Old rivals Antonio Conte and Jose Mourinho will come face-to-face once more next season.

Mourinho did not stay out of the spotlight for long after his sacking by Tottenham and has been confirmed as the new Roma head coach.

He will join the club ahead of the 2021-22 season on a three-year deal to compete in a league where Conte and his former club Inter have just ended a historic run of Juventus domestic dominance.

A bitter war of words erupted between the high-profile bosses when they were at Manchester United and Chelsea respectively in the Premier League.

Tensions had simmered between the pair since Conte's appointment as Mourinho's long-term successor at Stamford Bridge in 2016.

The Portuguese's proximity as a direct rival at United was never likely to encourage detente.

Mourinho and Conte have met seven times before as managers.

After their first meeting was a draw in 2010 as Inter took on Atalanta, Conte has taken four victories from the six meetings to take place since 2016, with just two wins going to the new Roma boss.

Here we have a look back what both men said during their rivalry at Chelsea and United, reviewing how the row rapidly escalated.
 

Prelude - Defensive teams and Mourinho seasons

Initially, as Chelsea marched to the Premier League title and United collected the EFL Cup and Europa League to compensate for a sixth-place finish in the top flight, the jibes between the two amounted to a sparring session, as opposed to an all-out verbal scrap.

The seeds were sown when Mourinho complained to Conte about his animated celebrations on the touchine – more on those later – as Chelsea thrashed United 4-0 at Stamford Bridge in October 2016.

Mourinho's favoured method of damning with faint praise was to the fore in February 2017, when he labelled the Premier League's leading side "a very good defensive team", while Conte warned Chelsea to avoid "the Mourinho season" – a handy shorthand for the perils of a dreadful title defence, such as the one endured at Stamford Bridge in 2015-16.

In addition, Mourinho suggested Conte was one of his rivals who, "they cry, they cry, they cry when a player is injured". In the Italian's opinion, the United boss was overly concerned with matters at his former club. The stage was set.

"I don't behave as a clown on the touchline"

While offering assurances over his United future in January 2018, having appeared increasingly morose around matches, Mourinho identified an aspect of his behaviour he believes sets him apart from his colleagues.

"Because I don't behave as a clown on the touchline it means I lost my passion?" he said. "I prefer to behave the way I am doing it, much more mature, better for my team and myself.

"You don't have to behave like a crazy guy on the touchline to have that passion."

Mourinho could arguably have been referencing Conte, Pep Guardiola or Jurgen Klopp. All three men were asked about his comments at the time; only one took the bait.

"Demenza Senile"

Speaking a day later, Conte was quick to accuse Mourinho of hypocrisy in a rather eye-catching manner.

"I think that he has to see himself in the past, maybe he was speaking about himself in the past, yeah?" he said.

"Maybe sometimes, I think that someone forgets his behaviour and sometimes I think there is, I don't know the name, 'demenza senile' when you are a bit... when you forget what you do in the past."

Despite the literal translation being "senile dementia", Chelsea were forced to clarify Conte had been searching for the Italian word for "amnesia".

Either way, this was now an argument in the gutter. Mourinho seemed happy with that state of affairs and was determined to hit Conte where it hurt most.

"I will never be suspended for match-fixing"

Responding after United's 2-0 FA Cup win over Derby later that day, Mourinho set Conte up with faux-sympathy and empathy – this is all the media's fault, you see – before concluding with a non-veiled dig

 "Look, I don't blame him. Honestly, I don't blame him," he began.

"I think the press should apologise to me and to him because the question that comes to him is completely wrong and because of that he had that out-of-control reaction. But I don't blame him at all."

There followed apparent contrition for past indiscretions. It was all an elaborate set-up.

"The only thing I want to say to end the story is that yes, I made mistakes in the past on the touchline," Mourinho added.

"Yes, I will make less, but I think I will still make a few. What never happened to me and will never happen is to be suspended for match-fixing. That never happened to me and will never happen."

Conte was implicated in a 2011 scandal while in charge of Siena and later served a four-month ban, but always denied any wrongdoing and was acquitted by an Italian judge in May 2016. 

"A little man with a very low profile"

Conte had spoken previously about his personal ordeal throughout the match-fixing affair. Following a 0-0 FA Cup draw for Chelsea at Norwich City, he was understandably in a barely concealed fury.

"I consider him a little man, I consider him a man with a very low profile," Conte said of Mourinho, before airing a recently learned word.

"You have to know the story very well before hurting another person. In the last period, he's suffering a bit of amnesia."

Conte went on to lambast Mourinho for his criticism of Claudio Ranieri before last season seeking to show solidarity with the deposed Leicester City boss.

"I remember for example, a stupid example with Ranieri, when he offended Ranieri for [the standard of] his English," Conte seethed.

"Then when Ranieri was sacked he put on a shirt for Ranieri. You are a fake.

"If you want to fight a person, you try to kill the person, and then after two years you try to help this person, because maybe it's good for you, your profile."

Contempt and no regrets

In the days following that year's FA Cup third-round weekend, Conte underlined that he had "no regrets" over the episode. "He said serious words and used serious words. I won't forget this," he said.

Mourinho then told reporters in no uncertain terms that he had "contempt" for Conte, as a dubious means to draw a line under the issue.

All eyes were on the dugout, then, when the foes met at Old Trafford – a prospect Conte was already eyeing as he glowered at Carrow Road.

"Me and him, face to face," he said of the Premier League match at the Theatre of Dreams. "I'm ready. I don't know if he is ready."

United came from behind to win 2-1, with Romelu Lukaku and Jesse Lingard getting the goals.

The two managers were heavily scrutinised - Mourinho was the first to emerge from the tunnel and the pair did shake hands even after a wait for Conte to make his appearance.

Mourinho and Conte again shook hands after the match and the mood seemed conciliatory.

A truce?

In the months after the match and shortly before the FA Cup final between United and Chelsea in 2018, Mourinho revealed a truce had broken out between the pair.

"He [Conte] stretched out, I stretched, we got bored [arguing]," Mourinho said to Record.

"After the game here in Manchester, I invited him to come to my office. We talked, nothing is wrong."

Conte would go on to have the last laugh in their final meeting in England, beating Mourinho and United 1-0 to lift the FA Cup in his last match in charge of Chelsea before a bitter exit from Stamford Bridge.

Will the truce last? We'll find out next season and potentially for many years to come in Italy.

Inter chief executive Giuseppe Marotta admits it will be satisfying to return to former club Juventus as a champion following the Nerazzurri's Scudetto triumph.

Marotta spent eight years working in a similar role for Juve and was widely regarded as one of the key architects behind one of the most successful periods in the club's history.

Despite winning seven Serie A titles, four Coppas Italia and reaching two Champions League finals, the 64-year-old was forced out of the Allianz Stadium in 2018.

He was appointed by Inter soon after and has overseen their first Scudetto success in 12 years, which was confirmed on Sunday when second-placed Atalanta drew with Sassuolo.

Inter travel to dethroned champions Juventus on May 15 and Marotta, despite holding no grudges against his former employers, is relishing the experience.

"The Scudetto is a dream come true," he told Tuttosport. "I imagine it will be satisfying to return as Italian champions to Turin. To decide the fate of Juve. That's the beauty of sport.

"The experience in Turin has given me a lot, except for the bittersweet farewell, if we want to define it that way.

"I have remained on good terms with everyone, except [Fabio] Paratici, but that question is more human than professional.

"I'm a manager used to accepting the choices of the club I work for and so it was in September 2018, even if I honestly didn't expect it."

Marotta has been linked with a sensational return to Juve as part of a boardroom reshuffle, but the Italian has no intention of working for the Bianconeri again.

"I exclude it. It's an eventuality that has never been considered, nor have I received requests from Turin. There's only Inter," he said.

Inter sealed the Serie A title with four games to spare in what is Antonio Conte's second season at San Siro.

The ex-Italy head coach previously won three league titles working with Marotta at Juventus and the latter is hoping for a similar period of success at San Siro.

"With Antonio, we want to open a long and successful cycle. The absolute guarantee is him," Marotta said.

"He instilled the winning mentality in the team. This is the fifth title he has won in 10 years. Conte is the best."

Romelu Lukaku is hoping to fire Belgium to Euro 2020 glory after gaining a "killer mentality" with Scudetto winners Inter.

The 27-year-old has scored 21 Serie A goals and provided a further 10 assists this season for Inter, who were crowned champions on Sunday for the first time in 11 years.

It is just the second title won by the prolific striker across his 12-year senior career after finishing first in the Belgian Pro League with Anderlecht in 2009-10.

Lukaku, who joined Inter from Manchester United in August 2019, has now set his sights on inspiring Belgium to their first piece of major silverware at the delayed Euro 2020 finals.

"Winning a club title allows you to gain experience and allows you to know how to approach matches," he told La Tribune. "You get this killer mentality.

"That is something I've missed in my career. I've given up too many times before. Then I said to myself 'I'm tired, I'm 27, it's time for a change'. But the work doesn't stop here.

"Right now I'm happy because we are champions, but I'm already focused on the Euros because it's important to me.

"I really hope the other Belgium players, like [Thibaut] Courtois, Eden [Hazard], [Axel] Witsel and [Kevin] De Bruyne, can also win titles. 

"That would be good for the team. It would bring a good team spirit and we can all move forward together."

Lukaku is scoring from 23.6 per cent of his shots – making him the first Serie A player since 2004-05 to tally 20 goals and 10 assists in the same season.

The ex-Chelsea striker's 31 combined goals and assists in Serie A this season is the most of any player, with Juventus forward Cristiano Ronaldo next on the list with 30.

Despite enjoying one of his most prolific seasons yet in front of goal, however, Lukaku does not believe he is the best striker in the world.

"That is Karim Benzema, without a doubt," he said.

Benzema is averaging a goal every 121.62 minutes in LaLiga for title contenders Real Madrid this season, compared to Lukaku's return of a goal every 127.29 minutes in Serie A.

The Frenchman has 21 league goals in total this campaign and a further eight assists.

Inter reached the pinnacle in 2009-10 – Jose Mourinho delivering an unprecedented Serie A, Champions League and Coppa Italia treble.

Still to this day, Inter remain the only Italian club to achieve the feat, having claimed the Champions League for the first time in 45 years.

Not since 2010 had Inter got their hands on the Scudetto, while up until 2020, the Nerazzurri had gone eight consecutive Serie A seasons without a top-two finish – ending a campaign as low as ninth in 2012-13.

Step forward Antonio Conte.

Criticism was directed at Inter when former Juventus chief executive Giuseppe Marotta turned to a Bianconeri great and rival to restore the club's fortunes in Milan.

After instant improvement in 2019-20 – a runners-up finish in Serie A to go with a run to the Europa League final and Coppa Italia semis – Conte delivered, breaking Juve's stranglehold on Italian football this season.

Inter's triumph ended a run of nine successive Scudetti for Juve, three of which were won by Conte when he was in charge of the Turin giants from 2011 to 2014.

"Those who played with Inter or have been a coach at Inter realise it's a complicated situation," Conte told Sky Sport Italia amid the celebrations. "You have to understand the various dynamics, at times play along, but never lose your identity and I never lost my identity.

"I think that was appreciated by those who at first had turned their noses up at me because of my past. I was brought to Inter in order to bring it back to victory within three years and I did that."

While there are four rounds remaining, Inter will be starting to plan for 2021-22 and as a sea of blue and black shirts flood the Milan streets, what is next for Conte and his team?


Convince Conte about Inter's future

Conte earned his fourth Serie A title this season – only five other coaches in league history have managed at least four.

The former Italy boss is only the second coach in Serie A history to win a Scudetto with both Inter and Juve, joining Giovanni Trapattoni, though his greatest achievement might just be the transformation of Christian Eriksen from flop headed for an exit to the face of Inter's XI.

Conte ended Inter's 11-year drought and while many involved with the Nerazzurri hope it is the start of a winning cycle, his future at San Siro remains uncertain.

The 51-year-old has spoken out against the club's hierarchy previously, particularly at the end of last season amid serious concerns he would be resign or be sacked.

His position is once again in the spotlight as he reportedly plans to meet with Inter president Steven Zhang.

Suning Holdings Group owns Inter after the Chinese company acquired a majority stake in the club in June 2016, but rumours persist that a sale could happen due to the economic fallout caused by the coronavirus pandemic.

Contracted until the end of next season, Conte – never one to shy away from his opinions – is believed to want clarity over Suning's position and whether he will be able to strengthen his squad in the transfer window.

"We certainly focused on the present, as this was too important to get it done and bring Inter back to winning the Scudetto after so many years out," Conte, who was also criticised for his style of football, told Sky Sport Italia on Sunday.

"The president has arrived now, there are four games left. As I have more experience, I now also want to enjoy this moment, because in the past I got myself caught up in other problems and didn't really enjoy it enough.

"There will be time to talk together, to understand the situation, try to organise ourselves and see what comes out of it. However, at the moment, I want to enjoy this with the players, the club, the fans and everyone, because we all earned this. I don't want anyone to disturb what we achieved."

While Marotta is hopeful over Conte's future, it remains to be seen whether he will be back to defend Inter's crown.


Hold onto Lukaku

Inter's precarious financial position could have an impact on Conte's trusted talisman – Lukaku.

Like Conte, Lukaku arrived at Inter amid criticism and doubts over his ability to spearhead the club's title charge. Forking out a club-record fee to prise the Belgian star from Manchester United in 2019 did little to alleviate expectations.

Lukaku scored 34 goals in his debut season at San Siro, 23 of those coming in Serie A. The 27-year-old has well and truly silenced his critics again this term with 21 goals and 10 assists in the league thus far.

Not since his final season at Everton has Lukaku attempted or completed more dribbles (97 and 52 in 2020-21), meaning he is back facing the goal again, involved in 13 counter-attacks – his most since 2014-15. He also has 10 assists for the first time.

Yet Lukaku is still taking the largest share of his touches in the box to date (18.3 per cent), leading to a career-high 35 big chances.

From such positions, he can afford to squander 17 big chances and net only 16 non-penalty goals from efforts worth 16.8 xG, another new benchmark.

Lukaku is now scoring with a staggering 23.6 per cent of his shots – making him the first Serie A player since 2004-05 to tally 20 goals and 10 assists in the same season.

His exploits reportedly have Real Madrid, Barcelona, Chelsea and Manchester City queuing up to exploit Inter's economic situation and sign their prized asset.

Refusing to cash in on Lukaku could go a long way in convincing Conte and shaping Inter's future for years to come.

 

Make a splash in Champions League

Inter have built a strong side under Conte – Lukaku, Achraf Hakimi, Nicolo Barella, Alexis Sanchez, Arturo Vidal, Stefano Sensi, Ashley Young, Aleksandar Kolarov and Matteo Darmian all joining the quest for silverware.

But for all of Inter's success this season, their Champions League campaign left a sour taste.

Inter – Europa League finalists in 2019-20 – looked on track to reach the Champions League last 16 in a group featuring Madrid, Borussia Monchengladbach and Shakhtar Donetsk. Instead the 2009-10 winners finished bottom. Conte's Inter also failed to make it out of the group last season, taking a backseat to Barcelona and Borussia Dortmund in the Champions League.

While Inter's early Champions League exit aided their Scudetto charge this term, the club and their fans are craving European delight.

Only twice since Mourinho's treble-winning campaign – before a six-season Champions League absence – have Inter made it out of the group stage of Europe's elite club competition.

Inter legend Walter Zenga – regarded as one of the greatest goalkeepers of all time having amassed 473 appearances for the Italian powerhouse – recently told Stats Perform News: "In Europe you play different. In the Champions League you play totally different, in the Champions League it looks like no tactics, only who is stronger.

"We are thinking about tactics all the time [in Italy] and this is our mentality. If you see the game of the Italian league, it is a very strong game, if you think that is boring, in the stands it is not boring because if you are involved, you have to take an aspirin after the game because it's so strong. If you see the Spanish league, it looks like they play slow, but when you play against the Spanish teams, [sometimes] you don't touch the ball because you don't know where they are. 

"In Germany or in France, it is less interesting the season, then when you play against them in in Champions League, you have to make a big effort because you're thinking, 'Oh in Germany there are only two teams, Bayern and Borussia Dortmund, it is not competitive championship' and then when you play against them, you see it is so strong.

"So it's a question about the mentality and everything. To win in Europe in my opinion, you have to play to win. And probably you find either the clubs like Paris Saint-Germain and Manchester City, like this team that if you read the line-up specially at the top… the talent and the quality, class is the difference in Europe. I don't know what is in the mind of Conte or of the management of Inter, but in Europe, I think that you need the world-class players."


Time to farewell Handanovic?

With four games remaining, Inter – 13 points clear atop the table – have matched their points (82) and clean sheets (14) totals for the whole of last season, when they finished a point behind Juventus.

Inter have the stingiest defence in the league, having only conceded 29 goals in 34 matches so far.

Samir Handanovic – a loyal Inter servant – has contributed greatly with 14 clean sheets but the long-serving goalkeeper appears on the decline.

Errors have crept into Handanovic's game during the backend of this season. The 36-year-old, who joined from Udinese in 2012, has three errors leading to goals, compared to just one last term.

Among the goalkeepers for the top seven clubs in the league in 2020-21, only Roma's Pau Lopez recorded more (four). For comparison, Milan star Gianluigi Donnarumma (two) and Juventus' Wojciech Szczesny (one) are next on the list – Napoli's David Ospina, Lazio shot-stopper Pepe Reina, Atalanta's Pierluigi Gollini and reported Inter target Juan Musso of Udinese have none to their name.

Among that same list, Handanovic has conceded the highest number of goals outside of the penalty area (five), while his three dropped shots are only exceeded by Donnarumma and Reina (both four). In 2019-20, Handanovic finished with only three goals conceded outside the box and three drops.

Musso has emerged as a strong option for Inter and if they want to take the next step in Europe while fending off a domestic challenge, it may be time to move on from Handanovic.

Erling Haaland and Romelu Lukaku appear to be the top forwards on English clubs' shopping lists this off-season.

But Bayern Munich forward Robert Lewandowski may enter the frame amid rumours about his future.

Manchester City and Chelsea are known to be eager to bolster their attacking options and have the funds to finance a major move.

 

TOP STORY – ENGLAND ON LEWANDOWSKI'S RADAR

SportBild reports that Robert Lewandowski's likely next destination will be the English Premier League, if Bayern Munich opt to sell their Polish forward.

The report claims that Lewandowski's agent Pini Zahavi is trying to put pressure on Bayern for a lucrative contract extension or to sell him to one of England's financially powerful clubs.

Lewandowski still has two years to run on his Bayern contract and the Bavarians are believed to not be ready to negotiate.

 

ROUND-UP

- Fabrizio Romano claims that Romelu Lukaku is not planning to leave Inter amid interest from Manchester City, Chelsea, Real Madrid and Barcelona, pointing to comments he made following the club's Serie A title triumph on Sunday.

- Romano also claims that Watford, who have won promotion to the Premier League, have begun talks with Inter's Ashley Young who may be available as a free agent.

- Marca reports that PSG are increasingly concerned that Neymar will not sign a contract extension with the club amid talk of a Barcelona move.

- Celtic defender Kristoffer Ajer is being tracked by Premier League club Newcastle United, claims the Daily Record.

- Tottenham are interested in Brazilian teenager Rodrigo Varanda who is currently with Corinthians, says The Sun.

Achraf Hakimi said he would have loved to stay at Real Madrid after celebrating the Serie A title with Inter, though he appeared to leave the door open to a possible return.

Hakimi joined Inter from Madrid at the start of the season for a reported fee of around €40million, and on Sunday, the star full-back added a Scudetto to his collection.

Inter were crowned Italian champions for the first time since 2009-10 after Atalanta's 1-1 draw with Sassuolo left the Nerazzurri 13 points clear and unable to be caught with four rounds remaining.

Amid the celebrations in Milan, Hakimi spoke about Madrid, where the Morocco international emerged from the youth system in 2017 and made 17 appearances before spending two years on loan at Borussia Dortmund prior to the Inter switch.

"Real Madrid was my home," the 22-year-old, whose future has been discussed amid the financial situation at Inter caused by the coronavirus pandemic, told El Chiringuito.

"I would've loved to stay there and fight for my place... but the club decided otherwise.

"I can't blame [head coach Zinedine] Zidane or the board. I guess Real Madrid maybe have the right of first refusal for me."

Hakimi has scored seven Serie A goals in his first season at Inter, while tallying six assists under Antonio Conte.

In 2020-21, Inter have matched their points (82) and clean sheets (14) totals for the whole of last season, when they finished a point behind Juventus.

Inter's triumph ended a run of nine consecutive Scudetti for Juventus, three of which were won by Conte when he was in charge of the Bianconeri from 2011 to 2014.

Inter chief executive Giuseppe Marotta is hopeful Antonio Conte will stay at San Siro after leading the Nerazzurri to their first Serie A title in 11 years.

Atalanta's 1-1 draw with Sassuolo on Sunday meant Inter were crowned champions of Italy for the first time since Jose Mourinho's treble-winning side in 2009-10.

It also ended a run of nine consecutive Scudetti for Juventus, three of which were won by Conte when he was in charge of the Bianconeri from 2011 to 2014.

With four games remaining, Inter – 13 points clear atop the table – have matched their points (82) and clean sheets (14) totals for the whole of last season, when they finished a point behind Juventus.

Conte's future, however, remains uncertain amid concerns over Inter's financial situation caused by the coronavirus pandemic as owners Suning Holdings Group reportedly consider selling the club.

But Marotta – who worked with Conte at Juve – told Rai: "Conte's focus, like ours, is to enjoy the moment. Inter needed such a happy moment, this is the moment to enjoy what has been achieved.

"Then in due course it is right to meet each other, but this is what all the clubs do at the end of the season.

"It is the moment in which the new season begins, and in the light of an extraordinary situation such as that of the pandemic, which has caused a great economic reduction, careful evaluations are required.

"This leads to work amongst all areas of the club. Conte feels good at Inter and I hope he can continue here."

Conte earned his fourth Serie A title this season – only five other coaches in league history have managed at least four.

The former Italy boss is only the second coach in Serie A history to win a Scudetto with both Inter and Juve, joining Giovanni Trapattoni.

Marotta told Sky Sport Italia: "There was a consistent and clear gap between Inter and Juventus when I arrived. Having won the Scudetto with four rounds to spare should be seen not as a sign of the errors made by our opponents, but the credit given to Inter.

"We could potentially reach 94 points, which would be a very impressive tally. Conte deserves a great deal of credit, as he brought important sporting values from a winning career as player and coach and passed them on to these lads. None of them had won a title before other than Arturo Vidal.

"This achievement is down to a great leader like Conte."

Marotta added: "My philosophy is that it is better to buy one less player and invest in a great coach. The wages he is on are reflected by the trophy cabinet and his CV.

"I proposed Conte to Inter because I felt he was the right man at the right time. We had already won three Serie A titles together at Juventus, so we know each other very well.

"That means I also knew full well that some of his statements to the media were to motivate the club and push us forward. He wanted to make more rapid progress and we were a little slower, but he was pushing us to achieve something important together.

"I much prefer someone like Conte who says things to your face rather than those who refuse to tell you how things really are."

Romelu Lukaku expressed his deep affection for Inter in a sign he wants to stay with the newly crowned Serie A champions following their Scudetto coronation.

Inter, who won 2-0 at Crotone on Saturday, were crowned champions by virtue of second-placed Atalanta failing to beat Sassuolo on Sunday, leaving an unassailable 13-point gap.

Lukaku played a key role in delivering Inter their first Serie A title since 2009-10, the former Manchester United forward scoring 21 goals and tallying 10 assists to fuel the club's charge this season.

The Belgium international's exploits have reportedly made him a target for Real Madrid, Barcelona, Chelsea and Manchester City but Lukaku appears happy in Milan.

Lukaku got in his car on Sunday and celebrated Inter's first Scudetto in 11 years with the fans on the streets.

"I am so happy for all the Inter fans in the world, for the team, the staff, the president and everyone," Lukaku told Sky Sport Italia.

"It was a wonderful year for us, I am truly proud to play for Inter. I wanted to come out here and celebrate along with the people.

"I told my friend this was the best way to experience it, to be there with the fans. For me and many of my team-mates, this is our first league title, so it’s a moment we wanted to share with them."

Not since his final season at Everton has Lukaku attempted or completed more dribbles (97 and 52 in 2020-21), meaning he is back facing the goal again, involved in 13 counter-attacks – his most since 2014-15. He also has 10 assists for the first time.

Yet Lukaku is still taking the largest share of his touches in the box to date (18.3 per cent), leading to a career-high 35 big chances.

From such positions, he can afford to squander 17 big chances and net only 16 non-penalty goals from efforts worth 16.8 xG, another new benchmark.

Lukaku is now scoring with a staggering 23.6 per cent of his shots – making him the first Serie A player since 2004-05 to tally 20 goals and 10 assists in the same season.

"Last year was good too, but yes, this was the best of my career," Lukaku, who arrived from United in 2019, said.

"It's wonderful and I hope to continue like this. I want to thank everyone, I am truly so happy."

An elated Antonio Conte claimed Inter's Champions League exit was a significant moment in their season as he celebrated winning the Serie A title.

Atalanta's 1-1 draw with Sassuolo on Sunday meant the Nerazzurri were crowned champions of Italy for the first time since Jose Mourinho's treble-winning side in 2009-10.

It also ended a run of nine consecutive Scudetti for Juventus, three of which were won by Conte when he was in charge from 2011 to 2014.

With four games remaining, Conte's men have matched their points (82) and clean sheets (14) totals for the whole of last season, when they finished a point behind the Bianconeri.

They are 13 points clear at the top and have only lost twice in all competitions since the turn of the year.

Their form in 2021 looks all-the-more impressive considering they endured a run of two wins in 10 games in all competitions in October and November, while December saw them crash out of Europe after one win from six games in their Champions League group.

Conte felt criticism of Inter's European form was unjust and thinks that disappointment strengthened his side's resolve in their Scudetto challenge.

Speaking to Rai and Sky Sport Italia, he said: "I think the key moment was in the week we exited the Champions League, when criticism rained down on us in perhaps an exaggerated way.

"It wasn't easy. We had a group of guys who weren't used to winning. We did well to compact ourselves and take criticism to become even stronger.

"The best thing that happened to me is to have found a group that trusted me and my leadership implicitly. The players' growth has led to this result.

"They asked me what Inter needed; I replied that every player must raise the bar, not only from a footballing point of view, but also from a mental point of view.

"The boys are no longer players who take part, but who have won.

"I put it among the most important successes of my career. It was difficult because it was not an easy choice for me to come to Inter, during a time when the team was certainly not competitive or had the resources to achieve something important.

"Plus, I was going to a club who are rivals with Juventus, where I played for many years, and who were dominating the league. There were many negative situations that I was going into.

"Instead, I eagerly accepted the challenge and I think the hard work repaid all those sacrifices."

Conte will take his Inter to face old club Juve on May 15, where he intends to put on something of a show even though their season is effectively over.

"It will be a match where, beyond the table, we want to do our best. We managed to win with four games to spare, but we'll still go there to play for the victory," he said.

"It's always a pleasure for me to enter the [Allianz] Stadium. Now, I'm learning how to do it as an opponent.

"Having won with four games left is testament to the good work everyone has done. We want to continue to do well, but it's right to give more room to those who have played less.

"We'll try to do our best until the end. They know the mentality I expect from them."

Juventus chairman Andrea Agnelli congratulated Inter on their Serie A triumph but promised his club would make every effort to win back the Scudetto.

After nine consecutive league titles, the long reign of Juventus was officially ended on Sunday as Inter wrapped up the 2020-21 championship.

Atalanta's failure to beat Sassuolo – that game finished 1-1 – meant Antonio Conte's Inter were home and dry with four games to spare.

Juventus, meanwhile, face a battle just to secure a top-four finish and Champions League football next season.

For all their defending of Andrea Pirlo, the first-time head coach has not made the impression that Juventus would have wanted this season.

They followed up last season's Scudetto by winning the Supercoppa with a win over Napoli in January, but it has been a largely disappointing campaign for the Turin giants.

"For ten years in a row we have won a trophy ... not bad, but the best will always be the next!" Agnelli wrote on Twitter.

In an apparent message to Inter chairman Steven Zhang, Agnelli added: "Well done Steven! Happy for you and proud of being your loyal opponent on the pitch and friend off the pitch. We’ll be back..."

Agnelli was one of the main protagonists behind the recent failed Super League project, with Inter and Milan having also been lined up to join that now apparently quashed competition.

Juventus sporting director Fabio Paratici mixed praise for triumphant Inter with reflection on what the Bianconeri achieved in past seasons.

Paratici told Sky Sport Italia: "I congratulate the club and Conte. We know that behind every success there is passion and sacrifice.

"We know how much effort we have given to win and be top of the class for 2,382 days. We have accomplished a historic feat, unique in Italian football and, probably, also in world football. Congratulations to Inter for a well-deserved Scudetto."

Inter were confirmed as Serie A champions after rivals Atalanta drew 1-1 at Sassuolo on Sunday.

The Nerazzurri have claimed the Scudetto for the first time since their 2009-10 treble triumph.

Antonio Conte's side have charged clear since the turn of the year, moving 13 points ahead of early pace-setters Milan.

Inter won 2-0 at Crotone on Saturday, meaning only an Atalanta win against Sassuolo could delay their celebrations.

Atalanta led through a goal from Robin Gosens after 32 minutes, goalkeeper Pierluigi Gollini having earlier been sent off, but Domenico Berardi levelled seven minutes into the second half.

Luis Muriel had the chance to keep the title race alive, winning a penalty after a foul that saw Marlon Santos earn a second yellow card, but his poor attempt was saved by Andrea Consigli.

Inter's success ends a run of Juventus winning nine consecutive titles.

It is the Nerazzurri's 19th Scudetto, moving them clear of Milan into outright second place behind Juve (36 titles).

With four games remaining, Conte's men have matched their points (82) and clean sheets (14) totals for the whole of last season, when they finished a point behind the Bianconeri.

Juve's focus in the closing weeks of this season has switched to simply qualifying for the Champions League, as they headed into Sunday's game at Udinese outside the top four.

The 2018-19 season was not one Manchester United fans would remember particularly fondly, but Ole Gunnar Solskjaer's appointment provided cause for optimism.

United finished sixth in the Premier League but reached a Champions League quarter-final and gathered momentum in the second half of the campaign with Solskjaer at the helm.

Supporters could hope a number of the players at Old Trafford would be able to form the basis of a title-winning side in the coming years.

And so it proved this week as Romelu Lukaku, Alexis Sanchez, Ashley Young and Matteo Darmian got their hands on domestic silverware – in Inter colours.

That quartet played a combined 88 Premier League games for United in 2018-19 but this term turned out together for Inter, accounting for 107 Serie A appearances.

While Sanchez, Young and Darmian have each played their part, it might be Lukaku's success in Italy that causes United the most distress.

They made their money back on the £75million signing, but he is now a champion while Solskjaer's side, as when Lukaku left, trail rivals Manchester City.

Rom rewarded by Ron role

United had not been the only club willing to part with such a sum to sign Lukaku in 2017, as former club Chelsea, coached by current Inter boss Antonio Conte, sought to bring back the forward they had sold to Everton for around a third of the price three years earlier.

Despite 15 league goals – arriving every 170.8 minutes across 31 matches – on loan at Goodison Park as a 20-year-old in 2013-14, Chelsea and Jose Mourinho turned instead to Diego Costa to lead their successful title charge.

"[Lukaku] wanted to play for Chelsea but wanted to be the first-choice striker," Mourinho said. "That's very difficult to promise."

Delighted Everton manager Roberto Martinez's described Lukaku's "potential" as "quite unique", but criticism of the striker's finishing would find its root in his first season as a full-time Toffee.

Although there were 20 strikes in all competitions, just 10 came in the Premier League as chances worth 11.3 expected goals (xG) brought eight non-penalty goals.

Lukaku's conversion rate dipped to 9.5 per cent as he passed up 12 big chances – situations from which Opta would reasonably expect a player to score.

However, 11th-placed Everton's issues extended beyond a young player's slight regression.

In turn, Martinez moved away from the fast-breaking attack that brought 1.4 counters per game – none of which ended in Lukaku goals – in 2014-15 and opted instead to station his striker in front of goal. It provoked 220 touches in the box and 18 goals from Lukaku, yet could not rescue the manager.

Incoming coach Ronald Koeman may now be more familiar with making the most of the diminutive talents of Barcelona's attack, but he certainly knew how to get the best out of Lukaku.

The new Everton manager's solution was simple: build everything around Big Rom.

Heading away from the direction Martinez had taken the team and their talisman, Lukaku took just 12.5 per cent of his touches in the penalty area, as he instead had clear career highs in duels (588), aerial duels (322) and successful dribbles (63).

The forward scored 25 times in the league – taking 22.7 per cent of his chances to outstrip his xG by 9.5 – and had 31 goal involvements. He looked the complete package.

More Mou's man than Ole's

The complete package is certainly what United would expect for a £75m outlay. What they got was a steady debut season.

Ten goals in Lukaku's first nine matches for the club in all competitions hinted at a continuation of his 2016-17 Everton form, but the rest of the campaign had more in keeping with his earlier outings on Merseyside.

There were 16 league strikes, still ahead of his xG of 12.6, but also 11 big chances missed. No longer required to carry the load alone, Lukaku's total shots fell from 110 to 86 and his conversion rate dwindled to 18.6 per cent.

Still, Mourinho stood by his man.

Having started all but five of United's league games in 2017-18, Lukaku was again included in the XI in 12 of their first 17 matches the following season.

But when Mourinho was sacked shortly before Christmas, Solskjaer had no such loyalty to a striker who had failed to kick on, contributing just six goals.

Lukaku completed the full 90 minutes on seven occasions under Solskjaer, who turned instead to Marcus Rashford as his main striking option.

Rashford only scored one more goal than Lukaku over this period and missed two more big chances, but criticism hurt the Belgium international and a hamstring injury in April 2019 brought a premature end to his season – and his United career.

"A lot of people don't think I can be part of that team," Lukaku later told NBA star Josh Hart's LightHarted Podcast. "If it's like that, we can go our separate ways.

"You guys can find someone who really fits the bill and I can go."

Counted on by Conte

Lukaku certainly fitted the bill at Inter. New Nerazzurri coach Conte needed a replacement striker as Mauro Icardi's love-hate affair with San Siro's Curva Sud finally reached its conclusion.

Having failed to recruit Lukaku at Stamford Bridge in a move that might have suited all parties better than the United switch, Conte added the striker to a squad intent on ending Inter's wait for the Scudetto.

Not since 2009-10, with Samuel Eto'o and Diego Milito paired in attack, had Inter reigned, but they now had another forward partnership to enjoy.

On paper, Lautaro Martinez might have been considered the 'little man' to Lukaku's 'big man', yet Conte has increasingly resisted the urge to use his talented giant as a battering ram.

Although Lukaku remains capable of bullying defenders – only in two Premier League seasons did he win more aerial duels than 2019-20's 93 – Conte has followed Koeman's example and made sure to involve his number nine in everything Inter do.

Not since his final season at Everton has Lukaku attempted or completed more dribbles (97 and 52 in 2020-21), meaning he is back facing the goal again, involved in 13 counter-attacks – his most since 2014-15. He also has 10 assists for the first time.

Yet Lukaku is still taking the largest share of his touches in the box to date (18.3 per cent), leading to a career-high 35 big chances.

From such positions, he can afford to squander 17 big chances and net only 16 non-penalty goals from efforts worth 16.8 xG, another new benchmark.

"Lukaku has made exceptional improvements but can make even more," Conte says.

Martinez, now his coach at international level, feels the development is clear for all to see. He told La Gazzetta dello Sport: "Romelu became a complete player, obviously thanks to Conte."

Lukaku is now scoring with a staggering 23.6 per cent of his shots – making him the first Serie A player since 2004-05 to tally 20 goals and 10 assists in the same season – and Inter are champions.

United and those critics have long since disappeared into the rear-view mirror.

Will Lionel Messi stay or leave?

The superstar Barcelona captain is set to become a free agent, though the LaLiga giants are determined to re-sign Messi.

Paris Saint-Germain are interested but Messi could reportedly extend his Camp Nou career.

 

TOP STORY – MESSI SET FOR BARCA STAY?

Lionel Messi is closer to staying at Barcelona than joining Paris Saint-Germain, according to L'Equipe.

Messi's future has dominated headlines, with his contract due to expire at season's end amid interest from Paris Saint-Germain and Manchester City.

Barca are keen to re-sign Messi, who is encouraged by the Copa del Rey triumph and Joan Laporta's plans, despite an offer from PSG.

 

ROUND-UP

Barca have reached out to PSG regarding a possible reunion with Neymar, however, RAC1 says the Ligue 1 holders are not willing to sell the Brazilian superstar.

Everton are plotting a bid for soon-to-be free agent and City star Sergio Aguero, reports the Daily Star. Aguero will leave the Etihad Stadium on a free transfer and the forward has been linked with Chelsea, Barcelona, Inter and Tottenham.

- Fabrizio Romano says Leicester City are working on a deal to sign Lille star Boubakary Soumare, who has previously been linked with Manchester United, Tottenham, Inter and Napoli.

- The Sun claims Borussia Dortmund have joined United and PSG in the battle sign Brighton and Hove Albion defender Ben White.

- Sky Sport Italia claims Milan ultras met with star goalkeeper Gianluigi Donnarumma and demanded he sits out the fixture against Serie A rivals Juventus if he does not renew his contract. Donnarumma is set to become a free agent and he is yet to re-sign amid reports he is in talks with Juve. The Italy international has also been linked with United, Chelsea and PSG.

United are prepared to sell Paul Pogba if he does not commit to a new contract, according to The Sun. Juve and Real Madrid are reportedly eyeing the French star. It comes as The Sun also claims United are not willing to part ways with Donny van de Beek following a difficult first season at Old Trafford.

Inter players have formed a "team of granite" and will deservedly take their place in the club's history, according to head coach Antonio Conte.

The Nerazzurri overcame Crotone 2-0 on Saturday – a result that relegated Serse Cosmi's side – and they will end an 11-year wait to win a Scudetto if second-placed Atalanta fail to win at Sassuolo on Sunday.

The runaway leaders had been frustrated against Crotone, twice hitting the woodwork before Christian Eriksen put them ahead in the 69th minute.

Achraf Hakimi added a second in stoppage time as Inter moved to within touching distance of the Serie A title.

Conte is thrilled with his players' efforts this season and says they deserve all the plaudits that will come their way when they end Juventus' nine-season dominance of the Italian top flight.

"I think our campaign comes from a constant growth from the team in every area, including mentality, the sharing of a vision and experiencing it intensely," he told Sky Sport Italia. "Those who play or are on the bench have formed a team made of granite.

"We know that we can remain in the history of Inter because we are effectively bringing down a nine-year reign. This is satisfying and the players deserve congratulations.

"We needed to go through this journey in order to win and be considered winners. There are sacrifices to be made, a culture to be developed, and at times giving up so much in order to achieve something extraordinary.

"Not everyone is prepared to do that. I found many players here who all wanted to get on the same boat and work together to become part of Inter history.

"I told the players, 'if you win, then you'll be in the history of this club. If you don't, then you can spend three, seven or more years here and be just one of the many.’

"I didn't have to convince them very hard; they were already on board."

While Inter can be crowned as early as Sunday, Conte suggested he would prefer his side to seal the triumph themselves when they face Sampdoria next weekend.

"We know that we're on the verge and are quite relaxed about it," he explained. "I don't think it's right to depend on someone else. We've got such a big gap that we know it's all our own work and we don't have to thank anyone for a result. It's all still in our hands."

Conte faced some hostility when he took over ahead of the 2019-20 season given his association with Juventus, for whom he both played for and coached with distinction.

The 51-year-old acknowledged it has been a challenge at times but believes he has done enough to win over any dissenting supporters.

"I made the most difficult choice by coming to Inter," he said. "Many would've hidden behind history, but I love a challenge and came here to challenge myself.

"I remain a fan of every club I worked for, but I am the ultimate fan of the club where I work right now, always. I realise it wasn't easy for me to enter the hearts of all Inter fans, but I have always given my all for the team I work for.

"I think I really challenged myself this time and I am rewarded with a team that is doing something extraordinary."

Christian Eriksen and Achraf Hakimi put Inter on the brink of securing the Serie A title with second-half goals in a 2-0 victory at Crotone.

The runaway leaders had been frustrated against a relegated side who are bottom of the table until Eriksen struck just a few minutes after coming on midway through the second half on Saturday.

Romelu Lukaku struck the woodwork and had a goal ruled out, while Lautaro Martinez hit the post, but Eriksen opened the scoring with a deflected drive and Hakimi sealed all three points with the last kick of the game.

Victory at Stadio Ezio Scida ensured the Nerazzurri will end an 11-year wait to win a Scudetto if second-placed Atalanta fail to win at Sassuolo on Sunday.

Adam Ounas forced a save from Samir Handanovic and Stefano Sensi's shot deflected wide at the other end in a frantic start.

Sensi was denied by Alex Cordaz from a tight angle when the midfielder was presented with another early opportunity before he whipped in a corner that Lukaku headed against the post.

Martinez's right-footed strike rattled off the inside of the post and Cordaz palmed away another effort from Sensi as the Nerazzurri somehow failed to open the scoring in the first half.

Battling Crotone got everyone behind the ball in what resembled a training exercise with Inter continuing to probe after the break, Sensi's scuffed strike gathered by Cordaz after his free-kick struck the wall.

Antonio Conte made a triple substitution after 65 minutes and Eriksen made just the impact he was hoping for soon after coming on.

Lukaku showed great strength before laying the ball off to the Denmark midfielder, whose right-footed drive from around 20 yards out deflected into the corner of the net.

Leading scorer Lukaku had a goal disallowed for offside seven minutes from time but Hakimi put the icing on the cake with a second goal right at the end, finishing off a counter-attack with a clinical finish.

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