Antonio Conte said he has nothing to "reproach" his Inter players for despite needing a 90th-minute equaliser from Romelu Lukaku to salvage a 2-2 Champions League draw against Borussia Monchengladbach.

Inter appeared to be on their way to victory courtesy of Lukaku's first goal shortly after the interval, but a Ramy Bensebaini penalty and a late strike from Jonas Hofmann looked to have sealed all three points for the visiting Bundesliga side on Wednesday.

Lukaku bundled in from close range in the closing stages, though, to snatch a share of the spoils for Inter, who lost Alexis Sanchez to an adductor injury at half-time in the Group B showdown in Milan midweek.

Inter netted a 90th-minute equaliser in their opening group-stage game for the second consecutive Champions League campaign, while the Nerazzurri have only won one of their last six opening Champions League fixtures.

Inter head coach Conte refused to be too hard on his players and said the loss of full-back Achraf Hakimi due to a positive coronavirus test shortly before the game had a significant impact on his side's preparations. 

"We have to concentrate on doing our best on the pitch," Conte told Sky Sport Italia. "That's all we have to do. It wasn't easy today to receive the news at 5pm that Hakimi was positive. 

"Up until this morning, he was training with us. He was meant to start, so we'd prepared all the tactical situations.

"I told the lads to face every situation with heads held high. It wasn't easy on a psychological level, but the lads showed they are good men as well as good players.

"Tonight we did well against a team with a great deal of potential, one that has technical quality as well as physicality.

"I don't remember a Samir Handanovic save, whereas we had the chances to win the game. I have nothing to reproach the lads for.

"Inevitably, we can improve in some situations where there are errors and we have to work on whittling those down."

Lukaku cut a frustrated figure despite his late equaliser and said Inter need to show more resilience after their winless run was extended to three games in all competitions.

The Belgian star has now scored in each of his last nine European fixtures across the Champions League and Europa League (11), extending the longest-ever such run by a player for Inter.

"This is not a good result in my view, because we can do better," he said. "We must keep working and be stronger mentally because it's not an easy moment for us and we have to keep believing in our quality. 

"Now we need to be stronger, above all mentally, and do better in defence, as we conceded two goals due to our errors. We made so many mistakes and wasted chances up front too, so if we don't take those we are made to pay at this level."

Romelu Lukaku scored in the 90th minute as Inter salvaged a 2-2 draw with Borussia Monchengladbach in a dramatic clash in Champions League Group B.

Lukaku opened the scoring four minutes into the second half at San Siro with his 10th goal in his last nine European appearances, but Gladbach had the victory in their grasp after Jonas Hofmann struck late on.

Antonio Conte's side tasted defeat to city rivals Milan in Serie A last time out and looked set to be heading for another loss when Hofmann raced through to slot home following Ramy Bensebaini's equaliser from the spot.

Yet Inter had the final say, with Lukaku on hand to bundle home his second from a corner and snatch a share of the spoils.

Holders Bayern Munich begin their Champions League defence with the visit of Atletico Madrid on Wednesday, in a game that will pit Robert Lewandowski against Luis Suarez.

Liverpool, winners in 2019, travel to Ajax, and Real Madrid host Shakhtar Donetsk, with two of the competition's most successful clubs hoping to avoid some worrying runs of defeats.

Antonio Conte's Inter tackle Borussia Monchengladbach and Manchester City host Porto, a team who boast a rather unfortunate record when it comes to games on English soil.

Here is some of the key Opta data from day two of matchday one.

Ajax v Liverpool: Can Firmino stop the rot?

This will be Liverpool's first meeting with Ajax since the 1966-67 European Cup, when the Dutch side prevailed 7-3 on aggregate in the last 16.

Liverpool's campaign last season ended at the same stage with back-to-back losses to Atletico Madrid. Should they lose in Amsterdam, it will be the first time since Brendan Rodgers was in charge in October to November 2014 that they have suffered three consecutive Champions League defeats.

Perhaps Roberto Firmino is the man to help them. He has been directly involved in 26 goals (15 scored, 11 assisted) in 33 Champions League matches; since his debut in 2017-18, the only other player with 10 or more goals and assists in that time is Kylian Mbappe (13 goals, 13 assists).

 

Bayern Munich v Atletico Madrid: Lewandowski has history in his sights

Bayern were the first team in history to win every game en route to lifting the trophy last season, and their 11-game winning run is already the longest ever in the competition.

Should Robert Lewandowski score, he will become the first player to do so in 10 Champions League group games in a row. He currently shares the record of nine with Cristiano Ronaldo, who did so from 2012 to 2014.

Atletico have only won twice in their previous 10 group games away from home, but Luis Suarez could give them the boost they need – he has scored five goals in his last five starts in the competition, as many as he managed in his previous 31 starts combined.

 

Real Madrid v Shakhtar Donetsk: Zidane puts 100 per cent record on the line

Real Madrid have been in the Champions League group stage 28 times and have never failed to reach the next round. Leeds United, who did so twice, are the only other team to feature in more than one group stage and boast a 100 per cent record.

That said, Madrid lost their final two games last season – both legs of the last-16 tie with Manchester City – and losing to Shakhtar Donetsk would put them on a three-match losing streak in the Champions League or European Cup for the first time since September 1986.

With captain Sergio Ramos injured, Zinedine Zidane will have concerns about his defence. At least the forward line is in capable hands: Karim Benzema has managed four goals and two assists across six consecutive home games in the competition, and Shakhtar have failed to keep a clean sheet in 22 Champions League matches in a row.

Manchester City v Porto: More English misery?

Porto have played 20 away games against English sides in Europe and have failed to win any. In fact, they have lost 17 of those games and have not scored in the previous seven. They do at least go into this contest off a run of just two defeats in 16 Champions League group-stage matches.

City have a pretty strong recent record in the group stage, having gone unbeaten in 11 games since a surprise 2-1 loss to Lyon in September 2018. They also have Raheem Sterling in sharp form: the forward has scored 20 goals in the competition since his debut for City in September 2015, a tally only Harry Kane can match among English players in that time.

 

Other fixtures:

Inter v Borussia Monchengladbach:

9 – Romelu Lukaku has scored nine goals in 11 appearances in European competition for Inter. Since the start of last season, only Robert Lewandowski (15) and Erling Haaland (10) have netted more across the Champions League and Europa League.

8 – Strike partner Lautaro Martinez has scored five in six Champions League starts and eight in 14 in Europe overall for the Nerazzurri.

 

Salzburg v Lokomotiv Moscow:

10 – Since September 2018, Lokomotiv Moscow have lost 10 Champions League games, more than any other club in that time.

16 – Salzburg scored 16 group-stage goals last season but finished third in their group. The only other team to score that many and get knocked out were Chelsea in 2012-13.

 

Midtjylland v Atalanta:

16 – Atalanta have scored at least once in 16 of their previous 17 European games, including nine in three matches in last season's knockouts. Josip Ilicic has nine goals in 13 European appearances for the club.

18 – Midtjylland conceded 18 goals in eight matches in the 2015-16 Europa League, their previous involvement in Europe. No team conceded more that season.

 

Olympiacos v Marseille:

3 – This will be Andre Villas-Boas' first Champions League game since March 2016. He has lost his most recent three matches in the competition.

41 – Steve Mandanda has made 41 appearances in the competition, the most for any Marseille player in history. The goalkeeper accounts for 37 per cent of the total games played by current Marseille players in this tournament.

For the first time since January 2016, Milan is red and black. For the first time in eight seasons, the Rossoneri might just be in a title race.

Saturday's 2-1 victory over Inter ended a nine-game winless run in Serie A away games against their city rivals, who had won each of the previous four derbies. It was also Milan's 1,400th victory in the top flight, a tally only previously reached by Inter and Juventus.

But this was all about the present, about a Milan side who look capable at last of at least returning to the Champions League. They are vibrant, spirited and clinical – everything a modern team needs to be. It just so happens that their star performer turned 39 two weeks ago.

Zlatan Ibrahimovic scored twice in three minutes at San Siro to put Milan on their way. He won a penalty after driving beyond Aleksandar Kolarov and drawing a foul and was then alert enough to turn in the rebound after Samir Handanovic saved his spot-kick. He struck again 16 minutes in, an emphatic first-time finish at the end of a swift break that left Inter on their knees. He now has eight goals in this fixture, six for Milan and two for the Nerazzurri, and is only four behind record-holder Giuseppe Meazza. He tested positive for coronavirus three weeks ago.

Milan rode their luck from there, it's true. Romelu Lukaku, who pulled back a goal in the first half, could conceivably have scored four. He spurned a free header, won a penalty only for VAR to intervene with an offside call, and he prodded wide when it seemed harder to miss. The man who had scored with every 1.7 shots in Serie A this year looked suddenly without poise in front of goal.

But this is a mark of this Milan, Stefano Pioli's Milan, a team who have scored in 24 league games in a row, taken 57 points in 2020 and won their first four league matches of a season for the first time since 1995-96: after years in the relative wilderness, they are not pushovers any more. They make you falter.

Ibrahimovic is at the heart of that. He exudes authority and demands success, even now, less than a year out from his 40th birthday. Only Silvio Piola has scored twice in four separate Serie A games after turning 38 other than the Swede, and there is no doubt Ibrahimovic will do so again. The man who scored 14 goals in 29 games to fire Milan to their last Scudetto in 2010-11 is dragging them into another title race few would have expected 12 months ago.

How Inter boss Antonio Conte would have wished for such displays from his own veterans. This was not a game that reflected well on his insistence on signing experienced heads over exuberant talent.

Kolarov distributed well as part of the back three, completing 39 of 49 passes, but looked every inch a converted full-back who turns 35 in November as even Ibrahimovic ran beyond him. Arturo Vidal, a Conte stalwart from their Juventus days, was a midfield wrecking ball who was taken off before he was sent off. Alexis Sanchez and Christian Eriksen were thrown on in hope more than expectation, as Inter ended the second half with just one shot on target.

Inter's title credentials may have taken a hit, but Milan's are only getting stronger. Four wins from four, nine goals scored and one conceded is form to be reckoned with, however early in the season it may be.

Milan striker Zlatan Ibrahimovic will be ready to face Inter in this weekend's Derby della Madonnina after recovering from coronavirus, according to Christian Vieri.

Ibrahimovic contracted COVID-19 last month and missed four games before the international break but has been cleared to make his return on Saturday.

The 39-year-old has not played since scoring twice against Bologna on September 21, taking his tally to 14 goals in 22 appearances since returning to San Siro in January.

Despite his lack of minutes over the past month, former Milan and Inter forward Vieri expects Ibrahimovic to be at his best in one of the sport's most iconic fixtures.

"His experience has no equal and encompasses everything," he told La Gazzetta dello Sport. 

"His technique, vision of the game, scoring goals, assisting and making his team play better - he raises everyone's level of quality.

"He will have broken the treadmill every day. Someone who says it was a bad idea for coronavirus to challenge him is mentally stronger than everyone.

"He'll play the derby with a cigarette in his mouth, trust me."

Vieri has been equally impressed by the impact Romelu Lukaku has had at Inter since joining from Manchester United ahead of the 2019-20 season.

The Belgium international has scored 26 Serie A goals since the start of the previous campaign - nine more than Inter's next most prolific player Lautaro Martinez.

"He is unstoppable," Vieri said. "A force of nature. You give him 50 metres of field and he will tear you to pieces - the defender never manages to anticipate it.

"And he's even bigger than me! Sometimes I look at him and think 'I'd have done that move, too.'"

Romelu Lukaku paid tribute to stand-in Iceland coach Arnar Vidarsson despite a defeat to Belgium that saw them relegated from Nations League Group A2.

Lukaku scored both Belgium goals in a 2-1 away success on Wednesday, his penalty proving decisive after Birkir Mar Saevarsson had levelled for Iceland.

Hosts Iceland perhaps deserved a point after pushing for a second equaliser after half-time, subjecting the world's top-ranked side to a tense finish midweek.

Despite their demotion, Iceland's performance was made all the more remarkable by the absence of their usual coaching staff amid coronavirus measures.

With head coach Erik Hamren and his assistants in quarantine, Under-21s boss Vidarsson flew in to lead the side.

Vidarsson spent the majority of his playing career in Belgium with Lokeren and Cercle Brugge, however, also taking coaching roles with both clubs and therefore having an insight into the away team.

Lukaku told VTM: "I have to congratulate coach Vidarsson.

"He set his men up very well today. Okay, he knows us very well, but he made it a difficult match for us tonight."

Vidarsson said: "I haven't slept much and it has been an interesting 24 hours but fun.

"The game plan was well set up and us stand-ins were comfortable with following it. We are proud and the boys can be proud of themselves.

"Overall, the performance was decent, but we wanted to get the equaliser in the end."

While Iceland will finish bottom of the group, Belgium regained top spot courtesy of defeat for England – winners against Roberto Martinez's men last week – at home to Denmark.

"We are top of the group again - now it's important to make the difference in the final two games," Lukaku added.

Romelu Lukaku scored twice as Belgium bounced back from a rare defeat against England on Sunday by beating Iceland 2-1 in the Nations League in Reykjavik.

The world's top-ranked side controversially lost for the first time in almost two years at Wembley to slip from the summit in Group A2, but they returned to the top of the pile with victory on Wednesday.

In the absence of Kevin De Bruyne following his injury last time out, Lukaku was predictably the star and netted either side of a Birkir Mar Saevarsson equaliser in the first half.

With England losing at home to Denmark, that brace proved enough for the Red Devils to reclaim control of the pool, surviving a slightly nervy stretch after half-time to condemn Iceland to relegation.

Lukaku quickly came to the fore and had the visitors in front after nine minutes, seizing on Hordur Magnusson's loose touch in the area and holding off Holmar Orn Eyjolfsson to slam a left-footed finish past Alex Runarsson.

But that lead lasted just eight minutes as Runar Mar Sigurjonsson's superb pass in behind Yannick Carrasco allowed Saevarsson to tuck in the equaliser.

Iceland pushed in search of a second, yet Eyjolfsson's rash lunge then saw Lukaku win a penalty for a second match running and, as against England, capitalise from 12 yards.

An entertaining first half gave way to a tense second and Belgium mustered only two attempts after the break but held on to deal Iceland a costly defeat.


What does it mean? Martinez's men made to work

Following the England game, victory was the most important measure for Roberto Martinez's side on Thursday. But having won each of their 12 prior meetings with Iceland - including two over the past two Nations League campaigns - Belgium might have expected a more straightforward success.

De Bruyne's drive was clearly missed in midfield and Iceland, typically a conservative side, would have had more than their 37 per cent of possession in the second half had they not gone direct in the closing stages.

Lukaku looks the part

Defenders simply have no answer for Lukaku right now. He has now scored six goals in his past five games for Inter and Belgium and was as dominant in Iceland as he had been in the first half in England.

As well as scoring with his only two shots and creating a further chance, the striker was involved in eight duels as he kept the home defence occupied.

Carrasco caught out

Timothy Castagne has been in fine form for Leicester City this season, but he dropped to the bench for this match, meaning Carrasco lined up as Belgium's left-sided wing-back.

Far happier in an attacking role, the Atletico Madrid man was preyed upon for Iceland's equaliser and failed to make a single tackle, clearance or interception.

What's next?

November brings another set of triple-headers. Belgium's focus will be on the return game against England but they first face Switzerland in a friendly, while Iceland have a do-or-die Euro 2020 play-off with Hungary.

Mason Mount's deflected strike earned England a 2-1 Nations League victory over a Belgium side who suffered defeat for the first time in almost two years.

Belgium beat England twice at the 2018 World Cup and were ahead after 15 minutes at Wembley through Romelu Lukaku's penalty, awarded when the Inter forward was brought down by Eric Dier.

It was the first goal Gareth Southgate's side had conceded in a year but they drew level before the interval, Thomas Meunier conceding a soft spot-kick from which Marcus Rashford scored.

Having spent much of the first half on the back foot, England looked reinvigorated for the second period and got their reward when Mount's shot looped off Toby Alderweireld and beyond Simon Mignolet's reach, as the world's top-ranked footballing nation were beaten for the first time since November 2018.

Yannick Carrasco lashed home what appeared to be an 11th-minute opener, but Timothy Castagne was adjudged offside in a position that was obstructing the view of goalkeeper Jordan Pickford.

The hosts were looking to keep a seventh consecutive clean sheet, which would have constituted an England record, but those hopes were scuppered when Dier felled Lukaku in the box and the forward picked himself up to convert the spot-kick.

Lukaku produced a dominant display that summed up Belgium's early control of the contest, with England struggling to get a foot on the ball or lay a finger on the former Manchester United star.

But Southgate's side were handed a route back into the match when Jordan Henderson went down under minimal contact from Meunier and Rashford confidently fired home from 12 yards.

Belgium saw a 12-game winning run halted with Thursday's 1-1 draw versus Ivory Coast, while England were seeking a 20th win from 21 home matches, ensuring neither side was likely to willingly budge an inch in the second half.

It was England who started the period with a greater purpose but it took until the 64th minute for the next goal to arrive, Mount's shot ricocheting off Alderweireld and over Mignolet.

Roberto Martinez's men tried to force the issue inside the final 20 minutes, with Carrasco stabbing narrowly wide and Lukaku thwarted soon after, while substitute Harry Kane missed an excellent headed chance at the other end.

What does it mean? England grind it out

On paper, England's starting line-up appeared to lack a creative edge and that was borne out in a first-half display in which the hosts produced just two shots.

But the Three Lions stuck at their task, stayed in the contest and ensured their organisation and rigid shape were strengths rather than hindrances. 

Belgium's own creative talents failed to create a goal from open play, which will be a source of huge pride for Southgate, whose side top Group A2.

What's next?

England host Denmark on Wednesday, having been held to a 0-0 draw in Copenhagen, while Belgium head to Iceland after thrashing the same opposition 5-1 on home soil.

Romelu Lukaku believes Inter are firmly on course to end their trophy drought thanks to the team buying into Antonio Conte's work ethic.

Former Manchester United striker Lukaku says working with Conte has transformed his game, declaring he feels like a changed player since moving to San Siro.

A Serie A title challenge fizzled out last season, although Inter finished only one point behind Juventus after the champions lost their final two games.

Inter also reached the Europa League final, where silverware hopes were thwarted as they lost 3-2 to Sevilla, and they have not won a major honour since the 2010-11 Coppa Italia.

Doubts over Conte's future followed the European disappointment, but he has been backed to stay at the helm and Lukaku is delighted the former Juventus, Italy and Chelsea boss remains the Nerazzurri's head coach.

"With Conte I improved my game in every aspect," said Lukaku, who was recently named as the 2019-20 Europa League Player of the Season.

"If you want to play for him you have to know you have to be ready to sacrifice for the team. Your physical and mental level need to be at the top and if you then achieve on the field you can feel at your very best."

Speaking at the Festival dello Sport, Lukaku said it was important to keep working on the team's hunger for success.

He said: "My goal as a footballer is to win trophies and with him I can do that. I give 100 per cent for him in every training session and games, and you can see the results are coming. We have to keep going and training and improve our attitude to win."

The Belgian reflected on how playing behind closed doors during the pandemic has affected footballers and recalled how crowd noise would have spared him embarrassment during a game in the closing weeks of last season.

"It's very ugly, first of all because you can hear everything," Lukaku said.

"I remember against Brescia I was in a good position to strike but they didn't pass me the ball and you could hear me swearing on TV.

"And then I saw all the reactions on Twitter and I started laughing. But anyway, we need our supporters in the stadium and we want them back.

"The energy when we play in San Siro and you score a goal in front of your supporters, it's incredible. I hope we can see fans back in the stadium sooner rather than later."

Inter striker Romelu Lukaku has taken aim at critics who suggested he did not work hard enough in the Manchester United side.

The Belgium international spent two seasons with the Red Devils before leaving for the Nerazzurri last year in a deal worth in the region of €65million.

United's attacking trio of Anthony Martial, Marcus Rashford and Mason Greenwood flourished in Lukaku's absence, while the former Everton man has thrived in Italy, scoring 34 goals in all competitions last season.

He was also named the Europa League player of the season after firing Inter to the final, where his own goal saw them lose 3-2 to Sevilla.

Lukaku's form has made a mockery of some criticism he received during his time in England, where it was sometimes suggested he was too slow and did not put in enough effort to lead the attacking line.

Speaking to the Times, Lukaku says he has proved those people wrong, although he insists the negativity around his performances was outside United rather than within.

"A year ago, when I was in England, I was 'lazy, I didn't run, I didn't do this and that'. Here, they call me the hardest worker in the room," he said. "If you look at me playing here and there, I mean, there are improvements, yeah, but the [same] Rom is still here.

"Stuff happens in football but it's something you need to explain to the next generation of kids, that you need to have full control over your destiny. Make sure when you go somewhere that every piece of the puzzle has to be right. Know what I mean? At the time, we saw the outcome, we saw how I did. And if you look at me now you see a different outcome, you see the full person, you see the full potential. You see what I could have been doing in England.

"From the first friendly game when I played against LA Galaxy, from that first game it was always 'Yes, but... Everybody in the club was so nice, from Ed Woodward to the owners, to Matthew Judge [transfer negotiator], to Jose Mourinho, to Ole [Gunnar Solskjaer] and his staff, to everybody in the canteen. They were so nice. But the stuff around it was just too much of a negative spiral for me.

"They will call me slow and I'm like, 'Slow? Me, slow? I cannot keep up with the fast pace game of Man U?' There were too many little things where I thought, 'This is not right'.

"If you call me slow I would not score a goal like I scored the second against Shakhtar Donetsk in the [Europa League] semi-final. If I was slow I would not have got the penalty like I did against Sevilla in the final. That's two years after. Are you going to say me at 27 is faster than I was at 25? That's what I'm trying to say. It's just little things. I was like, 'You know what? Eff this. I'm out.'"

Lukaku says Inter coach Antonio Conte, who tried to sign the player when he was with Juventus and Chelsea, has taken him to "another level".

He also believes the atmosphere within the Inter squad is strong, saying: "When I was in England, it was English players here, foreign French players there, foreign latino players there.

"It's all really like a mix up of the team, but at Inter, it is everybody together. Everybody speaks Italian first of all, so that's a good thing. There is one language. Everybody speaks Italian and everybody mixes at the table."

Lukaku holds no grudges against United, though, and has cautioned them against the panic-buying of a new attacking player given the development of Martial, Rashford and Greenwood.

He said: "I hear a lot of people saying, 'Let's buy another this, let's buy another striker, let's buy that'. If you buy another striker, what are you going to do with Anthony? Anthony is a good player. He's young. He's now being the number nine at a great club. Last year, he scored 23 goals. Give him a full season to confirm what he did last year instead of bringing in someone big to disrupt the chemistry in the dressing room.

"Then you have Mason's transition that is going to happen any time soon from right wing to number nine, and Mason is a killer. Like, I've seen him first-hand. He's got something.

"I remember Rashy came to my house [shortly before the Inter move]. We had dinner. Me, him and his older brother. I said to him, 'When I'm leaving, you're going to be the guy at United'. I'm so proud of him right now."

Romelu Lukaku was named Europa League player of the season on Friday - even though it was the Belgian's own goal that decided the 2019-20 final.

The Inter striker was out of luck in the Cologne showpiece against Sevilla when he deflected in an overhead kick from Diego Carlos in the 74th minute, giving the Spanish side a 3-2 win. 

The former Manchester United man netted seven goals - including a penalty in the final - in five starts and one substitute appearance over the course of the competition.

Lukaku told uefa.com: "I want to congratulate Sevilla personally. They won the competition so I congratulate them on having a great tournament.

"I want to thank Antonio Conte and his staff and everyone at the club - the board, the president - for their trust and for helping me through this season.

"My team-mates have been with me from day one. They're like brothers to me, they're real family members. Every day I come into training with a smile and it's because of them.

"I hope that this year we're going to do much better than we did last year and we're going to have a lot of success together."

Romelu Lukaku claimed a brace while new signing Achraf Hakimi scored one and made another as Inter coasted to a 5-2 Serie A victory at Filippo Inzaghi's Benevento.

Antonio Conte's side needed two goals in the final three minutes to begin their campaign with a thrilling 4-3 win against Fiorentina, and while they found the net frequently again, this triumph was much more straightforward.

Lukaku scored twice in the opening 28 minutes, either side of Roberto Gagliardini's effort, before newly promoted Benevento pulled one back through Gianluca Caprari.

Yet Hakimi and substitute Lautaro Martinez also found the net as Conte comprehensively won the battle of the former Juve team-mates, despite a second Caprari goal late on.

Inter had fallen behind within three minutes against Fiorentina on Saturday, but this time they were the ones that raced out of the blocks.

A long raking pass from Aleksandar Kolarov reached Hakimi and, after a one-two with Alexis Sanchez, he crossed for Lukaku to find the net just 28 seconds in.

Hakimi, making his full debut for the Nerazzurri, was then involved in his side's second when his deep delivery found Ashley Young, whose lay-off was emphatically smashed home by Gagliardini.

The midfielder then turned provider for Inter's third after being gifted possession by Lorenzo Montipo, with Lukaku only needing to sort his feet out before being left with a simple finish.

Montipo's opposite number Samir Handanovic made a similar error in passing straight to Caprari, who pulled one back for Benevento, but Hakimi stole in ahead of Luca Caldirola to restore Inter's three-goal cushion.

The home side should have conceded five in the first period but Arturo Vidal missed the target with a close-range header, and Benevento improved after the break, Gabriele Moncini hitting the post shortly after the restart.

Yet the woodwork denied Gagliardini too before a fifth and final Inter goal came courtesy of substitute Martinez 19 minutes from time.

Caprari at least made the final margin of defeat less severe with his second, though Inter could have had a six as Ivan Perisic somehow fired wide from Hakimi's cross and Christian Eriksen hit the bar.

Franck Ribery rolled back the years but Fiorentina were stung by a late Inter rally as Antonio Conte's side snatched a thrilling 4-3 win to launch their Serie A campaign.

Former Bayern Munich winger Ribery created second-half goals for Gaetano Castrovilli and Federico Chiesa as Fiorentina looked set to take the points at San Siro on Saturday, only for Romelu Lukaku and Danilo D'Ambrosio to strike late on.

A dramatic game saw Fiorentina lead early on through Christian Kouame, but Lautaro Martinez scored a majestic equaliser in first-half stoppage time and Inter were in front thanks to a Federico Ceccherini own goal soon after the break.

Ribery then began to run the show, first teeing up Castrovilli after a joyous run down the left, and then when his defence-splitting long pass fed Chiesa.

But with seven minutes remaining, Fiorentina took Ribery off, and Lukaku bundled in an 87th-minute leveller before D'Ambrosio thundered in a back-post header to take all three points.

Juventus' faltering end to their Serie A campaign saw Inter finish just one point behind the Bianconeri in 2019-20.

Antonio Conte's side had looked like genuine title challengers in the first half of the season, yet a poor run pre-lockdown saw them all but fall out of contention before a late charge – combined with Juve's inconsistencies – made things tight after the title was already wrapped up.

Yet heading into Conte's second season, there should be genuine optimism at San Siro.

Inter may have failed to win the Europa League – going down to serial champions Sevilla in the final – but with Romelu Lukaku and Lautaro Martinez, along with some promising new additions, they look all set for a strong title tilt this time around.

Juve, under the tutelage of Andrea Pirlo in the wake of Maurizio Sarri's sacking, still have the Cristiano Ronaldo factor, though there is a feeling the club's dominance of Serie A may finally be waning. 

Using Opta data, we take a look at what Inter need to improve on if they are to seriously challenge in 2020-21.

CONTE'S SECOND-SEASON SYNDROME

Despite Inter's second-placed finish in Serie A, there was some doubt that Conte would in fact remain their head coach heading into this season.

Indeed, in early August – prior to the final stages of the Europa League taking place in Germany – Conte told DAZN: "There's no recognition of the work I've done, and I've found very little protection from the club. None whatsoever. There will be things to discuss with the president, but he's in China right now..."

However, Conte has stayed, and will look to build on a promising first campaign.

Inter's haul of 82 points last season was their best tally in Serie A since 2009-10. It also meant Inter were the eighth side since 1994-95 to not win the Scudetto after managing 82 points or more.

Yet with the last two club teams Conte has coached, there has been a decline in his second campaign.

In Conte's first season at Juve in 2011-12, his side won the Serie A title without losing a game – Ilario Castagner and Fabio Capello were the only coaches to have previously managed this in Italy's top flight.

Juve lost five times in Serie A in 2012-13 but still won the title, and there was a similar story at Chelsea. The Blues won the Premier League with 93 points in 2016-17, losing only five games, but in Conte's second term, Chelsea finished fifth, losing on 10 occasions.

If Inter truly are to go one step further than last season, then Conte will need to avoid any noticeable dip.

THE STAR STRIKERS

Ronaldo's 31 Serie A goals ultimately proved the difference for Juve last season, with the 35-year-old turning in more match-winning moments.

Valuable support also came from Juve's other main forward, Paulo Dybala, who netted 11 goals and provided six assists.

Conte, on the other hand, often complained over a lack of clinical finishing from his side at times last term, though Lukaku and Martinez more than did their fair share.

They scored a combined 37 goals – Lukaku netting 23 and Martinez 14 – providing two and three assists respectively.

It was still five fewer goals than Ronaldo and Dybala accumulated, though, while Juve's strike partners also boasted better link-up statistics.

In total, Dybala found Ronaldo 121 times across the campaign, crafting 31 chances for his team-mate – compare that with Martinez creating just 11 for Lukaku.

Ronaldo did not fully return the favour, with only nine chances created for Dybala by the former Real Madrid star, while Lukaku provided 14 chances for Martinez.

MORE CLEAN SHEETS REQUIRED

Inter ended the 2019-20 season with the best defence in Serie A, conceding only 36 goals, but that does not tell the whole story.

Conte's side managed just 14 clean sheets across the campaign – since 2004-05, only Juve, in 2019-20, have won Serie A with fewer than 15 shut outs.

In Milan Skriniar, Conte has a commanding centre-half who is not yet near his prime, while Diego Godin - if he stays - is a reliable older head and Stefan de Vrij has impressed, but as a unit they were sometimes liable to defensive lapses which, in matches where Inter's strike force failed to make the most of their opportunities, ultimately cost the Nerazzurri.

Under the guidance of Conte from 2011 to 2014, Juve kept 21, 19 and 22 clean sheets respectively in those three seasons.

SAN SIRO TROUBLES?

Inter were outstanding away from home in Serie A last season, collecting more points on the road than any other side (43), winning 13 matches, drawing four times and losing just twice.

They were only the second club with 13 or more away wins in a single campaign to not win the title, after Napoli, who did so in both 2016-17 and 2017-18.

However, it was a different story at home, where the Nerazzurri picked up just 39 points – 11 less than Juve's total of 50.

Inter must improve their efficiency at San Siro if they are to end Juve's dominance of Italian football, as no Scudetto-winning side has ever claimed the title with fewer than 13 wins at home since 20 teams have been in the top flight.

The ratings for popular video game franchise FIFA are often a bone of contention for its die-hard fanbase.

But for the professionals too they can clearly be a cause for debate and the latest scores for FIFA 21, revealed on Thursday, have proven no different.

Barcelona superstar Lionel Messi recently went through a real-life transfer saga, yet his on-pitch qualities were reflected by the fact he is the highest-rated player on the game at 93.

Cristiano Ronaldo drops to 92 this year, while Robert Lewandowski, Neymar, Kevin De Bruyne and Jan Oblak all carry a 91 value.

For some, though, the virtual attributes are not entirely appreciated … step up Inter forward Romelu Lukaku.

"Let's be honest FIFA just mess with the ratings so we players start complaining about the game and give them more publicity..." he wrote on Twitter.  

"I ain't with this s***. I know what I do."

It appears Lukaku, rated 85 overall, was particularly unhappy with a pace attribute of 81, adding: "Did EA Sports not see my goal against Shakhtar Donetsk. What is wrong with them?"

Lukaku was not alone, though, with Manchester City defender Aymeric Laporte taking exception to his pace rating of 63.

Laporte posted two pictures on Twitter. Above one in which he was smiling, he wrote: "Waiting for my new FIFA rating." Above another with his head in his hand, he added: "Finding out I have 63 pace."

Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang's rating has dropped to 87 overall, including a slight dip to his pace score, with the Arsenal striker responding to a tweet about the news with a series of, we assume sarcastic, laughing face emojis.

Not everyone was despondent, though. Liverpool defender Virgil van Dijk said of his 90 rating: "What do you guys think, not bad right?"

Team-mate Trent Alexander-Arnold said of his 87 to BBC Sport: "Yeah, I'm happy of course. 87, jeez. Wow, that's high."

However, a shooting score of 66 was contested by the England star.

"I think maybe they put that in there because it's my squad number. I'm hoping. Four goals from full-back ... I don't know," he added.

"I'm not going to challenge it too much. I would have liked it to be higher though."

Page 1 of 8
© 2020 SportsMaxTV All Rights Reserved.