Alexis Sanchez hit a stoppage-time leveller to earn Inter a point, but Sunday's 1-1 draw at Torino still went down as a major blow to the Nerazzurri's Scudetto defence hopes.

Chile international Sanchez came off the bench and struck in the third added minute, after Gleison Bremer's first-half finish looked to have done enough for the hosts at Stadio Olimpico Grande Torino.

On the back of their midweek Champions League exit to Liverpool, Simone Inzaghi's Inter missed the chance to put telling pressure on Serie A leaders Milan, trimming the difference between the city rivals to just four points after labouring against mid-table opposition.

Ivan Juric's Torino could not quite snap a six-game winless streak, but their hard-earned point at the very least likely ends any remote chance of a relegation battle in Turin this season.

Romelu Lukaku's Chelsea return has not gone to plan – and it may well be that the striker departs after just one season back at Stamford Bridge.

The Belgium international has 11 goals in 31 matches and is struggling to nail down a spot in Thomas Tuchel's starting line-up.

With Chelsea's problems growing off the field, they may now face a big decision regarding their record signing.


TOP STORY – LUKAKU WANTS INTER RETURN AT ALL COSTS

According to Calciomercato, Lukaku is doing everything in his power to push through a return to Inter ahead of next season after departing the Serie A champions in August.

The Italian outlet claims that Lukaku accepts he made a big mistake in departing San Siro and, amid a breakdown in his relationship with Chelsea fans, he is desperate to return.

However, while the 28-year-old is said to be willing to take a pay cut, Inter are unable to finance a permanent transfer and may instead look to purchase him on an initial loan. 

Chelsea would also have to be cleared to sell the player following the heavy sanctions placed upon owner Roman Abramovich by the United Kingdom government this week.

ROUND-UP

- Those sanctions cast doubt over Chelsea's ability to sell or recruit players in the next transfer window, but that has not stopped the Blues being linked with more players. The Mirror reports that they remain hopeful of signing Saul Niguez from Atletico Madrid on a permanent deal.

- Should they be allowed to offload players in the coming months, Tuttosport suggests that Juventus will attempt to sign Jorginho from Chelsea. The Italian club are also reported to be in the mix to land wing-back Emerson Palmieri.

- With Harry Maguire struggling, Fichajes reports that Manchester United are targeting versatile Bayern Munich defender Lucas Hernandez. However, United may face competition from LaLiga heavyweights Barcelona and Real Madrid.

- According to The Sun, United are ready to offer Juan Mata a coaching role should the midfielder call time on his playing career. Mata has played just four games all season, starting two of those, and is due to be out of contract at the end of the season.

- The Daily Mail reports that mega-rich Newcastle United intend to move for Leeds United's in-demand midfielder Kalvin Phillips, who has also been linked with ambitious Aston Villa. Antonio Rudiger of Chelsea is another supposed target for the Magpies.

Arsene Wenger has accused Liverpool midfielder Fabinho of "cheating" in order to get Alexis Sanchez sent off in Tuesday's Champions League tie with Inter.

Liverpool were beaten 1-0 by the Italian champions in the second leg at Anfield but still advanced to the quarter-finals by virtue of a 2-1 aggregate victory.

Sanchez's dismissal came at a pivotal moment in the tie, the Chile international being shown a second yellow two minutes after Lautaro Martinez had struck to give Inter hope.

The former Arsenal and Manchester United player clearly got some of the ball but followed through on Fabinho, who got back to his feet once the red card had been issued.

It was the first red card Sanchez has received in his 64 games in the Champions League, and Wenger suggested Fabinho more than played his part in the referee's decision.

"It was borderline between cheating and being clever," Wenger, who worked with Sanchez at Arsenal between 2014 and 2018, told beIN SPORTS. 

"He was cheating, he made more of it. Maybe he had pain, he was touched by Sanchez. You cannot say it was completely fake. Maybe he could have got up quicker. 

"It's one of those fouls – when it's one of your plays you say it's clever; when you're completely neutral like we're supposed to be you can say he could have made less of it.

"He didn't want to hurt him, he played the ball first."

 

Sanchez is the first Inter player to be given his marching orders in the knockout stages of the Champions League since Cristian Chivu against Schalke in April 2011.

The 33-year-old, who was credited with the assist for Martinez's strike, had earlier been cautioned for a lunge on Thiago Alcantara.

And Liverpool boss Jurgen Klopp felt that challenge alone late in the first half was worthy of a straight red card for Sanchez.

"I think he was lucky he hadn't got a red card in the first half, going in so high on Thiago onto his knee," Klopp said at his post-match news conference. 

"Passion is good, absolutely good, but if it leads to these kind of things then it doesn't help."

On the red card incident, Klopp added: "If you can win the ball only [then it is acceptable] but if you endanger an opponent when you do it, then you don't win the ball. 

"If Fabinho goes in with the same intention, with the leg out, then both players get injured."

Despite victory on the night, Inter have now been eliminated from each of their last three Champions League knockout ties since beating Bayern Munich in the 2010-11 last 16.

Simone Inzaghi has "great regrets" following Inter's 2-1 aggregate defeat to Liverpool, but stands by his decision to not substitute Alexis Sanchez prior to the forward's sending off.

Inter trailed 2-0 heading into the Champions League last-16 second leg and were fortunate not to be further behind as Joel Matip and Mohamed Salah hit the frame of the goal.

However, Lautaro Martinez's superb 20-yard strike with just over an hour played changed the mood around Anfield and gave Inter serious hope of salvaging extra time.

Inter's prospects of staying in the competition were badly dented 107 seconds later, though, as Sanchez received a second yellow card for following through on Fabinho.

Former Arsenal and Manchester United forward Sanchez had been yellow carded late in the first half for a similar lunge on Thiago Alcantara.

Inter, who conceded late on to Roberto Firmino and Salah in the first leg, offered little attacking threat with 10 men and were lucky not to concede when Salah again hit the post.

Inzaghi is known for substituting players when they are at risk of being dismissed, but he did not feel the need to bring off Sanchez in what was an at times bad-tempered game.

"Absolutely not," he told Sky Sport Italia after his side's 1-0 win on the night.

"In general I am very careful, but at that moment I needed Sanchez on the field. I was not going to change him on an evening like this."

 

Sanchez is the first Inter player to see red in the knockout stages of the Champions League since Cristian Chivu against Schalke in 2011.

Inter boss Inzaghi did not comment on whether he felt the red card was harsh as he did not see the second foul, though he felt his side deserved more over the two legs.

“We feel upset about the fact we had a player sent off just when we were getting the upper hand in the game," he said of Sanchez's first dismissal in 64 games in the competition.

"There are certainly great regrets for us as we wanted to reach the last 16.

"But we were up against Liverpool, who along with Manchester City and Bayern Munich are the best team in Europe right now, and we fought them on an even keel.

"We are probably paying the price for the final 15 minutes of the first leg, because I think we had two very good games against an excellent opponent.

"I think the first 75 minutes saw us deserve far more, then we conceded on a corner, which wasn't even a good one, and the second goal really knocked us down.

"During our best period of the game and the worst for them, Alexis Sanchez was sent off, and that was bad timing.

"Over the two legs we showed we are equal to a really strong Liverpool team. We played well and I am more bitter about the game at San Siro than what happened in this game."

 

Martinez's goal was his first in the Champions League in 11 appearances since netting against Real Madrid in November 2020.

It proved to be nothing more than a consolation over the two legs, though it did earn the Italian champions a first win against Liverpool home or away since the 1964-65 season.

But at the end of 180 minutes, Martinez was left to rue Sanchez's red card at a pivotal moment in the game.

"We did what we wanted to by showing character," he said. "It was a pity to then go down to 10 men because these are the details that make the difference.

"All we can do now is look forward. We are out of the Champions League but still have the Coppa Italia and Serie A. We must learn from these mistakes."

Jurgen Klopp admitted to feeling mixed emotions after Liverpool secured passage to the Champions League quarter-finals despite defeat to Inter.

The Reds moved into the last eight with a 2-1 win on aggregate despite Lautaro Martinez's second-half strike deciding an engrossing second leg at Anfield.

And, though Klopp declared himself 'really happy' to progress further in Europe's elite competition, he also confessed to feeling disappointed by the end of a 15-game unbeaten streak.

He said: "[Assistant boss] Peter Krawietz always says the art of football is to lose the right games. I still hate it. 

"If there was any type of game we could have afforded to lose it was tonight because the main target of this competition is to get through. But it's not that I'm here over the moon. 

"I'm really happy that we went through because when we saw the draw it was like, 'Okay, that's a tough one'. So we went through and I think over the two legs we deserved it, so that's fine. 

"We had some problems in the game tonight for different reasons, one is the quality of the opponent, they are a really good football team. 

"They set up like Leeds under Bielsa, just with much more quality and that makes it really tricky to play against them. 

"It was a bit slapstick how we missed our chances in the end, we still could have won the game. 

"The only thing I am really interested in is that it's fair that we are through against a really strong opponent, now let's carry on."

Martinez's goal could have set up a thrilling final half an hour on Merseyside were it not for teammate Alexis Sanchez being shown a second yellow card almost immediately after.

Klopp had no doubt that the Chilean deserved to be cautioned and also suggested he could have been sent off for a foul on Thiago Alcantara in the first half.

He continued: "I don't understand why we have to discuss that because in football, if you can win the ball only by bringing yourself in a position that you endanger the opponent then you don't win the ball. 

"If Fab goes in with the same intention then both players get injured but he is there because he judged the ball not flying in. 

"Because Sanchez is flying in, he touched the ball but in the end he cannot stop and hit Fab in a really bad way, to be honest. 

"And I think he was really lucky that he didn't get a different colour card in the first half for the foul on Thiago, leg that high. 

"Passion is absolutely good but if it leads to these kinds of things, it just doesn't help."

Mohamed Salah says Liverpool's 1-0 loss to Inter will act as a wake-up call after the Reds were made to work hard for their place in the Champions League quarter-finals.

Leading 2-0 from the first leg thanks to late goals from Roberto Firmino and Salah, the Reds looked comfortable for the opening hour of Tuesday's second leg at Anfield.

However, Lautaro Martinez's first goal in the competition since November 2020 – a superb swerving shot from 20 yards – gave Inter serious hope of at least forcing extra time.

Alexis Sanchez's red card 107 seconds later proved damaging, though, as Inter failed to create any further clear-cut opportunities against their Premier League opponents.

The defeat is Liverpool's first at Anfield in all competitions since March 7 last year, a run spanning some 28 matches, and marks just the third time they have lost this season.

But with his side having ultimately done enough to advance 2-1 winners on aggregate, Salah is hoping to use the rare setback to Liverpool's advantage.

"They are a tough team," Salah told BT Sport. "Even in the away game they were very good. We struggled in the beginning. We had the ball in the second half more. 

"The most important thing is that we qualified.  The most important thing is the team qualifying. We lost a game but it is a good game for us to take it and learn from it. 

"Maybe we got overconfident. It's always important to win, but tonight we hit the post twice, and missed chances. 

"But that can happen and the good thing is, it’s not in the Premier League and we have qualified. 

"Everyone wants to win the Champions League and the Premier League, so we will fight for both, and let’s see.”

 

Salah twice hit the frame of the goal, while Joel Matip also sent a header against the crossbar, on what proved to be a frustrating occasion for Jurgen Klopp's side.

He had previously scored eight goals in seven Champions League games this term, but failed to net from an expected goals (xG) return of 0.70 in the second leg.

The Egypt international could afford to laugh off his profligacy as attention instantly turned to Saturday's Premier League contest with Brighton and Hove Albion.

Salah added: "I hit the post twice. It’s OK – maybe I score three next time!"

In the build-up to Liverpool's clash with Inter at Anfield, Jurgen Klopp went to great lengths to spell out the fact that he and his team were taking nothing for granted.

Leading 2-0 from the first leg in Milan, the Reds were the clear favourites for progression in the Champions League last 16.

But, at his pre-match press conference, their manager warned: "The danger everybody knows about. It's 2-0, the lead I think which got turned over most often in the history of football."

And he struck a similar chord in his programme notes, telling supporters: "If anyone has even a tiny percentage of complacency or entitlement, please stay away."

Of course, Klopp would have loved nothing more than for Liverpool to have produced a vintage performance that made his cautious tone seem unnecessary.

Instead, he was proven completely right about the threat posed by Simone Inzaghi's side, who had in truth been rather unfortunate to suffer a two-goal defeat in the first leg.

It is not that Inter came out all guns blazing on Merseyside, of course; this is the Italian champions in European competition we are talking about.

But their ability to play through Liverpool lines was eye-catching from the off, with the impressive Hakan Calhanoglu key to that.

And the calm manner in which the visitors' back three dealt with the likes of Mohamed Salah and Sadio Mane also bred confidence, with Milan Skriniar's game-high nine clearances marking him out.

As such, while Inter's best opportunity of an evenly matched first half saw Calhanoglu test Alisson from a free-kick, they had shown enough to suggest that something special could be in the offing in the second period.

You could clearly see those hopes growing close to the hour mark as Lautaro Martinez struck just wide after a beautiful back-to-front move had played him in on goal.

And so it was no surprise the Argentine made no mistake in firing home a beauty from the edge of the box moments later to bring the tie to life and put the fear into Liverpool.

 

It was at this point, however, that events brought to mind the popular expression which states it is better to be lucky than good when it comes to sport.

Yes, you could argue that Alexis Sanchez was fortunate to still be on the pitch having clearly caught Thiago Alcantara with a studs-up challenge in the opening 45 minutes.

But he probably did not deserve to see a second yellow for a light nick on Fabinho after winning the ball, under two minutes having passed since the Chile forward had set up Martinez's strike.

Coming so shortly after the opening goal, that blow sucked all momentum out of Inzaghi's men, effectively handing Liverpool passage into the quarter-finals on a platter, with Inter not registering another attempt on goal from that point on.

Still, even if the circumstances were somewhat fortuitous, it is hardly likely to have taken the shine off the result for Klopp, whose team have now reached the Champions League last eight in four of the last five seasons.

He would no doubt have preferred to have witnessed a more convincing performance that struck fear into Liverpool's rivals for European glory this season.

But perhaps what he got was in some ways better: another reminder that this team can see off even elite teams when not at their best. 

As this manager and players are all too aware, you need a combination of quality, mentality and luck to go all in the way in the Champions League, and Liverpool called on all three at various stages of what was a fascinating tie.

Liverpool advanced to the quarter-finals of the Champions League with a 2-1 aggregate victory over 10-man Inter, despite losing 1-0 in Tuesday's second leg at Anfield.

Late goals from Roberto Firmino and Mohamed Salah in last month's first leg ensured the Reds were in control of the tie heading into the return fixture.

The hosts hit the frame of the goal through Joel Matip and Salah and looked under no threat until the point Lautaro Martinez fired in a stunning goal for Inter with an hour played.  

Alexis Sanchez was sent off 107 seconds later for a second yellow card, however, and it was Liverpool who went closest to scoring the next goal when Salah struck the post.

Thiago Alcantara and Matip returned to Liverpool's line-up and the latter picked out the crossbar from the best of Liverpool's limited first-half openings.

Milan Skriniar superbly blocked Virgil van Dijk's goal-bound header moments later, while Hakan Calhanoglu tested Alisson at the other end from a low free-kick.

Liverpool slowly started to turn the screw and should have been out of sight in the tie, only for Salah to fire against the upright after Diogo Jota was denied by Samir Handanovic.

Those wasted chances came back to haunt Jurgen Klopp's side when Martinez unleashed a swerving 20-yard shot into the top-right corner.

Sanchez, who received a yellow for a challenge on Thiago late in the first half, was sent off for following through on the same opponent almost immediately after Martinez's goal.

Liverpool were further frustrated as Salah's cushioned volley came back off the upright, but the hosts protected their one-goal aggregate lead to reach the last eight.

If you want an underdog story in the Champions League last 16, then Tuesday's action should not disappoint.

Salzburg are likely to have the support of most neutrals when they visit heavyweights Bayern Munich in the second leg of their tie, having drawn the first leg 1-1 in Austria.

Inter are less used to being the team trying to spring the upset, but their task is a much taller one against a Liverpool side holding a 2-0 lead from the game in Milan.

And as the Opta data reveals, neither Salzburg nor Inter have much statistical reason for hope of progression.

Bayern Munich v Salzburg

Bayern staved off a surprise defeat in the first leg thanks to Kingsley Coman's late equaliser, and history is firmly on their side in the return match.

Indeed, Bayern have won all five of their games in European competition when hosting an Austrian opponent, scoring 15 goals and only conceding three in return. They have also progressed from five of their previous seven Champions League knockout ties when drawing away from home in the first leg. 

Should Salzburg do what is considered close to the impossible and prevail at the Allianz Arena, they will end a long wait for Austrian sides in Europe's top competition. They are looking to become the first Austrian side to progress beyond the last 16 in the European Cup/Champions League since Austria Wien in the 1984-85 campaign.

Salzburg are, however, winless away from home in the Champions League this season (D1 L2) and have only won once away from home in the competition across the last two campaigns (D1 L4) – a 3-1 victory at Lokomotiv Moscow in December 2020.

Bayern talisman Robert Lewandowski was kept abnormally quiet in the first leg. He did not attempt any of Bayern's 22 shots, marking the first time in his career he has not recorded a shot attempt in consecutive Champions League appearances (77 minutes played v Barcelona and 90 minutes v Salzburg – zero shots).

Keeping Lewandowski under wraps for a third successive game in the competition seems highly unlikely, but Salzburg will almost certainly need to do so if they are to defy the odds.

Liverpool v Inter

Jurgen Klopp was keen to reject any talk of Liverpool being in a comfortable position in this tie following a 2-0 win at San Siro.

But all the signs are against Inter pulling off a turnaround at Anfield. Only one team in Champions League history has lost the first leg of a knockout stage tie by two or more goals at home and still gone on to progress, with Manchester United doing so against Paris Saint-Germain in the 2018-19 last 16 (0-2 at home, 3-1 away).

Inter's record in England does not inspire optimism. The Nerazzurri have lost four of their previous five away games against English sides in the Champions League (W1), although their victory in this run did come the last time one of these fixtures came in the knockout stages of the competition – 1-0 v Chelsea in the last 16 in 2009-10; a season in which they went on to lift the trophy.

If they are to turn the tie on its head, then Edin Dzeko may be the man to provide the goals. He has scored in three of his last four starts at Anfield across all competitions, including the most recent two.

The Bosnia-Herzegovina forward has not finished on the winning side in any of these three games, however, drawing 2-2 in 2012 and losing 2-1 in 2015 with Manchester City and losing 5-2 with Roma in 2018.

And as they discovered in the first leg, Inter will be coming up against one of Europe's stiffest defences. Since the start of the 2017-18 season, Liverpool have kept more clean sheets in Champions League home games than any other team (15 in 24 games). In fact, among teams who have played more than 10 home matches in the competition in this period, their clean sheet percentage of 63 per cent is also the best of any side.

Inter boss Simone Inzaghi has stressed the importance of a fast start for his team when they face Liverpool in the second leg of their Champions League round of 16 tie, saying it is "essential" they score in the first half at Anfield.

The Premier League side take a 2-0 lead into Tuesday's game after goals from Roberto Firmino and Mohamed Salah settled a tight encounter at the Stadio Giuseppe Meazza in the first leg.

Only one team in Champions League history has lost the first leg of a knockout stage tie by two or more goals at home and still gone on to progress, with Manchester United doing so against Paris Saint-Germain in the 2018-19 last 16 (0-2 at home, 3-1 away).

However, speaking at a media conference on Monday ahead of the game, Inzaghi said his team were "unlucky" in the previous game and backed them to respond.

"We were unlucky [in the first leg]. I think the result was harsh," he said. "We played a great game and deserved more.

"This is a hard match. We will face a great team, but we have confidence. We are full of motivation."

 

He was also reminded of last season's campaign when he was still in charge at Lazio and lost the first leg at the same stage of the Champions League 4-1 at home to Bayern Munich, eventually losing 6-2 on aggregate to the Bundesliga giants.

When asked his thoughts on how to approach this game, Inzaghi added: "I think we are not in pole position. We know we need to score early. A goal in the first half is essential.

"We know the challenge we face. Liverpool are one of the best teams around along with Bayern Munich and Manchester City. Anfield is a great stadium. It is great to be a part of this occasion. The first leg was spectacular, but we know this will be a tougher game."

Inter defender Alessandro Bastoni also gave his thoughts ahead of the clash on Merseyside, and was asked if the front three of Jurgen Klopp's team is the strongest he has faced.

"The trio of Liverpool? I have faced many top strikers," the Italy international said. "I have faced the likes of Cristiano Ronaldo, [Karim] Benzema, Vincius [Junior]. They have some top forwards such as Salah, [Sadio] Mane, Diogo [Jota].

"We need to play as a team. This is an important experience for us... We will learn and grow from this."

Former Liverpool winger Xherdan Shaqiri believes his old club can win the quadruple this season, as the EFL Cup winners prepare to host Inter in the Champions League.

The 30-year-old, who is now plying his trade in Major League Soccer after joining Chicago Fire in February, won the Champions League, Premier League, and FIFA Club World cup titles in a three-year spell at Anfield.

Jurgen Klopp's side defeated Chelsea to win the EFL Cup last month, and are preparing for a Champions League second-leg clash with the Italian champions, boasting a 2-0 lead from the first leg at San Siro.

With the Reds sitting just six points behind Premier League leaders Manchester City and advancing to the quarter-finals of the FA Cup, recent talk has surrounded the prospect of Klopp's men completing an unprecedented quadruple this term.

Shaqiri, who scored eight goals in 63 appearances for the club, has talked up their chances of doing so, as long as the Reds can keep their key players fit.

"They must do everything perfect, to win everything", Shaqiri told Sky Sports. 

"But if one team can do it, then for sure Liverpool is one of them.

"I think it's important to go from competition to competition, because there are so many with the Carabao [EFL Cup], FA Cup, and they are still in all of these competitions.

"Everyone needs to be fit and healthy, because injuries as you know are always difficult to deal with, but Liverpool have a great team and they dealt until now with everything.

"I'm really looking forward to the end of the season, [to see] how they're going to finish, but everything is possible." 

Liverpool's recent EFL Cup triumph represented the 10th major trophy of Klopp's coaching career, and the in-form Anfield side have not lost a game in any competition since a 1-0 reverse to Leicester City on December 28th. 

Jurgen Klopp is very wary of the threat posed to Liverpool by Inter ahead of their Champions League last-16 second leg, but he has been boosted by positive injury news.

The Reds head into the second leg at Anfield 2-0 up thanks to a commendable win in San Siro last month, even if the scoreline flattered them.

Klopp suggested the two-goal advantage is somewhat precarious, however, claiming it to be the most overturned scoreline in football.

But only once in Champions League history has a team ever lost the first leg of a knockout tie by two or more goals at home and still gone on to progress, with Manchester United doing so against Paris Saint-Germain at this stage three years ago.

That is the only such example in 41 previous instances of the scenario, meaning that, despite Klopp's concerns, Liverpool are in a very strong position.

Klopp is not risking complacency, though, reminding his team that Inter will not be on Merseyside as "tourists".

Asked what he feels the main danger is ahead of Tuesday's second leg, Klopp told reporters: "It's a danger everyone knows about: it's a lead that gets turned over the most in the history of football I think.

"You can't have a team at half-time that thinks they are already through. Then you are on the wrong path.

"It's a much better result than we expected if I'm honest. The game didn't look like we would win it 2-0 for most of it. It is a tough tie and was a really difficult game.

"We knew they had quality but now we know they have real quality. They will show up here after winning their last game 5-0. Yes, against bottom of the table, but still really impressive. [Lautaro] Martinez scored [a hat-trick], [Edin] Dzeko scored, [Robin] Gosens is back.

"I'm really happy [Nicolo] Barella isn't playing because he set up three or four chances. That's a really good, experienced team who don't come here as tourists.

"They want to chase the game and that's what we want to do, we're not a team that defends results. We want to attack the game, so let's see what we can do."

Liverpool's cause should be aided by the likely returns of at least two important players, with Thiago Alcantara and Joel Matip back in contention following brief absences through injury.

"All trained yesterday, fully," Klopp said of them and Roberto Firmino. "Not sure what we make of that yet exactly to be honest, we have to see how they react.

"Thiago was only a week out so should be fine but I have to wait for it. Joel was only three or four days so is fine.

"Firmino was a bit longer, [Sunday was his] first session so we will see. It might make sense to give him a few more days as we don't train fully today as it's MD-1, and Bobby might need more intense work."

Despite Klopp's apparent concerns about the scoreline, the omens are good for Liverpool.

They have kept more home clean sheets in the competition since the start of 2017-18 than any other team (15 in 24) – that is 63 per cent, the best proportion of shutouts of all clubs to play at least 10 home games in the Champions League in that period.

Milan coach Stefano Pioli thinks Inter remain Scudetto favourites despite seeing his Rossoneri side beat Napoli 1-0 to go top of Serie A on Sunday.

Both teams knew they could breathe new life into their respective title challenges with a win at the Stadio Diego Armando Maradona, but it was the visitors who left with the victory.

Olivier Giroud's instinctive finish early in the second half following Davide Calabria's wayward shot proved decisive, that goal being enough to return Milan to the summit with 60 points, two clear of Inter.

But Inter do still have a game in hand, and as such Pioli recognises the defending champions have to still be considered the team to beat.

Speaking to DAZN after the game, Pioli said: "For sure, we've not done as well against the so-called smaller teams, however, we won't have many direct clashes [with title rivals].

"But since the calendar tells us we have many of these games to come, honestly we have to do more.

"It is clear that there are difficulties for everyone, we are not a perfect team. We have to show that we have learned the lessons [against lesser sides]. Attitude and quality will be important in the next matches.

"The favourites are still Inter. Inter are a very strong team and the standings are still virtual. I'm sorry that there are games left over to be played, it would be more correct if we had all played the same number of games at this point in the championship.

"We have to concentrate on getting a lot of points."

Giroud once again proved his value to Milan, with the Frenchman scoring his eighth Serie A goal despite starting just 12 games.

There were many who questioned his signing when Milan spent just €1million in acquiring him from Chelsea at the start of the season, but for Pioli there was never any doubt what Giroud could add.

"My idea and the club's idea was to include players of experience, who had already won something, who know what it means to work to win," Pioli added.

"There is always a great need for people with stature. A video call was enough for us to understand what a professional he was.

"The more players with charisma and personality you have – especially for us who have a very young team – the better."

Inter made up for a dip in their determination and character with a resounding 5-0 win over Salernitana, according to Lautaro Martinez. 

A four-game winless run in Serie A and two wins in seven in the competition had seen Inter slip off top spot and fall two points behind leaders Napoli. 

However, the Nerazzurri returned to the summit on Friday after Martinez found the back of the net in a top-flight game for the first time since December. It ended a barren run of no goals in 425 minutes, making it his worst such spell in all competitions since going 430 minutes without a goal in January 2018.

The Argentina international ended the match at San Siro with a hat-trick, while strike partner Edin Dzeko scored the other two as Inter went a point clear at the summit ahead of Napoli's meeting with Milan on Sunday. 

Martinez was pleased to see Simone Inzaghi's side get back on track after a sluggish start to the year. 

"A win was missing and there were no goals for the team. Today we scored five and we are happy," Martinez told Sky Sport Italia. 

"I personally experienced a difficult moment because a striker lives to score goals. Today I was lucky enough to score three goals. 

"I went out on the pitch with a lot of desire and anger because it was an important match for us and an important period is approaching. 

"We had to demonstrate a lot of things because we have lost a bit of determination and character.  

"When I go to bed, I talk a lot with my wife because I'm sad when I can't help the team with goals. I talked a lot with her, with friends and my family. I dedicate these three goals to my daughter. 

"[Inzaghi] always gives me confidence. He fights with us from the sidelines."

Lautaro Martinez ended his goal drought and Inter's four-game winless run in Serie A with an excellent hat-trick in a 5-0 thumping of bottom side Salernitana. 

Inter have struggled for form since the turn of the year, but Martinez ended a wait for a league goal that stretched back to December as part of a first-half double that took his Serie A tally to 50. 

Martinez completed just his second hat-trick for the Nerazzurri in the 56th minute, with Edin Dzeko then bagging two in the space of five minutes.

Inter cruised to the final whistle and moved a point clear of Napoli and Milan – who meet on Sunday – at the top of Serie A. 

Salernitana may well have taken a shock lead in the fourth minute had Simone Verdi kept his effort from next to the penalty spot down. 

It was a rare moment of vulnerability for Inter, who saw Martinez rattle the crossbar before angling a finish into the bottom-left corner after Nicolo Barella picked out his darting run. 

Martinez doubled his tally five minutes before half-time when he was again fed by Barella and held off Luca Ranieri to dig out a low shot that got the better of Luigi Sepe. 

Salernitana were unable to keep Martinez at bay after the restart as the striker raced in front of Radu Dragusin to steer Dzeko's right-wing cross into the roof of the net. 

Dzeko turned goalscorer as he thumped in a delivery from Robin Gosens, who had only replaced Matteo Darmian two minutes beforehand. 

The VAR then deemed Dzeko was not offside before he turned Denzel Dumfries' pass beyond Sepe, giving him a second of the game.

Joaquin Correa wasted a couple of opportunities to extend Inter's lead, and Martinez missed a chance to score for the fourth time, but the three points were already secure.

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