Jurgen Klopp out, Steven Gerrard in?

Klopp ended Liverpool's 30-year wait for league glory last season, but the German manager could be set for a return to his homeland.

His exit could see Gerrard return to Merseyside.

 

TOP STORY – GERRARD TO REPLACE KLOPP IN LIVERPOOL RETURN

Steven Gerrard may soon return to Anfield but as manager to replace Liverpool boss Jurgen Klopp, according to The Mirror.

Liverpool reportedly expect Klopp to take up an opportunity with Germany in the near future amid doubts over long-time head coach Joachim Low.

As a result, Liverpool legend Gerrard has been sounded out as he has Rangers on a cusp of a drought-breaking league title in Scotland.

Gerrard, who made more than 700 appearances for Liverpool, took control of Rangers in 2018.

 

ROUND-UP

- Erling Haaland seems to be on every club's wish list but the Mirror reports Manchester City have joined the queue for the Borussia Dortmund star. City manager Pep Guardiola and Haaland's agent Mina Raiola have a testy relationship but the Premier League leaders will press ahead with an alleged £100million (€115m) deal. English pair Chelsea and Manchester United are also reportedly interested along with Real Madrid, Barcelona, Juventus and Paris Saint-Germain.

- Fabrizio Romano says Chelsea want to keep veteran defender Thiago Silva beyond the 2020-21 season. Chelsea signed Silva on a free transfer following his PSG exit.

- LaLiga giants Barcelona are in the market for a young defender and have set their sights on Inter's 21-year-old Alessandro Bastoni, according to Calciomercato.

Arsenal are in the hunt for Wigan Athletic sensation Kyle Joseph, with the teenager scoring five goals in 14 appearances. The Mirror claims the Gunners have joined Celtic and Rangers in their interest in the London-born Scotland youth international whose current contract expires in June.

Liverpool and rivals United are eyeing Leicester City's Harvey Barnes, reports the Mirror. The 23-year-old has established himself as a key player for the Foxes.

- Eric Bailly is in talks with United over a new long-term contract, claims The Sun. The 26-year-old defender, who has been plagued by injuries at Old Trafford, is out of contract in 2022. It comes amid United's reported interest in Sevilla's Jules Kounde, Ibrahima Konate of RB Leipzig and Brighton and Hove Albion star Ben White.

Antonio Conte has claimed Romelu Lukaku would not be out of place playing American Football, as he hailed the Inter star's "atypical" style of play.

Lukaku has been in sensational form throughout his Inter career. Last season – his first campaign with the Serie A giants – he finished with 23 league goals; only Ronaldo (25) and Istvan Nyers (26) have scored more in their debut seasons with the Nerazzurri. 

The 27-year-old Belgium forward also netted 30 times across all competitions for the first time in his career, and equalled Ronaldo's record from 1997-98 of 34 goals for Inter.

Lukaku has also struck up a brilliant relationship with fellow forward Lautaro Martinez.

Indeed, across the opening 23 Serie A games this term, the duo have combined for 30 goals – Lukaku scoring 17 times and Martinez adding another 13. It is the first time Inter have a pair of players having combined for as many goals after as many matches since 1958-59.

Lukaku made his mark in last week's Milan derby, setting up Martinez's opener before sealing a dominant 3-0 victory with a sublime solo goal.

"It's too easy to say that," Conte told Il Corriere della Sera when it was put to him that some fans had described Lukaku as "unstoppable".

"I wish Lukaku and Lautaro were given more space inside the box. I don't think it's a good thing for defenders."

Lukaku, through his time with both Everton and Manchester United prior to his move to Inter, was often at his best driving at goal from deep.

In particular at Everton, his now-international boss Roberto Martinez occasionally used him on the right flank to good effect, giving Lukaku the freedom to burst inside at pace onto his stronger left foot.

And Conte believes Lukaku would have been able to make a career in American Football, such is his physique and power.

"Lukaku is an atypical player, he is a speedy centre forward, he could play American Football," Conte added.

Earlier in the week, Belgium boss Martinez spoke highly of Lukaku, who he managed for three seasons at Everton before his departure in 2016, though the Spaniard swiftly landed a job in charge of the striker's national team.

"He scores like few others," Martinez told La Gazzetta dello Sport. "Create and score, create and score, create and score…

"He arrived in Milan at the perfect moment. He became a complete player, obviously thanks to Conte. Today, at his age, there are no strikers as strong as him.

"In the past, Romelu always had the potential to be able to do what he is demonstrating in Milan. For me it's not a surprise."

Antonio Conte acknowledges he has become a "pain in the a**" as he attempts to guide Inter to their first trophy in a decade.

Ahead of hosting Genoa on Sunday, Inter top Serie A after 23 games – their derby victory over Milan last week moving them four points clear of their city and title rivals.

Inter – who finished second in Serie A behind Juventus in Conte's debut season – last won a trophy in 2010-11, clinching their seventh Coppa Italia trophy.

The Nerazzurri have already seen two opportunities for silverware slip from their grasp this campaign, finishing bottom of their Champions League group and exiting the Coppa Italia in the semi-finals.

With Milan facing a tough trip to Roma and Juve further off the pace, Inter have the chance to consolidate their lead at the top when they hunt a ninth straight home win in Serie A.

It is a feat that only Juve and Roma have managed in the last 10 seasons.

Conte has not shied away from questioning not only his own players but also Inter's hierarchy, yet the former Italy coach believes his rather decisive style is what has helped transform Inter back into title contenders.

"When people talk about me, there is always a 'but'. They say: 'He is a good coach, but…', that 'but' stimulates me," Conte told Il Corriere Della Sera.

"Football is my passion. When I ended my career as a footballer, I started from the beginning with Arezzo. I had won everything as a footballer. Coach Conte had started from zero. Those who played in big clubs think they can be coaches, but it's different.

"An opponent would have pushed for Conte to be kicked out of Inter. As an opponent, I would want to kill my enemy, in a sporting [sense]. 

"I'm more prepared thanks to my experiences. I was advised not to join Inter, but I like challenges, and this one is the most difficult in my career.

"It's hard to change that mental chip. If you don't win for 10 years, you subconsciously get used to the situation, look for excuses or blame someone else, you don't see your limitations or flaws.

"The environment is imbued with this, it is important to work not only on the players but on every sector. So you raise the pressure and become a pain in the a**.

"This is the difference between winning and living peacefully. When I go to a club, I enter into it body and soul. I am passionate and passion makes the difference, it is contagious. If you feel the sense of belonging you give more. I don't know if we will win, but we will do everything to succeed.

“A coach is happy when a project lasts long. If you must leave after a short while, it leaves bitterness. Making your mark and staying for many years is the most beautiful thing. I wish there were continuity in everything."

While his determination to end Inter's barren run is clear, Conte conceded there is one job away from club football which still entices him.

Conte managed Italy from 2014 to 2016 before leaving the role to join Chelsea, who he led to the Premier League title in 2017, and the 51-year-old is open to an Azzurri return should the possibility arise.

"Absolutely no, it gives me goosebumps to think about the national team," Conte replied when asked if his time with Italy was over for good.

"My door will always be open to Italy."

Lautaro Martinez has confirmed he previously held talks with Barcelona but reaffirmed his desire to now sign a new contract with Inter.

The Argentina striker was heavily linked with a big-money move to Camp Nou prior to the 2020-21 season after starring in Serie A with the Nerazzurri.

Martinez admits he was in discussions with Los Cules; however, a move failed to materialise and with Barca's financial woes becoming a huge discussion point in European football the chances of them imminently renewing their interest looks slim.

Instead, Martinez is focused on committing his future to Serie A leaders Inter, where he has a deal that runs until 2023 with Antonio Conte's side.

Speaking to La Gazzetta dello Sport, he said: "It's true, I was in negotiations with Barcelona. I was clear with Conte, I told him: 'I think about Inter only, this is not going to affect me.'

"However, it all belongs to the past, I am going to sign a contract extension with Inter. I don't know when there will be an official announcement. Meanwhile I play. My future is here, I see myself in Milan for a long time.

"I like everything about this city. The food, the fans, the team. I only have positive feelings."

Since making his debut in August 2018, Martinez has scored 33 Serie A goals – which ranks 10th in the league in that time.

He has a modest shot-conversion rate of 12.55 per cent, has registered 95 shots on target and has a big-chance conversion of 36.36 per cent.

Additionally, Martinez has nine assists, and has created 79 chances for team-mates – 15 of which are defined as 'big chances' by Opta.

This season alone, he has netted 13 in 23 top-flight appearances – just one fewer than he managed in the whole of last season – to help fire Inter to the top of the table.

Conte's side are four points clear of rivals Milan having triumphed 3-0 in last week's derby, while defending champions Juventus are eight points back.

Martinez was reluctant to label Inter as "favourites" for the title but says the team's success is due to the atmosphere created by Conte.

"Favourites is a word I don't like. But we are on top of the table and this gives us positive feelings. I've never experienced having such a gap from the second-placed [team]," he added.

"It's not a coincidence. It's the result of the work we do with our coach. As he likes to say: 'We are working to leave Inter as high as possible.'

"We are a diverse team with Conte, more united, everyone fights for the others, we help each other and it's a good sign."

Since losing the first derby of the season back in October, Inter have been beaten just once in 19 Serie A matches.

Pressure had been building on Conte after a start that saw Inter win just three of their opening seven league games, while they were also knocked out of the Champions League.

Martinez pinpointed their European failure as the moment that turned Inter's season around.

"Simple, we were eliminated from the Champions League. It hurt so much and we told each other that our target should have been the Serie A title," Martinez said.

"Conte told us to take care of every little detail, on and off the pitch. That's how you win.

"That's what we tell each other in the dressing room, every day. That's how you win. We only play to win."

Inter have confirmed that five members of staff have tested positive for coronavirus.

Managing directors Alessandro Antonello and Giuseppe Marotta, sporting director Piero Ausilio and lawyer Angelo Capellini have all returned positive tests.

An unspecified member of the Serie A leaders' technical staff has also tested positive for COVID-19.

A statement on Inter's official website read: "All coaches and the entire team will follow the procedures set out in the health protocol."

Inter will be desperate to ensure that this outbreak does not spread to their first-team squad or coaches.

The Italians extended their lead at the summit of table to four points with a 3-0 win over city rivals Milan last time out.

With no European commitments over the remainder of the season, Antonio Conte's men are strong favourites to end an 11-year wait for the title.

They last lifted the Scudetto during Jose Mourinho's spell at the club in 2010, which also brought European Cup success.

Juventus, who have won the last nine Serie A titles, sit eight points back in third place with a game in hand.

Inter are next in action on Sunday, when they face Genoa at the San Siro.

What does the future hold for Andre Silva?

Silva has scored 18 Bundesliga goals this season, second only to Bayern Munich's Robert Lewandowski.

He could find himself at Manchester United if Eintracht Frankfurt reportedly pursue a permanent deal for Luka Jovic.

 

TOP STORY – SILVA BOUND FOR MANCHESTER?

Manchester United could be offered the chance to sign Eintracht Frankfurt star Andre Silva if Edinson Cavani leaves Old Trafford, according to The Sun.

Silva is taking the Bundesliga by storm this season, but Eintracht are reportedly looking to raise funds to re-sign Luka Jovic – who is currently on loan in Frankfurt – permanently from Real Madrid.

Portugal international Silva could become available if veteran forward Cavani departs after the former Paris Saint-Germain star arrived on a one-year deal at the start of the season.

 

ROUND-UP

- Eurosport claims Chelsea are growing increasingly confident of winning the race to sign Borussia Dortmund star Erling Haaland. The Norway international forward has been linked with Madrid, BarcelonaManchester City, Liverpool and United, as well as Paris Saint-Germain and Juventus.

Everton have joined United and Bayern Munich in trying to sign Norwich City full-back Max Aarons, reports Fabrizio Romano.

Tottenham will target Burnley goalkeeper Nick Pope if PSG make a move for Hugo Lloris, says the Daily Mail.

- The Sun claims United veteran Juan Mata is being tracked by Serie A trio, Juventus, Inter and Roma.

Romelu Lukaku has revealed how training sessions at Inter are like a war zone, as well as making clear he wishes "nothing but the best" for Ole Gunnar Solskjaer at Manchester United.

Lukaku offered Twitter followers the chance to send in questions via social media – and the striker duly replied to a wide range of topics during the session, one that he moved forward to make sure he was free to play NBA 2K later on Tuesday.

The Belgian striker has once again been pivotal for the Serie A leaders this season, scoring 17 goals to help the Nerazzurri stride four points clear at the summit in their pursuit of a first league title since 2010.

Inter coach Antonio Conte was known for a combative approach during his playing days and, according to Lukaku, he will not accept seeing any of his squad hold back – even when they're facing each other!

Asked to name the hardest player to go up against in training, the 27-year-old replied: "Training is actually a war zone. Our manager don't play lol. He doesn't like it when we hold in haha. I love it."

Former Chelsea and Manchester United striker Lukaku has formed a successful forward partnership with Lautaro Martinez, who struck twice in the emphatic 3-0 win over city rivals Milan to take his tally in the league this season to 13.

Lukaku was also on target at San Siro on Sunday, in the process becoming the first Inter player to score in four successive derby meetings since 1950.

"Communication is key! We have a great feel for each other but most importantly we work for the team!" Lukaku tweeted about his on-field connection with Martinez.

Before moving to Italy, Lukaku spent time with four different Premier League clubs.

He started out in England as a teenager with Chelsea and first seriously caught the eye when on loan at West Brom and then Everton, who then signed him for £28million.

Despite being unable to make a significant breakthrough at Stamford Bridge, Lukaku insisted he had "nothing but love" for the Blues, saying: "They gave me an opportunity to come to the Premier League as a kid. You can't have everything in life and I'm cool with that. I'm glad that experience got me to where I am today."

There were also kind words for his former United boss in Solskjaer, who was in charge when Lukaku departed Old Trafford in August 2019.

When asked if he had a good relationship with the Norwegian, Lukaku responded: "He is doing great. You guys have to know I love him as a manager and as a person and I wish him nothing but the best."

On-field success alone may not be enough to keep coach Antonio Conte at Inter, Ivan Cordoba believes.

Conte has guided Inter to the top of Serie A and they moved four points clear on Sunday with a 3-0 win at rivals Milan, the pace-setters for much of the season.

Not since Jose Mourinho's treble-winning season of 2009-10 had the Nerazzurri won the Derby della Madonnina by a three-goal margin or greater, with this latest result boosting hopes of ending the wait since that campaign for the Scudetto.

Yet even if Inter can secure the title this term, former club stalwart Cordoba - a five-time champion, including under Mourinho - still harbours concerns over Conte's relationship with the board.

The ex-Juventus, Italy and Chelsea coach has had difficulties with some of his former bosses and at one point appeared set to leave San Siro last year, just one season into his Inter reign.

While Cordoba is encouraged by Conte's work since then, he is not yet sure of a long-term plan.

"I don't know what Conte is thinking," Cordoba told Stats Perform News. "I can only hope he can achieve something important for Inter. He is on the right path.

"But since I have been part of that group for a long time, I can say Conte wants to build something not only on the pitch but off it too. These aspects are pivotal.

"You can't win or keep winning if you don't look after parallel details and fix them with the board along the way.

"We know this because Conte spoke about it before the beginning of this season.

"Now the most important thing is the pitch, because without being successful there you won't get anywhere, but the other side of the job is pivotal too.

"If himself and the board share common ideas and intents, he could be at the club for a long time. If he doesn't, it is unlikely."

Inter host Genoa in their next match on Sunday, ahead of Milan's potentially tricky trip to fourth-placed Roma later the same day.

Sergio Aguero is being targeted by four European giants, while Bayern Munich are looking at Christian Pulisic.

Aguero, 32, is out of contract with Manchester City at the end of the season and his future is uncertain.

The forward has only played nine games this season, but he is still wanted by several European clubs.

 

TOP STORY – BARCELONA, JUVENTUS CHASE AGUERO

Barcelona, Juventus, Paris Saint-Germain and Inter are interested in signing Aguero, according to the Mirror.

Aguero has been at City since 2011 and is the club's all-time leading goalscorer.

The Argentina international has struggled with injury and coronavirus this season.

 

ROUND-UP

- Another player who has battled injuries this season is Pulisic. Todofichajes.com reports Bayern Munich have contacted Chelsea about a possible move for the former Borussia Dortmund star.

- Juventus want to keep Alvaro Morata. Goal reports the Serie A side are keen to extend the forward's loan for another season and are prepared to pay Atletico Madrid €10million.

- Barcelona seem set to sign a forward ahead of next season. ESPN reports the LaLiga giants have intensified their interest in Real Sociedad striker Alexander Isak.

- Struggling for game time at Manchester United, Dean Henderson could make a move. Chelsea, Tottenham and West Ham are interested in the goalkeeper, according to the Manchester Evening News.

- Hector Bellerin may leave Arsenal. CBS Sports reports the full-back is eager to test himself away from the Premier League club and Paris Saint-Germain are ready to revive their interest.

Andrea Pirlo vowed Juventus will "fight until the end" to retain their Serie A title after Cristiano Ronaldo scored twice in a 3-0 victory over Crotone.

Ronaldo had gone three games without goal but headed home a first-half double as Juve claimed a first win in four matches.

Weston McKennie was also on target as the champions dominated sorry bottom side Crotone, registering 27 shots in a one-sided encounter at Allianz Stadium on Monday.

Victory for Juve moved them up to third place, eight points behind leaders Inter with a game in hand.

Head coach Pirlo was pleased with the way the Bianconeri got back on track and says they are ready to roll up their sleeves and battle in the title race.

He told Sky Sport Italia: "The last two games had left us with some nerves, then luckily we managed to straighten the situation and we managed the game well."

Pirlo added: "All the teams chasing [Inter] are genuine rivals, we will try to fight until the end."

Ronaldo was among the Juve players who were guilty of wasting glorious chances, the Portugal captain only hitting the target with four of his 11 shots, and Pirlo expects the Turin giants to be more clinical in their pursuit of more trophies.

The former Italy playmaker said: "We have created a lot, it's a pity we didn't take so many chances. The important thing is to create, the goals will come."

Pirlo picked out Rodrigo Bentancur for praise after he gifted Porto an early goal in a 2-1 Champions League defeat for Juve last week.

"The midfield did well. Bentancur played without training," the Juve boss said. "Those who played tonight did well with a positive and proactive attitude.

"Bentancur was good and deserves applause because it was not easy to return to the field after the mistake against Porto."

Antonio Conte felt Inter produced an "extraordinary performance" in the 3-0 defeat of Milan, picking out midfield duo Christian Eriksen and Ivan Perisic for special praise. 

The Nerazzurri moved four points clear at the top of Serie A thanks to a resounding triumph in the derby on Sunday, Lautaro Martinez scoring in each half at San Siro. 

Romelu Lukaku struck his 17th league goal of the season to complete the emphatic victory, in the process becoming the first player to score in four successive derbies for Inter since 1950. 

For Conte, it was a case of the best-laid plans coming to fruition, albeit they needed captain Samir Handanovic to make a trio of superb saves early in the second half when the score was still at 1-0. 

"Compliments to our guys, who made an extraordinary performance," Conte said. 

"A very well-prepared match, which they followed perfectly, translating the situations they experienced on the pitch.   

"There is satisfaction in seeing the growth of the group and I am happy because the guys they deserve to reap the benefits of the work we are doing."

Both Eriksen and Perisic, two players linked with moves away in the previous transfer window, enjoyed pivotal roles for Inter.

Making just his seventh league start of the campaign, Eriksen completed 90 per cent of his attempted passes and made nine crosses despite playing in a cental position.

Perisic, meanwhile, provided two assists, including a low cross from Inter's left flank that allowed Martinez to crucially double the advantage not long after a heavy spell of Milan pressure.

"I think the task of a coach is to try to bring all the elements of the squad to improve and to enter into the idea of football that we intend to develop," Conte said when asked about the turnaround in fortunes for the duo.

"The growth of Christian and Ivan, but of all our players, makes me proud."

On Eriksen, who scored a dramatic winner against Milan in the Coppa Italia earlier in the season, the former Chelsea boss added: "Many times hasty judgments are made, as happened for Christian.

"Sometimes it takes a little time, especially when you come from abroad.  

"The same goes for Ivan, who this year has shown a great desire to challenge himself. He put himself at the full disposal of the cause and today he played an extraordinary match. He has incredible potential and must believe even more in himself."

Inter handed Milan a fifth defeat in 2021 in all competitions, which is two more than they suffered throughout the previous year. 

Stefano Pioli says Milan are no longer happy simply playing the part of challengers in the Serie A title race and will work hard to recover from a testing stretch that now includes a derby defeat to Inter.

The Rossoneri have led the league for much of the season but slipped four points off the pace with Sunday's 3-0 home loss to their rivals at San Siro.

Lautaro Martinez added to his early opener with a second after the break, with Romelu Lukaku capping Milan's second consecutive Serie A defeat.

Pioli's side also conceded a last-ditch equaliser to Red Star Belgrade in the Europa League since losing at Spezia, their overwhelmingly positive campaign threatening to come off the rails.

Milan have now suffered four defeats in Serie A in 2021, twice as many as in the whole of the previous calendar year.

Pioli saw improvement in this performance compared to the Spezia setback, though, as Milan enjoyed 59.9 per cent of the possession and had 15 attempts, and the coach is determined to stay level-headed.

But the team's ambitions have changed over the course of the campaign and there must now be a response, he added.

"I believe that our strength has always been balance – and belief in our work," Pioli told DAZN.

"If they had told us months ago that at this point of the season we were second in the standings, we would have jumped for joy. This doesn't have to make us happy and content now.

"In these past two or three games, we have not been able to put our quality on the field. We need to get back to doing more.

"We were really poor in the Spezia game. Today we feel sorry for ourselves, for the fans, for the club, but today we played our game.

"We have to maintain clarity, positivity, and evaluate things well. When you lose, you have to work harder and this we will have to do."

While Milan goalkeeper Gianluigi Donnarumma became the youngest player to clock up 200 games in Serie A in the three-points-per-win era, his opposite number ensured the milestone passed with little cause for celebration.

The outstanding Samir Handanovic made eight saves, his most in a game for Inter since pulling off eight against Lazio in January 2019 and most in a Serie A outing since the same number against Juventus in December 2017.

Only three times in Handanovic's Nerazzurri career has he made more than eight stops in a match.

The keeper denied Zlatan Ibrahimovic on five occasions as the veteran Milan superstar failed to add to his tally of 10 Milan derby goals.

Pioli recognised Handanovic's display but refused to criticise Ibrahimovic, who was withdrawn after 75 minutes with cramp in his calf.

"A centre-forward is conditioned by the performance of the team," he said. "In the first half, we did not have the accuracy in the plays, in the final pass.

"In the second half, then we created and had scoring chances. It is a long time since Samir Handanovic saved so often and so well. It is a difficult week, but we will recover."

Just one of Handanovic's saves came in the first half and Pioli rued Milan's slow start as he reflected on the match as a whole.

"The goal immediately after five minutes weighed heavily," he said. "We struggled to find the rhythm, intensity and quality that was needed to find spaces.

"We let Inter play the game where they are strongest.

"In the second half, we were succeeding but we were unable to score in our best moment. Then came the second goal.

"I have nothing to say about the second half of my team; in the first half, we had to do something more."

Lautaro Martinez declared Inter showed their true colours in Sunday's 3-0 derby victory over Milan at San Siro.

The Nerazzurri moved four points clear at the top of Serie A thanks to a double from Martinez and Romelu Lukaku's 23rd goal of the season in all competitions.

Lukaku crossed for his strike partner to nod in after only five minutes and each of them scored after the interval to put the game beyond Milan's reach.

Having been eliminated from European competition in December and beaten in the Coppa Italia semi-finals by Juventus, the Scudetto remains Inter's only hope for silverware in 2020-21.

Martinez is now determined to end the club's 11-year wait to become champions of Italy again.

"This is what we are: we're united, we work every day to give our best and to reach as high as we can, and today we proved it," Martinez told DAZN.

"We run and fight together; you can see it on the pitch. We have suffered a lot this year: two eliminations from the Coppa Italia and the Champions League. This [Serie A] is the only goal left and we're fighting for it. We're happy to be ahead of everyone else."

Lukaku became the first Inter player since Benito Lorenzi in 1950 to score in four consecutive league derbies against Milan.

Martinez believes the Belgium international can still get better as he aims to win a first club trophy since the Belgian Pro League with Anderlecht in 2010.

"Lukaku can improve a lot," Martinez said. "He's 27 years old, he works and he makes himself available to his team-mates. He's a great person on and off the pitch and we're happy to have him with us."

Inter were mostly in control of the contest but were indebted to goalkeeper Samir Handanovic in the first three minutes of the second half, as he twice denied Zlatan Ibrahimovic in quick succession before tipping a Sandro Tonali shot over the bar.

"Handanovic is always ready. We're happy because, when we need him, he always responds," Martinez said.

"We also should have been more focused [early in the second half], but we're happy to have played a good game and to have got three points."

Franck Kessie had touched the ball only five times before Milan fell behind to Inter at San Siro.

The midfielder proclaimed beforehand that the Rossoneri had no reason to be fearful going into the 174th Milan derby in Serie A history. Far from it. "We'll win the derby and return to the top of the table," he told La Gazzetta dello Sport. "We're a group that has grown through difficulty. We believe in the Scudetto."

That pre-match optimism vanished after those first five minutes on Sunday. So, too, did the sense that this Milan really do believe they can end a 10-year wait to win Serie A. With one swing of Romelu Lukaku's left foot – his crossing remains a hugely underappreciated skill – Lautaro Martinez had an easy header and Inter had it all in their hands: the momentum, the match, and the title race.

Inter now lead the standings by four points, with 14 matches to go, after this 3-0 rout. While that hardly seems an unbridgeable gap, the Nerazzurri have for some time looked the strongest contenders: since exiting European competition in December, they have failed to win just five of 17 games in all competitions, while they have only lost once in the league since Milan won the reverse fixture last October.

Sporting director Piero Ausilio has assembled an experienced squad at great expense, with each arrival tailored to Antonio Conte's exacting standards. It took time, and no little public squabbling, but the Inter boss has finally crafted the sort of team that was expected of him: a powerful, purring results machine.

They were in charge from the moment Martinez planted his header past Gianluigi Donnarumma. They tightened up, harried Hakan Calhanoglu, and broke at speed, and it could easily have been 2-0 or 3-0 before half-time. With a little under half an hour left, it was, as Martinez's poacher's finish and Lukaku's awesome run and strike killed the game stone dead.

In many respects, this result should not have come as a shock. Inter are further down the road towards a restoration of past glories, while Milan have been overachieving for the past year. That they came into this contest just a point off the lead was mostly down to a spectacular run that had long surpassed sustainability. They lost twice in Serie A in the whole of 2020, saw a 27-game unbeaten run only ended by champions Juventus last month and reached the halfway stage of the season with 43 points, their best tally in 60 years.

If it's a surprise that Milan have lost four league games already in 2021, it's only because Stefano Pioli has spent much of the past year defying expectations, imbuing players with the sort of confidence that led to Kessie's unfortunate prediction.

Things could have been different here had it not been for a five-minute masterclass from Samir Handanovic, who twice saved implausibly from Zlatan Ibrahimovic and then tipped a Sandro Tonali strike over just after the interval. But for the 36-year-old's heroics, Milan's early second-half pressure may have given Inter a game to chase, instead of giving them the freedom of the final third to pick through on the counter.

So it was that Lukaku's nerve-settling goal was cheered by the Inter bench almost as loudly as a trophy win. The smiles and high-fives followed; Christian Eriksen was positively beaming as he went off after 78 minutes, his transformation from invisible to undroppable now complete. It showed what Inter know to be true: Serie A is their sole remaining commitment this season and it's firmly under their control.

Inter moved four points clear at the Serie A summit thanks to a resounding 3-0 derby triumph over faltering rivals Milan on Sunday.

Lautaro Martinez scored twice and Romelu Lukaku was also on target, helping Antonio Conte's in-form side make it five wins in their past six league outings to take a firm grip on the title race in Italy.

This was the first time since April 2011 that the city rivals had met when occupying the top two positions in the table, with that season finishing with Milan crowned as champions.

A repeat for the Rossoneri looks increasingly unlikely as their worrying dip in form continued, though they were somewhat unfortunate to come up against a goalkeeper in supreme form.

Samir Handanovic twice repelled Zlatan Ibrahimovic in quick succession early in the second half before Martinez's second goal of the contest, with Lukaku then putting an emphatic seal on the victory in the 66th minute.

However, it was Martinez who had crucially headed Inter in front inside five minutes. Lukaku initially saw his attempted low cross blocked, but a second, floated delivery picked out his team-mate to head past Gianluigi Donnarumma, making his 200th Serie A appearance.

Milan were grateful Lukaku did not take a glorious opportunity before the break, the Belgian striker failing to apply the finishing touch to Ivan Perisic's inviting cross as he missed the ball completely.

Stefano Pioli's team started the second half with a flurry of opportunities; Handanovic spectacularly turned away an Ibrahimovic header at a corner before producing a point-blank block to again deny the Swede when the ball came back into the penalty area.

Inter's captain also pushed a rising drive from Sandro Tonali over the crossbar, maintaining a lead they soon doubled when a clinical counter-attacking move allowed Perisic to pick out Martinez, who fired in with his left foot.

Lukaku put the game well beyond Milan with a fine solo effort, finishing a powerful run from deep in Milan's half with a low shot that flashed beyond Donnarumma. In doing so, he became the first Inter player to score in four successive Serie A derbies since 1950.

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