What does the future hold for Lorenzo Insigne?

The Napoli captain is no certainty to remain at his boyhood club as his contract runs down.

A switch to Milan could be on the cards…

 

TOP STORY – MILAN TARGETING INSIGNE

Milan met with Lorenzo Insigne's agent as they eye a move for the Napoli captain, according to Gianluigi Di Marzio.

Insigne – previously linked with Liverpool – has one year remaining on his current contract and the Italy international is yet to re-sign with his boyhood club.

Serie A rivals Milan are monitoring the situation and ready to pounce.

 

ROUND-UP

- A move for Insigne depends on the future of Milan midfielder Hakan Calhanoglu. The 27-year-old is set to become a free agent and Arsenal and Chelsea are eyeing the Turkey international, reports Sky Italy. Manchester United have also been linked.

- The front page of Thursday's Gazzetta dello Sport says Inter and neighbours Milan are going head-to-head to sign Fiorentina defender Nikola Milenkovic. The Serbia international is also reportedly wanted by United, Juventus and Tottenham.

Chelsea, Barcelona and Manchester City are vying to sign Inter star Romelu Lukaku this off-season, claims Calciomercato. Lukaku has emerged as a target for all three clubs, who are also eyeing Borussia Dortmund sensation Erling HaalandReal Madrid, Paris Saint-Germain, United and Liverpool have also been linked with Haaland.

- According to Corriere dello Sport, Roma and Milan both want to sign Torino captain Andrea Belotti. With Torino struggling, the Italy forward could be ready to jump at the chance for European football.

Tottenham are stepping up their pursuit of Southampton defender Jannik Vestergaard, says the Express. Spurs have long been linked with Inter star Milan Skriniar, but Vestergaard appears to be an easier option.

Inter showed just how much they have grown this season with their 2-1 win over Sassuolo on Wednesday, according to head coach Antonio Conte.

The Nerazzurri moved 11 points clear at the top of Serie A with the victory, sealed through goals from Romelu Lukaku and Lautaro Martinez in each half – their only two on-target attempts of the contest.

Hamed Junior Traore deservedly pulled one back for Sassuolo with a late strike, but the league leaders held on to become the second side in Serie A history – after Milan in 1989-90 – to win their first 10 games in the second half of a campaign.

Inter recorded their lowest possession rate (30 per cent) in a Serie A match since Opta records began in 2004-05 and were outdone on shots by Sassuolo 15 to seven.

But Conte was happy with the manner of the victory, insisting that points are more important than the performance, as Inter learned the hard way when exiting the Champions League in the group stage.

"I congratulate Sassuolo as they came here to play their game and this performance shows how much we've grown," he told Sky Sport Italia. "With this attitude, we'd still be in the Champions League.

"Sassuolo make possession their main strength, so we chose to close the gaps in the centre more than anything else. We knew that we'd have to cede possession.

"Aesthetics are fine, but the Scudetto is too important. We played beautiful football in the Champions League and all anyone said was that we were eliminated, so we have to focus on the results now.

"We are trying to press high, without running too many risks, so we can make the most of players like Lukaku, Lautaro and [Achraf] Hakimi who can hurt teams when running into space."

Lukaku's 10th-minute opener came from his only attempt and he added to that with the assist for Martinez's goal midway through the second half.

The Belgium international has now scored in five successive outings for club and country, with this his first headed goal in Serie A since July 2020.

"You can see the work Romelu has done and I don't forget when people said he was overrated. I immediately said that with his potential, he could do extraordinary things here," Conte said.

"The great thing about our strikers is that they are all willing to do the dirty work, too. Christian Eriksen has also grown. We knew it would be difficult for him to adapt to a very tactical league like Serie A. He can do much more, but we are counting on him.

"It's a pity we conceded that late goal, but we are more balanced and mature as a team now. If you want to win league titles, solidity is important."

Despite boasting a healthy lead over closest challengers Milan, and a 12-point advantage on champions Juventus, Conte does not feel there is much difference between the clubs in terms of quality.

"I'm amazed by that," he said of the points gap. "To regain so many points over the past two seasons against the team that has dominated for the past nine years was difficult even in the best of dreams.

"But it doesn't mean we are better than Juventus. They have a strong team and they demonstrated that by beating Napoli."

Inter have won 11 home league games in a row and host relegation-threatened Cagliari on Sunday, but Conte is not ready to celebrate a first Scudetto for Inter since 2009-10 just yet.

"There are still many games to go and each victory is worth six points," he said. "By winning we have put on more pressure and can see the satisfaction in everyone's eyes.

"We want to do something wonderful for a club that hasn't won for 10 years. It's be wonderful if we were the ones to remove from the pedestal those who won for nine years non-stop.

"But there will be tension from here on – it'll feel like the ball weighs more at our feet, perhaps more than for those teams who no longer have the same objectives."

Romelu Lukaku maintained his impressive scoring run to help Inter to a 2-1 win over Sassuolo at San Siro that moves Antonio Conte's side 11 points clear at the top of Serie A.

The Belgium international scored for a fifth game running for club and country to open the scoring after 10 minutes and Inter did not look back in Wednesday's rescheduled clash.

Lukaku played in strike partner Lautaro Martinez for the home side's second and they held on for another win after Hamed Junior Traore had set up a nervy finale with a well-taken strike five minutes from time.

With this latest victory, Inter become just the second side in Serie A history - after Milan in 1989-90 - to win their first 10 games in the second half of a campaign.

Lukaku scored the only goal for Inter in their 1-0 win over Bologna last weekend and picked up from where he left off with Serie A goal number 21 of the season early on here.

Ashley Young sent in a right-footed cross from the left and former Manchester United team-mate Lukaku guided the ball into the far corner with a header from 10 yards.

Sassuolo were without a number of players through coronavirus concerns but would have been level if not for a fine Milan Skriniar block to thwart Jeremie Boga in the box.

The lively Boga tested Samir Handanovic the other side of the half-time interval as the visitors, who held Roma in their last match, started to pose more of a threat.

But Martinez gave Inter further breathing space by burying a low shot past Andrea Consigli once picked out by Lukaku on the counter.

Sassuolo felt Stefan de Vrij pulled back on the shirt of skipper Giacomo Raspadori in the build-up to Martinez's strike, but VAR did not feel the need to intervene.

Inter's win was not without a scare, though, as Traore curled a fine finish away from Handanovic following an Achraf Hakimi error, though there was to be no late leveller at San Siro.

Antonio Conte has seen evidence of "massive progress" in Lautaro Martinez's game both with and without the ball during his time as Inter coach.

Conte arrived at San Siro in 2019, a year after striker Martinez was signed from Racing Club.

The Argentina international's debut campaign had brought just nine goals and two assists in 35 games in all competitions, but those figures quickly improved under Conte.

Martinez tallied 21 goals and five assists in 49 outings last season and has scored 16 times and created six more for team-mates in 38 appearances in the 2020-21 campaign.

His minutes-per-goal rate has improved across his three seasons in Italy, this season finding the back of the net every 162.2 minutes.

Martinez is also creating more chances, 1.4 per 90 minutes, resulting in the increase in assists, but his work in defending from the front has been similarly impressive.

The 23-year-old has won possession in the final third 32 times this term (1.1 per 90) and posted 31 interceptions (also 1.1 per 90), comfortably more than in his previous two seasons combined.

Among Serie A forwards to score 15 or more goals in all competitions this season, Martinez leads the way in both categories as well as in recoveries per 90 (3.1).

Conte was asked about his number 10 ahead of Inter's game with Sassuolo on Wednesday, and said: "He has improved in all areas, on the ball and off the ball.

"He has improved when it comes to holding up possession and attacking the space.

"Like the other players, he has made massive progress. He needs to stay on this track. Taking his age into account, he has a very bright future ahead. It's in his hands."

Of those with 15 goals or more, Martinez's strike partner Romelu Lukaku ranked last for interceptions (0.1) and recoveries (1.6).

But Lukaku trails only Cristiano Ronaldo (31) in the scoring charts with 26 strikes in all competitions, and Conte is confident all of his players are contributing to the cause as Inter - eight points clear with Wednesday's game in hand - close on a first Scudetto since 2009-10.

"I think for every side putting the team first is the most important factor," the coach said. "Alone, you cannot win matches.

"It's the team that gets the best out of the individual. The players have understood the message. They are all pulling in the same direction."

Romelu Lukaku has starred for Inter since arriving from Manchester United in 2019.

Lukaku is spearheading Inter's quest for a Serie A title, with Antonio Conte's side clear atop the table.

His exploits, however, have not gone unnoticed in Europe.

 

TOP STORY – LUKAKU HAPPY AT INTER

Inter star Romelu Lukaku is flattered by Barcelona's interest but is not looking to leave the Nerazzurri, according to Mundo Deportivo.

Lukaku has been linked with Barca, Real Madrid and former club Chelsea following his exploits for Inter, who are closing in on the Scudetto.

But Lukaku is happy at Inter, with the Belgium international only possibly leaving San Siro should the Italian powerhouse seek to raise funds.

 

ROUND-UP

- Tuttosport reports Cristiano Ronaldo wants to see out his Juventus contract, which runs until June 2022. Ronaldo has been tipped to leave Turin, where Juve are struggling under Andrea Pirlo this season. Former clubs Madrid and United have emerged as possible destinations, as well as Paris Saint-Germain. However, Ronaldo is keen to continue at the club, should they qualify for the Champions League.

- PSG star Kylian Mbappe remains a priority signing for Madrid, claims Diario AS. Mbappe has been a long-term target in the Spanish capital, though the economic fallout following the coronavirus pandemic appears to have derailed Madrid's pursuit. But Los Blancos – also linked with in-demand Borussia Dortmund sensation Erling Haaland – are still determined to prise Mbappe from Paris.

- Record reports United are ready to make a move for Sporting CP star Nuno Mendes, who has also been linked with Manchester City and Liverpool. United could reportedly use Alex Telles in a deal to sign the Portuguese full-back.

- Milan captain Alessio Romagnoli is eyeing a new deal amid interest from Barca and Chelsea, according to Calciomercato. Romagnoli is contracted to the Rossoneri until 2022. Barca's reported pursuit comes as they eye the likes of Bayern Munich star David Alaba, City duo Eric Garcia and Sergio Aguero, Lyon forward Memphis Depay and Liverpool midfielder Georginio Wijnaldum.

Romelu Lukaku reflected on a "great moment" after reaching 20 Serie A goals for a second successive season, further vindicating his decision to join Inter.

Having initially seen his header turned onto the crossbar by goalkeeper Federico Ravaglia, Lukaku was able to tap home the rebound while stood on the line to secure Inter a 1-0 win at Bologna on Saturday.

The result – coupled with city rivals Milan only managing a draw at home to Sampdoria earlier in the day – means the Nerazzurri have moved eight points clear at the Serie A summit.

Lukaku's scoring feats have played a crucial role in helping Inter seize control of the title race, with the Belgian becoming only the seventh player to make it to 20 goals in back-to-back league campaigns in the club's history.

"I'm really happy with the win today; it was a complicated game. We took a big step and need to continue down this road," Lukaku – who was signed from Manchester United in 2019 – told Inter TV.

"It's a great moment for me - I made the right decision coming here.

"I'll do everything I can to help the team because I'm nobody without my team-mates. The group is the most important thing. We have our aim and need to keep this up."

Inter have a game in hand on their nearest rivals and having missed out on the Scudetto last season to Juventus, look primed to be crowned champions for the first time since 2010.

Antonio Conte's Inter were made to work hard for the victory by Bologna, who had more possession (55.9 per cent) and 12 attempts, albeit only two of those were on target.

For Lukaku, the result was a further demonstration of the strength within the team to cope in difficult situations, though insisted the job was still far from complete.

"We've all grown a lot. We deal with pressure better and turn it into positive energy," he said.

"This helps us on the pitch and we need to continue in this manner."

Inter have won nine league games in a row for the first time since 2007, when they set the all-time Serie A record by winning 17 on the spin.

They are next in action on Wednesday when Sassuolo visit San Siro.

Leaders Inter extended their advantage at the Serie A summit to eight points on Saturday, Romelu Lukaku scoring the only goal in a hard-fought 1-0 triumph away at Bologna. 

With second-placed Milan only able to draw at home to Sampdoria upon the resumption of the season following the international break, Antonio Conte's side were gifted the chance to tighten their grip on top spot.

They duly seized on the opportunity with a ninth successive league win, producing a solid display on the road to move a step closer to a first league title since the 2009-10 season.

Both teams had strong penalty claims prior to Lukaku's goal in the 31st minute, the striker on hand to tap in the rebound having seen his initial header kept out by a combination of goalkeeper and crossbar.

Federico Ravaglia reacted superbly to parry the attempt up into the air, only to see it loop onto the bar and then drop kindly for Lukaku to prod across the line for his 20th league goal of the season.

Andrea Ranocchia and Lautaro Martinez went close to adding to the advantage prior to the interval, while the latter hit the foot of Ravaglia's left-hand post with a curling effort from just outside the penalty area in the early stages of the second half.

Bologna made sure Inter never felt too comfortable so long as the lead remained at one, though too often the hosts failed to work Samir Handanovic when well positioned to do so.

The Inter captain had been fortunate to see an attempt from Jerdy Schouten go over the top after slipping from his grasp in the opening half, but he was only called on to make two saves throughout the contest.

While the visitors were wasteful themselves at times, managing to get just three of their 14 attempts on target, Lukaku could hardly have missed when presented with the opportunity from which he secured three more vital points for his side.

What does it mean? Inter on course to go the distance

Inter have impressively moved clear of the pack in the title race, aided by their rivals slipping off the pace. As well as Milan dropping points, reigning champions Juventus also faltered when returning to domestic duties, drawing 2-2 in an eventful Turin derby.

This current winning streak is the best for the Nerazzurri since setting a new competition record with 17 in a row in 2007. They still did not finish top at the end of that season, but all the signs this term suggest it is a matter of when, rather than if, Conte's squad are crowned champions.

Lukaku in illustrious company

With the closest of close-range finishes, Lukaku reached 20 league goals for Inter for a second successive season since his arrival from Manchester United.

The Belgium international is just the seventh player to hit that number in back-to-back campaigns for the club, joining a list that includes the legendary Giuseppe Meazza, as well as more recent Inter strikers in Christian Vieri and Mauro Icardi.

Hosts lack style to go with substance

Bologna were looking to win three on the spin in the league for a third time under Sinisa Mihajlovic, yet lacked a cutting edge when it mattered as they failed to score in a home game for only the second time in Serie A this term.

Key Opta Facts

- Inter are the third team in Serie A history to win each of the first nine games in the second half of the season, after Milan in 1989-90 (10) and Juventus in 2017-18 (9). 

- Inter have won five games in a row on the road in Serie A for the first time since November 2019, when they won their first seven away league games under Conte. 

- Inter have won 72 games against Bologna in Serie A, against no side they have won more matches in the competition. 

- Bologna failed to score in a home game for the second time in Serie A this term, also doing so against Napoli last November. 

What's next? 

Inter play their game in hand in midweek, hosting Sassuolo at San Siro on Wednesday. As for Bologna, they are not back in action again until next Sunday, Mihajlovic's side travelling to Roma.

Erling Haaland and Kylian Mbappe have been tipped to join Real Madrid.

But could Romelu Lukaku swap Inter for Madrid?

Madrid are reportedly keen on the in-form star.

 

TOP STORY – MADRID TRACKING LUKAKU

Real Madrid are interested in Inter star Romelu Lukaku, according to the Telegraph via Mundo Deportivo.

LaLiga champions Madrid have been heavily linked with Borussia Dortmund sensation Erling Haaland and Paris Saint-Germain's Kylian Mbappe.

But Madrid are ready to bid for Lukaku, who is also reportedly wanted by former club Chelsea and Spanish giants Barcelona.

 

ROUND-UP

- Marca reports Atletico Madrid will not lower their asking price for star midfielder Marcos Llorente, who has been linked with Manchester United as well as City. Atletico will only begin negotiations if his £103million (€120m) release clause is triggered.

- Cuatro says Madrid do not want Cristiano Ronaldo to return from Juve as Mbappe and Haaland are their primary targets. United and PSG are both interested in Ronaldo.

Liverpool and Chelsea are chasing Madrid midfielder Martin Odegaard, claims Diario AS. Odegaard is currently on loan at Arsenal, who want to make the deal permanent.

- ASRomaLive.it says Arsenal forward Alexandre Lacazette is wanted by Serie A side Roma, who are also eyeing Torino captain and Milan target Andrea Belotti.

Barca, Juventus and PSG are lining up to sign City veteran Sergio Aguero, reports Marca. Aguero is out of contract at season's end. Inter and Chelsea have also been linked.

- Fabrizio Romano says Madrid are still leading the race to sign Bayern Munich's soon-to-be free agent David Alaba, who has also been linked with Barca, Liverpool and PSG.

- Bundesliga champions Bayern are working to extend Leon Goretzka's contract, according to Romano.

Liverpool have set their sights on Torino right-back Wilfried Singo, claims Tuttosport. The 20-year-old has also caught Milan's attention.

Another day, another Erling Haaland rumour.

Haaland's future is dominating headlines amid widespread interest in Europe.

Barcelona are reportedly interested in the Borussia Dortmund sensation.

 

TOP STORY – MESSI OUT, HAALAND IN?

Barcelona have identified Borussia Dortmund star Erling Haaland as a top transfer priority if Lionel Messi leaves at the end of the season, according to Diario AS.

Messi is out of contract at season's end and the superstar Barca captain has been tipped to join either Paris Saint-Germain or Manchester City.

Should Messi depart, Haaland is wanted by Barca and head coach Ronald Koeman, though all eyes will be on Lyon forward Memphis Depay if the former remains at Camp Nou.

Haaland has also been linked with Manchester United, Real Madrid, Chelsea, Juventus, PSG, Liverpool and City.

 

ROUND-UP

- Fabrizio Romano claims City are convinced Kevin De Bruyne will sign a new contract with the club. Raheem Sterling's contract is also on the agenda, while soon-to-be free agent Sergio Aguero will decide his future in the coming weeks. Aguero has been linked with Inter, Barca and Chelsea.

United are set to challenge Madrid in the chase to sign Villarreal defender Pau Torres, reports The Mirror. United are keen to bolster their defence amid links with Madrid pair Sergio Ramos and Raphael Varane, Sevilla's Jules Kounde and RB Leipzig centre-back Ibrahima Konate.

- Calciomercato says Inter will reject any offers for star Romelu Lukaku. It comes as Chelsea and Barca reportedly eye the in-form Belgian.

Barca are monitoring the future of Valencia star Jose Luis Gaya, according to Diario AS. The captain is negotiating a new contract with Valencia.

- Napoli and Spain midfielder Fabian Ruiz is wanted by LaLiga trip Barca, Madrid and Atletico Madrid, claims Diario Sport.

- Mundo Deportivo reports Arsenal are considering a move for Real Betis star Nabil Fekir amid doubts over loanees Martin Odegaard and Dani Ceballos.

Roberto Martinez was impressed by the way Belgium rallied to secure a 1-1 World Cup qualifying draw with a "very good" Czech Republic side.

Lukas Provod put Czech Republic in front five minutes into the second half via a rasping drive from 20 yards out at Sinobo Stadium on Saturday.

Belgium hit back to salvage a point in Prague courtesy of Romelu Lukaku's seventh goal in his last six games for his country.

Czech Republic struck the woodwork twice and Kevin De Bruyne hit the post before Tomas Soucek's last-gasp header was cleared off the line by Belgium defender Toby Alderweireld.

The two nations have four points apiece after two Group E matches early in the battle to qualify for next year's tournament in Qatar, with Czech Republic top on goal difference.

Belgium manager Martinez was pleased with the way his team responded to falling behind, having also fought back to beat Wales 3-1 on Wednesday.

"We were put in difficulty by a very good Czech team and we had to adapt, to change our way of playing and responding," Martinez said.

"We were able to react and that's what I will remember from this match. We did not accept the situation after conceding the goal. We have to do better, of course, but I'm pretty happy with the team's reaction."

Martinez revealed Dries Mertens was withdrawn due to a shoulder injury, but was unsure over the extent of the damage.

The Spaniard refused to be drawn on whether in-form striker Lukaku and key midfielder De Bruyne will be rested when the top-ranked side in international football face Belarus on Tuesday.

"We will look at each case separately. We will first regenerate the bodies, because playing three matches in seven days is not easy." he said.

Romelu Lukaku maintained his magnificent form to rescue a 1-1 World Cup qualifying draw for Belgium against the Czech Republic on a miserable Saturday in Prague.

A superb first senior international goal from Lukas Provod put an impressive Czech Republic side in front five minutes into the second half at Sinobo Stadium on Saturday.

Belgium came from behind to beat Wales in their first Group E game in midweek and they rallied once again to secure a point courtesy of Lukaku’s seventh goal in his last six games for the Red Devils.

Both sides struck the woodwork in an entertaining contest, but had to settle for a draw that leaves them with four points apiece from two matches early in their bid to qualify for the tournament in Qatar next year.

Lukaku fired over and Dries Mertens had an early shot palmed wide by Tomas Vaclik in a promising start for the world's number one international side.

The Czech Republic sensed Belgium were there for the taking as the rain continued to lash down and Michael Krmencik cut inside Jason Denayer before striking the outside of the near post with a left-footed strike 16 minutes in.

There was no let-up in a pulsating first half and Vaclik produced a magnificent one-handed save to keep out Leander Dendoncker's rasping drive, before Kevin De Bruyne failed to generate any power on Lukaku's cross with a close-range header.

It was the home side who got the breakthrough early in the second half with a brilliant finish from winger Provod, who found the far corner of the net with a venomous right-foot finish from 20 yards out after being picked out by Jakub Jankto.

Belgium were only behind for 10 minutes, though, as De Bruyne threaded a ball through to Lukaku and the striker turned Ondrej Celustka inside-out before finding the back of the net with a finish Vaclik might have been disappointed not to keep out.

De Bruyne almost put Roberto Martinez's men in front but saw his right-foot strike come back off the outside of the post and Jan Boril hit the crossbar with a measured late drive at the other end.

Tomas Soucek - captaining his country for the first time - went agonisingly close to snatching a dramatic win right at the end when Toby Alderweireld nodded his looping header off the line, so it ended honours even.

Romelu Lukaku is Chelsea's back-up plan if they cannot land Erling Haaland.

Haaland is being circled by several top clubs including Chelsea, along with Manchester City and Real Madrid.

The Borussia Dortmund talent will demand a significant transfer fee which the Blues may be able to afford.

 

TOP STORY – LUKAKU FIRMS AS CHELSEA'S PLAN B

Chelsea have turned their attention to their former striker Romelu Lukaku as they look to bolster their forward options.

The Telegraph reports that Haaland still remains top priority but Inter forward Lukaku is being heavily considered.

The Manchester Evening News are also reporting City are interested in Lukaku as both clubs prepare to miss out on Haaland.

Inter have indicated that Lukaku, who was at Chelsea from 2011 to 2014 but spent spells on loan at West Brom and Everton, is not for sale.

 

ROUND-UP

- Marca's front page discusses Real Madrid setting Erling Haaland and Kylian Mbappe as their transfer priorities amid a major reconstruction whilst reinforcing a Cristiano Ronaldo return is not part of their plans.

- ESPN claim Borussia Dortmund have set a €180m valuation on Haaland, as numerous clubs circle for the Norwegian forward's services.

- Manchester United are considering offering Jesse Lingard a new deal following his exceptional form on loan at West Ham United, according to The Sun.

- AS is reporting that Manchester United have also made an approach to sign Atletico Madrid's Marcos Llorente for £68.5m.

- Turkish outlet Ajansspor reports that Fenerbahce have contacted ex-Juventus coach Maurizio Sarri about potentially taking up their head coach role.

Stefano Pioli says it is understandable Milan are struggling to cope with a crippling injury list after losing further ground in the Serie A title race.

Milan fell to a 1-0 loss at home to Napoli on Sunday through Matteo Politano's strike early in the second half, the Inter loanee's fourth goal in his past eight league games - as many as he managed in his first 17 appearances of the campaign.

The defeat leaves Pioli's men nine points behind leaders Inter, having themselves been at the summit just a month ago.

Milan were again without striker Zlatan Ibrahimovic against Napoli, as well as Mario Mandzukic, while Ante Rebic and Hakan Calhanoglu have also spent time on the sidelines.

That told as the Rossoneri failed to find a way past David Ospina from their five shots on target, though Pioli pointed out fellow heavyweights Inter and Juventus would also struggle if they were without their best players.

"When you are missing that many players, it does make a difference, especially when they are players who also bring experience and leadership," he told Sky Sport Italia.

"We had to play many games without a real centre-forward, so considering all of that, the team deserves praise for all they've been able to do in the circumstances.

"Try to imagine Inter without [Romelu] Lukaku, Lautaro [Martinez] or [Alexis] Sanchez; maybe Juventus without [Cristiano] Ronaldo, [Alvaro] Morata or [Federico] Chiesa.

"We had more than half the season without Zlatan, while Rebic and Calhanoglu were also injured for long periods.

"We showed all week that this is not just a strong team, but a special one. Unfortunately, there wasn't enough tonight.

"We should've either been more courageous or sat back more, but tonight we tended to be somewhere in-between and were caught in no man's land."

Milan have now won just two of their past six league matches and are only six points better off than fifth-placed Napoli, who also have a game in hand to play.

And with the second leg of their Europa League last-16 tie with Manchester United to come on Thursday, three days before a trip to Fiorentina, Pioli accepts fatigue is now playing a big part.

"It was a very tough and tiring week. I saw a performance that was sufficient, but that's not enough," he said.

"We returned from Manchester at 3am on Friday morning. It's obvious the Europa League is more stressful and damaging than the Champions League, especially when we started in September.

"Having said that, we are Milan and would never want to be without that European presence. We weren't expecting to be in second place, but now that we are here, we want to keep hold of it.

"Inter have the momentum - they really started to step on the gas after their Champions League exclusion and it allowed them a full week to prepare for every game.

"We are not looking ahead or over our shoulders; we just stay focused on our path."

Napoli, previously without an away win in four league outings, are now unbeaten in their past six league encounters with Milan at San Siro since December 2014.

The home side's misery was compounded late on when, shortly after Theo Hernandez had a strong penalty shout rejected, substitute Ante Rebic was dismissed for dissent.

Despite now being closer to fifth place than first, however, midfielder Sandro Tonali insists Milan are still looking up the table rather than down.

"I don't think there is fear, otherwise we'd lose every game," he said. "We are here and must continue to aim high and not give up now."

"This is not the game we prepared - it was not what we intended to do. Napoli closed down all the spaces and we didn't create enough scoring opportunities.

"The ones we did create with Rafa Leao were not converted and then Napoli scored their first real chance."

Inter strengthened their position at the Serie A summit as Lautaro Martinez's late header secured a slender 2-1 win over Torino on Sunday.

The Nerazzurri never looked like scoring during a dismal first half, but they forged ahead in the 62nd minute when Romelu Lukaku slotted home from the penalty spot.

Antonio Sanabria pulled the hosts level eight minutes later, yet Inter celebrated an eighth consecutive top-flight win courtesy of Martinez's 14th league goal of the season five minutes from full-time.

The result moved Antonio Conte's side nine points clear at the top of Serie A, although Milan had the chance to restore a six-point gap by overcoming Napoli later on Sunday.

RB Leipzig head coach Julian Nagelsmann compared Brian Brobbey to Inter star Romelu Lukaku after the Bundesliga side agreed to sign the Ajax sensation.

Brobbey will join Nagelsmann's Leipzig on a free transfer at the end of the season after agreeing a four-year deal until 2025.

Eredivisie giants Ajax were determined to keep Brobbey, but the 19-year-old Dutch forward opted to leave for Leipzig.

Brobbey, who made his senior debut for Ajax in October, has scored twice in seven substitute appearances in Eredivisie this season, while he has netted as many goals during the 2020-21 Europa League campaign.

Nagelsmann compared Brobbey to in-form Inter forward Lukaku after being asked about the similarities between the two players.

"It is always very tough for a player, when you compare him to others as people start to grow expectations that are not good for a player at that age," Nagelsmann told reporters ahead of Sunday's showdown with Eintracht Frankfurt.

"In regards to his physique and the way he plays, he is similar to Romelu Lukaku. And we would be happy if he can manage to become a player with the same qualities. But to paint a picture for the fans, you can definitely say that he is similar to Lukaku. But it is a great wish of ours that he can develop himself in a similar way and that he will be able to become as important for the European football [as Lukaku].

"If that will be the case, then our scouting department has made a great decision. We will cross our fingers for that to happen. But please don't start saying that he will play just like Lukaku, because this won't be the case."

After Friday's announcement, Brobbey said: "RB Leipzig is a great club and is playing an amazing season. Julian Nagelsmann is a young and very good coach, who I can learn a lot from.

"The team is stable and gives off a strong feeling of unity. I'm looking forward to joining the team and of course want to play my part in helping the club be so successful."

Leipzig are second in the Bundesliga, two points adrift of leaders and defending champions Bayern Munich through 24 rounds.

But Nagelsmann is unwilling to discuss the title race, adding: "I have already mentioned that I do not want to talk about that so much. Last year, we were a bit closer to Bayern or maybe a bit further ahead and we still didn't manage to win the tile and eventually fell behind with a few points difference.

"For us it is about following through with the consistency that we currently have. There are still many games to be played, many points to get but also many points to lose in either direction. We don't gain a lot from just talking about it. We need to try to be the best possible opponent for all the teams we face.

"It is our aim to win every match. I also said on Wednesday after [Champions League fixture against] Liverpool that I find it disrespectful against many others to say that the championship will be decided on the third of April. There are still a few games to go. This would also imply that we will win every game that we come up against. But to do so we will have to go to our limits. It's not like we will win every game with ease and then say: 'It was nice of you to come for a visit. Goodbye and it was obvious that you'll lose'. There's a lot of work to be done with many narrow games. We have seen it against Freiburg where we took a lot of time to find our rhythm needed to win the game.

"Against [Borussia] Gladbach, it took us until the 93rd minute to win. We had a bit of luck against Berlin as well, but have solved it with dominance towards the end and scored the very important second goal. It is not a walk in the park for us. Therefore, it doesn't help us to talk about the aim at the end. We have to be successful from game to game and take them as they come. Now it is Frankfurt and then we will see what will happen at the end.

"Of course, we are happy when coaches or experts are honouring our success but we can't gain anything from that. It is important that we deserve to be where we are after the 34th matchday. Whatever it will be, we will take that into our holiday. In the middle of the season, it is a nice feeling but it doesn’t help us a lot at the moment."

Leipzig's 53 points from 24 games represents their best-ever return at this stage of a Bundesliga season. The club's previous best was 49 points, achieved in both 2016-17 and 2019-20.

Meanwhile, Leipzig have won six consecutive Bundesliga games for the first time since 2019. Their club record stands at eight wins in a row from September to December 2016.

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