Stefano Pioli is hopeful Zlatan Ibrahimovic can help get Milan's campaign back on track after confirming the striker will start Sunday's Serie A clash with Fiorentina. 

Ibrahimovic returned from a thigh injury with 25 minutes from the bench in Thursday's 1-0 loss to Manchester United in the Europa League. 

He was unable to mark his return to action with a goal against his former club but has 16 for the season overall, 14 of those coming in the same number of league appearances. 

Milan have struggled for goals in the 39-year-old's absence, scoring four times in their last five games in a run that includes back-to-back blanks in defeats to Napoli and United. 

Indeed, after scoring in 38 consecutive league games, Milan have failed to score in four of their last nine, losing each of the four matches in which they did not find the net. 

Pioli is therefore glad to have Ibrahimovic, who was this week recalled to the Sweden squad after a near-five-year absence, back available for Sunday's trip to Fiorentina.

"Zlatan took advantage of his minutes on Thursday to improve his condition and will start from the first minute tomorrow," Pioli said at a pre-match news conference on Saturday. 

"I still don't know if he has 90 minutes in his legs, but his presence is important for us and he will make a big difference." 

Milan went down 2-1 on aggregate to United - Paul Pogba's strike in the second leg at San Siro ultimately proving the difference - and are left battling in just one competition between now and the end of the season. 

The Rossoneri lost 1-0 to Napoli last time out in Serie A and have won just two of their last six league games, placing them nine points behind leaders Inter. 

Juventus are a point further back with a game in hand, meanwhile, but Pioli is not throwing in the title towel yet with 11 matches still to play. 

Asked if it bothers him that many have ruled Milan out of the Scudetto race, Pioli said: "Who has said that? Maybe I should hang up some newspaper headlines in the locker room? 

"Being eliminated by United is something we regret, but we come out of the game even more aware of our qualities and that little details can make all the difference." 

Sunday's opponents Fiorentina ended a three-game winless run with a 4-1 victory at Benevento last weekend to move up to 14th. 

Cesare Prandelli's side have drawn three of their last four home league games with Milan and Pioli is anticipating a tough test in Florence.

"We're aiming for the top and must try to win every match. But I think tomorrow might be the most complicated of them all," said Pioli, who both played for and previously managed La Viola. 

"Fiorentina are in good shape, and we are coming off a very tiring run of games. I am sure we'll step up a gear after the international break." 

He added: "I experienced a great deal in Florence as a player and then a coach, then of course the tragedy of what happened to Davide Astori leaves its mark.  

"It can never be a normal match. Florence and Fiorentina are more than opponents. Last year, the welcome I received when I returned there filled me with joy." 

Ibrahimovic's return is a big positive for Milan, but they remain without fellow attackers Mario Mandzukic and Rafael Leao, while Ante Rebic is serving a suspension. 

"We knew there could be difficulties with such a packed schedule and we've so far played more competitive games than anyone else," Pioli said of his side's recent injury woes. 

"I feel that the team has overcome the difficult moment, as recent performances have been strong and we only lost due to minor incidents.  

"There are some justifications for the number of injuries, whereas in some cases we missed something and that mustn't happen again."

Leroy Sane is beginning to show how important he can be to Bayern Munich after finding rhythm following a lengthy injury lay-off, says club great Franck Ribery.

Germany winger Sane joined Bayern from Manchester City in the close season but was in and out of the team as he continued to find fitness following the knee injury that restricted him to two appearances in his final campaign at the Etihad Stadium.

Across all competitions this season, Sane has eight goals and nine assists – both of which rank fourth among Bayern players this term.

He has also created 38 chances for his team-mates, 11 of those classing as Opta-defined 'big chances' – the fifth-best among Bayern's squad.

Ribery, who spent 12 years at Bayern, is delighted to see Sane begin to show his value at the Allianz Arena.

"I'm happy for him and for Bayern," Ribery told Sky Germany.

"When he came to Munich it was maybe a bit difficult for him at the beginning, the pressure was great. 

"But you shouldn't forget that he was out injured for a long time. It takes time. But things are going much better now, he's an important player for Bayern."

Ribery won nine Bundesliga titles, six DFB-Pokals and the Champions League during a spectacular spell at Bayern.

The veteran winger has been linked with a return to Germany's top flight with Eintracht Frankfurt but for now the 37-year-old is purely focused on Fiorentina, whom he joined after departing Bayern in 2019.

"Of course, I miss the Bundesliga. I had my best time at Bayern and won a lot there," Ribery added. 

"My priority is here in Florence, I'm happy here. We still have a few games and we need the points. I want to help the club."

What does the future hold for Sergio Aguero?

With his Manchester City contract expiring at the end of the season, Aguero is no closer to re-signing.

Premier League rivals Chelsea could be ready to pounce…

 

TOP STORY – CHELSEA KEEPING TABS ON AGUERO

Chelsea are tracking Manchester City star and soon-to-be free agent Sergio Aguero, according to the Daily Mail.

Aguero is out of contract at the end of the season and the City forward has been tipped to join LaLiga giants Barcelona.

But Premier League rivals Chelsea are reportedly eyeing a move for City's all-time leading goalscorer.

 

ROUND-UP

- The Daily Mail reports City and Chelsea are both interested in Borussia Dortmund midfielder Mahmoud Dahoud. Tottenham and Everton have also been linked with the Germany international.

Juventus are eyeing a move for star Atalanta wing-back Robin Gosens, claims Calciomercato. Gosens has starred for Atalanta, who value him between €35-€40million.

- FootMercato says Paris Saint-Germain want Tottenham full-back Serge Aurier as former Spurs boss Mauricio Pochettino seeks a reunion.

- Fabrizio Romano reports Manchester United have not made a bid for Fiorentina defender Nikola Milenkovic. United have also been linked with RB Leipzig centre-back Ibrahima Konate, Sevilla's Jules Kounde, Napoli star Kalidou Koulibaly, Real Madrid captain Sergio Ramos and team-mate Raphael Varane, as well as Brighton and Hove Albion defender Ben White.

- In-demand Dortmund star Erling Haaland has a "crush" on Madrid but El Chiringuito insists no club is close to signing the Norwegian. Haaland has been linked with Madrid, Barca, United, City, Chelsea, Liverpool, PSG and Juventus.

Manchester City are reportedly considering a double swoop for Erling Haaland and Giovanni Reyna.

The Borussia Dortmund stars have been linked with moves, with Haaland in particular in high demand across Europe.

And high-flying City have their eyes on the duo.

 

TOP STORY – MAN CITY CONSIDER HAALAND, REYNA

Manchester City are considering moves for Dortmund stars Haaland and Reyna, according to 90min.

Haaland, 20, has scored 17 goals and provided three assists in 17 Bundesliga games this season.

Reyna, the 18-year-old American, has three goals and four assists in 21 league games.

ROUND-UP

- Manchester United continue to be linked with centre-backs. But the Daily Mail reports the Premier League club are unwilling to meet Sevilla defender Jules Kounde's £68million (€79m) release clause, although they remain interested in the 22-year-old.

- With Liverpool enduring a difficult season, Jurgen Klopp's future has become a talking point. Bild reports Klopp could take over as Germany coach after the 2022 World Cup despite having a contract with Liverpool until 2024.

- Another club linked with a move for Haaland are Chelsea. Metro reports Tammy Abraham, who has scored 12 goals this season and is out of contract in 2023, is unwilling to discuss a new deal with the club amid the Haaland rumours.

- Jesse Lingard is attracting interest after an impressive start to his West Ham career. The Daily Express reports Leicester City are prepared to challenge West Ham if they try to sign Lingard, who is on loan from Manchester United, permanently ahead of next season.

- Still without a club, it remains to be seen where Maurizio Sarri ends up next. CalcioMercato reports Fiorentina again met with the former Juventus and Chelsea boss, but a potential agreement remains complex.

Manchester City are counting the cost of the current financial climate and have slashed the budget assigned to lure Lionel Messi away from Barcelona.

The 33-year-old Barca captain could depart his boyhood team in the 2021 off-season after publicly trying, and failing, to force an exit from the Catalan club last August.

A reunion with Pep Guardiola at Manchester City has been the subject of much speculation, but Messi may have to compromise to make the move happen as the Premier League leaders' bargaining power has taken a hit.

 

TOP STORY – CITY FORCED TO LOWER MESSI CONTRACT OFFER

City had already tabled a five-year contract designed to tempt Messi to switch LaLiga for the Premier League – but the numbers have now changed, reports The Sun.

A package worth £600million (€693m) had reportedly been prepared in order to tie the six-time Ballon d'Or winner down for the rest of his career, should he opt to leave Barca at the end of the season.

But The Sun says City will now not match the terms set in August, and the offer has dropped to £430million (€496m), potentially opening the door for Paris Saint-Germain to swoop.

ROUND-UP

Chelsea have already made contact with winger Jonas Hofmann, according to Bild, as the Borussia Monchengladbach exodus threatens to begin following the news that coach Marco Rose is leaving for Borussia Dortmund next season. Hofmann played for Thomas Tuchel at Dortmund.

Milan midfielder Franck Kessie is also in Tuchel's sights, and the Blues could offer Fikayo Tomori to the Serie A giants on a permanent deal as part of a player-plus-cash exchange, reports Il Milanista.

- Everton loanee Moise Kean has netted 14 goals in 25 games for PSG and his parent club will not part with the Italy international for any less than £60m, says Fabrizio Romano, while Juventus want to bring the striker back to Turin, according to Le 10 Sport.

 

Everton 'will demand £70m for Moise Kean transfer' after impressing at PSG https://t.co/3PvjhBQ1rf

— Sun Sport (@SunSport) February 18, 2021

- 'If there are opportunities, I will have a look at them,' is what Wilfried Zaha told the Financial Times Business of Football Summit, reports The Sun. The Crystal Palace winger has been previously linked with Arsenal and Tottenham.

- Gunners midfielder Lucas Torreira, currently on the fringes while on loan at Atletico Madrid, is close to securing a move to Fiorentina for next season, claims Gazzetta Dello Sport.

"I think I would've been the best batsman in the world if I played cricket."

Christian Vieri is regarded as one of the greatest strikers to have played football.

Once the most expensive player in the world, the former Italy international won titles with Juventus, Inter, Lazio and Torino, while he claimed numerous individual honours – the Pichichi Trophy and Serie A Footballer of the Year to go with his FIFA 100 selection and other awards.

But it could have been a lot different for the cricket-mad 47-year-old after growing up in Australia – a far cry from his birthplace in Bologna.

"My whole family is a soccer-team family," Vieri, who also played for Milan, recalled to Stats Perform News. "My father played, I played, my grandfather, my brother. So when my father at the end of his career in Bologna, they asked him if he wanted to go play in Sydney with Marconi. He said yes and the whole family moved there. He played for some time and coached there. We all went with him. 

"I think I was about four years old and I stayed 10 years there, till about 14. I grew up there. It was good. Growing up with the kids, for me it wasn't strange. Now, if you tell people, it's a bit strange that I grew up in Australia but when I was there it was normal – going to school, playing soccer, playing cricket, playing different sports. I was a big fan of cricket. Even if we were 13-14, we would go watch Australia play Test matches, ODI matches in Sydney. I'm a very big, big cricket fan."

"I just love playing," Vieri said. "I was probably playing more cricket than soccer at school. You know what we would do? The tennis ball, we would tape it up to make it go faster and swing. I think I would've been the best batsman in the world if I played cricket. I was an all-rounder. I was really good. 

"You know what happened now? Two months ago before the second coronavirus wave, I spoke to someone from the cricket association, I'm going to start playing in March, April. It's a small thing in Italy, in Milan there is a cricket team. I spoke with the Italian cricket captain. They said listen, when you want to play with us, just come. I said listen, one thing is playing with a tennis ball when you're 14, one thing is playing with professionals. I want to come three or four days, train with you guys and see how it is. 

"I just love the game. I watch all the West Indies' games – Viv Richard, Clive Lloyd, Joel Garner, all those guys. I would watch Australia but in those days, the Windies were too strong for everyone. I'm on YouTube a lot watching cricket. My wife always says 'what are you watching? what is this?', three hours a day watching games from 1984 and 1986, and she is going 'what is wrong with you, why aren't you normal?' I say to her, 'listen, I grew up there, these are the days I was there following cricket'. She takes the p*** out of me. Pakistan had Imran Khan, I know the players. England had Ian Botham. It was fun. 

"I love the game. Couple of months when it gets a bit warmer and we can start to go out a bit easier, I would like to go training with the Italian team, see how fast the ball really comes at you, with your pads and everything. I think it would be a good experience."

So, as Vieri prepares to dust off his pads and helmet in Italy, who would he compare to in the current era of cricket?

"I think Chris Gayle from West Indies. I'm a left-hander," he added. "When I used to play, I'm not a Test match guy, I want to smash the ball outside the stadium. I think I would've been good."

And if Vieri remained down under in Australia, rather than returning to Italy at the age of 14, would he have opted for cricket over a football career?

"Cricket, soccer or tennis," Vieri, who retired in 2009, responded. "I play paddle, I play tennis for 30 years. I like tennis too because it's an individual game – it only depends on you."

Vieri went on to make 49 appearances for his beloved Italy, scoring 23 goals (ninth on the all-time list) following an international career spanning eight years between 1997 and 2005.

He made two trips to the World Cup in 1998 and 2002 – his nine goals across the two major tournaments a joint national record alongside Paolo Rossi and Roberto Baggio, while he also featured at Euro 2004.

While Vieri joined forces with the likes of past greats Paolo Maldini, Francesco Totti, Alessandro Del Piero, Filippo Inzaghi, Gianluigi Buffon, Fabio Cannavaro, Alessandro Nesta and Andrea Pirlo for the Azzurri, his younger brother Max followed a different path.

Max Vieri, who was part of Juve's youth team before going on to play for Napoli in a notable spell, opted to represent Australia.

A midfielder, Max earned six caps for the Socceroos, but Christian Vieri never considered wearing the green and gold.

"I had two dreams when I was in Sydney playing and I was only 12, 13, 14, so you're going to school playing soccer. That's why I left Australia when I was 14 – my two dreams were to play in Serie A and for the national team – the blue jersey," said Vieri. "I remember in 1982 when Italy won the World Cup – Paolo Rossi and all those big players – I had it stuck in my head that I wanted to become an Italian player. When I was 14, I started breaking my dad's head about going to play soccer in Italy.

"When I started playing for Marconi, I started left full-back and then after I while, I said to the coach 'put me up front' and that's it, I was scoring goals and that's how everything started. My brother wanted to play for Australia always and I just had my dream to play the World Cups with Italy."

"I think the Australian team has done well in the last 10-15 years World Cup-wise and qualifications," he added. "They've done good. Of course when I was there – the big sports were AFL, rugby league, cricket – football wasn't the main sport but I think it's getting bigger. The evolution of football around world is just so big now, so much money behind it. When I was there, we were playing soccer and it wasn't the main sport but the passion we have and the kids have, it was bigger than the other sports."

Vieri's choice to chase his dream in Italy proved a wise decision, winning the Scudetto with Juve in 1997 before joining Atletico Madrid after just one season in Turin.

An incredible return of 24 goals in as many LaLiga matches for Atletico, and 29 from 32 appearances across all competitions in 1997-98, led to head coach Radomir Antic famously saying: "Vieri dead is better than any other attacker alive".

"We had a good relationship. I won the goalscoring award. I was a bit crazy those days. I would go out a lot. He would always say don't go out too much, train," Vieri recalled. "He knew I wanted to go back to Italy after about seven, eight months. He said, 'where are you going? you are going to stay here, LaLiga is your competition. You stay here and you just train a little bit, you score 50 goals a year with a cigarette'. I said yeah but I wanna go back home. 

"I think it was the best experience in my life playing in the Spanish league. It's the best quality league. There is so much technique and the way all the teams play, they all play to win. A lot of ball possession. Those days, you had to be really good to play. I had an amazing season."

Like his time at Juve, Vieri's spell with Atletico was brief as he returned to Italy via Lazio in a €25million deal the following season.

After 14 goals in 28 appearances and a UEFA Cup Winners' Cup triumph in the Italian capital, Vieri became the most expensive player in the world when he reunited with former Juve boss Marcello Lippi at Inter, who splashed out €49m to partner the Italian with Brazilian great Ronaldo.

"The thing is that, if you play in Spain, Italy, England – they're the biggest competitions, so you can't block it out," Vieri said when asked about the pressures of being the world's most expensive player. "Automatically, from being normal to 100 times of pressure on you because 90billion Italian lire in those days, the player who cost more than anyone, every game you play you're judged… even more than before. 

"At Atletico, I was sold to Lazio – big scandal came out – then when I went to Inter for 90b [lire], the world went crazy. From Lazio, moving to Inter, going to play at San Siro, it's a heavy thing because San Siro – the biggest players in the world have played there, 85-90,000 people judging you all the time. They whistle if you don't play good. They've seen everyone. 

"When I went there, I said to myself, 'Bob, first game is at home, when I went to camp, in a month and a half, your first game is at home and whatever happens, you have to go score in that game. if you score in that game, you're gonna fly'. I trained a month and a half in camp, I wouldn't go out anywhere. First game, I scored three goals at home, 90,000 people went crazy. Took a lot of pressure off my shoulders that first game. Here they call me Mr. 90m guy, even today. It's a thing you're gonna call you that for the rest of your life."

Now, Vieri watches the likes of Cristiano Ronaldo, Lionel Messi, Robert Lewandowski, Mohamed Salah, Romelu Lukaku, Zlatan Ibrahimovic, Erling Haaland and Kylian Mbappe bang in the goals across Europe. 

How would he fare in 2020-21?

"I think it's easier to score these days because there's less marking. Before, football, first thing was not to concede, in Italy league at least," Vieri said. "It was probably the hardest league in the world in those days. All the biggest players in the world were there. We started the competition where seven teams were trying to win the league, not one or two but seven big teams with big, big players. If we would shoot twice in 90 minutes, we were happy. Those two shots, we would score one goal, we had to score once. 

"Today, the game has changed. The defenders don't mark as much, they play. They're more like midfielders, you have to play with the ball at your feet – the whole team have to attack. Now you have 15 strikers who score more than 20 goals. It's fun to watch still but changed a lot."

Popular on social media and Italian television in his post-playing days, Vieri has ventured into coaching as he works to complete his UEFA A and B license alongside the likes of former team-mates Del Piero and De Rossi.

"All of us, the former players, when we talk about things, we only miss one thing – staying together and training... having fun. The everyday stuff. The dressing rooms, we had the craziest dressing rooms, people. Taking the p*** out of everyone 24/7. 

"I speak with all my ex-team-mates. It's just fun. Now, I'm doing the coaching course… We just laugh, we have fun. We are doing UEFA A and B together. The way we talk to each other, it's just like back in the days. With a lot of former team-mates, we play paddle ball here in Milan. When we can, we hang out."

"The first thing is you need a license to coach. It's very hard, it's not easy. When you're doing two courses together because the federations asked UEFA if just the top 10 players could do it, so we're doing it," added Vieri, when asked if he was eyeing a coaching career.

"We'll see what happens. If I have a nice project, anything can happen. 1,000 of doors will open like I always say."

Inter assistant coach Cristian Stellini has challenged Nicolo Barella to take the next step in his career by adding more goals to his game after scoring in Friday's 2-0 win at Fiorentina.

The Italy international curled in a delightful opener after 31 minutes at Stadio Artemio Franchi and Ivan Perisic added a second as Inter moved top of Serie A.

Barella, who was earlier denied by a fine Bartlomiej Dragowski save, now has three goals and five assists in 21 league outings this term.

That makes 2020-21 the midfielder's best Serie A season in terms of goal involvements, though he did net six times for Cagliari in the 2017-18 season.

Stellini, who was filling in for suspended head coach Antonio Conte against Fiorentina, hopes to see Barella build on those figures in the remainder of the season.

"He is still growing, like Lautaro [Martinez] and many other young players in the squad," he told Sky Sport Italia. "The next step is a few more goals."

Barella's two other goals this season came from inside the penalty area, the 23-year-old having converted just one of his four Opta-defined big chances.

"I was missing them before, but now the goals are starting to come," Barella said. "Today I could have done better, but I am putting myself in good positions."

Perisic also impressed in the routine victory in Florence before leaving the pitch with a knock 10 minutes from time.

The 32-year-old, linked with an exit in January, was on target for just the second time in 19 league outings this term and Stellini was impressed with the winger's display.

"He adapts well and sacrifices a lot," Stellini said. "Before he was a protagonist in the opposition's half, while today he also helped at the other end.

"He is a precious player for us because he is very physical and can cover the whole wing very well. We are convinced and satisfied with what he is doing."

Victory for Inter was their first away at Fiorentina in the league in seven attempts since 2014 and marked the first time they have won successive Serie A matches in 2021.

The Nerazzurri, beaten 2-1 by Juventus in the first leg of their Coppa Italia semi-final earlier this week, are now a point above Milan ahead of their bitter rivals' game in hand against bottom side Crotone on Sunday.

Romelu Lukaku wasted a couple of opportunities and had a goal ruled out, while Dragowski produced four saves in total, but Stellini had no complaints with his side's profligacy.

"We are satisfied with the chances created," he said. "Our forwards have worked well in partnerships, creating several opportunities to score.

"Our players are very generous and sometimes can lose control, but today they were tidy and precise. It wasn't easy so I congratulate the team.

"We don't think about other sides, only our own path. After the game three days ago, it was not easy to come here on a difficult surface."

Fiorentina had won their previous two home league matches and were unfortunate not to be on level terms at half-time as Giacomo Bonaventura struck the crossbar.

However, head coach Cesare Prandelli accepted that his side were second best and did not deserve anything from the game.

"We reacted well to Inter's goal but then opened ourselves up too much," he said. "They were superior to us, but I don't blame my players for anything.

"When you face a team with players that Inter have, who punish you with speed, it can be hard. It's sometimes easier to just give credit to your opponent."

Inter moved top of the Serie A table with a comfortable 2-0 victory over Fiorentina in Friday's clash at Stadio Artemio Franchi.

The Nerazzurri had failed to win at Fiorentina in the league in six attempts since 2014 but goals from Nicolo Barella and Ivan Perisic put an end to that run.

Barella's sublime opener after 31 minutes was added to by Perisic's close-range finish in the second half, but only after Giacomo Bonaventura had struck the crossbar for the mid-table hosts.

That proved enough as Inter, who were without suspended head coach Antonio Conte, moved a point above Milan - having played a game more than their bitter rivals.

An off-balance Barella was denied by a superb Bartlomiej Dragowski reaction early on but the midfielder found the back of the net from his next attempt.

Inter worked a short corner and Alexis Sanchez set up Barella, who curled an unstoppable shot into the bottom-right corner from 25 yards.

Fiorentina would have been level before half-time if not for Samir Handanovic, who tipped Bonaventura's angled drive onto the bar and saved Cristiano Biraghi's follow-up effort.

Inter doubled their lead when Perisic tapped into an empty net seven minutes into the second half after Achraf Hakimi raced in behind and squared the ball.

Romelu Lukaku, making his 50th start in Serie A, had a goal chalked off soon after, as Perisic was deemed to be offside in the build-up.

Dragowski was then called into action twice in the space of two minutes to save Perisic's drive and substitute Roberto Gagliardini's header from close range.

Inter could not add to their tally but it mattered little as they completed a league double in this fixture for the first time since 2013-14.

Franck Ribery wants to stay with Fiorentina but is awaiting discussions with the Serie A club over a new contract.

Ribery joined La Viola in August 2019 on a free transfer following his release from Bayern Munich, but his two-year deal expires at the end of the season.

The 37-year-old winger has just one goal and four assists in 17 appearances in Serie A this season, and Fiorentina's win percentage is lower with Ribery in the team than without him.

Since he joined the club they have a won 23.7 per cent of their 38 matches with him in the team and that climbs to 40 per cent without him (20 games).

"I am happy in Florence, I have already said it," Ribery told Sky Sport Italia.

"It's a beautiful city, I feel good with the fans, with the club and with my team-mates.

"What will I do next year? I am ready and remain at everyone's disposal, this question should be asked of the club."

Fiorentina sporting director Daniele Prade said now was not the appropriate time to discuss Ribery's future, but acknowledged the former France international has been an asset to the club.

Prade said: "He's a leader, a man of important values and who must give us more from all points of view. Young players grow with him because he transmits important values.

"He will tell us what he wants to do in the future, but this is not the right time. We will talk about it in a more serene moment."

Romelu Lukaku hopes Inter are learning as they continue to struggle to perform consistently over 90 minutes despite sitting second in Serie A and reaching the quarter-finals of the Coppa Italia.

Lukaku headed an extra-time winner to see off Fiorentina 2-1 in the Coppa on Wednesday, his 119th-minute goal settling a tie in which Inter had led at half-time through Arturo Vidal's penalty.

A dominant first 45 minutes had seen the Nerazzurri attempt eight shots to Fiorentina's one, while having 56.6 per cent of the possession.

But Christian Kouame equalised after 57 minutes, prior to Lukaku's introduction as a substitute, as the Viola outshot their visitors nine to six in the second period.

For Inter, it was a second successive match in which they lost the initiative, even if Lukaku's goal this time meant they advanced to face Milan in the last eight.

At Roma on Sunday, despite trailing at half-time, quickfire goals from Milan Skriniar and Achraf Hakimi had Antonio Conte's men in front before they conceded a late leveller.

Ahead of the Roma game, Conte had bemoaned Inter's inability to make fast starts, having led at the interval just four times in Serie A this term.

But Lukaku is now concerned by his team's displays from half-time onwards, a period in which they have scored an impressive 30 goals and conceded just 12 in the league.

"I don't know why it happens," Lukaku told Rai Sport. "We already said it after the draw against Roma that it shouldn't happen, but it happened, even if we still won this time.

"We are young, we must learn from these things, but we want to improve."

Having booked the meeting with Milan, a fixture he was reluctant to immediately discuss, Lukaku acknowledged there were still positives.

"We are happy to have won a difficult match against a great coach [Fiorentina's Cesare Prandelli]," he said. "We are happy and we want to continue like this."

Turning focus back to Serie A, Inter face champions Juventus next on Sunday, with the Derby d'Italia rivals determined to win to keep the pressure on leaders Milan.

"I expect a tactical match between two teams who are doing good things," Lukaku added. "Juventus are a big team. We want to prepare well for this match."

Substitute Romelu Lukaku rescued Inter with a 119th-minute winner to knock Fiorentina out of the Coppa Italia with a 2-1 win for the second season running.

Lukaku started from the bench ahead of Sunday's Derby d'Italia against Juventus but was called for in the second half after Christian Kouame had cancelled out Arturo Vidal's penalty opener.

There was no immediate impact as the Nerazzurri sought to get their season back on track, having taken just a point from their prior two Serie A matches.

Yet Lukaku made his mark deep into extra time at the Artemio Franchi, powering a header past Pietro Terracciano to book Inter's place in the quarter-finals.

Despite the coronavirus situation, Real Madrid are still looking to make a splash in the transfer market.

Madrid have long been linked with Paris Saint-Germain star Kylian Mbappe.

And if reports are to be believed, the LaLiga champions are planning for the Frenchman.

 

TOP STORY – MADRID WORKING ON MBAPPE MOVE

Real Madrid are working on a plan to sign Paris Saint-Germain forward Kylian Mbappe, according to Tuesday's frontpage of Diario AS.

Mbappe – also linked to Liverpool – has been tipped to join Madrid, though Ligue 1 holders PSG remain committed to trying to re-sign the Frenchman.

Despite the economic fallout caused by coronavirus, Madrid are still looking to prise Mbappe to the Santiago Bernabeu thanks to player sales and revenue generated by the return of fans.

 

ROUND-UP

Bayern Munich have identified RB Leipzig star and centre-back Dayot Upamecano as the player to replace David Alaba, reports Sport 1. Alaba is out of contract at season's end and the Bayern star has been linked to the likes of Madrid, Barcelona, Chelsea and Manchester City. With Alaba heading for an exit, in-demand Upamecano is wanted in Munich. It comes as Chelsea, Manchester United, Liverpool and Barca vie for his signature.

- According to Esporte Interativo, Neymar wants to stay at PSG as the French giants prepare a new contract. Neymar has been linked with a return to Barca.

- Fabrizio Romano says an agreement has been reached between United and Bayer Leverkusen for Timothy Fosu-Mensah to join the Bundesliga side.

Milan are eyeing a move for Chelsea's Fikayo Tomori, reports Sky Sports. Strasbourg defender Mohamed Simakan remains the primary target for the Rossoneri. It comes as Fiorentina close in on Milan full-back Andrea Conti.

RB Leipzig defender Dayot Upamecano's long-term future appears uncertain, though there is a strong possibility he will end up in the Premier League.

The France international centre-back has emerged as one of Europe's most-promising defenders in recent seasons and is part of a Leipzig side that has conceded just 12 goals in 15 Bundesliga games this season.

Upamecano, 22, looks certain for a big-money move eventually, and although his next destination is unclear, he has plenty of admirers in England.

TOP STORY – CHELSEA TO RIVAL MAN UNITED FOR UPAMECANO

Chelsea are going through a difficult period as they sit ninth in the Premier League, and their options at centre-back do not appear to be entirely to Frank Lampard's liking.

While 36-year-old Thiago Silva and Kurt Zouma have become his preferred pairing, Lampard seems unconvinced by back-up options Antonio Rudiger, Andreas Christensen and Fikayo Tomori.

The Mail on Sunday reports Chelsea have joined the list of clubs lining up for Upamecano, who reportedly has a release of around €50million (£45m) in the new contract he signed last year.

But Chelsea will not expect a free run at Upamecano – the Manchester Evening News claims Manchester United retain an interest in him, with the Red Devils' centre-back options also far from impressive in 2020-21.

ROUND-UP

- Paul Pogba appears to be returning to form on the evidence of his recent displays, but how much longer will he remain at Old Trafford? The Daily Star believes Mauricio Pochettino has identified him as a key target at Paris Saint-Germain. Real Madrid and Juventus have also been linked.

- Declan Rice's future continues to be subject of speculation, with the Daily Mirror reporting he favours a return to Chelsea – whom he played for at academy level – over joining Manchester United.

- Lucas Torreira could be on the move again. Arsenal loaned the Uruguayan midfielder to Atletico Madrid at the start of the season, but he has featured only six times in LaLiga. Mundo Deportivo suggests he is being lined up by Fiorentina.

- Inter could be set to further increase their contingent of former Manchester United players. The Mirror says Jesse Lingard is the latest to be targeted by the Nerazzurri, who already have Romelu Lukaku, Alexis Sanchez, Matteo Darmian and Ashley Young on their books.

- M'Bala Nzola has been one of the revelations of the season in Serie A with promoted Spezia. Napoli are said to be keen on the striker, though CalcioMercato reports Newcastle United and West Ham are monitoring the situation as well.

Wolves have recalled forward Patrick Cutrone from his loan spell with Fiorentina, bolstering their attacking options while Raul Jimenez recovers from a serious head injury.

Mexico striker Jimenez sustained a fractured skull in a clash of heads with Arsenal's David Luiz during a 2-1 win at the end of November and does not appear close to a return.

Since then, 18-year-old Fabio Silva, a pre-season recruit from Porto, has filled in as Wolves' main centre-forward and looked lively, if unspectacular.

The youngster has featured seven times in the Premier League and scored once, his eight shot attempts fewer than Ruben Neves, Romain Saiss (both nine) and Pedro Neto (10).

Wolves' options in that part of the pitch are limited, making Cutrone's recall less of a surprise.

The Italian joined for a reported £16million (€17.7m) from Milan in 2019 but he scored just three times in 24 appearances across all competitions before being sent to Fiorentina on a planned 18-month loan in January last year.

However, he fared no better with the Viola, netting only four times in 30 Serie A outings and laying on just six chances for team-mates.

He will hope to take advantage of a clearer run at a first-team spot with Wolves, as Jimenez still has not been given a return date.

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