Mauro Icardi rejected criticism of Romelu Lukaku's performances since joining Inter and expects the Belgium striker to find form for the Nerazzuri.

Lukaku has replaced Icardi at the head of the Inter attack, signing a five-year contract with the Serie A club in a reported €80million transfer from Manchester United in August.

He has scored only three goals in eight appearances but Icardi, who last month left Inter for Paris Saint-Germain in a loan deal that can be made permanent, does not believe Lukaku has endured a poor start to life in Italian football.

"It doesn't seem to me that he's experiencing a moment of difficulty," Icardi told Gazzetta dello Sport. "In fact, I think he's started well, scoring a couple of goals immediately.

"It's not easy for anyone to play in Italy. Serie A is the most defensive championship in Europe.

"Maybe he needs a little more time to settle in, but he's already scored a lot of goals in his career. And he will do it again."

Icardi is not focused on what his future may hold, instead concentrating solely on his form for PSG. The Argentina international has scored two goals in four games for the defending Ligue 1 champions.

"This year, I'm at PSG and my goal is to give my best for this shirt," Icardi added,

"Then at the end of the season, around May or June, we'll see what happens. It's still too early to say anything."

Belgium became the first team to secure qualification for Euro 2020 with a huge 9-0 win at home to minnows San Marino.

Romelu Lukaku's 50th international goal broke the deadlock in Brussels on Thursday, and the striker set up Nacer Chadli for the second before Cristian Brolli's own goal made it 3-0.

Lukaku struck again, Andrea Grandoni deflected in Toby Alderweireld's shot and Youri Tielemans scored ahead of the interval, after which Roberto Martinez's side took their foot off the gas.

Christian Benteke, Yari Verschaeren and Timothy Castagne wrapped up the scoring and, with seven wins out of seven in Group I, Belgium are guaranteed to finish in the top two and can look forward to the European Championship.

Despite dominating, it took Belgium until the 28th minute to open the scoring, goalkeeper Simone Benedettini having had little to do amid a flurry of off-target efforts.

But when San Marino lost the ball in their own half, Lukaku and Tielemans swapped passes, with the Inter striker rifling in a powerful finish at the near post.

Benedettini was soon beaten twice again, Eden Hazard and Lukaku combining to set up Chadli for a curling 20-yard finish before Brolli unfortunately scored into his own goal.

A deflected drive from Lukaku and Grandoni's own goal from Alderweireld's shot preceded a fine strike from Tielemans that made it 6-0 before half-time as San Marino's early defensive resilience crumbled.

Dries Mertens hit the post on the hour mark as the tempo slowed to walking pace and Lukaku missed chances to claim the match ball before his substitution.

Lukaku's replacement Benteke struck with a shot from the edge of the box that deceived the luckless Benedettini before 18-year-old Verschaeren converted a penalty he won himself to score his first international goal.

Castagne smashed home a late ninth for the hosts, but San Marino were at least able to avoid conceding double figures as Benedettini denied Benteke in added time.


What does it mean? Euro 2020 planning starts now for Martinez

As the first team to book their place at the finals, Roberto Martinez can start thinking ahead to Belgium's campaign in next year's tournament. The top-ranked team in the world, Belgium will be expected to go far.

For San Marino, this game was always about retaining as much pride as possible. The last time they avoided defeat was back in 2014, when they earned a 0-0 draw at home to Estonia.


Record scorer Lukaku looks sharp

Already the top Belgium goalscorer of all time, Lukaku was bright in attack to continue his fine start to the season, having impressed with Inter since leaving Manchester United. Belgium initially found it hard to break down San Marino before Lukaku found a way through, pinching the ball back for his side and smashing in the opener.


Mertens fails to make his mark

San Marino at home should have been a golden chance for Napoli forward Mertens to add to his international tally. But he was barely involved, hitting the woodwork with a rare effort before he made way for teenager Verschaeren midway through the second half.


What's next?

Martinez is likely to rotate his Belgium squad for Sunday's trip to Kazakhstan. San Marino travel to Scotland on the same day.

Inter head coach Antonio Conte said star striker Romelu Lukaku must train more to be in great shape due to his physique.

Lukaku experienced a quiet game as Inter suffered a 2-1 loss to Serie A rivals Juventus in the Derby d'Italia at San Siro on Sunday.

A club-record signing from Manchester United before the transfer window shut, Lukaku returned to the line-up after missing Wednesday's Champions League defeat against Barcelona due to a muscular problem.

Asked about Lukaku, Conte told reporters: "Romelu is definitely a player that must train more, because being a player with a massive body he needs to train, to play, to be in great shape.

"In this beginning of the season he had this back issue, now he's been dealing with this other quadricep issue since the game against Lazio.

"But I think he gave everything, it's inevitable that against Barcelona we didn't have Lukaku and it was important to have him. And we didn't have him. 

"However, Romelu as well was very committed today, he tried to do his best, and now let's hope he can leave these little issues behind him and be at his 100 per cent."

Lukaku has scored three goals for Inter since arriving from United for a fee understood to be €80million (£73m) in August.

Gonzalo Higuain sent Juventus top of Serie A - and handed Antonio Conte his first league defeat as Inter boss - as the reigning champions secured a 2-1 victory at San Siro.

Higuain started on the bench but the experienced striker once more came up with the goods for Maurizio Sarri, who he has played under at Napoli and Chelsea, guiding home the winner 10 minutes from time.

Paulo Dybala was deployed in the first XI at his compatriot's expense and took just four minutes to break the Derby d'Italia deadlock, but Lautaro Martinez equalised from the penalty spot after a handball by Matthijs de Ligt.

Although Inter rattled the post through a deflected Matias Vecino shot, a sweeping Juve move ended with Rodrigo Bentancur teeing up fellow replacement Higuain to ensure the Bianconeri remain the only unbeaten side in Italy's top tier.

Romelu Lukaku has been passed fit to lead Inter's attack in Sunday's Derby d'Italia against Juventus. 

Lukaku sat out the midweek Champions League trip to Barcelona with a muscular problem but the Belgium striker will look to add to three goals in six Serie A appearances when Antonio Conte's men entertain champions Juve at San Siro. 

Maurizio Sarri has given Federico Bernardeschi the nod to start ahead of Aaron Ramsey, while Paulo Dybala will partner Cristiano Ronaldo up front – Gonzalo Higuain reverting to the bench alongside the former Arsenal midfielder. 

Ramsey's old colleague Alexis Sanchez is suspended, meaning he is unable to test Juan Cuadrado, who once again lines up as an emergency right-back for Juventus in the absence of Mattia De Sciglio and Danilo. 

Kwadwo Asamoah will start at left wing-back for Inter against his old club, while Ronaldo will resume a decade long rivalry forged in Madrid against ex-Atletico centre-back Diego Godin in the Nerazzurri defence.

Juventus are chasing a ninth Serie A title in a row this season but trail Inter at the summit by two points after ex-Bianconeri boss Conte's 100 per cent start to life in Milan.

Real Madrid are eager to strengthen and moves are set to be made in January.

The LaLiga giants' mixed start to the season continued with a surprise draw against Club Brugge in the Champions League on Tuesday.

Madrid plan to make signings in January – and two midfielders remain on their list.

 

TOP STORY – MADRID WANT JANUARY SIGNINGS AMID ERIKSEN, VAN DE BEEK LINKS

Real Madrid are planning to strengthen their squad in January and Tottenham's Christian Eriksen and Ajax's Donny van de Beek are at the forefront of their thinking, according to Marca.

Eriksen is coming out of contract at the end of the season, while Van de Beek seemingly wants to finish the campaign at Ajax.

While Madrid are top of LaLiga, they have collected just one point from their opening two Champions League games in Group A.


ROUND-UP

- Manchester United's main targets seemingly remain unchanged. Sky Sports News reports the Premier League club have Juventus' Mario Mandzukic and Bournemouth's Callum Wilson as their main striker targets ahead of the January window.

- Leicester City are keeping tabs on 15-year-old Turkish midfielder Burak Ince, according to Fotospor. Manchester City are also reportedly interested in the teenager who would cost in the region of £1.3m.

- Spain are still waiting for Ansu Fati. The Barcelona teenager is yet to receive the necessary paperwork to debut for Spain, according to AS. Sport reports authorisation will arrive next week, with a debut for the senior team or Under-21s a possibility.

- The Football Association has requested to see evidence after Liverpool allegedly paid Manchester City £1million after a complaint from the Premier League champions that their scouting system had been hacked, according to The Times.

Lionel Messi and Ousmane Dembele have been passed fit to be included in the Barcelona squad to face Inter in the Champions League.

Club captain Messi has only started one game this season in all competitions due to calf and thigh injuries respectively.

Dembele has also been included in a 20-man squad named by coach Ernesto Valverde, after a minor knock, but teenage prodigy Ansu Fati remains out with a knee problem.

Defenders Samuel Umtiti and Jordi Alba are still sidelined and will miss Wednesday's Group F game at Camp Nou.

Inter have been dealt a blow with head coach Antonio Conte confirming in a news conference that striker Romelu Lukaku has been ruled out.

Lukaku's absence could open the door for former Barca forward Alexis Sanchez to start for the Nerazzurri, who drew their opener at Slavia Prague.

Romelu Lukaku will miss Inter's blockbuster Champions League clash against Barcelona due to injury.

The Belgium striker has not travelled to Camp Nou with the Nerazzurri squad for the Group F clash against the reigning La Liga champions due to a muscular issue.

It remains to be seen if Lukaku will be fit for the huge Serie A contest with Juventus on Sunday, but head coach Antonio Conte is hopeful the quadricep problem is not too serious.

"Lukaku isn't here, he had a slight muscular issue in the quadricep that he has been carrying for 10 days," Conte said a pre-match news conference.

"He was continuing to feel the problem and the tests were negative, but we preferred in any case not to risk him. We have to rely on how the player feels in these cases.

"It's not a tear, so we are fairly relaxed and will focus on that [if he can face Juve] only after tomorrow's game with Barcelona."

Manchester United manager Ole Gunnar Solskjaer said the struggling Premier League giants want to solve their striker crisis during the January transfer window.

United have struggled for goals and creativity since sanctioning the exits of Romelu Lukaku and Alexis Sanchez, with the Red Devils languishing in 11th position ahead of Monday's showdown against Arsenal.

Solskjaer's side were linked to Juventus pair Mario Mandzukic and Paulo Dybala, Borussia Dortmund sensation Jadon Sancho and Athletic Bilbao star Inaki Williams before the window shut.

Speculation continues to link United with Mandzukic and Sancho, while Lyon's Moussa Dembele has emerged as another option, with Leicester City's James Maddison also a reported target in Solskjaer's pursuit of creativity.

"We let Alexis and Romelu go, you don't have to be a rocket scientist to see that it's forward that next time we're going to recruit," said Solskjaer, whose side have only scored eight goals in six games as they sit 13 points adrift of leaders Liverpool. "We're looking for some creativity and goals.

"There's no point getting players in that you're not 100 percent sure about. When you get players in, you need the right ones that are going to stay here for a longer period and that's the long-term thinking we have to show.

"I cannot think, 'I need a player because this is my reputation'. No, it's the club. There were strikers [available in the off-season], but they weren't the ones we wanted. We couldn't get the one we wanted."

While United have struggled, Lukaku has flourished since his club-record move to Inter, where the Belgian star has scored three goals to lead Antonio Conte's men to six wins from as many Serie A fixtures.

Solskjaer added: "It was time for Rom to go. He knows that. He didn't want to be here. What is the point in having players that don't want to be here?

"We need to score more goals, definitely, and that's what I've said here. We're working on improving relationships, the patterns, the understanding and we've started in one end with the foundation, we've done great defensively, but we're not happy with the return going forward.

"You wouldn't mind scoring a few goals on set-plays and from midfield, of course. I think the forwards are always going to give us goals, so of course, we both expect and hope they're going to come."

Alexis Sanchez has been handed his first start for Inter in their Serie A clash with Sampdoria on Saturday.

Sanchez joined Inter on a season-long loan from Manchester United last month but has managed a combined total of just 17 minutes in two substitute appearances.

He lines up alongside Lautaro Martinez in attack, with Romelu Lukaku dropping to the bench.

Antonio Conte has made a host of changes from the side that beat Lazio in midweek, with Alessandro Bastoni, Antonio Candreva, Roberto Gagliardini, Stefano Sensi and Kwadwo Asamoah all coming into the starting XI.

Inter maintained their 100 per cent record in Serie A as Antonio Conte's side recorded a 1-0 win over Lazio at San Siro on Wednesday.

The hosts, fresh from a 2-0 derby triumph over AC Milan at the weekend, opened the scoring with the first effort at goal when Danilo D'Ambrosio headed home after 23 minutes.

Lazio ought to have been level before the interval, with Joaquin Correa guilty of wasting two excellent opportunities against an in-form Samir Handanovic.

The second-half introduction of Ciro Immobile, benched after his adverse reaction at being substituted in the 2-0 win over Parma on Sunday, failed to prompt a Lazio comeback.

Conte's men have now won five from five to mark themselves out as the most likely challengers to Juventus' top-flight supremacy.

Inter dominated possession from the start but it was the visitors who threatened first. 

Felipe Caicedo ran into the penalty area but his heavy touch allowed the alert Handanovic - making his 300th appearance in all competitions for the Nerazzurri - to clean up the loose ball.

When the first attempt finally arrived it found the back of the net, D'Ambrosio leaping above Jony to nod in Cristiano Biraghi's cross.

Lazio sought a swift response and forced Handanovic into a superb save to tip Correa's curling strike over the crossbar.

With the game suddenly stretched, Romelu Lukaku drilled narrowly wide and Correa fluffed his lines when clean through on goal.

Handanovic again came to Inter's rescue with a reflex save from Correa's close-range shot to ensure his team were ahead at the break.

Correa was soon at it again in the second half, jumping to head a corner wide from just six yards, and Simone Inzaghi could wait no longer to bring on Immobile.

A fine double save from Thomas Strakosha, denying first Nicolo Barella then Matteo Politano, kept Lazio in the contest before the hour mark, while substitute Lautaro Martinez fired narrowly wide in added time.

Yet despite those reprieves, Inzaghi's side were unable to find an equaliser to put an end to Inter's perfect start to the Serie A season.

 

What does it mean? Inter have the stomach for a title tussle

Following a derby win over their city rivals, Inter could have fallen victim to a touch of complacency in this match. However, Conte's team produced another impressive showing, combining defensive solidity – they have still only conceded one league goal this term – with a calm and measured approach on the ball.

They face Juve early next month in what is shaping up to be an intriguing contest. 

A big hand for super Samir

That Inter kept their excellent defensive record intact was in large part down to Handanovic. On several occasions it was solely the Slovenian who stood between Lazio and a goal that would have changed the course of the game.

You must be Joaquin!

Creating chances was not really Lazio's problem; they had enough in the first half alone to have seriously troubled their opponents. Correa was more culpable than anyone in their failure to make a breakthrough. A little composure could have made a big difference.

What's next?

Both sides are in domestic action at the weekend before a return to continental competition, with Inter off to Sampdoria and then Barcelona, while Lazio have back-to-back home games against Genoa and Rennes.

The head of the Italian National Olympic Committee (CONI) has claimed diving is "more wrong" than racism.

Serie A has come in for widespread criticism after a series of reported incidents of racism at stadiums this season.

Monkey chants could be heard as Inter striker Romelu Lukaku scored a penalty in a 2-1 win at Cagliari, while Hellas Verona denied opposition midfielder Franck Kessie was racially abused by their fans during a 1-0 defeat to AC Milan.

Atalanta's game against Fiorentina was stopped for three minutes after Viola defender Dalbert, on loan from Inter, reported racist abuse from the crowd to the referee.

When asked about the incidents, CONI president Giovanni Malago acknowledged the issue but suggested diving is a bigger problem.

"The fans who jeer black players are wrong," he told Radio24.

"However, it's even more wrong when someone who earns €3million dives in the box and is then also happy to take the penalty."

Raheem Sterling's comments on racism will be seen as a milestone and have already affected media reporting, according to Fare executive director Piara Power.

Manchester City attacker Sterling's decision to speak out after he was racially abused in a Premier League game at Chelsea in December 2018 was praised by the chief of Fare, an organisation dedicated to combating inequality in football.

The England international argued the way the media reports about young black players contributes to racism in society, with Powar believing the point has been taken on board.

"I think what Raheem did there was very important," Powar told Omnisport. "He was racially abused at Chelsea and rather than go after the perpetrators, or focus on that incident, he knew the world had seen it and put out something, an analysis, which I think was quite stunning.

"And one of the wider reasons as to why, perhaps, he's being racially abused. And he linked it to the media and the differential treatment of two players because of their race. And, I think, what's happened there is that I've noticed that actually that's had an impact on the media.

"Many of the media now are also taking on the point that they're not diverse enough. You see now some new appointments being made in newspapers, sports rooms, the newsrooms of sports sections. You see now many of the broadcasters are also keen to make sure that they have diversity.

"And it is interesting. I think Raheem's comments will be seen as a milestone in the future - that doesn't meant that things have been resolved overnight, or that they are perfect, but I think that is fundamentally a big point."

Inter striker Romelu Lukaku was a victim of alleged racist abuse this season, with the Belgium international subjected to monkey noises as he prepared to take a penalty in a Serie A game at Cagliari.

The Sardinian club has a record of similar such incidents but avoided punishment from the league.

"I would say 10 years ago, maybe 15, 20 years ago the Romelu Lukaku incident would have been just another one that takes place every week," Powar added.

"But that's quite correct, we should have a sense of crisis around these incidents, just because of the nature of them, what people are saying, what it means, what the message means.

"We've never been clearer in our understanding of what to racially abuse someone in that way means to them individually and to their community.

"In Italy they've always had a problem because there's never been a systemic way of addressing it, there's never been a systemic programme to address the problems they have. They have a heavy-handed policing approach, which puts fans on the defensive.

"They have crumbling stadiums, so people are going to stadiums which are not very welcoming, where they don't feel like they're being treated as human beings. And then you have a lack of understanding generally, which has been exacerbated by the government they have for the last two or three years.

"In Italy there's a very big public debate about African migrants in particular, because of the Mediterranean crossings from North Africa. And much of that debate has been very negative, led by the government.

"Again, that's going to end up being felt inside stadiums and the response to it until now has been characterised by the administrators – [the] FA, Serie A – really not understanding what they should do and then being frightened of upsetting the government, being seen to take a counter-position to the government. So very complicated things in Italy that go back a long way.

"I've got friends who play high-level football in Italy and they say 10, 15, 20 years ago it was exactly the same. It just doesn't seem to have caught up with other countries in the top five leagues in western Europe, and it's causing us quite a lot of problems at the moment."

Alexis Sanchez is still not ready to start for Inter, according to coach Antonio Conte.

Sanchez has made one brief substitute appearance in Serie A since joining Inter on loan from Manchester United.

The Chile international did not have a full pre-season with United due to a hamstring injury sustained at the Copa America.

With Inter top of Serie A and yet to drop a point, Conte is in no rush to push Sanchez into his side.

"For him it is worth the words I give for everyone else," he said ahead of Wednesday's home game against Lazio.

"When I see ready players, they will be inserted [into the XI].

"I have to work in the interest of Inter, not of individuals."

While Sanchez has made a slow start at San Siro, ex-United team-mate Romelu Lukaku is thriving.

The Belgium international has hit three goals in four Serie A games to fire the Nerazzurri to a perfect record.

Conte tried to take Lukaku to Chelsea earlier in his career, but the Italian opted against adding to his previous praise for the striker.

"Of Lukaku, I have said far and wide what I think, it seems to me superfluous to repeat it again," Conte added.

"For the midfielders, on the other hand, I am happy: beyond those who score, the more arrows we have available to our bow, the better.

"But even in the past, this is a department that has always played a fairly important and decisive role in my teams.

"When you start a new project, the hope is that it is long and lasting. The more you stay in a club, the more it means that your ideas are being assimilated.

"Surely for a coach to stay long is the best thing. I've never been able to coach the same team for more than three years, and change means starting from scratch.

"It's not easy, because you have to find people who can support you in every context."

Romelu Lukaku hailed his relationship with head coach Antonio Conte after scoring in Inter's 2-0 derby victory over city rivals AC Milan.

The former Manchester United striker discussed the extra motivation he has been given by Conte, who has guided Inter to four consecutive victories in Serie A.

Inter were comfortably the better side in Saturday's derby, Marcelo Brozovic's deflected effort early in the second half being followed up by Lukaku's impressive header 12 minutes from time, which led to a celebration between him and the ex-Chelsea boss.

Conte's men also hit the post on three occasions and found Milan keeper Gianluigi Donnarumma in inspired form on a night that could easily have produced more goals.

For Lukaku, the convincing win was a perfect answer to a poor Champions League draw against Slavia Prague on Tuesday.

"My relationship with Conte is very strong," Lukaku said to DAZN.

"He is a coach who really helps me. At the age of 26, I want a coach like this, who motivates and helps me every day.

"I am very happy to be here and to be working with him. This match is very important for us and we are pleased with the three points.

"The game with Slavia Prague was difficult, but we prepared well and gave a strong reply."

Conte, meanwhile, believes there is still much more for Lukaku to give, and he felt Inter's European struggles drove his team on.

"He is 26 years old and arrived here thanks to his potential," Conte said of Lukaku, who reportedly clashed with Brozovic in the dressing room on the night of the Slavia match.

"If we work with him properly, he can become extremely important. He can give even more and I told him that too.

"Brozo and Lukaku are exceptional lads and if anything, I get cross with them because they are too nice. They need to be more clinical on the pitch.

"Quarrels mean there is blood in the veins and a desire to improve. I've been a player, I've argued with team-mates many times and then gone out to dinner with them afterwards. It's not a big deal and they enjoy being together."

Conte added: "We were coming off a performance in the Champions League that left a bitter taste in the mouth and fired us up even more to go into the derby in the right way.

"The lads played a good game in every aspect. It's a deserved victory, I am happy for our fans, because derbies are special games and never easy to win.

"I am happy with our Serie A start, less so in the Champions League, but I do also believe that setback can help bring us back on to the right path.

"A commander can have his plans, but he needs the foot soldiers to go out and execute the orders, so I am fortunate to have very good, disciplined players."

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