Simone Inzaghi scoffed at the idea of this being a "transition year" for Inter as the reigning Serie A champions showed they are firmly in the title hunt again.

Wholesale change at San Siro has not affected the Nerazzurri's ambition, and a 2-0 win at Venezia ramped up pressure on early front-runners Napoli and Milan.

Inzaghi arrived in the close season to replace Scudetto-winning boss Antonio Conte, while star men Romelu Lukaku and Achraf Hakimi left in big-money transfers. Christian Eriksen has been unavailable since suffering a cardiac arrest at Euro 2020 while on Denmark duty.

Inter appear to have chosen shrewdly by bringing in Inzaghi from Lazio as head coach, while players such as Hakan Calhanoglu and Edin Dzeko have been acquired too.

Calhanoglu's fourth goal of the season – matching his Serie A haul for previous club Milan last term – put Inter on their way against Venezia, before Lautaro Martinez made sure with a stoppage-time penalty.

For Calhanoglu, this was the third successive Serie A game in which he has scored, the first time he has achieved that feat.

Inter duly moved within a point of Napoli and Milan, who are in action on Sunday, and Inzaghi said: "Some people said this was supposed to be a transition year to rebuild. I came in and the club helped me in everything. These players are magnificent and I think we're getting better by the day. We have to keep going like this.

"I'm coaching a group of great players and great men. We got straight down to work in the summer and despite losing Lukaku, Hakimi and Eriksen, we brought in players suited to the way we want to play. Now we're continuing to grow one step at a time."

 

Inter were dominant and deserved winners at Stadio Pier Luigi Penzo, capping a week in which they made sure of their place in the Champions League knockout stage by beating Shakhtar Donetsk. They also beat Napoli last weekend, inflicting a first league defeat of the season on Luciano Spalletti's men.

"It's a great period for us and this was a big week," Inzaghi said, quoted on Inter's website.

"We played some lovely football and the only downside was we couldn't get the second goal to put it to bed earlier. Leaving the game open against a dangerous, well-drilled side like Venezia is always risky. But it was our third game in a short space of time and the lads did a fantastic job."

There were drawbacks to the win in Venice, with Inzaghi reporting Matteo Darmian suffered a "twinge in his thigh".

"Hopefully it's nothing serious. He's a very important player for us," Inzaghi said.

And Calhanoglu came off early in the second half having needed a thigh massage during the interval.

Inzaghi said the Turkish midfielder was "doing brilliantly" for Inter, adding: "After three consecutive games I didn't want to risk him so I took him off 10 minutes into the second half."

Inter moved back to within a point of Napoli and Milan thanks to a 2-0 win at Venezia on Saturday, as Hakan Calhanoglu scored in a third consecutive Serie A game for the first time in his career.

Simone Inzaghi's men defeated leaders Napoli last weekend to boost their title defence, and they never looked like dropping points in Venice.

Venezia, who were chasing a third successive Serie A win for the first time since 1962, failed to impose themselves in the first half and deservedly trailed at the break to Calhanoglu's low drive.

Only Bayern Munich and Liverpool had scored more goals than Inter across the top five European leagues before the weekend. While that did not translate to a free-scoring exhibition this time, Inter finished Venezia off with a late Lautaro Martinez penalty to keep pressure on the top two ahead of their Sunday outings.

Despite dominating, Inter did not threaten the Venezia goal until the 30th minute when Sergio Romero leapt across his goal to keep Ivan Perisic's header out.

Romero was helpless soon after, however, as Calhanoglu squeezed a skidding 25-yard shot just inside the left post.

Venezia almost levelled with their very first shot five minutes later, with Samir Handanovic tipping Mattia Aramu's long-range piledriver over the crossbar.

Aramu went close from distance again just after the break, this time just missing the top-left corner after cutting in from the right wing.

Inter woke up again as Edin Dzeko tested Romero, before Ridgeciano Haps cleared a Milan Skriniar header off the line to keep Venezia in the game.

Romero made several more fine saves, but the visitors finally got the clincher at the death. Haps was deemed to have committed a handball in the box and Martinez confidently dispatched the resulting spot-kick.

If you want a true renaissance team, one that epitomises a city, look no further than Venezia.

From bankruptcy and the lower echelons of Italian football to a global fashion icon, the small side from the iconic city of Venice are the club on so many lips, attracting worldwide interest.

A football team on the water, literally, Venezia are setting trends with their must-have kits as they enjoy life back in Serie A for the first time in almost two decades, but it has not been an easy road for I Leoni Alati – the Winged Lions–, who resided in the depths of Serie D just five years ago.

Founded in 1907 and with their most significant achievement to date being victory in the 1940-41 Coppa Italia, Venezia were relegated from Serie B in 2005 and went bankrupt.

Businessman owner Maurizio Zamparini had left for Palermo in 2002, taking with him 12 players in a move dubbed locally as the "furto di Pergini" – the "theft of Pergine".

Venezia were re-founded twice – at the end of the 2008-09 and 2014-15 seasons – having been declared insolvent on both occasions. It led to the 2015 arrival of a group of American investors, and while they have been in the ascendency at Stadio Pier Luigi Penzo ever since, Venezia have soared to new heights under president Duncan Niederauer.

A former CEO of the New York Stock Exchange, Niederauer arrived in early 2020 and it coincided with Venezia going from Serie B battlers to Serie A newcomers after a breathtaking and dramatic play-off in May of this year, which led to the Venetian version of a street party – fans jumping into the canals and players celebrating on gondolas.

 In an interview with Stats Perform, Niederauer – whose Venezia have five points from seven rounds to start the 2021-22 campaign – said: "When we took over in early 2020, I think step one was just to survive in Serie B to be perfectly honest. The team was struggling in the second division. Then last season, from the outset, I thought we would be very, very competitive. I thought we built a very good team. I don't think the experts agreed with me, but we declared early in the season last year that I thought we could compete for a spot in the play-offs. The team backed that up and was really in the play-off discussion all season.

"Somewhat unexpectedly to just about everybody, we got through the play-off battles. One of the things we hoped to accomplish was to get to Serie A in two-three years. We're kind of a couple of years ahead of schedule. The good news is you're ahead of schedule. The other news when you're in Serie A for the first time in two decades, you probably don't have the infrastructure that you need, you don't have the organisational construct that you need and that was certainly true for us. While it's been very exciting to be in the first division, we've had a lot of work to do to try to get ourselves prepared as a team and organisation to be in the first division. That's where a lot of the focus was spent on in the summer. We had to upgrade the stadium, we had to add to the organisation and re-think the roster to be competitive in Serie A while respecting our approach and budget."

Venezia captured the attention of millions with their last-gasp play-off win over Cittadella – Paolo Zanetti's men were down a man and trailing 1-0 after 36 minutes, and appeared destined for another season in the second tier.

But, with virtually the last kick of the game, Riccardo Bocalon's strike three minutes into stoppage time salvaged a 1-1 draw and a 2-1 aggregate win to send Venezia back to Serie A for the first time since 2001-02.

It sparked wild scenes on the pitch as Niederauer celebrated promotion with Venezia. While the team exceeded expectations externally, their president always believed.

"We have a really different philosophy with this team. Our culture is very much one of a family. I was discouraged by many others from getting close to the players," Niederauer said. "I was told if you get close to the players, it will cloud your judgement and it won't work. I fundamentally disagree with that in any business I've ever run. If you take care of your people, they can do great things, right?

"I remember saying to the players early in the season, 'Just to be clear, I work for you, you don't work for me. You tell me what you need to be successful, I just want to clear all the clutter so you can play.' They really took it to heart and they knew they could count on me. I think what you saw was a group of guys, who throughout the season, believed more and more in themselves. It culminated in that evening in late May... the players on the field, I said, 'Guys, that was unbelievable'. They said, 'Pres, not really, that's what family does'. We didn't want the story to be about Pasquale Mazzocchi's red card but about our promotion to Serie A... I thought that was a pretty strong culture which benefited a lot.

"To be there in person. It's a weekend, my wife and I, we will never forget. It's our favourite city in the world. We were there together the night of the match. I held it together surprisingly well until I saw her on the field and then I burst into tears because I think I was just so proud of them for what they did. If you watch the celebration, it's not a group of people who sort of like each other, sort of know each other, it's a family celebrating a shared success. Lots of tears and joy. If I had a do-over, I don't think I'd jump in the canal again, but at the moment, the players were doing it and seemed like the right thing to do. We had been in it together, so how could I not do it? It was a surreal experience. The celebration over the weekend... I said to my wife, when we don't remember each other's names, we will remember floating down the canal during that parade because it's like no other celebration in the world. It's a long emotional answer, but it was a really, really special evening."

Having stepped into the precarious world of Italian football, Niederauer added: "People ask me, what other sporting ventures are you going to do in Europe and the answer is none. Our second home is in Italy. My wife and I spend a lot of time in Italy. Venice has been our favourite city for a long time.

"When the opportunity came up to do this and do something special for these kids and this city, I don't think we would've done this anywhere else to be honest. I wasn't on the hunt for a football team to run from the United States. I just thought all the stars aligned and it seemed like an opportunity to do something really, really special. The pay-off was watching these young men perform above everyone's expectations except ours. I said to them at the start of the season, 'Guys, you're really, really good. Don't let anyone tell you you're not good. You're a good team and if you play for each other like family plays for each other, you can do spectacular things this year.' That's what happened, it's not any more complicated than that."

Fast forward to this season and Venezia are riding an unprecedented wave. During the 2020-21 campaign, their popular Nike jerseys – both home and away – were a hot commodity, despite the team being a relative minnow.

But at a time when the jersey industry is booming, and fashion and football more entwined than ever, Venezia have hit record heights since switching to Italian manufacturer Kappa. All three jerseys – now collectors' items – were swiftly sold out.

While a strategic plan to turn heads on and off the pitch, it's something not even Niederauer could have anticipated following the collaboration with a brand closely tied to Italian football.

"If you're in the city like Venice which is at the centre of art, fashion and history, I think it's incumbent on us to do our best to have the club aligned with the virtues of the city and the strengths of the city," Niederauer said as he discussed the global branding and fashion-forward identity ahead of Monday's clash with Fiorentina.

"Step number two which was a little less obvious, I like and respect Nike a lot. The current CEO is someone I've known for a long time. In fairness to Nike, we weren't big enough as a small second division club in Italy that had not been particularly well run previously. I don't blame them for not spending a lot of time with us. If I'm honest, I probably would've made the same decision if I were Nike. It seemed like it was time for us to find a partner that was closer to home who we could really collaborate with and almost co-author the designs.

"I thought this year was a really, really important year to make a statement. We left it to the design team and the design team collaborated with Kappa. It was a little bit rushed, but you see the results of what they produced... we're about to drop the fourth jersey in a couple of weeks here. All three we have released are all in the top 20 globally. That was purposeful. I don't know if we will hit all the right tones again every year, but for this year, I thought it was really important we take some risks and go over the top to design something special. Kudos to the design teams. I had basically nothing to do with it except turn them loose. What I like about the third and fourth jerseys, both were down in collaboration with foundations which support sustainability in Venice. We think part of our purpose as a club is we have to be part of the community and part of the city. Venice is obviously beautiful but not without its challenges with climate change. Proceeds from the third and fourth jersey go towards those organisations. We've tried to position ourselves as a global brand. It's early, early days but the jerseys are helping us do that. Now it will come down to can we perform in Serie A and stick around for a while?"

A few years ahead of schedule, now is when Niederauer's ambitious plan of turning Venezia into a viable business clicks into gear, with the former Goldman Sachs banker leaning on his financial background as the club learn from past mistakes.

"Our philosophy is you do your best to leave every situation better than when you found it. That's already been accomplished. I think our next objective is to build a sustainable club that, I don't think is competing for Champions League in the next few years, but at least is a club that you come into every season not solely focused on salvation," he said, with Venezia since signing former Manchester United and Argentina goalkeeper Sergio Romero as the club benefit from the picturesque city as a recruiting tool.

"You come into the season where you're expected to be a mid-table team. A mid-table team in Serie A given our investment approach and how we identify players, we have a long way to go to be as great as Atalanta have become at this. But if you built the foundation in the youth academy that we're doing and on your first team, and if you can get to that point where you're mid-table pretty predictable, I think we can run quite a profitable and sustainable franchise. We wouldn't look beyond that yet. We would have another decision to make. It would be arrogant to start thinking of those things before we prove ourselves. The next three years is about proving that the model works, proving we can stay in Serie A, proving that we can be a mid-table team and then hopefully start to reap all the seeds we planted in the youth academies, which were grossly underinvested."

The plan for Venezia goes beyond the first team, with the increased infrastructure leading to the establishment of their first ever women's team on top of a revamped stadium and facilities – a new headquarters set to open next September – as Niederauer bets on the future.

Niederauer – whose Venezia could draw three consecutive Serie A games for the first time since April 1962 – added: "You have to be conscious about the past because if you don't look back a bit to understand what you can learn from history, you're making a big mistake. Our approach was really simple and I think we were fortunate in the pandemic because as a Serie B team who weren't really drawing a lot of fans and didn't have a global brand, the revenue that ticket sales and merchandise were accounting for before we really organised and set ourselves on a better path, was small enough that it didn't poke a big hole in our boat last year. Our salaries were well under control – I think we had the 13th or 14th highest payroll in Serie B. We are pretty thoughtful about it. Our approach this season hasn't changed too much. We obviously want to be competitive and would like to stay, so you're willing to spend a bit of money to do that. I would bet you that our payroll is the lowest in the league. I would bet you our coach is not only the youngest coach but probably one of the lowest paid, but we think he is one of the best and that's why he has a four-year contract. We believe in him and are willing to bet on him. The players deserve continuity. We're not the type that would change coaches if the team isn't performing. That's on us more than it's on him – we are the ones that assembled the roster. It's up to Zanetti to do the best he can with it.

"We didn't overspend. We stuck to our strategy – we find young talented players. We did spend a little money acquiring some of them? Yes. My background would suggest that if you buy undervalued assets in the long run, as long as you take a long view, your returns will be just fine. That's what we convey in every decision. These are long-term investments. We didn't panic when we lost the first two games of the season. When you have a strategy, you don't divert from it and you don't let your emotions get the best of you. I don't find it that complicated. We have a challenge ahead of us. Serie A is a great league but I think we've built a really good roster. We're improving with every match. I like our chances of surviving and then the sky is the limit after that."

 

"Last year, at the start of the season, in Italian football everyone talks about salvation," he continued, with Venezia boasting the youngest player in Serie A this season with at least one goal and one assist – 19-year-old American sensation Gianluca Busio. "I said, 'Guys, I know I'm going to sound a lot like Ted Lasso here, I apologise, but we're not going to talk about salvation'. And they're like, 'Pres, what do you mean? We all talk about salvation.' I said, 'I'm going to stand up and say you're a play-off team, I believe that you are. I believe you will be in the conversation for promotion this year. So if that's our goal, why would we talk about salvation? We're not going to talk about salvation, I don't want you talking about it in your interviews and I won't in my interviews other than to dismiss it.' They were completely confused.

"At the beginning of this season, I said, 'I'm not a hypocrite, but this year we talk about salvation. This year it would not be realistic not to talk about salvation. So this year it's OK to talk about salvation.' But last year, we did not say a word about it on purpose because I thought our ambition should not just be about to survive but to win. I think they got it. It's a little bit unorthodox for Italy, but I think we have a few people starting to mimic what we're doing.

"There's a lot of people betting on this project and I like our chances, if we can stick to the long-term view and not waver from it, I really like what we're building here."

Steve Bruce's days at Newcastle appear to be numbered.

Rumours of possible replacements are swirling, with plenty of managers having been mentioned. 

Frank Lampard may well lead the race.

 

TOP STORY – LAMPARD FAVOURED TO REPLACE BRUCE

Frank Lampard is the leading candidate to step in once Steve Bruce is inevitably shown the door at Newcastle, The Sun reports. 

The Telegraph claims Lampard and former Borussia Dortmund boss Lucien Favre top the new owners' wish list.

The 43-year-old Lampard was sacked by Chelsea in January 2021, about six weeks after Favre, 63, left Dortmund. 

 

ROUND-UP

- Liverpool are keeping a close eye on Ousmane Dembele, who is out of contract at Barcelona at the end of the season, Mundo Deportivo reports.

- Dortmund and RB Leipzig are the top potential landing spots for 19-year-old Salzburg striker Karim Adeyemi, reports Sky Sport Germany.

- Feyenoord will make another effort to prise Amad Diallo from Manchester United in January, according to The Sun, after a potential loan move fell through due to injury during the last transfer window. 

- Club Brugge and Belgium midfielder Charles De Ketelaere is drawing interest from Milan and Napoli, says Calciomercato, with Everton and West Ham also monitoring the 20-year-old.

- Former Manchester United goalkeeper Sergio Romero is expected to finalise his deal with Venezia on Tuesday, reports Fabrizio Romano. 

Stefano Pioli felt Milan demonstrated their strength in depth in a 2-0 Serie A victory over Venezia at San Siro.

Pioli rung the changes following the draw with Juventus on Sunday, with Fode Ballo-Toure coming into a new-look defence for his first start.

The Rossoneri dominated possession but did not register a shot on target until Brahim Díaz turned in a first-time cross from substitute Theo Hernandez midway through the second half.

Marauding full-back Hernandez, who came on along with Fikayo Tomori and Alexis Saelemaekers just before the hour-mark, doubled Milan's advantage eight minutes from time as they moved level on points with leaders and fierce rivals Inter.

It had been a frustrating evening for Milan until Diaz struck with his third goal of the season but Pioli believes they showed the progress they have made, with key men absent once again.

The Milan head coach said: "The team broke [Venezia down] by playing a game with intelligence and clarity, continuing to push and create. We have more than one quality player and they are used to win games."

He added: "I disagree that we were not brilliant in the first half, just a little bit of quality was lacking. I am not surprised by the players who have not played much so far, they are all strong.

"Importantly, it means that the team is there and is fine, they believe in it [his approach] and play. We are only at the beginning, I have a very deep squad, apart from a few too many injuries at the moment. They are all players who can help the team."

Pioli knows there is plenty of room for improvement after his side made it four wins out of five games without defeat in Serie A this season.

"In the first half we lacked precision but we managed it in the second half playing with intensity and attention," he said.

"In many things you can improve. All the matches give us interesting ideas, there are many situations where we can grow "

Pioli revealed Zlatan Ibrahimovic, Olivier Giroud and Simon Kjaer are making progress with their recoveries from injury, but he is unsure if they will be fit to face Spezia on Saturday.

Hernandez became the first Milan defender to have both scored and delivered an assist in a Serie A game since Opta collected such data (2004-05), finding the back of the net with a sweet strike.

Milan moved level on points with Inter at the top of Serie A after Theo Hernandez came off the bench to inspire a 2-0 win over Venezia.

Stefano Pioli rung the changes following the draw with Juventus on Sunday and the Rossoneri endured a frustrating evening until Hernandez set up Brahim Diaz for the opening goal midway through the second half.

Neither side had registered a shot on target until Diaz volleyed home from point-blank range at San Siro on Wednesday, but Hernandez added a second goal to seal all three points.

Victory for Milan continued their impressive start to the Serie A season despite being depleted by injuries, with this their fourth win out of five matches without defeat.

Riccardo Bocalon's last-gasp goal confirmed Venezia's promotion to Serie A, as they claimed a 2-1 aggregate victory over Cittadella in the Serie B play-off.

Venezia were last in Serie A in 2001-02, but having led 1-0 from the first leg, their hopes of a return to the top flight were dented when Federico Proia scored in the 26th minute to put Cittadella ahead on Thursday.

Indeed, their chances appeared to be slim as Cittadella piled on the pressure, with the visitors mustering 16 attempts in total, with five – including their goal – on target.

But a battling Venezia performance, which also included Mattia Aramu, who had already been subbed off, being sent off for foul language, came good in the 93rd minute when Bocalon struck to secure a long-awaited return to the big time.

Venezia, who finished fifth in Serie B, follow Empoli and second-placed Salernitana into the top tier for the 2021-22 campaign.

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