dortmund, meanwhile, have beaten United to the signing of Birmingham City teenager Jude Bellingham. That is according to ESPN, with the Bundesliga side set to announce the 16-year-old's arrival in the coming days.

- Could Arsenal and Roma be involved in a swap deal? The Daily Star says Arsenal are hoping for Henrikh Mkhitaryan to join Roma on a permanent basis, in exchange for Justin Kluivert.

Barcelona are desperate to sell before the end of the month to balance their accounts, claims Sport. The LaLiga giants are working hard on moving Jean-Clair Todibo and Philippe Coutinho out the door. Barca are willing to accept €70m (£63m) for Coutinho, who has been linked to Chelsea, Tottenham and Newcastle United.

- Il Mattino and Calciomercato.com report Arkadiusz Milik is discussing a new contract with Napoli. The Poland international has been linked to Serie A champions Juventus, Inter, Milan, Tottenham and Arsenal.

- Italian journalist Nicolo Schira says Inter are looking to sign Arsenal forward Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang if Lautaro Martinez joins BarcaParis Saint-Germain have also emerged as a possible destination for Aubameyang.

Lautaro Martinez ended his mini goal drought as Inter moved six points behind Serie A leaders Juventus with a 2-1 win over Sampdoria at San Siro. 

First-half goals from Romelu Lukaku and Martinez saw Antonio Conte's side bounce back in style from their Coppa Italia semi-final aggregate defeat to Napoli. 

Lukaku netted after just 10 minutes following a one-two with Christian Eriksen, while Martinez - a rumoured target for Barcelona - swept home 12 minutes before half-time to register his first goal since January. 

Morten Thorsby pulled one back for Samp after the break, but Claudio Ranieri's men were unable to conjure up a leveller.

While this was Sampdoria's first game since March, Inter were back in action after their Coppa Italia clash last weekend and they unsurprisingly looked a slicker, sharper outfit. 

They had the ball in the net within two minutes but Antonio Candreva was adjudged offside before squaring for Eriksen to finish, not that they had to wait too much longer for a legitimate goal. 

Martinez's clever backheel found Lukaku and the Belgian coolly converted after a one-two with Eriksen for his 18th goal in Serie A this term. 

Lukaku celebrated by dropping to his knee and raising his fist to recognise the Black Lives Matter movement. 

Inter went into the break 2-0 up as Lukaku picked out Candreva, whose first-time ball across the six-yard box was tucked away by Martinez. 

After the break, Lukaku could only sweep a good chance wide following more good work from Eriksen and Inter went from coasting to concerned when Samp pulled one back in the 52nd minute. 

Omar Colley's initial header came back off the crossbar and Thorsby instinctively stuck his left leg out to poke the rebound back past Samir Handanovic. 

Inter's goalkeeper would not be beaten again, though, as the home side closed out the win. 

 

What does it mean? Impressive Inter still alive in title race 

Conte's men began the restart nine points adrift of leaders Juventus, and eight behind second-placed Lazio, so they cannot afford many, if any, slip-ups. 

A relatively routine victory, with both of their strikers getting goals, bodes well for the final dozen fixtures. 

Martinez lives up to the hype 

The three-month hiatus has only intensified transfer talk surrounding Martinez and Barcelona, and this was a display that showed both why the Blaugrana may be interested and why Inter are so keen to keep him. 

The 22-year-old came into this game having not scored in his previous six appearances but, having played a big part in Lukaku's opener before finding the net himself, he showed all the Barca talk is not affecting him. 

Gaston goes missing 

When facing an opponent like Inter, you expect your captain to step up. However, the game passed Sampdoria skipper Gaston Ramirez by. 

The playmaker had only four successful passes in his 69 minutes on the field and won just 21.1 per cent of his 19 duels, failing to hold the ball up when Samp needed a release from the first-half pressure.  

What's next? 

A home encounter with mid-table Sassuolo on Wednesday is next on the agenda for Inter. The tough fixtures continue for Sampdoria, though, as they visit Roma on the same day. 

Lautaro Martinez is "flattered" with links to Barcelona but has not asked to leave Inter, according to Giuseppe Marotta. 

The Argentina international has a release clause of €111million and has been strongly tipped to join the LaLiga side in the next transfer window. 

He has enjoyed an impressive campaign at San Siro, scoring 16 goals in 31 matches, and is also rumoured to be a target for Real Madrid. 

However, Inter CEO Marotta reiterated he is confident the club can keep hold of Martinez beyond the end of this season, with the forward yet to put in a request to move elsewhere. 

"Lautaro Martinez is the focus of other clubs' attention in the transfer market, everyone knows this," he told Sky Sport Italia.

"He has immense quality and many teams who would love to negotiate with us for him.  

"We have no intention of selling our best players, so if a player does not express the desire to leave, then we'll hold on tight. 

"Lautaro is flattered by the attention of big clubs, but he has never expressed the desire to leave. Never. I am very optimistic that we'll see him playing for us again next season." 

Former Inter goalkeeper Luca Castellazzi suggested this week Martinez's performances have been affected by the ongoing speculation over his future. 

The 22-year-old struggled to make an impact in last weekend's 1-1 draw with Napoli - a result that saw Inter exit the Coppa Italia at the semi-final stage - but Marotta is not concerned.  

"There has been a lockdown for three months," Marotta said. "He should be evaluated on what he's done all season, not just in the Coppa Italia semi-final." 

Lautaro Martinez has been tipped to make the move to Camp Nou.

The Inter forward is at the top of Barcelona's list of targets as the Spanish giants eye a long-term replacement for veteran Luis Suarez.

But Inter are not making things easy for Barca.

 

TOP STORY – INTER NOT BUDGING OVER MARTINEZ

Inter are standing firm over Barcelona target Lautaro Martinez, according to Sky Sport Italia.

LaLiga champions Barca are determined to sign the Argentina forward but Inter are unwilling to budge on their demands – either pay his €111million release clause or splash €90-95m plus a player chosen by the Serie A club. 

The same network claims Inter loanee  Alexis Sanchez  could renew his loan deal from Manchester United.

 

ROUND-UP

Inter are interested in Real Madrid full-back Achraf Hakimi, reports Calciomercato. Achraf, who has spent the past two seasons on loan at Dortmund, has been linked with the likes of Bayern Munich, Chelsea, Paris Saint-Germain and others. Inter are admirers of the Morocco international but remain some way off luring him to Milan.

- The Times says Chelsea are prepared to sell star midfielder N'Golo Kante to raise funds for extra transfers. Madrid are thought to be keen on the Frenchman as Chelsea look to sign Leicester City full-back Ben Chilwell and Bayer Leverkusen star Kai Havertz.

Napoli have reached a "total agreement" with Lille for defender Gabriel Magalhaes, says Footmercato. The Brazilian centre-back has also been linked to Everton and Tottenham.

- Sky Sport Italia journalist Gianluca Di Marzio reports Fiorentina are battling Milan and Everton for outgoing PSG defender Thiago Silva, who is a free agent.

Milan have been mooted as the most likely destination for Naby Keita as Liverpool consider selling the former RB Leipzig midfielder, according to Milan Live.

David Alaba to leave Bayern Munich? The Telegraph claims the Bundesliga champions are open to a sale, alerting the likes of Liverpool, Manchester City, United and PSG.

Lionel Messi is reportedly set to re-sign with Barcelona.

The Argentina star is out of contract at Camp Nou next year, but is seemingly set to extend his stay with the LaLiga giants a little longer.

Messi, 32, has spent his entire professional career at Barcelona – and he may yet end up a one-club player.

 

TOP STORY – MESSI TO EXTEND BARCELONA CONTRACT UNTIL 2023

Messi will extend his contract at Barcelona until 2023, according to Mundo Deportivo.

The report says the forward will get to decide if he wants to leave the club before then.

Messi is enjoying another fine season with Barcelona, scoring 26 goals in 33 games in all competitions.

ROUND-UP

- Tottenham want to hold onto their stars. The Telegraph reports chairman Daniel Levy is eager to keep Spurs' best players, including Harry Kane – who has been linked to Real Madrid – and Dele Alli and Son Heung-min.

- It remains to be seen if Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang will stay at Arsenal. CalcioMercato reports the forward – out of contract until 2021 – is open to a move to Inter, but the Gabon international is not among the Serie A club's top choices if they need to replace Lautaro Martinez, who is wanted by Barcelona.

- Madrid are reportedly eager to sign Rennes midfielder Eduardo Camavinga. But Sport says the Ligue 1 club are working to extend the the 17-year-old's contract, with his deal running until 2022.

- Liverpool could be set to make changes. The Sun reports Xherdan Shaqiri, Divock Origi and Dejan Lovren could make exits, while Marko Grujic and Harry Wilson may leave on permanent deals. It also says Liverpool are set to give Naby Keita one more season to prove his worth.

- Borussia Dortmund seem some way off landing Birmingham City teenager Jude Bellingham. Bild reports the Bundesliga club have offered just a little more than €20million (£17.9m) for Bellingham, who reportedly has a release clause of €35m (£31.4m).

- Empoli midfielder Samuele Ricci is reportedly catching the eye. CalcioMercato says Milan have kept an eye on the 18-year-old, while Napoli and Borussia Dortmund are also said to be interested.

Jadon Sancho's future could be resolved sooner rather than later.

The England international is tipped to return to his homeland after leaving Manchester City for Borussia Dortmund in 2017.

Premier League leaders Liverpool are reportedly at the front of the queue for the 20-year-old attacker.

 

TOP STORY – REDS IN POLE POSITION FOR SANCHO

Liverpool are leading the race to sign Borussia Dortmund star Jadon Sancho, according to Le10 Sport.

Sancho is a player in demand, the former Manchester City youngster linked with a return to England via Manchester United, Chelsea and Liverpool.

Real Madrid are also reportedly interested, but Jurgen Klopp's Liverpool appear to be favourites to land the England international if Sadio Mane leaves Anfield.

 

ROUND-UP

- Calciomercato claims United are considering a move for Lazio striker Ciro Immobile. The Italy international has scored a Serie A-high 27 goals this season amid links to Liverpool and Napoli.

Chelsea are not close to reaching an agreement over Bayer Leverkusen star Kai Havertz, says The Athletic. Chelsea have emerged as favourites to sign Havertz, who is also reportedly wanted by United, Liverpool, Madrid and Barcelona. But Chelsea – who are set to bring RB Leipzig's Timo Werner to Stamford Bridge – are apparently nowhere near matching Leverkusen's asking price.

- The Independent reports Dortmund are set to beat United to Birmingham City teenager Jude Bellingham. The 16-year-old is coveted by Dortmund and United, however, the Bundesliga side are viewed as the more attractive option to give the wonderkid game time.

- Could Dries Mertens leave Napoli for Barcelona? Mertens' contract is set to expire, though the Belgium forward has been tipped to sign an extension. Het Nieuwsblad says Barca could turn to the Napoli star if they are unable to prise Lautaro Martinez from Inter.

Chelsea believe Champions League football will convince Leicester City's Ben Chilwell to snub Manchester City for the London club, according to the Daily Mail. Chelsea have been linked to another full-back – France Football claims the Blues are eyeing Paris Saint-Germain's Layvin Kurzawa, who is available on a free transfer and wanted by the likes of Atletico Madrid, Juventus and Inter.

- Tuttosport says Inter are targeting Nice centre-back Malang Sarr. The 21-year-old has also been linked to Pep Guardiola's City.

- According to The Telegraph, Barca are prepared to pay a portion of Philippe Coutinho's wage to help the Brazilian leave Camp Nou. Tottenham and Newcastle United are possible destinations.

Liverpool are eyeing a double transfer raid on Wolves for stars Ruben Neves and Adama Traore, says The Sun.

The one-year postponement of the Copa America gives Argentina time they must use wisely to avoid squandering probably the most precious asset ever granted to any international team in football history.

A yawning gap remains in Lionel Messi's glittering collection of honours. At club level, the Barcelona superstar has won it all, won it again and won it some more just for good measure. For Argentina, he is yet to lift a major honour.

A sixth Ballon d'Or and a host of typically imperious performances this season show Messi is going nowhere just yet, but he turns 33 this month. His own 'Last Dance' is nearing.

Realistically, the rearranged 2021 Copa America that they will co-host with Colombia and the 2022 World Cup in Qatar represent his final shots at glory for La Albiceleste, with the nagging sense his best chance to emulate the likes of Pele and Diego Maradona with a defining triumph at the highest level might already have passed him by.

 

THE GOLDEN GENERATION

Over recent years, Messi has frequently appeared wearied as a man carrying the weight of his team on his shoulders for club and country.

Of course, this was not always the case. At Barcelona he was the shimmering jewel in Pep Guardiola's slick and sublime masterpiece before starring as part of Luis Enrique's turbo-charged MSN forward line.

Argentina's more forlorn efforts of late make it easy to forget what a defining generation of talent Messi once spearheaded.

Any heavyweight football nation collecting back-to-back Olympic gold medals, as Argentina did in 2004 and 2008, would reasonably expect the senior honours to follow – with or without arguably the greatest of all time at their disposal.

Names from those podiums in Athens and Beijing trip off the tongue. Javier Mascherano, Carlos Tevez, Javier Saviola, Pablo Zabaleta, Fernando Gago, Ever Banega, Ezequiel Lavezzi, Angel Di Maria and Sergio Aguero are all Olympic champions.

At the 2010 World Cup, the fairytale combination of Messi and the Messiah – Maradona inimitably entertaining but evidently ill-cast as head coach – fell to Germany in the quarter-finals.

Die Mannschaft also beat them in 2014 – this time as Mario Gotze scored the only goal in the final during extra time. Alejandro Sabella's steadying hand brought them to the brink of sporting immortality and Messi was named player of the tournament, despite some underwhelming showings by his own standards.

NEAR MISSES, RETIREMENT AND SHAMBLES

Gerardo Martino managed not to win a major trophy when he led Barcelona in 2013-14 and, unfortunately for Messi, history repeated during his tenure with the national team.

Gonzalo Higuain missed a glorious chance in the World Cup final and he and Banega erred from the spot as Chile won the 2015 Copa America in a penalty shoot-out.

Against the same opponents at the Copa America Centenario 12 months later, Messi himself failed amid further heartache from 12 yards.

As emotions ran high in the aftermath, the number 10 announced his retirement from international football, with rumours other stars would follow suit due to disaffection with the Argentine Football Association.

By the time Messi returned for a 3-0 World Cup qualifying defeat to Brazil that November, Edgardo Bauza's tenure as head coach was already on the rocks.

Jorge Sampaoli replaced him and Argentina needed an utterly majestic hat-trick from their talisman away to Ecuador to snatch a place at Russia 2018.

Perhaps they shouldn't have bothered.

Having brought Argentina to their knees while in charge of Chile, Sampaoli inadvertently did the same again during a shambling turn ended by eventual champions France in the last 16. There was a near revolt after a group-stage thrashing from Croatia and the coach left with his reputation in tatters.

LIONEL, LIONEL AND LAUTARO

Star names such as Martino and Sampaoli not working out probably help the cause of the unheralded Lionel Scaloni, who emerged from the rubble of Russia to take temporary and then full charge.

The 2019 Copa America got off to a similarly inauspicious start, but they scrambled out of the group and were arguably a little unlucky to lose 2-0 to hosts and eventual winners Brazil in the semis.

A feisty third-place match against Chile was won 2-1 thanks to goals form Aguero and Paulo Dybala, despite Messi bizarrely getting sent for being repeatedly butted by Gary Medel.

An indignant post-match interview brought a four-game ban, although a more vocal Messi leading through words as well as deeds is a pleasing development. In his absence, 4-0 and 6-1 wins over Mexico and Ecuador suggested brighter times ahead with a younger core – even if a diet of friendlies this season makes progress a little hard to judge.

At centre-forward, where Argentina's surplus of riches makes their lack of reward so embarrassing, Lautaro Martinez looks to have established himself as the new number one ahead of Messi's great friend Aguero.

Since Scaloni took charge, the Inter star has nine goals in 13 starts – averaging one every 109.6 minutes and outstripping his expected goals (xG) figure of 6.4. Messi has five goals at 160.4 per minute from an xG of 6.3 over the same period.

European club form coming back home to the national team has not always been a given during the Messi years, so it is encouraging to see Martinez scoring at a faster rate under Scaloni than he has during an acclaimed campaign at San Siro (11 Serie A goals at one every 152 minutes). Aguero's 16 Manchester City goals have arrived every 87.6 Premier League minutes in 2019-20, but his strikes come every 201.7 minutes in the Scaloni era.

THE NEW GENERATION

Aguero still looks highly likely to have some role to play in trying to right a journey of heartache he has charted alongside Messi in blue and white. Others have not been spared as Scaloni quietly shapes a team in his own image. Moulding the ramshackle embarrassment of two years into a compact and hard-working unit necessitated high-profile casualties

Angel Di Maria has not added to his 102 caps since being dropped to the bench during the Copa. Argentina's all-action midfield creator is now Rodrigo de Paul.

One of Scaloni's dependable in a new-look engine room alongside Di Maria's Paris Saint-Germain colleague Leandro Paredes, De Paul's 81 dribbles completed for Udinese were the second most in Serie A last season and his eight assists put him joint fifth alongside Cristiano Ronaldo.

Staying in Serie A, German Pezzella's 60 interceptions, 155 clearances, 96 headed clearances and 30 blocks all see the Fiorentina man rank highly. A late bloomer on the international stage, the 28-year-old was named captain against Ecuador – alongside Ajax's left-back dynamo Nicolas Tagliafico – and he might have just enough about him to offset Nicolas Otamendi's frequent reversions to slapstick.

Scaloni still looks light on quality and cover behind an all-star attack, where Lucas Ocampos and Angel Correa are also thrillingly part of the equation. This is where the 12-month delay could really come in handy.

Paredes, De Paul and Pezzella will all be better with another year of their primes under their belts, while Giovani Lo Celso's development under Jose Mourinho at Tottenham will be watched with interest.

Leonardo Balerdi and Exequiel Palacios are each 21 and early in their Bundesliga careers at Borussia Dortmund and Bayer Leverkusen – two clubs with exceptional records when it comes to developing young talents.

If this more unheralded generation continue to grow in stature, Scaloni might just have a team to let Argentina dream again. After all, their captain isn't bad either.

Virgil van Dijk is set to extend his deal at Liverpool, while Lautaro Martinez could reportedly push for his move to Barcelona.

Van Dijk, 28, is widely regarded as one of the world's best defenders and he seems primed to stay put after starring at Anfield.

Meanwhile, Barca's pursuit of Martinez continues.

 

TOP STORY – VAN DIJK TO SIGN FIVE-YEAR LIVERPOOL CONTRACT

Van Dijk will sign a five-year deal worth £57million at Liverpool, according to The Sun.

The report says the Netherlands international will become the highest-paid player in the club's history.

Van Dijk finished second to Barcelona star Lionel Messi in the 2019 Ballon d'Or and is on track to help Liverpool win their first league title in 30 years.

ROUND-UP

- Talk around Martinez's future continues. Sport reports Barcelona will press Inter and the forward will also push for a move to Camp Nou.

- Inter could be looking for a replacement if Martinez decides to leave. CalcioMercato reports they are considering Fiorentina star Federico Chiesa as the Argentina international's replacement.

- Another forward Inter have been linked to is Edinson Cavani, who is coming out of contract at Paris Saint-Germain. But La Gazzetta dello Sport reports Cavani wants €12m per year, which it says it €3m more than Inter are willing to pay.

- There is also uncertainty over Arturo Vidal's future at Barcelona. The midfielder has been linked with an exit as his contract expires next year, but Mundo Deportivo reports the Chile international has no interest in discussing his future until August.

- Hector Bellerin has a deal at Arsenal until 2023, but there is some talk about his future. The Mirror reports the 25-year-old is a target for Inter this close season.

- Chelsea defender Kurt Zouma is apparently attracting some interest. According to the Daily Express, Everton want to sign the 25-year-old, who has also been linked to Tottenham.

Former Barcelona and Inter forward Samuel Eto'o praised Lautaro Martinez, but said Luis Suarez deserved more respect for his contributions.

Martinez, 22, has been heavily linked with a move to the LaLiga giants, with the Inter forward regarded as a long-term replacement for Suarez.

Now 33, Suarez arrived at Camp Nou from Liverpool in 2014, and has won four LaLiga titles and a Champions League with the club.

Eto'o, who spent five seasons at Barca and two at Inter during his playing career, said while Martinez was talented, Suarez's efforts could not be ignored.

"I love Suarez, he's one of the best in the world in his position," the former Cameroon international told Catalunya Radio on Wednesday.

"Barca always have to strengthen, but they don't need to stand down a general like Luis Suarez. In his position, he's a general and you cannot compare him with anyone.

"Lautaro is doing really well with Inter and has a future, but people have a tendency to forget recent history and Luis is writing history, not just at Barca, but in football. That has to be recognised.

"That doesn't impede bringing in another player to add competition to the group, knowing how many games Barca have, but a little respect for those that have written history."

Suarez had scored 14 goals and provided 10 assists in 23 games before this season was suspended due to the coronavirus pandemic.

Martinez, meanwhile, had 16 goals in 31 games for Inter, while providing two assists.

Fernando Morientes believes Inter star Lautaro Martinez could fit in at either Barcelona or Real Madrid.

Martinez, 22, has been heavily linked with a move to Barca after a fine season during which he has scored 16 goals in 31 games.

Madrid also reportedly have an interest in the Argentina international, who is said to have a release clause of €111million.

Former Madrid and Spain forward Morientes feels Martinez would have no trouble fitting in at either of the LaLiga giants.

"In Spain, we were lucky to enjoy great Argentine players and coaches. They have a competitive gene that is very difficult to find anywhere in the world," he said, via Sport.

"Barcelona is very interested in buying him, but there has also been talk of Real Madrid although I think more about Barca.

"He is a very interesting player for either team. He has a very good vision of the game.

"He is one of the best forwards in the world at the moment and I think he could fit into either team."

A move to Barcelona would see Martinez reunite with international team-mate Lionel Messi.

Messi is out of contract next year, but Morientes believes the six-time Ballon d'Or winner is destined to finish his career at Camp Nou.

"I don't imagine him outside Barcelona. He reminds me of [Paolo] Maldini, [Francesco] Totti, [Carles] Puyol, like them," he said.

"He is a club player, one of those who have started and finished his career in a very powerful club. I don't even think about it.

"I hope he reaches an agreement. He is the most important player in Barcelona and he will be until the end of his career."

Lautaro Martinez and Lionel Messi teaming up at Barcelona would have a positive impact on Argentina, according to the national team's assistant coach Roberto Ayala.

Having scored 16 goals in 31 appearances for Inter in 2019-20, Martinez is a target for LaLiga champions Barca and it was last week reported he had agreed a five-year deal at Camp Nou.

Former Napoli, Milan and Valencia centre-back Ayala has been impressed by the 22-year-old's development under Antonio Conte this season and the partnership he has struck up with Romelu Lukaku.

With the coronavirus pandemic meaning the Copa America has been postponed until 2021, Ayala thinks Martinez potentially playing with six-time Ballon d'Or winner Messi at club level next term would be of huge benefit to Argentina.

The South American powerhouse have not won a senior international trophy since 1993, with Messi on the losing side in four finals during his career.

"The more matches they play together, the more they can get to know each other, it can be an advantage [for Argentina]," Ayala told Ole.

"But we will have to see if Lautaro plays for Barcelona or not because we can't forget [Luis] Suarez is there. We will see.

"It's an important decision Lautaro will have to make. Whatever he decides you have to respect because he's managing his career.

"The more chances of them playing together, the more they're going to understand each other.

"Lautaro is in a very important club at the moment and scoring goals in Italy is not easy.

"At Inter he's grown a lot and learned to earn his place. Inter trust in him a lot, his coach is empowering him, he found a partnership that complements him very well."

Inter are set to play their first game in over three months with a Coppa Italia semi-final against Napoli on Saturday, having lost the first leg 1-0 before football was suspended amid the COVID-19 crisis.

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