Romelu Lukaku maintained his magnificent form to rescue a 1-1 World Cup qualifying draw for Belgium against the Czech Republic on a miserable Saturday in Prague.

A superb first senior international goal from Lukas Provod put an impressive Czech Republic side in front five minutes into the second half at Sinobo Stadium on Saturday.

Belgium came from behind to beat Wales in their first Group E game in midweek and they rallied once again to secure a point courtesy of Lukaku’s seventh goal in his last six games for the Red Devils.

Both sides struck the woodwork in an entertaining contest, but had to settle for a draw that leaves them with four points apiece from two matches early in their bid to qualify for the tournament in Qatar next year.

Lukaku fired over and Dries Mertens had an early shot palmed wide by Tomas Vaclik in a promising start for the world's number one international side.

The Czech Republic sensed Belgium were there for the taking as the rain continued to lash down and Michael Krmencik cut inside Jason Denayer before striking the outside of the near post with a left-footed strike 16 minutes in.

There was no let-up in a pulsating first half and Vaclik produced a magnificent one-handed save to keep out Leander Dendoncker's rasping drive, before Kevin De Bruyne failed to generate any power on Lukaku's cross with a close-range header.

It was the home side who got the breakthrough early in the second half with a brilliant finish from winger Provod, who found the far corner of the net with a venomous right-foot finish from 20 yards out after being picked out by Jakub Jankto.

Belgium were only behind for 10 minutes, though, as De Bruyne threaded a ball through to Lukaku and the striker turned Ondrej Celustka inside-out before finding the back of the net with a finish Vaclik might have been disappointed not to keep out.

De Bruyne almost put Roberto Martinez's men in front but saw his right-foot strike come back off the outside of the post and Jan Boril hit the crossbar with a measured late drive at the other end.

Tomas Soucek - captaining his country for the first time - went agonisingly close to snatching a dramatic win right at the end when Toby Alderweireld nodded his looping header off the line, so it ended honours even.

Romelu Lukaku is Chelsea's back-up plan if they cannot land Erling Haaland.

Haaland is being circled by several top clubs including Chelsea, along with Manchester City and Real Madrid.

The Borussia Dortmund talent will demand a significant transfer fee which the Blues may be able to afford.

 

TOP STORY – LUKAKU FIRMS AS CHELSEA'S PLAN B

Chelsea have turned their attention to their former striker Romelu Lukaku as they look to bolster their forward options.

The Telegraph reports that Haaland still remains top priority but Inter forward Lukaku is being heavily considered.

The Manchester Evening News are also reporting City are interested in Lukaku as both clubs prepare to miss out on Haaland.

Inter have indicated that Lukaku, who was at Chelsea from 2011 to 2014 but spent spells on loan at West Brom and Everton, is not for sale.

 

ROUND-UP

- Marca's front page discusses Real Madrid setting Erling Haaland and Kylian Mbappe as their transfer priorities amid a major reconstruction whilst reinforcing a Cristiano Ronaldo return is not part of their plans.

- ESPN claim Borussia Dortmund have set a €180m valuation on Haaland, as numerous clubs circle for the Norwegian forward's services.

- Manchester United are considering offering Jesse Lingard a new deal following his exceptional form on loan at West Ham United, according to The Sun.

- AS is reporting that Manchester United have also made an approach to sign Atletico Madrid's Marcos Llorente for £68.5m.

- Turkish outlet Ajansspor reports that Fenerbahce have contacted ex-Juventus coach Maurizio Sarri about potentially taking up their head coach role.

Stefano Pioli says it is understandable Milan are struggling to cope with a crippling injury list after losing further ground in the Serie A title race.

Milan fell to a 1-0 loss at home to Napoli on Sunday through Matteo Politano's strike early in the second half, the Inter loanee's fourth goal in his past eight league games - as many as he managed in his first 17 appearances of the campaign.

The defeat leaves Pioli's men nine points behind leaders Inter, having themselves been at the summit just a month ago.

Milan were again without striker Zlatan Ibrahimovic against Napoli, as well as Mario Mandzukic, while Ante Rebic and Hakan Calhanoglu have also spent time on the sidelines.

That told as the Rossoneri failed to find a way past David Ospina from their five shots on target, though Pioli pointed out fellow heavyweights Inter and Juventus would also struggle if they were without their best players.

"When you are missing that many players, it does make a difference, especially when they are players who also bring experience and leadership," he told Sky Sport Italia.

"We had to play many games without a real centre-forward, so considering all of that, the team deserves praise for all they've been able to do in the circumstances.

"Try to imagine Inter without [Romelu] Lukaku, Lautaro [Martinez] or [Alexis] Sanchez; maybe Juventus without [Cristiano] Ronaldo, [Alvaro] Morata or [Federico] Chiesa.

"We had more than half the season without Zlatan, while Rebic and Calhanoglu were also injured for long periods.

"We showed all week that this is not just a strong team, but a special one. Unfortunately, there wasn't enough tonight.

"We should've either been more courageous or sat back more, but tonight we tended to be somewhere in-between and were caught in no man's land."

Milan have now won just two of their past six league matches and are only six points better off than fifth-placed Napoli, who also have a game in hand to play.

And with the second leg of their Europa League last-16 tie with Manchester United to come on Thursday, three days before a trip to Fiorentina, Pioli accepts fatigue is now playing a big part.

"It was a very tough and tiring week. I saw a performance that was sufficient, but that's not enough," he said.

"We returned from Manchester at 3am on Friday morning. It's obvious the Europa League is more stressful and damaging than the Champions League, especially when we started in September.

"Having said that, we are Milan and would never want to be without that European presence. We weren't expecting to be in second place, but now that we are here, we want to keep hold of it.

"Inter have the momentum - they really started to step on the gas after their Champions League exclusion and it allowed them a full week to prepare for every game.

"We are not looking ahead or over our shoulders; we just stay focused on our path."

Napoli, previously without an away win in four league outings, are now unbeaten in their past six league encounters with Milan at San Siro since December 2014.

The home side's misery was compounded late on when, shortly after Theo Hernandez had a strong penalty shout rejected, substitute Ante Rebic was dismissed for dissent.

Despite now being closer to fifth place than first, however, midfielder Sandro Tonali insists Milan are still looking up the table rather than down.

"I don't think there is fear, otherwise we'd lose every game," he said. "We are here and must continue to aim high and not give up now."

"This is not the game we prepared - it was not what we intended to do. Napoli closed down all the spaces and we didn't create enough scoring opportunities.

"The ones we did create with Rafa Leao were not converted and then Napoli scored their first real chance."

Inter strengthened their position at the Serie A summit as Lautaro Martinez's late header secured a slender 2-1 win over Torino on Sunday.

The Nerazzurri never looked like scoring during a dismal first half, but they forged ahead in the 62nd minute when Romelu Lukaku slotted home from the penalty spot.

Antonio Sanabria pulled the hosts level eight minutes later, yet Inter celebrated an eighth consecutive top-flight win courtesy of Martinez's 14th league goal of the season five minutes from full-time.

The result moved Antonio Conte's side nine points clear at the top of Serie A, although Milan had the chance to restore a six-point gap by overcoming Napoli later on Sunday.

RB Leipzig head coach Julian Nagelsmann compared Brian Brobbey to Inter star Romelu Lukaku after the Bundesliga side agreed to sign the Ajax sensation.

Brobbey will join Nagelsmann's Leipzig on a free transfer at the end of the season after agreeing a four-year deal until 2025.

Eredivisie giants Ajax were determined to keep Brobbey, but the 19-year-old Dutch forward opted to leave for Leipzig.

Brobbey, who made his senior debut for Ajax in October, has scored twice in seven substitute appearances in Eredivisie this season, while he has netted as many goals during the 2020-21 Europa League campaign.

Nagelsmann compared Brobbey to in-form Inter forward Lukaku after being asked about the similarities between the two players.

"It is always very tough for a player, when you compare him to others as people start to grow expectations that are not good for a player at that age," Nagelsmann told reporters ahead of Sunday's showdown with Eintracht Frankfurt.

"In regards to his physique and the way he plays, he is similar to Romelu Lukaku. And we would be happy if he can manage to become a player with the same qualities. But to paint a picture for the fans, you can definitely say that he is similar to Lukaku. But it is a great wish of ours that he can develop himself in a similar way and that he will be able to become as important for the European football [as Lukaku].

"If that will be the case, then our scouting department has made a great decision. We will cross our fingers for that to happen. But please don't start saying that he will play just like Lukaku, because this won't be the case."

After Friday's announcement, Brobbey said: "RB Leipzig is a great club and is playing an amazing season. Julian Nagelsmann is a young and very good coach, who I can learn a lot from.

"The team is stable and gives off a strong feeling of unity. I'm looking forward to joining the team and of course want to play my part in helping the club be so successful."

Leipzig are second in the Bundesliga, two points adrift of leaders and defending champions Bayern Munich through 24 rounds.

But Nagelsmann is unwilling to discuss the title race, adding: "I have already mentioned that I do not want to talk about that so much. Last year, we were a bit closer to Bayern or maybe a bit further ahead and we still didn't manage to win the tile and eventually fell behind with a few points difference.

"For us it is about following through with the consistency that we currently have. There are still many games to be played, many points to get but also many points to lose in either direction. We don't gain a lot from just talking about it. We need to try to be the best possible opponent for all the teams we face.

"It is our aim to win every match. I also said on Wednesday after [Champions League fixture against] Liverpool that I find it disrespectful against many others to say that the championship will be decided on the third of April. There are still a few games to go. This would also imply that we will win every game that we come up against. But to do so we will have to go to our limits. It's not like we will win every game with ease and then say: 'It was nice of you to come for a visit. Goodbye and it was obvious that you'll lose'. There's a lot of work to be done with many narrow games. We have seen it against Freiburg where we took a lot of time to find our rhythm needed to win the game.

"Against [Borussia] Gladbach, it took us until the 93rd minute to win. We had a bit of luck against Berlin as well, but have solved it with dominance towards the end and scored the very important second goal. It is not a walk in the park for us. Therefore, it doesn't help us to talk about the aim at the end. We have to be successful from game to game and take them as they come. Now it is Frankfurt and then we will see what will happen at the end.

"Of course, we are happy when coaches or experts are honouring our success but we can't gain anything from that. It is important that we deserve to be where we are after the 34th matchday. Whatever it will be, we will take that into our holiday. In the middle of the season, it is a nice feeling but it doesn’t help us a lot at the moment."

Leipzig's 53 points from 24 games represents their best-ever return at this stage of a Bundesliga season. The club's previous best was 49 points, achieved in both 2016-17 and 2019-20.

Meanwhile, Leipzig have won six consecutive Bundesliga games for the first time since 2019. Their club record stands at eight wins in a row from September to December 2016.

Inter's Serie A title charge remains on course after goals from Romelu Lukaku, Matteo Darmian and Alexis Sanchez sealed a 3-0 win over Genoa at San Siro on Sunday. 

Belgium international Lukaku set them on their way to a fifth consecutive top-flight win with a goal inside the opening minute. 

Antonio Conte's side largely dominated proceedings thereafter, with Nicolo Barella striking the crossbar, and they wrapped up all three points in the second period through Darmian and Sanchez.

The result moved them seven points ahead of second-placed Milan, although Stefano Pioli's side can rein them back in with victory over Roma later on Sunday.

Inter started in blistering fashion, Lukaku firing into Mattia Perin's bottom-right corner from just outside the penalty area after 32 seconds – Inter's second-fastest Serie A goal since Opta started tracking such data in 2004-05.

Darmian clipped wide after 14 minutes, while Barella hit the bar with a long-range effort soon after.

Perin then kept out Lukaku's powerful strike shortly after the half-hour mark as Inter ultimately failed to double their advantage before the interval.

The hosts put the result beyond doubt in the 69th minute when Darmian lashed home his first Serie A goal for the club from 12 yards after being picked out by Lukaku. 

Substitute Sanchez then added gloss to the scoreline 13 minutes from full-time, heading in from close range after Lukaku's effort had been repelled by Perin. 

 

 

 

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."

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."

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. 

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."

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.

Stefano Pioli and Antonio Conte are relishing the prospect of a possible Scudetto shoot-out in Sunday's Derby della Madonnina.

Inter lead Milan by one point at the Serie A summit heading into this weekend's showdown after leapfrogging their bitter rivals last week.

With nine-in-a-row champions Juventus eight points adrift of top spot, albeit with a game in hand to play, the title is looking likely to end up at San Siro this season.

Milan are seeking a first Scudetto since 2011, a year after Inter last prevailed, and Sunday's game may go a long way towards determining who finishes top come the end of the campaign.

It is the first time the sides will meet holding the top two positions in the table since April 2011 and Conte is expecting a unique derby in the behind-closed-doors contest.

"It will be different to the previous derbies because of the teams' high positions - first and second," Conte said at a news conference on Saturday.

"This is very satisfying for the city of Milan. There is a lot at stake, certainly more than just local pride.

"We have to do our best to win the game and stay top of the table. It is an important match. When the table is like this you need to be even more determined."

Milan beat Inter 2-1 in October and are seeking a league double over their city rivals for the first time since 2010-11.

However, Inter won last month's eventful Coppa Italia quarter-final tie by the same scoreline and Pioli is anticipating a cagey affair in this latest tussle.

"Tomorrow we will play a derby like we have not seen for many years, with a lot on the line," Pioli told reporters.

"Both us and Inter have a clear identity. The derbies are always balanced matches with many goalscoring opportunities.

"It is not necessarily decisive for the fate of the championship, but it is important because we have been in the lead all season."

The big talking point from the most recent meeting between the sides was the coming together of Zlatan Ibrahimovic and Romelu Lukaku.

But Conte, who won three titles during his time in charge of Juventus, does not believe tempers will flare this time around.

"It's going to be a match with two teams trying to win and surpass each other," Conte said.

"We must never forget that, even if this is a big game and a derby, it remains a sport. I don't predict much tension in the atmosphere.

Ibrahimovic has scored 10 goals in all competitions in this fixture, including eight for Milan, and Pioli would not swap his striker for Inter star Lukaku.

"I respect Lukaku, but I prefer Ibra," Pioli said. "Tomorrow's game must be a collective effort; we must play as a team. It is the collective that highlights the qualities of the individual.

"We have to play well because we know how to do it, we have the technical qualities."

Asked how his Inter side plan to deal with Ibrahimovic, Conte said: "You neutralise threats by working as a team and reducing the errors.

"Ibrahimovic is a top player who is doing very well for Milan. He has already scored against us this season, but that doesn't necessarily mean he will score again."

Milan have lost three league games since the start of 2021 - one more than over the whole of 2020 - and were held 2-2 by Red Star Belgrade in the Europa League on Thursday.

Pioli, who has constantly played down his side's title aspirations, accepted an improvement is required on the back of some below-par displays.

"We did not raise our levels against Red Star - even the defensive phase did not see us as solid and compact," he said.

"Tomorrow we must be very careful and determined. Our goal is to give the best, then we'll see what we've achieved at the end of the season."

Romelu Lukaku answered any recent criticism aimed in his direction against Lazio and Christian Eriksen is starting to understand what Inter require of him, says Nerazzurri coach Antonio Conte.

Inter bowed out of the Coppa Italia at the semi-final stage after a goalless draw at Juventus ensured a 2-1 aggregate defeat, but a 3-1 triumph over Lazio on Sunday saw Conte's side leapfrog rivals Milan at the top of Serie A.

Lukaku scored twice in the first half to move on to 300 career goals, and Lautaro Martinez was on target after Gonzalo Escalante had replied for the visitors at San Siro.

Speaking about the Belgium striker's showing, Conte told Sky Sport: "Romelu, like the whole team, gave a great response. Lautaro did, so did Ivan Perisic, the defenders, Marcelo Brozovic. They all stepped up.

"Some were starting to murmur about Lukaku after the Coppa Italia and a few lacklustre performances, suggesting he had some psychological blowback from that, but there are moments when you are not at 100 per cent.

"He came back firing on all cylinders and we need this Romelu. We need this determination and passion from everyone in the team."

Eriksen signed from Tottenham amid much fanfare in January 2020 but struggled to hit the ground running and was heavily linked with an exit last month.

However, the Denmark playmaker stayed put and has since impressed, something Conte puts down to becoming familiar with the requirements of Italian football.

"I think Christian had a few problems settling in, understanding Italian football, which is very difficult and tactical compared to the Premier League. There is also a far greater intensity now than in previous years here," Conte added.

"We tried in every way to settle him in, even changing tactical system. I think now he has made a step towards us, is starting to understand Italian, which is an important development too. He is understanding what we need.

"Eriksen was very focused when defending as well as attacking. He has a different power to his leg now after the fitness work.

"He's an extra option for us and I am more comfortable relying on him now."

Next up for Inter is a huge derby clash with Milan, a match that is sure to have huge ramifications on the outcome of the Scudetto.

Conte is relishing the challenge after seeing off a Lazio side that had won six straight league games.

"This was an objective we'd been chasing for a long time, to get to the top of the table, we achieved it after a game against a very strong team," he added.

"I congratulate Lazio and Simone Inzaghi, as they are tough, organised and with a lot of quality.

"The fact they were coming off six consecutive victories shows their strength, but at the same time it shows our mental strength.

"I am happy for the lads, inevitably this must be a starting point for us and not the finish line. We know the next game is the derby with Milan, going into it ahead is obviously much better.

"It's going to be a fascinating game between two teams who have strong ambitions."

Romelu Lukaku scored twice and assisted another to help Inter to a 3-1 win over Lazio that lifted Antonio Conte's men above bitter rivals Milan to the top of Serie A.

Milan's shock 2-0 loss to Spezia on Saturday opened the door for Inter and they pounced at San Siro on Sunday, taking a one-point lead into next weekend's huge Derby della Madonnina.

Lazio were furious with the awarding of Inter's 22nd-minute penalty as replays appeared to show Wesley Hoedt, drafted in after Stefan Radu was injured in the warm-up, got some of the ball before taking out Lautaro Martinez.

Lukaku converted and added a second ahead of half-time with the assistance of VAR, before teeing up Martinez to seal the points after Gonzalo Escalante had given Lazio some temporary hope.

There had been little between the sides prior to the controversial penalty call, with the VAR standing by referee Michael Fabbri's decision to point to the spot for Hoedt's challenge on Martinez.

Lukaku sent Pepe Reina the wrong way to extend his perfect penalty record in Serie A to 10 from 10, and the Belgium international did not have to wait long for the landmark 300th career goal for club and country.

It had an element of fortune about it as Marcelo Brozovic slid in on Manuel Lazzari and the ball ricocheted into the striker's path, though it took a lengthy VAR check to ascertain that Lukaku was level with the last man when the initial pass was played.

Lazio had found the net in each of their past 17 league outings, however, and they kept that run going when Sergej Milinkovic-Savic's free-kick heavily deflected off substitute Escalante and beat Samir Handanovic on his 500th Serie A appearance.

But just when the visitors had some momentum on their side, Lukaku charged down the right, held off Marco Parolo and unselfishly squared the ball for Martinez to tap into an empty net.

Reina denied Lukaku a hat-trick with a good save down low but Inter, knocked out of the Coppa Italia by Juventus in midweek, retained their two-goal cushion to move to the summit.

Romelu Lukaku scored twice in the first half of Inter's Serie A clash with Lazio on Sunday to bring up the 300th goal of his career.

The Belgium striker opened the scoring from the penalty spot at San Siro and added a second late in the opening period - the goal allowed to stand after initially being ruled out for offside.

Lukaku moved onto 56 goals for Inter in all competitions since joining from Manchester United in August 2019, 16 of those coming in the league this season.

That is one fewer than the 27-year-old has scored for his national side at senior level, though he still has some way to go before equalling the 87 netted for Everton between 2013 and 2017.

Lukaku's other goals were scored for United (42), Anderlecht (41) and West Brom (17). He failed to register for Chelsea, despite spending three years on the London club's books - two of those out on loan - and making 15 appearances.

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