Antonio Conte has told Christian Eriksen he must show more than free-kick prowess to establish himself at Inter.

Former Tottenham midfielder Eriksen netted a trademark set-piece effort to settle Tuesday's fiery Coppa Italia derby against Milan deep into stoppage time.

The Denmark international was understandably mobbed by his team-mates and Conte said afterwards that the Inter squad "love" a player whose career at San Siro has failed to catch fire since joining from Spurs 12 months ago.

Nevertheless, he struck a more measured tone ahead of Saturday's home game against Benevento.

"In rugby they have players who are kickers and are set-piece specialists. Football is very different," he said, when asked at a pre-match news conference whether Eriksen might start.

"We hope to have him play a part in all areas, not just from free-kicks and set-plays.

"We know that Inter have struggled from free-kicks until recently. It is an extra weapon to have a free-kick specialist."

Conte is also reportedly keen on an extra weapon in attack, although he refused to be drawn too far into discussing speculation that Inter might sign out-of-favour Roma striker Edin Dzeko, with Alexis Sanchez moving in the opposite direction.

"I have not asked for anything from the club, let us start by saying that," he said.

"If someone has said that, then it is not the case. We have this squad and that is the way it is.

"It is not the coach who goes asking for players all the time. I have had little to say so far this season

"Dzeko is a Roma player I have respect for him. I have respect for my players too

"The situation is clear – this is our squad and that is the situation. If someone is unhappy and ask to go then that is different.

"We will make that player happy. Otherwise I cannot foresee changes.

"We know the situation we find ourselves in. We cannot create situations that are not there. We need to focus on working hard.

"We need to look ahead and accept this situation we are in.

"It is not right to talk about things that can distract the side. I do not want distractions from my players."

On Sanchez, he added: "Sanchez is an Inter player and needs to stay focused."

Conte will be absent from the bench against Benevento as he serves a touchline ban, while top scorer Romelu Lukaku is also suspended after collecting his fifth booking of the season against Milan.

That followed a heated confrontation with Zlatan Ibrahimovic that continued after the half-time whistle.

The veteran Milan striker was sent off for a second booking when he fouled Aleksandar Kolarov during the second half and has been forced to deny allegations that he racially abused Lukaku.

"It has been spoken about a lot," Conte said.

"I do not know and I'm not interested. My task is to be a coach and I focus on that area."

Kylian Mbappe wants time to make a decision on his future as Real Madrid await a signal from the Paris Saint-Germain star.

Mbappe, 22, has been linked with a move to Madrid and his contract at PSG ends in 2022.

But will the forward end up at the Santiago Bernabeu?

 

TOP STORY – REAL MADRID WAIT FOR MBAPPE

Real Madrid are waiting for a signal from Paris Saint-Germain star Kylian Mbappe, according to Marca.

The report says Mbappe has asked for time to decide his future.

While Madrid have been most strongly linked with a move for Mbappe, Liverpool are also reportedly interested.

ROUND-UP

- Staying at Madrid and Fabrizio Romano says a new contract for midfielder Luka Modric is imminent. The Croatian midfielder's current deal expires at the end of the season.

- Dele Alli's future is set to be a constant talking point until at least the end of this transfer window. ESPN claims Tottenham chairman Daniel Levy is reluctant to let the midfielder leave for PSG. Romano reports Spurs are still looking for a replacement and were working on re-signing Christian Eriksen, but Inter wanted a loan fee and the midfielder's salary paid in full.

- Lyon star Houssem Aouar was linked to Arsenal last close season, but the midfielder could head elsewhere. Gianluca Di Marzio reports Juventus are looking at the 22-year-old as an option ahead of the 2021-22 campaign.

- Lucas Torreira seems set to move on from Atletico Madrid. Diario AS says Monaco are favourites to sign the midfielder, who is on loan at Atletico from Arsenal.

- Said Benrahma has made an impression at West Ham. Sky Sports reports West Ham have converted their loan for Benrahma from Brentford into a permanent move, paying £20million plus add-ons. The report says West Ham are also in talks to sign RB Leipzig forward Hwang Hee-chan.

Andrea Pirlo insisted Juventus had forgotten about their recent loss to Inter ahead of the Coppa Italia semi-final between the Serie A giants.

Juve booked their spot in the last four with a 4-0 thrashing of SPAL in the quarter-finals on Wednesday.

They will face Inter in a two-legged semi-final, having fallen to the Nerazzurri less than a fortnight ago in Serie A.

But Pirlo said Juve – who reached the Coppa semi-finals for the eighth time in 10 seasons – had moved on from that encounter.

"We forgot the game in Milan [against Inter] because it was in the league," the Juve head coach told a news conference.

"Next week we are going to play Coppa Italia semi-final so we will face them keen to qualify to the final. These two games are completely different.

"We have to cancel the game played last Sunday, but we have to prepare well for the semi-final."

Alvaro Morata, Gianluca Frabotta, Dejan Kulusevski and Federico Chiesa scored in Juve's resounding win over SPAL.

Morata joined Cristiano Ronaldo, Romelu Lukaku and Ciro Immobile as one of four Serie A players to have been involved in 20-plus goals in all competitions this season (13 goals and seven assists).

Meanwhile, Gianluigi Buffon started and kept a clean sheet, making one save, and Pirlo said he hoped there was more to come from the 43-year-old.

"It's a pleasure having Gigi in the team. It's a pleasure to see him training every day like a young player. This is the most important thing," he said.

"When you have that energy you can keep on [playing], otherwise you need to find something else to do. When we were playing together, I didn't expect he could have so long a career. He had serious injuries to his back and shoulder but he's been really focused to his body and he worked more than when he was young. That's why he has had this long career.

"He will play again this season because he showed he is still one of the best goalkeepers in the world. I hope we can enjoy him for more time."

Before the first leg of their semi-final against Inter on February 3, Inter will visit Sampdoria on Saturday.

Paul Pogba has leapt to the defence of Zlatan Ibrahimovic, saying his former team-mate is "the last person I'd think of as racist" after his clash with Romelu Lukaku.

Ibrahimovic and Lukaku traded insults in heated exchanges during Inter's 2-1 Coppa Italia quarter-final derby win over Milan on Tuesday.

Both players were booked following a confrontation late in the first half and they had to be separated as the furious row continued after the whistle for half-time was blown.

Ibrahimovic, who was sent off in the second half for a second bookable offence, appeared to tell Lukaku to "Go do your voodoo s***, you little donkey."

The Milan striker on Wednesday denied he was guilty of racially abusing Inter's leading scorer Lukaku, who equalised in the second half before Christian Eriksen scored a late winner.

He tweeted: "In ZLATAN's world there is no place for RACISM. We are all the same race – we are all equal!! We are all PLAYERS some better then [sic] others."

Pogba, who played alongside the prolific Swede and Lukaku at Manchester United, later stated there is no way Ibrahimovic would subject anybody to racial abuse.

"Zlatan... racist? He loves me too much so he's the last person I'd think of as racist! Come on, don't joke with that one!" the United and France midfielder posted on Twitter.

Zlatan Ibrahimovic has denied using racist insults when he clashed with Romelu Lukaku during Milan's 2-1 derby defeat to Inter on Tuesday.

Ibrahimovic turned from hero to villain in the Coppa Italia quarter-final tie at San Siro, scoring the opening goal before he was sent off for a second bookable offence in the second half.

The Milan talisman had been shown a yellow card following a heated confrontation with his former Manchester United team-mate Lukaku late in the first half.

Ibrahimovic appeared to tell Belgium striker Lukaku to "Go do your voodoo s***, you little donkey" as the pair exchanged words and went head-to-head.

The strikers had to be separated as they continued to trade insults after the half-time whistle was blown, but Ibrahimovic on Wednesday stated he was not guilty of any racist abuse.

He posted on Twitter: "In ZLATAN's world there is no place for RACISM. We are all the same race - we are all equal!! We are all PLAYERS some better then [sic] others."

It is claimed Ibrahimovic's "voodoo" reference was in relation to Everton majority shareholder Farhad Moshiri claiming in 2018 that Lukaku refused to extend his contract at Goodison Park because a "voodoo message" told him to join Chelsea. He ended up moving to United.

Lukaku equalised from the penalty spot after Ibrahimovic was dismissed and Christian Eriksen dramatically put Inter through with a sublime free-kick deep into stoppage time.

Antonio Conte suggested Christian Eriksen would remain at Inter after his stunning derby winner against Milan, saying the midfielder was loved at the club.

Eriksen curled in a wonderful 25-yard free-kick in the 97th minute to lift Inter to a 2-1 victory in the Coppa Italia quarter-finals on Tuesday.

The Denmark international has been linked with a move after making just four Serie A starts this season, but Conte said Eriksen was needed at Inter.

"I am sure [the goal] has given energy to [Eriksen] and to us. I pushed him to take that set-piece because he is really good at that," the Inter head coach told a news conference.

"He is a good lad. Everybody loves him, we love him. He fitted well [in the team]. He is a bit shy.

"I hope this goal will give him more confidence because we need him. We need everybody considering the situation. I am happy for him and I am happy because we qualified."

Eriksen's free-kick settled an explosive derby, in which Zlatan Ibrahimovic opened the scoring before being sent off, having also been involved in an earlier confrontation with Romelu Lukaku.

Ibrahimovic was red-carded in a game played in Europe for the first time since March 2015 and Inter took advantage, Lukaku levelling from the penalty spot before Eriksen's winner.

Of players in Europe's top five leagues, only Lionel Messi, Hakan Calhanoglu, Miralem Pjanic and Cristiano Ronaldo have scored more direct free-kick goals than Eriksen's 13 since 2013-14.

Inter had 27 shots to Milan's five and 10 on target to their rivals' one, and Conte said his side needed to be more clinical.

"The squad was in full spirit and energy since the beginning of the game. I think it was not fair to be one goal down against Milan. We had many chances even 11 against 11," he said.

"If I have to find a negative thing, it will be the chances created without goals. We have to be more clinical, more pragmatic.

"Milan's goalkeeper [Ciprian Tatarusanu] has been the man of the match. He made incredible saves."

Inter, who are two points adrift of Milan in Serie A, host Benevento on Saturday.

Zlatan Ibrahimovic apologised for the red card that cost Milan dearly in their Coppa Italia exit to rivals Inter, coach Stefano Pioli has revealed.

Ibrahimovic, who had scored his 499th club career goal to give Milan the lead, was sent off for a second bookable offence as he felled Aleksandar Kolarov just before the hour-mark.

Romelu Lukaku equalised from the penalty spot soon after and Christian Eriksen's stoppage-time free-kick settled a controversial Derby della Madonnina encounter.

Ibrahimovic had earned his first yellow card in a confrontation with former Manchester United team-mate Lukaku.

The two forwards went head-to-head in a heated exchange that saw Ibrahimovic aim offensive language in the direction of his opponent.

It was a major misstep and Milan paid the price for Ibrahimovic's ill-discipline, but the 39-year-old was apologetic, according to his coach.

"Ibrahimovic apologised. He knows he created a problem for the team," Pioli said. "He apologised because he is a great man and champion.

"It's clear that the game was more difficult one man down in a game so balanced. It has been crucial. It wasn't supposed to happen but it happened unfortunately.

"We felt the fatigue in the last 30 minutes and we didn't achieve a positive result.

"We wanted it and we prepared for it. Now we go back to the league and to Bologna."

Milan remain top of Serie A, two points ahead of second-placed Inter, as they aim to end a 10-year wait for the Scudetto.

Antonio Conte professed to be happy at the sight of Romelu Lukaku getting angry with Zlatan Ibrahimovic during Inter's Coppa Italia win over Milan.

Inter ultimately triumphed 2-1 thanks to a late Christian Eriksen free-kick, but that does not tell the full story of the match, which Milan initially led thanks to Ibrahimovic.

The Swede was involved in an altercation with Lukaku just before half-time as the former Manchester United colleagues squared up to each other and went head-to-head – it then continued after the referee ended the first half, with Inter players forced to hold their team-mate back.

Television footage and audio appeared to show Ibrahimovic yelling at Lukaku: "Go do your voodoo s***."

That may have been a reference by Ibrahimovic to claims made by Everton owner Farhad Moshiri in January 2018 that Lukaku, who left the Merseyside club six months earlier, strenuously denied.

After Tuesday's game, Lukaku did not immediately publicly address Ibrahimovic's on-pitch behaviour.

Inter and Lukaku ultimately had the last laugh, as Ibrahimovic was sent off in the second half and the Belgian equalised from the spot before Eriksen sealed their spot in the semi-finals with a lovely free-kick.

"If he gets angry every now and then, it just makes me happy," Conte told RAI Sport after the game.

"I've been a player. It is a derby, not a walk for your health. During the game, tempers are high and in some situations you get angry. The important thing is that everything remains in the right dimension.

"I was pleased to see Romelu so focused. He had a disagreement with someone [Ibrahimovic] who has the wickedness of a winner and a warrior, he does not want to lose. Romelu is growing from this point of view. For us it is important."

"You want to speak about my mother?"

Romelu Lukaku was seething. A yellow card and a stern talking to from referee Paolo Valeri having done nothing to lift the red mist.

Inter's diminutive playmaker Nicolo Barella attaching himself to Lukaku's torso in a bid to calm the powerhouse striker was one of the more memorable sights of an action-packed first 45 minutes in this Milan derby for a place in the Coppa Italia semi-finals.

Or the Derby della Madonnina, to give the game its full, grander title. A game that takes its name from a pristine golden statue of the Virgin Mary.

It seemed for all the world that Zlatan Ibrahimovic had not spoken about Lukaku's mother with such reverence.

Here was Milan's 39-year-old talisman, who suggested the youthful make-up of the Serie A leaders' XI was a factor in their 3-0 weekend defeat to Atalanta, deciding to display his own brand of leadership in the guise of juvenile schoolyard bully.

Ibrahimovic's crowing chuckle as mayhem unfurled around him (Arturo Vidal got involved - of course he did - for no apparent reason) was one of a player who had recently enjoyed a familiar feeling for the 499th time in his career.

Freed from shackles of their knife-edge Scudetto battle, both teams played with freedom and the intent to land a psychological blow. The fact each team had the same idea appeared to irritate all concerned, but it made for great entertainment.

It is doubtful Antonio Conte would consider such a cavalier selection in league combat as he rolled out on Inter's left flank here. Ivan Perisic was at wing-back, paying as much attention as you'd expect to the part of his position lurking after the hyphen.

That increased the defensive burden on Aleksandar Kolarov on, a defender who has worn 11 for the bulk of his career. Kolarov's shirt number is a statement of particular intent.

Ibrahimovic showed he recognised that point of weakness in the 13th minute, when he leapt athletically to meet a Rafael Leao cross, knocking Perisic and Kolarov to the ground in the process. Brahim Diaz was just unable to turn home.

Kolarov still seemed distracted when he backed off enough for the former Sweden international to fire though his legs and beyond Inter goalkeeper Samir Handanovic.

The script seemed written, goal 500 was surely on the way to take Ibrahimovic closer to yet another piece of silverware. Why not have some fun and wind up the opposition's star man.

Ibrahimovic's language and his message seemed appalling, with ESPN footage showing him at one point appearing to yell: "Go do your voodoo s***, you little donkey."

A flaw in the plan to rile Lukaku was the yellow card that Ibrahimovic received for his part in the spat. Not a problem in itself, but in the 58th minute he clumsily and needlessly fouled Kolarov to collect a second booking.

Displaying none of his vast experience, Ibrahimovic had gone from hero to villain to idiot within half an hour of playing time.

And so, it was over to the youngsters and backup players who the star striker sometimes seems to consider walk-on extras in his one-man show.

First there was on-loan defender Fikayo Tomori, who was quickly disabused of the notion he had escaped chaos by leaving Chelsea this week. Thrust into a debut by Simon Kjaer's first-half injury, he made a brilliant last-ditch block to deny Lukaku.

Alessio Romagnoli and Theo Hernandez defended heroically down the Milan left but reduced numbers forced willing attacking players back to man unfamiliar barricades. Leao was pressed into action and brought down Barella. After consulting the pitchside monitor Valeri pointed to the spot.

Lukaku has been known to roll his penalties home. On this occasion, he tested the structural integrity of the crossbar and the ball ricocheted into the turf and home. Then there was a shouting match with a team-mate (Yes, Vidal; nope, no idea).

Enough mayhem? Nonsense. Valeri had to limp out of the action injured. Fourth official Daniele Chiffi looked like he was putting on the microphone and headset for the first time in his life and 10 minutes of stoppage time were required.

In the seventh of those, wantaway midfielder Christian Eriksen curled home a sumptuous free-kick, leaving Ciprian Tatarusanu no chance to add to his fine catalogue of eight saves.

Last act for Eriksen? Maybe. Definitely last laugh for Lukaku.

Ibrahimovic likes to call himself a lion but Tatarusanu and the Milan players he left behind were the lions here, roaring defiantly at wave after wave of Inter attacks before buckling at the last. Nine of Inter's 27 shots were blocked.

After fatefully dwelling too long in self-parody at the end of the first half, Ibrahimovic owes them an apology, and surely Lukaku is also due one. Perhaps they shouldn't hold their breath.

Zlatan Ibrahimovic went from hero to villain in Tuesday's Coppa Italia quarter-final defeat to rivals Inter as he was involved in an ugly incident with Romelu Lukaku and later sent off in a 2-1 reverse sealed at the death by Christian Eriksen.

Swedish striker Ibrahimovic went into the match just two short of a 500th career club goal and few would have bet against him reaching the milestone in the derby after putting Milan in front, but he was unable to see out a controversial encounter.

Having earned a first yellow card in an earlier altercation with Lukaku, who was clearly incensed by the 39-year-old's behaviour, Ibrahimovic was perhaps unfortunate to earn a second booking for what referee Paolo Valeri deemed a foul on Aleksandar Kolarov.

If Lukaku's mood was not already improved by Ibrahimovic's dismissal, he was definitely smiling after converting a 71st-minute penalty, and Eriksen's gorgeous late free-kick sealed Inter a spot in the semi-finals.

Antonio Conte has been given a two-match ban after he was shown a red card in the closing stages of Inter's goalless Serie A draw at Udinese on Saturday.

Conte was also fined €20,000 by Lega Serie A on Tuesday following a rant at referee Fabio Maresca as the Nerazzurri dropped points in the title race.

The Inter head coach was sanctioned after venting his fury over the number of minutes that were added on at the end of the game and continued his protests after the final whistle.

Inter team manager Lele Oriali was suspended for one game and hit in the pocket to the tune of €5,000 for his post-game protests.

Second-placed Inter face arch-rivals Milan in the quarter-finals of the Coppa Italia on Tuesday before returning to Serie A action against Benevento on Saturday, then take on Fiorentina six days later.

Conte's men trail leaders Milan by two points in the battle for the Scudetto.

For so long, Real Madrid have been linked with Kylian Mbappe but will the LaLiga champions bring the French forward to the Santiago Bernabeu?

Mbappe is reportedly open to the idea of making the move to the Spanish capital.

However, Liverpool could be ready to hijack any transfer.

 

TOP STORY – MBAPPE TO MADRID?

Kylian Mbappe dominates the front pages of Tuesday's Diario AS and Mundo Deportivo as Real Madrid try to sign the Paris Saint-Germain star.

Mbappe – out of contract in 2022 – has been tipped to swap Ligue 1 holders PSG for LaLiga champions Madrid at the end of the season.

While the economic fallout from the coronavirus pandemic impacts Madrid, the Spanish giants are still working on a deal to prise the Frenchman to the Santiago Bernabeu, with Vinicius Junior a possible makeweight.

Mundo Deportivo says Premier League champions Liverpool are ready to pounce should Madrid fail to sign Mbappe.

 

ROUND-UP

- Onda Cero reports PSG have offered Madrid captain Sergio Ramos a three-year deal worth €15million a season. Ramos is set to become a free agent at the end of the season and the superstar has been linked with the likes of Manchester United and Juventus.

- Both Madrid and Barcelona are considering a shock move for Roma striker Edin Dzeko, according to Mundo Deportivo. Dzeko has had a falling out with under-fire head coach Paulo Fonseca, prompting links to Juve and Inter.

Thomas Tuchel is set to be named Frank Lampard's Chelsea replacement, with Fabrizio Romano claiming an announcement is "just a matter of time". Tuchel was sacked by PSG in December.

- The Athletic says Juve have identified Villarreal centre-back Pau Torres as a long-term replacement for veteran Giorgio Chiellini. Torres has also been linked with United, Manchester City, Barca, Madrid and Chelsea.

Tottenham have approached PSG's Angel Di Maria, who is out of contract at the end of the season, according to L'Equipe. Di Maria has history in England, having spent a difficult season playing for United in 2014-15.

- Sport 1 says Borussia Dortmund are interested in Sassuolo midfielder Manuel Locatelli. The likes of Juve and City have also emerged as suitors.

Ever the man for the big occasion, Zlatan Ibrahimovic will be eyeing a looming landmark heading into Tuesday's Coppa Italia Derby della Madonnina.

Ibrahimovic enters the latest crunch clash between Inter and his Milan just two goals shy of 500 in club football.

The former Sweden striker drew a blank against Atalanta on Saturday, ending a run of scoring in nine consecutive Serie A starts, but will be determined to bounce back in this mammoth fixture.

"We have to redeem ourselves after this defeat," Ibrahimovic said after the 3-0 loss to Atalanta. "We have the chance to do it in a few days against Inter. That will be a good match."

A MILAN MAN

Enjoying a fine second spell with Milan now at the age of 39, Ibrahimovic's goals have fired Stefano Pioli's side back into title contention - despite the Atalanta setback.

The Rossoneri have not won the Scudetto since 2011 - in Ibrahimovic's first stint at the club - and are without any silverware since the 2016 Supercoppa Italiana.

Inter's own trophy drought spans back to 2011, making this season - with the Milan clubs first and second in the table - and this quarter-final encounter huge.

Ibrahimovic has 13 goals in all competitions this term, including 12 in the league, swelling his Milan total to 80.

That far surpasses the 66 he scored in his time with Inter, while his total number of appearances for the Rossoneri has also nudged past his Nerazzurri tally, 119 to 117 after the Atalanta reverse.

Ibrahimovic will hope to be able to celebrate a 69th victory in Milan colours when they face their neighbours.

DERBY DELIGHTS

Derbies tend to be enjoyable occasions for Ibrahimovic, who has scored seven times for Milan against Inter - including a strike in his only prior such match outside of Serie A, inspiring a turnaround in the 2011 Supercoppa.

A goal and an assist in the first meeting with Inter following his return to Milan last year were in vain as the Nerazzurri won 4-2, but his brace this season secured a 2-1 win for the Serie A leaders.

Only once, in a 1-0 defeat in 2012, has Ibrahimovic failed to score for Milan against Inter, while he also netted twice in four matches for Juventus in the Derby d'Italia.

Yet the striker's Milan derby history goes back to before his arrival at the Rossoneri due to his previous allegiance to Inter.

He scored in his first two Inter appearances against Milan, meaning he has nine strikes in this famous rivalry - trailing only Andriy Shevchenko (14), Giuseppe Meazza (13), Gunnar Nordahl, Istvan Nyers (both 11) and Enrico Candiani (10).

Ibrahimovic has won six and lost four of his 10 Serie A derbies, also triumphing in that Supercoppa clash.

Stefano Pioli wants to see a reaction from his players in the Coppa Italia showdown with Inter following Milan's humbling home loss to Atalanta last time out.

The Serie A leaders went down 3-0 at home to Gian Piero Gasperini's side on Saturday, though they still have a two-point cushion over their next opponents at the halfway stage of the 2020-21 season. 

Next up is the small matter of a derby against Inter on Tuesday, an opportunity for Milan to quickly move on from such a disappointing result and reach the semi-finals of the Coppa Italia. 

The Rossoneri came out on top when the teams met earlier in the season, Zlatan Ibrahimovic's early double proving enough in a 2-1 triumph. 

"It's a different competition, but one we care about. The league is a different story," Pioli told the club's official website ahead of the game.  

"The next derby will be in a month, with other important games beforehand, so this is just a Coppa Italia match. However, it is an important quarter-final we need to face in the best way. 

"As always, there are opponents to face, dangerous opponents, but we are determined to bounce back with a good performance.  

"The Coppa is a competition we care about and aim to win, because in the end all the big teams in the league find themselves in this position, facing off in the quarter and semi-finals.   

"We weren't particularly lucky in the draw. We are in the toughest section, but if you want to win the Coppa, you have to face everyone.  

"It's important to us and we'll do our best to win."

Pioli confirmed Ismael Bennacer is not quite ready to return - the midfielder is on course to be available for Saturday's trip to Bologna, though - while Hakan Calhanoglu is also still out.

New recruit Mario Mandzukic suffered an issue at the weekend after making his debut as a second-half substitute, albeit the striker has not yet been ruled out entirely.

Milan have not lifted the Coppa Italia since 2003, while their last Scudetto arrived a decade ago. Pioli appreciates there is pressure to succeed, particularly after a strong first half to the campaign, but insists that is all part of the job when in charge of such a big club.

"Last Saturday reminded us that if we can't maintain our level, we run the risk of losing against these opponents," he added.

"So, our objective is to make an even greater effort, a more determined one to try to maintain our standing through until the end of the season. 

"We want to be ambitious and win all our games. When we don't, we work even harder to make sure the situation doesn't happen again.  

"That's why pressure is a privilege we must live with, or rather we must want this pressure because we're at a great club - pressure and expectations are a part of that."

Inter beat Juventus. Juventus beat Milan. Milan beat Inter. For once it has been tough to predict the title race in Serie A.

Winning the Scudetto was not enough for Maurizio Sarri to keep his job at Juve last season, meaning Andrea Pirlo is under significant pressure as the Bianconeri chase a 10th straight league crown.

However, they have struggled to convince under the former midfield metronome and sit seven points adrift of leaders Milan in fourth, although they hold a game in hand.

There has seemingly never been a better chance for Inter, who are two points off top in second, and Milan to end Scudetto droughts that date back to 2009-10 and 2010-11 respectively.

Fans and pundits will continue to have their say on who will sit top come the end of the season, and the Stats Perform AI team have also crunched the numbers to predict the champions for the 2020-21 campaign.

With the majority of the 20 teams having reached the halfway stage of the league campaign, they have simulated how the rest of the season may play out.

 

The data model estimates the probability of each match outcome – either a win, draw or loss – based on each team's attacking and defensive quality.

Those ratings are allocated based on four years' worth of comprehensive historic data points and results, with more weighting given to recent matches to account for improvements or declines in form and performance trends.

The AI simulation takes into account the quality of the opposition that a team scores or concedes goals against and rewards them accordingly.

All that data is used to simulate upcoming matches using goal predictions from the Poisson distribution – a detailed mathematical model – with the two teams' attacking and defending ratings used as inputs.

The outcome of the season is then simulated on 10,000 different occasions in order to generate the most accurate possible percentage chance of each team finishing in their ultimate league position.

Without further ado, let's have a good look at the results of the simulation with the predicted final league table.

 

INTER END JUVE'S REIGN

Although they sit second at the halfway stage, our model predicts Inter will end Juve's dominance of Serie A.

Inter have a 35.7 per cent chance of topping the table for the first time since their treble-winning campaign of 2009-10 and it is projected they will do so by a two-point advantage.

Not only do Milan surrender top spot to the Nerazzurri, they slip behind Juve into third with the top three separated by just three points. It would still represent their best finish since 2012-13.

Juve's chance of retaining the title is deemed to be 23.1 per cent, marginally better than Milan's 21.6 per cent.

ATALANTA RETURN TO CHAMPIONS LEAGUE

Gian Piero Gasperini steered Atalanta to Champions League qualification for the first time in their history in 2018-19 and made it back-to-back top-three finishes last season.

They are predicted to return to Europe's premier club competition by finishing fourth, edging out Napoli – they even have a 6.8 per cent chance of pulling off an unlikely title win.

Gennaro Gattuso's side have a 17 per cent probability of snatching the final Champions League qualification berth, with Atalanta's prospects narrowly superior at 17.4 per cent.

Roma are predicted to fall from their current position of third down to sixth but that is still good enough for them to deny arch-rivals Lazio qualification to the inaugural Europa Conference League.

The top six may need to beware of Sassuolo, Hellas Verona and Sampdoria, however. Sassuolo have a 0.3 per cent likelihood of finishing inside the top four, while Verona (0.6 per cent) and Sampdoria (0.3 per cent) also have an outside chance of stealing European qualification, though our predictor suggests Lazio will finish 12 points clear of Sassuolo in seventh.

 

GENOA AND TORINO ESCAPE DROP

At the turn of the year Torino were rock bottom with one win from their opening 14 games and Genoa were in the relegation zone with them.

However, Torino and Genoa have both moved out of the bottom three by claiming six points and eight points respectively over their past five games.

The two sides are predicted to maintain strong enough form to stay out of the drop zone, with Crotone (20th), Parma (19th) and Cagliari (18th) projected to suffer relegation to Serie B.

It is by no means a guarantee, though. Genoa are only 0.2 per cent more likely to come 17th than they are to suffer relegation by finishing 18th, while Torino's differential between 15th – where they are predicted to place – and third-bottom is 2.7 per cent.

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