Zlatan Ibrahimovic feels Milan have become "fragile" and is seeking an instant response to Saturday's 3-0 thrashing against Atalanta when they take on fierce rivals Inter next.

Previously unbeaten in 27 league matches stretching back into the 2019-20 season, Milan have now lost two of their last four games - they also went down 3-1 to Juventus earlier this month. 

Goals from Cristian Romero, Josip Ilicic and Duvan Zapata condemned Stefano Pioli's side to their latest defeat, but they are still top at the midway point of the season as closest challengers Inter could only manage a 0-0 draw with Udinese. 

However, Ibrahimovic accepts being winter champions will count for little unless Milan regain some consistency and end their decade-long wait for Scudetto success. 

"We lost two games after more than 30 matches that we didn't lose," he told Sky Sport Italia.  

"The team is a bit fragile because when certain players are missing, we lack a bit of experience. They are replaced by young players, but this is no excuse.  

"We make many sacrifices; we work and we are first for a reason.

"But being top at this stage does not matter. We are halfway through the championship, so far we have done well but still nothing this is the most difficult period because there are so many games and now we just have to continue." 

Asked if Tuesday's Coppa Italia quarter-final with Inter has now taken on even more importance, Ibrahimovic said: "We have to redeem ourselves after this defeat.  

"We have the chance to do it in a few days and then against Inter. That will be a good match." 

Milan's club-record run of scoring in 38 successive league games was ended in Saturday's loss at San Siro, a game in which the Rossoneri managed only two shots on target. 

Ibrahimovic was unable to test Pierluigi Gollini with any of his five efforts, while his 36 touches of the ball were the fewest by any home player to take part in the entire game. 

The veteran striker, who has 12 goals in nine league outings this term, admitted afterwards that he felt isolated up front. 

"In the first half I was too alone in attack," he said. "I didn't have anyone close to support me, but it could also be because of the pressure from Atalanta that put us in trouble.  

"Today many things were missing, it was not our day. Now the important thing is to recover and think about the next match to redeem ourselves."

Antonio Conte insists Inter will continue to focus on themselves and not Milan after missing out on the chance to leapfrog their rivals at the top of Serie A. 

A week on from beating fellow Scudetto contenders Juventus 2-0, Inter failed to get going as they were held to a goalless draw away at lowly Udinese on Saturday. 

Conte's side attempted just 10 shots at the Dacia Arena - their joint-fewest in an away league match this season - in a game that saw Conte sent off late on for dissent. 

Milan lost 3-0 to Atalanta on Saturday but Inter could only close the gap on the leaders to two points at the midway stage in the campaign. 

The Nerazzurri have now triumphed in only one of their last four Serie A matches, having won their previous eight in a row, and Conte accepts an improvement is needed. 

"As I always say, we need to think only of ourselves and not others, such as Milan. We just have to focus on improving our performances and results," he told Sky Sport Italia. 

"We just try to work and get the best out of ourselves. I think that amid the many, many difficulties we had this year, Inter are having their say and are real protagonists. 

"Inter deserve that for their history. The second half of the season is still to play, but what we've done for the last year and a half has been wonderful." 

Conte was issued a yellow card and then a swift red by referee Fabio Maresca as the game entered added time, while team manager Lele Oriali was dismissed after the final whistle. 

Explaining the touchline commotion during a game otherwise devoid of many talking points, Conte said: "We had a disagreement over the amount of stoppages awarded. 

"The referee booked me and then chose to send me off. I thought four minutes weren't enough to add on in the circumstances.  

"Then the referee makes his decisions and we have to accept them, even if we do not agree with those decisions." 

A number of visiting players had an off day against an Udinese side without a goal in six successive league games against Inter - their longest such streak against any side in the division. 

Achraf Hakimi in particular struggled, losing possession more times (23) than any other player, with Lautaro Martinez and Romelu Lukaku failing to get on the end of balls into the penalty box. 

"We could've been more precise today and lacked quality in the final ball," Conte admitted. "When we put crosses in, we usually have four players push into the box.  

"That's usually the intent, then it's about the accuracy of the cross. For instance, Nicolo Barella's cross was what created the goal for Arturo Vidal against Juventus.  

"You need both the cross and to get bodies into the box." 

Focus for Inter now switches to Tuesday's derby with Milan in the Coppa Italia quarter-finals, though Conte is prioritising the league over domestic cup success. 

"We know that Serie A represents something important for the club and on an economic level, so winning the Scudetto or qualifying for the Champions League is more important than the Coppa Italia," he said.  

"Having said that, we still respect the tournament and want to do well. Inevitably, we will evaluate the situation, see who has recovered and who needs more playing time.  

"Nobody is underestimating this match and we'll try to win, as we always do. We don't put limits on ourselves, but we must find the right approach to beat Milan and go into the semi-finals."

Antonio Conte saw red as Inter were held to a goalless draw by Udinese and missed out on the chance to overtake Serie A leaders Milan at the midway point of the season

Inter beat Juventus 2-0 last weekend to enhance their title credentials but could not follow that up with another win in Saturday's stalemate at the Dacia Arena.

Relegation-threatened Udinese entered the game winless in eight but they restricted Inter to minimal chances, the best falling to Lautaro Martinez in the first half.

Conte's frustration boiled over late on, the Inter coach receiving his marching orders due to dissent, though the Nerazzurri at least gained a point on their bitter rivals Milan, who were beaten 3-0 by Atalanta ahead of the sides' Coppa Italia quarter-final on Tuesday.

Bayern Munich are the only side to have scored more goals in Europe's top-five leagues than Inter this season but the visitors could not get going against Udinese.

Martinez had a goal correctly ruled out for offside from Inter's first meaningful attack and was denied by a superb one-handed Juan Musso save 15 minutes later.

Udinese otherwise kept their opponents at bay in a low-tempo first half, with Arturo Vidal and Ashley Young failing to truly test Musso from weak attempts.

Inter continued to lack ideas as the match wore on and were almost dealt a sucker punch when first Roberto Pereyra and then Rodrigo de Paul fired just wide of the target.

Achraf Hakimi lashed across the face of goal and a bad day for Conte got worse when he was booked and then sent off for protesting a decision that went against his side as Inter fired a blank for the first time in 22 league games.

Real Madrid have flatly denied there is any "tension" with Inter concerning an alleged agreement over deferred payments for the transfer of Achraf Hakimi.

The full-back moved to San Siro last July for a reported fee of around €40million, which was to be paid in four instalments.

It has been claimed in Italy and Spain that, due largely to the impact of the coronavirus pandemic, Madrid agreed with Inter's request to defer the first payment of €10m, which had been due last month, until March 30.

However, according to a story in Corriere dello Sport on Saturday, Madrid insisted on "a series of guarantees" over the outstanding balance and that the LaLiga champions could even move to bring Hakimi back if Inter appear unable to keep up with payments.

In a subsequent statement, Madrid said there was no basis to claims of a dispute with the Nerazzurri and that relations between the clubs remain positive.

"In relation to the story published by Corriere dello Sport regarding alleged tension between our club and Inter Milan, Real Madrid wishes to clarify that these reports are completely false," the statement said.

"At no point in time has Real Madrid asked Inter Milan for an alleged guarantor, as the aforementioned publication states.

"The terms of the player's transfer to Inter fall within the standard and normal contractual relationships between football clubs. 

"This is particularly true in this case with Inter Milan, with whom Real Madrid has always and continues to enjoy an excellent relationship on account of its status as a historic club and one that is a friend of ours."

Hakimi's agent, Alejandro Camano, told FCInter1908.it that he did not know anything about the rumoured dispute between the clubs.

"We haven't received any calls from Madrid," he said. "Achraf is happy at Inter and is only focused on doing his best for Inter.

"His goal is to win with the Inter shirt, and he's not thinking about anything else."

Hakimi has enjoyed a strong first season in Italy, with six goals and four assists in 24 appearances in all competitions.

Could Barcelona be about to make a splash in the free-agent market?

Strapped for cash amid the coronavirus pandemic, Barca are believed to have set their sights on two stars.

David Alaba and Sergio Aguero are on the agenda at Camp Nou…

 

TOP STORY – BARCA EYEING OUT-OF-CONTRACT DUO

Barcelona are set to target Bayern Munich star David Alaba and Manchester City's Sergio Aguero , according to Mundo Deportivo.

Alaba and Aguero are both out of contract at the end of the season, prompting interest from embattled LaLiga giants Barca.

Bayern's Alaba has been tipped to join Real Madrid , while the likes of Manchester United , Liverpool and Paris Saint-Germain have also been linked.

Aguero, meanwhile, is no certainty to renew in Manchester, where Pep Guardiola is reportedly eyeing Borussia Dortmund sensation Erling Haaland and Inter's Romelu Lukaku .

 

ROUND-UP

-   Sport reports Raphael Varane wants to leave LaLiga champions Madrid . The French defender has previously been linked to United .

- Madrid cannot afford to sign the likes of PSG star Kylian Mbappe and Haaland due to their current financial situation amid the coronavirus pandemic, claims Marca.

- The Guardian says West Ham have lowered their asking price for Declan Rice , who has been linked to Chelsea and United .

- Martin Odegaard is close to swapping Madrid for Arsenal on loan, reports journalist Fabrizio Romano.

- Romano also says United have not opened talks with Lens to sign Argentine centre-back Facundo Medina . The Red Devils are eyeing a new centre-back amid links with in-demand RB Leipzig star Dayot Upamecano .

Napoli want to sign either Sporting CP full-back Nuno Mendes or Benfica's Nuno Tavares , reports Calciomercato.

- There are serious doubts over Edin Dzeko's future at Roma, with Calciomercato claiming Juventus and Inter are monitoring the situation.

Inter head coach Antonio Conte is convinced there are seven teams fighting for the Serie A title and a top-four spot as he insisted the Nerazzurri are not Scudetto favourites.

Conte's Inter are second and three points adrift of city rivals Milan, but full of confidence after upstaging nine-time defending champions Juventus 2-0 last week.

Inter outclassed Juve at San Siro to enhance their title credentials in Italy, where they have not claimed the Scudetto since their treble-winning campaign in 2009-10.

But Conte dismissed the favourites tag, with Napoli, Roma, Juve, Atalanta and Lazio also vying for silverware and a Champions League berth.

"I always said since the beginning of the season that I see seven teams fighting for the first four positions, either for the Scudetto or for a place in the next Champions League," Conte said ahead of Saturday's fixture away to Udinese.

"I think the first half of the season confirmed my opinion. We have seen some teams being more consistent than others but in the end this first Serie A round confirmed that there are seven teams able to play for the title until the end of the season."

Inter have won nine of their last 11 Serie A games against Udinese (D1 L1) and have not conceded a goal in their last five against the club.

The Nerazzurri have scored 45 goals in their first 18 league fixtures this season – only Bundesliga champions Bayern Munich have scored more (48) in the top five European leagues in 2020-21.

In a 20-team season, only in 1951-52 have the Nerazzurri scored more in the first half of a season (48).

Meanwhile, among coaches who have led Inter for at least 30 Serie A games in the era of three points per win, Conte has the joint-best points-per-game average (2.18 per match, level with Jose Mourinho).

A mouth-watering Coppa Italia quarter-final derby against neighbours Milan looms on Tuesday, but Conte said: "Our focus and our choices are only based on Udinese in this moment. The championship is too important [to make changes towards the derby] because apart from the Scudetto you have a place in the next Champions League to fight for.

"The championship is our priority. We have to focus on Udinese and we have to approach this game with the right mentality. After this game we are going to think about the next one but today Udinese are our priority."

Zinedine Zidane's future at Real Madrid is being questioned, while Paul Pogba could be set to stay at Manchester United.

Madrid were stunned by third-tier side Alcoyano in the Copa del Rey on Wednesday, sparking fresh talk about Zidane's position at the helm.

Zidane is under fire, but the Frenchman may get more time.

 

TOP STORY – ZIDANE BEING QUESTIONED AS REAL MADRID BOSS

Zinedine Zidane is being questioned more than ever as Real Madrid head coach, according to AS.

The report says he will remain at the helm until the Champions League, which will resume in February, and former star forward Raul is the top candidate to replace him.

Madrid are second in LaLiga, seven points behind Atletico Madrid, who also have a game in hand.

ROUND-UP

- Pogba may be happier at Manchester United. The Daily Star reports United are increasingly confident the midfielder will see out his contract, which runs until 2022, despite interest from Real Madrid, Paris Saint-Germain and Juventus.

- Christian Eriksen looks set to leave Inter, but it remains to be seen where he ends up. The Telegraph claims Leicester City have ruled out a loan move for the midfielder due to his wage demands.

- RB Leipzig defender Dayot Upamecano is set to be the subject of speculation for months to come. Goal reports Manchester United, Manchester City and Chelsea have shown interest in the defender, who is also wanted by Bayern Munich.

- Dele Alli wants to reunite with Mauricio Pochettino at PSG. 90min says the Tottenham midfielder has asked chairman Daniel Levy not to block a potential switch this month.

- Arsenal appear set to strengthen in January. Sport reports midfielder Martin Odegaard is very close to joining the Premier League club on loan from Real Madrid.

Inter star Lautaro Martinez's future could be closer to being sorted, while Frank Lampard is under enormous pressure.

After impressing at Inter, Martinez, 23, has been strongly linked with a move to Barcelona.

The Argentina international is contracted at Inter until 2023, but that could be set to change.

 

TOP STORY – INTER OPTIMISTIC OVER MARTINEZ RENEWAL

Inter are optimistic about reaching an agreement for a new contract with Lautaro Martinez, according to Sky Sport.

The report says Martinez's agents met with Inter on Wednesday.

Martinez has scored nine goals in 18 Serie A games this season, having netted 14 in 35 in the league in 2019-20, leading to interest from Barcelona.

 

ROUND-UP

- As Chelsea's struggles continue, Lampard is under growing pressure as head coach. Sky Sports reports the former England international will lose his job unless results improve immediately. Chelsea have lost five of their past eight Premier League games to slip to eighth in the table. The Independent, meanwhile, reports Chelsea are not interested in an interim replacement. Former Paris Saint-Germain boss Thomas Tuchel, RB Leipzig coach Julian Nagelsmann, Southampton's Ralph Hasenhuttl and ex-Juventus coach Massimiliano Allegri have been linked.

- Previously linked to Arsenal, Houssem Aouar may be looking elsewhere if he leaves Lyon. ESPN claims the midfielder is eager to join Barcelona or Real Madrid.

- Set to stay at Manchester City until the end of the season, Eric Garcia has been linked with a move to Barcelona when his deal expires in June. However, Mundo Deportivo says PSG are planning a move for the defender.

- Arsenal could make moves in January. Sky Sports reports they have approached Real Madrid about a move for Martin Odegaard, while Cuatro claims Sevilla are hoping to loan the midfielder.

Could Harry Kane land in Paris?

With Kylian Mbappe tipped to join Real Madrid, Paris Saint-Germain are reportedly eyeing replacements.

Mauricio Pochettino has a familiar face in mind…

 

TOP STORY – POCH WANTS KANE IF MBAPPE LEAVES

Paris Saint-Germain head coach Mauricio Pochettino wants to sign Tottenham striker Harry Kane, according to El Chiringuito de Jugones.

That is if PSG star Kylian Mbappe leaves the Ligue 1 champions for LaLiga holders Real Madrid.

Pochettino coached Kane for five years at Tottenham before he was sacked by Spurs in November 2019.

 

ROUND-UP

- Sky Sport Germany claims Bayern Munich star David Alaba will not decide on his future until he has spoken to Barcelona. Marca reported that Madrid had struck a deal to sign Alaba on a free transfer at the end of the season. However, Alaba is reportedly holding out for Barca as the likes of Liverpool, Manchester United and PSG try to lure the Austria international.

Martin Odegaard has asked to leave Madrid on loan due to his lack of game time, reports Marca and Diario AS.

Romelu Lukaku has no intention of leaving Inter for City, says Express Sport. Lukaku spent two years at United before moving to Italy in 2019. Pep Guardiola's City have also been linked with Borussia Dortmund star Erling Haaland amid doubts over Sergio Aguero's future.

- Mundo Deportivo claims Manchester City defender Eric Garcia could join Barca this month or at the end of the season.

Milan are eyeing Barca's Junior Firpo on loan, while Serie A rivals Napoli are also interested, according to Calciomercato.

- Eurosport reports Tottenham are looking to prise Danny Ings away from Southampton. Ings is reportedly stalling on a new contract as he eyes a Champions League club.

Lionel Messi is free to negotiate a move to clubs outside LaLiga and Juan Sebastian Veron thinks Javier Zanetti will be key to Inter's hopes of signing the Barcelona superstar.

Six-time Ballon d'Or winner Messi is in the final six months of his contract at Camp Nou, having failed to engineer a move away during the close season.

The 33-year-old has long been linked with a switch to Serie A giants Inter, where his former Argentina team-mate Zanetti – the Albiceleste's most-capped player of all time – is vice-president.

Former Nerazzurri and Argentina midfielder Veron does not expect Messi to be at Inter next season, but believes it will be down to Zanetti if he does complete a move to San Siro.

"I don't think he can go to Italy. If he will, it is because of Javier Zanetti, who knows him and will try to talk to him, making him feel important again and to explaining the future projects of the club," Veron told Stats Perform News.

"At the end of the day it is purely Messi's decision. But if Inter want to make an attempt, they have to use seduction and get to his heart to draw him near. 

"I don't know how many more years Messi wants to play at this level, but if you want to sign him, Inter have to make Messi their flagship and make clear they want to be at the top level."

After a 2-0 victory over Juventus on Sunday, Inter sit second in Serie A three points behind leaders Milan.

Antonio Conte's side have not been lacking in attack this term, though, with Romelu Lukaku (12 goals, three assists) and Lautaro Martinez (nine goals, three assists) developing a potent partnership in the league.

No forward in Serie A to have played at least 10 games this season has had more Opta-defined 'big chances' than Lukaku, whose tally of 20 is only matched by Edin Dzeko and Cristiano Ronaldo. The Belgium international has the best conversion rate of the trio, scoring from 12 such openings for a 60 per cent success ratio. Ronaldo is second on 55 per cent, while Dzeko is third on 35 per cent.

Messi has scored 11 goals and assisted two more in LaLiga this term, while converting 58.3 per cent (seven out of 12) of his big chances.

The Barca captain's 35 key passes are only bettered by Iago Aspas (37), and his 100 attempts on goal in the Spanish top flight this season are almost twice as many as Karim Benzema (51) in second.

Andrea Pirlo is not about to call time on Juventus' Serie A defence despite fuming at the way they ceded control to Inter in a damaging defeat on Sunday.

Juve are now seven points behind leaders Milan and Inter, and could fall 10 points off the pace if the Rossoneri win on Monday.

The Bianconeri lost 2-0 at Inter, who led through Arturo Vidal's header – one of 11 first-half efforts to Juve's three – and netted again seven minutes after the break as Nicolo Barella ran clear.

The midfield duo were outstanding, with ex-Juve man Vidal gaining possession nine times as well as having four shots, while Barella created the opener for his team-mate and had three key passes, playing a team-high 41 passes in the opposition half.

The Inter pair set a tempo that Juve, coach Pirlo acknowledged, simply did not match.

"We got the attitude wrong from the beginning," Pirlo told Sky Sport.

"When you don't have the anger and determination to try to win duels in these matches, it becomes difficult. We were too passive.

"It's a bad defeat; we didn't expect it. We couldn't have had a worse match than this one, but now we have to raise our heads because we will play a final on Wednesday [the Supercoppa Italiana against Napoli]."

The broadcaster suggested this was the angriest rookie coach Pirlo had been since his appointment, to which he replied: "Yes, because in these matches, you have to have the same desire and the same anger as the opposition in order to be on the same level.

"Then the qualities of the individuals can make the difference."

Despite his frustration at his players in Juve's first Serie A defeat to Inter in eight matches, Pirlo also accepted responsibility.

"The coach is always wrong first of all because it is he who gives the directions," he said.

"So I take my responsibility, because if the team did not do what we wanted, it means that they did not understand what we had to do."

Pirlo was a Juve substitute when Vidal's previous Serie A goal in 2015 clinched the Bianconeri's fourth straight title.

A further five consecutive championships have followed, but a 10th in a row looks tough now, even if Pirlo is not willing to give up hope.

"Our ambitions remain the same," he insisted. "It's a misstep against an important team, but in a long journey there happen to be these missteps."

Inter proved they have what it takes to maintain a serious title challenge this season by defeating reigning champions Juventus 2-0, according to Arturo Vidal.

Vidal opened the scoring against his former club at San Siro on Sunday, heading home a cross from Nicolo Barella to find the net in Serie A for the first time since his goal clinched the Scudetto for Juve in May 2015.

He became the first ex-Juve player to score for Inter in the Derby d'Italia since Christian Vieri in 2004 and the eighth player to score for both sides in the fixture.

Lautaro Martinez and Romelu Lukaku missed opportunities to add to Inter's tally but Barella made no mistake with an emphatic finish in the 52nd minute.

The Nerazzurri consequently claimed their first league win against Juve since September 2016 and their first with a clean sheet since April 2010.

Antonio Conte's side moved level with Serie A leaders Milan on 40 points and opened up a seven-point advantage over the reigning champions.

Milan can restore their three-point cushion by beating Cagliari in their game in hand on Inter on Monday, but Vidal does not think Conte's men are going to fall away.

"It's important for me and for the team. It was a very difficult game against the best team in Italy," Vidal told Sky Sport Italia.

"I am glad to have scored my first goal for Inter, very happy. I think we proved that we are up to the task of fighting for the Scudetto.

"This gives us the confidence to keep pushing, to believe we can win the Scudetto, as we beat the strongest team over the past nine years. We believe that we can go all the way."

Ahead of kick-off, Vidal was seen kissing the Juve badge on Giorgio Chiellini's training top while the pair shared a hug. He then celebrated his goal in a muted fashion.

Conte led Juve to three straight Serie A titles to start their ongoing period of dominance and finally got his first league victory over them at the fourth attempt.

Despite Inter coming out on top and Juve being seven points adrift, Conte still believes the Bianconeri are the team to beat in the race for the title.

"In order to beat a team like Juventus, which for all the Italian clubs are the reference point, we have to put in a great performance. We did that," said Conte.

"We prepared well and it's satisfying to see that we were right about the things we thought could hurt Juventus. The lads followed the plan perfectly and I am very happy for them because these are games that must give you self-belief, let you understand you are on the right path.

"We already saw the fruits of this process last season and we are continuing to see them this term. Juventus were an important reference point, a side that dominated Serie A for nine years, having done exceptional work both on the field and as a club.

"I still maintain Juve have a gap not just from Inter, but all the other clubs, but we are working to close the gap."

In what appeared to be a dig at his club, Conte added: "If people think we are the favourites now, imagine if we'd been able to work in the transfer market in August. We'd be massive favourites!"

If Juventus are "a benchmark" and "a reference point", as Antonio Conte suggested pre-match, the Inter head coach can now feel much more positive about his side's Scudetto hopes after a superb 2-0 win.

Conte, formerly the main man in Turin, had good reason to be pessimistic even as the Nerazzurri entered the Derby d'Italia four points ahead of the champions.

Juve were the only Serie A opponents against whom Conte possessed an 100 per cent losing record, beaten in each of his prior three matches against his former club.

And Inter's misery in this fixture extended beyond the start of Conte's reign, going seven without a win as Juve used meetings with the Nerazzurri to consolidate their domestic dominance.

Indeed, there was little reason heading into this match to doubt Juve's credentials, with Andrea Pirlo's side seemingly building up a head of steam in his rookie season.

The Bianconeri had followed up a shock December defeat at home to Fiorentina with four straight successes in all competitions, scoring 13 times in the process.

Among those victories was a deserved triumph at league leaders Milan. Juve had not won at both Milan and Inter in the first half of a Serie A season in 80 years; they now had the opportunity to do so in consecutive away games.

But preparations were not ideal. Cristiano Ronaldo, like opposite number Romelu Lukaku, had not been able to enjoy the week of rest he had set aside, instead called from the bench in a midweek Coppa Italia tie and forced to see out extra time.

Ronaldo played on the fringes at San Siro, his most notable involvement an 11th-minute tap-in ruled out for offside, with the clash between two of Serie A's foremost scorers not panning out as many would have imagined.

Lukaku was as influential as ever in the Inter attack, running Giorgio Chiellini ragged as he contested 15 duels, winning nine, earned three fouls and conceded two, and created three chances.

There was no goal for the forward, though, as the game was decided in the midfield, where Inter were even more impressive, setting the tone right from the outset.

Marcelo Brozovic anchored the side, Nicolo Barella buzzed all over the pitch, and Arturo Vidal - the subject of a clip on social media that appeared to show him kissing the badge of former club Juve pre-match - made clear where his loyalties now lie.

Conte had failed to offer an explanation for some slow starts so far this season but certainly had no need to worry about that issue on this occasion. By half-time, Inter's only concern could have been their failure to add to a lead secured by Vidal.

The midfielder, whose previous Serie A goal back in 2015 had won Juve the title, spread the ball wide to Barella moments after Ronaldo's disallowed goal and then ran onto the subsequent cross, towering over Danilo to nod beyond Wojciech Szczesny and offer a muted celebration.

That was one of 11 first-half Inter efforts, their joint-high this season. Juve mustered just three before the break, a joint-low for them.

But this unpredictable Inter side had led 4-1 and trailed 2-0 respectively on the previous two occasions they had attempted 11 shots in the opening 45 minutes this term.

Juan Sebastian Veron, a former Inter star, told Stats Perform News prior to this game the Nerazzurri would "need to be decisive". Despite the opener, they were anything but.

Vidal's wait for his next Serie A strike should have lasted only three minutes, but he blazed over. Then so too did Lautaro Martinez after Szczesny saved from Lukaku.

Martinez shot wide and Szczesny again denied Lukaku, before scrambling to retrieve Barella's deflected drive. A one-goal first-half deficit felt like an escape for Juve.

But if the Bianconeri were going to make their hosts pay, a swifter start to the second period would have to follow.

Instead, Inter scored with their very first shot after the break and finally the game was beyond Juve. A slipping Alessandro Bastoni's low, long pass somehow tore a gaping hole through the visiting defence and Barella, a deserving scorer, held off Chiellini and Gianluca Frabotta to finish high into the net.

Rather than call on Weston McKennie and Dejan Kulusevski to build on an advantage, as against Milan, Pirlo turned to the pair in a desperate, failed rescue bid.

Juve still had 32 minutes to forge a response after reinforcements arrived, but one strong Samir Handanovic save from Federico Chiesa was all they had to show for a period of pressure.

Inter could have added further goals on the counter yet will worry not. Indecisive, perhaps, Conte's side ended the weekend level on points with Milan. It is now for Pirlo and Juve, seven points back, to rise to this benchmark.

Inter dealt a blow to Juventus' Serie A title defence and moved level on points with leaders Milan by securing a 2-0 victory at San Siro on Sunday.

Former Juve midfielder Arturo Vidal opened his Inter account with a 12th-minute header and Lautaro Martinez and Romelu Lukaku wasted chances to increase the Nerazzurri's lead.

The Bianconeri were unable to make the most of those reprieves as an emphatic finish at the end of a route-one move saw Nicolo Barella double Inter's advantage.

It was enough to give Antonio Conte a first Serie A win against Juve – the club he led to three straight Scudetti at the start of their ongoing run of dominance – and move the hosts level with Milan, who play their game in hand against Cagliari on Monday.

Cristiano Ronaldo had a goal correctly ruled out for offside but there was no doubt about Vidal's opener a minute later, as the Chile international rose above Danilo to nod Barella's delivery into the left corner.

Martinez should have doubled Inter's lead in the 23rd minute when he blazed over with the goal gaping after Wojciech Szczesny parried Lukaku's shot straight to him.

Striker Martinez again failed to hit the target with his next opening, while Lukaku placed an effort from Barella's cutback too close to Szczesny before half-time.

Inter finally had a second goal in the 52nd minute, Barella surging into a huge gap in the Juve defence and firing Alessandro Bastoni's ambitious pass into the roof of the net.

Andrea Pirlo responded by sending on Dejan Kulusevski, Federico Bernardeschi and Weston McKennie but Federico Chiesa had their best effort in the 87th minute.

Samir Handanovic kept out Chiesa's powerful drive with a superb reaction as Inter held on for an important victory.

What does it mean? Juve with ground to make up

Juve would have closed to within a point of Inter if they triumphed at San Siro, and they would have still had a game in hand on Conte's men and Milan.

However, they missed their chance to make up ground and are now seven points adrift of Inter.

They will find themselves 10 points off the top if Milan win on Monday, meaning winning their game in hand would still not put them firmly in the title picture.

Brilliant Barella

Italy international Barella put in a livewire performance against the reigning champions, creating a game-high three chances – including the assist for Vidal's goal – and producing an emphatic finish early in the second half. After managing one goal and four assists in Serie A last season, he has already scored twice and set up five more in the league in 2020-21.

Vidal sparks controversy

Pre-game footage showed Vidal embracing Giorgio Chiellini and kissing the Juve badge on his warm-up top. He may have followed it up by scoring his first Serie A goal since clinching the title for Juve in May 2015, but his muted celebrations led to much discussion about where his loyalties lie.

What's next?

Juve face Napoli in the Supercoppa Italiana on Wednesday, while Inter travel to Udinese in Serie A on Saturday.

Juan Sebastian Veron always doubts whether Inter can win a game and thinks they need to be more clinical like Juventus, who he never feels will lose.

Inter will leapfrog local rivals Milan and go top of Serie A on Sunday if they defeat Juve in a league game for the first time since September 2016, having drawn two and lost five of their past seven matches.

Andrea Pirlo's side sit four points behind the Nerazzurri but possess a game in hand, so following up their victory over Milan in their previous away league game would put them firmly back in the title race.

However, they have not beaten both Inter and Milan away from home in the first half of a Serie A season since 1930-31.

Former Inter midfielder Veron acknowledged that Juve are not playing at the same level that has seen them win nine straight Scudetti, but he believes they still have a killer edge that is missing in Antonio Conte's team.

"I follow Juve a little bit. I follow Inter more. Juventus must find again what they got in the past years. They felt unbeatable," Veron told Stats Perform News.

"Keeping the same level for many years is very hard. Juve did it. Perhaps this year things haven't gone as they wanted.

"On the other side, Inter have responsibilities. They are looking for the best way to be a great team again. It's not easy. They must find consistency in their results and their football. They must play in the right way.

"When you watch Juve, you know they will win. When you watch Inter, you know it's 50-50. They need to be decisive to gain results."

He added: "For me, the first thing about this match is the morale boost it can mean. That's for sure. After that, you play for points that are important as well.

"But [for Inter] being able to win after a long time would be, for a team who needs victories, important for the title race. For me, it's the most important thing for them."

Veron won the 2005-06 Serie A title - awarded due to Juve's involvement in the Calciopoli scandal - and the Coppa Italia twice during his two seasons on loan at Inter from Chelsea, but the club have not lifted any silverware since 2010-11.

Conte has come under pressure after failing to end that wait in his first campaign at the helm and Veron thinks the coach could use some stronger personalities in his squad.

"It is normal that [Conte] feels pressure from fans who want to win. The club signed stronger players, but it is not so easy to be consistent. You must gain results to get the right winning mentality," said Veron.

"Perhaps they need a player with a strong personality. You asked me for some names [from Inter's past for today], I could have told you three or 10. But today's football is different because of the money.

"It depends on clubs' strategies. In clubs like Inter you need to be used to pressure. In the end, the solution is to build the right team able to handle the pressure. But it takes time."

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