Roma & AC Milan Ban Corriere Dello Sport Over ‘Black Friday’ Headline as Chris Smalling Speaks Out

Both AS Roma and AC Milan have issued a ban on Corriere dello Sport, in response to a racially insensitive headline from Italian newspaper regarding stars Chris Smalling and Romelu Lukaku.

The front page headline on Thursday’s edition of Corriere dello Sport read ‘Black Friday’, accompanied by pictures of in-form ex-Man Utd teammates Lukaku and Smalling, who are set to face each other when Inter and Roma play on Friday.

The headline sparked a backlash, with the two clubs issuing statements criticising the publication. However, Corriere dello Sport defended its choice of words, ​taking aim at ‘casual moralists’ in response.

Now Roma and ​AC Milan have issued a joint statement banning Corriere dello Sport from their training grounds and media activities with players for the rest of the month.

The joint statement, found on the ​clubs’ websites, reads: “We believe that players, clubs, supporters and the media must be united in the fight against racism in football and we all have a responsibility to be very precise in the words we choose and the messages we deliver.

“In response to the ‘Black Friday’ headline published today by the newspaper, Milan and Roma have decided to ban Corriere dello Sport from our training facilities for the rest of the year and our players will not carry out any media activities with the newspaper during this period.

“Both clubs are aware that the actual newspaper article associated with the ‘Black Friday’ headline did portray an anti-racist message and for this reason, we have only banned Corriere dello Sport until January.”

Lukaku’s agent Federico Pastorello said he was ‘ashamed’ to read the headline, while Smalling released his own statement on social media, calling it ‘wrong and highly insensitive’.

Lukaku and Smalling previously played together at Manchester United, prior to their summer moves to Serie A. 

Both have started the 2019/20 season well, with Lukaku scoring ten in 13 starts in Serie A so far this season, while Chris Smalling has received plaudits for his own high standards.

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Inter & Roma Condemn Corriere dello Sport Headline Featuring Romelu Lukaku & Chris Smalling

​Serie A clubs Inter and Roma have both condemned the ‘Black Friday’ headline used by newspaper Corriere dello Sport ahead of the game between the two teams on Friday night.

The headline is accompanied by pictures of Romelu Lukaku and Chris Smalling and was met with immediate criticism upon its release.

While the two sides have issued statements criticising the publication, Corriere dello Sport defended the headline, taking aim at ‘casual moralists’ in response.


“The intention of the newspaper article was actually positive,” Roma’s chief strategy officer Paul Rogers said, as quoted by ​BBC Sport. “But this headline has totally overshadowed the anti-racist message contained within the story.”

In response, Corriere dello Sport ​argued: “White, blacks, yellows. To negate every difference is the typical massive error of ‘the racism of the anti-racisms’.

“The mental rabble of those casual moralists. ‘Black Friday’, for those who want and can understand it, it was only a way to celebrate diversity.

“If you don’t understand, it is because you can’t or you don’t want to understand.”


The article is actually about the upcoming clash between Lukaku and Smalling on Friday, with that single battle thought to be of importance. 

While Corriere may argue readers should not leap to condemn them, racism in football has come to the fore over the past year or so – with a number of incidents occurring in Italy – and the headline has rightly been received poorly.

Fellow Serie A giants Milan have also weighed in, ​stating: “It is totally unacceptable to see such casual ignorance on racism. We will not stay silent on this issue…”

Paris Saint Germain v Manchester United - UEFA Champions League Round of 16 Second Leg

​Lukaku and Smalling previously played together at ​Manchester United, prior to their summer moves to ​Serie A. Both have started the 2019/20 season well – Lukaku has rediscovered his scoring touch while Smalling is enjoying his best run of form in years, with some even suggesting he should be recalled to Gareth Southgate’s England squad.

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Transfer Rumours: Guardiola Wants Martinez, Spurs Eye Godfrey, Atletico Keen on Werner & More

​It’s somehow already December 2019…but on the plus side, it means that there is officially under one month until the January transfer window opens!

Yes, Amazon Prime may have have become the first streaming service to broadcast a live top-flight English game on Tuesday evening. And yes, Rodri may have scored an absolute thunderbolt that had Nick Pope frightened for his life on the very same evening. Oh, Lionel Messi also won his sixth Ballon d’Or…

But, that’s nothing compared to some hot #Gossip. So, let’s not dilly dally, here’s your latest dose…


Pep Guardiola Wants Lautaro Martinez to be Aguero’s Long-Term Replacement

FBL-COPA AMERICA-2019-VEN-ARG

​Inter’s Lautaro Martinez has been in scintillating form in 2019/20, having already found the net on 13 occasions. As a result of his fine performances, he has attracted plenty of interest from, most notably, Barcelona.  

However, Sky Sports in Italy (​via Calciomercato) are now reporting that ​Manchester City have now joined the race for the Argentine. The report states that manager Pep Guardiola sees the forward as the long-term heir to his national counterpart ​Sergio Aguero.

Spare a thought for Gabriel Jesus, who scored two sublime goals on Tuesday evening and continues to find the net with great regularity when given the opportunity. 

Either way, Barça are continuing to show an interest in the player, with sporting director Eric Abidal previously confirming that the club are monitoring his situation, while it has also ​been reported that the 22-year-old is a top transfer target for La Blaugrana. 


Belgians Reunion?

Belgium v Kazakhstan - UEFA Euro 2020 Qualifier

Staying with Inter, they continue to be linked with Napoli forward ​Dries Mertens. It was reported back in November that the 32-year-old ​had agreed personal terms with I Nerazzurri and was ‘one step’ away from joining the club for the 2020/21 season, with his contract at ​Napoli due to expire next summer. 

Belgian outlet Het Nieuwsblad (​via FCInter1908) claim that the Milan side are still keen on bringing him to the club and reuniting him with Belgium national teammate Romelu Lukaku. The report further states that manager Antonio Conte has been an admirer of the attacker for a while now and attempted to sign him during his spell at Chelsea – but he was unable to.

The report further alludes to the growing interest in Martinez, which Inter are certainly aware of. 


Mourinho Eyes…a Defender?

Ben Godfrey

No, no, you did read that right. Jose Mourinho is indeed considering a move for Norwich City defender Ben Godfrey. Well, that’s according to ​Football Insider, anyway.

The Special One has won his first three games in charge of ​Tottenham, with his side scoring ten goals in that time. However, he has also witnessed his side concede twice on each occasion, which may not best please him.

While he will have been delighted to finally be able to work with Toby Alderweireld, after numerous years of trying to land the Belgian, he will be fully aware of the contract situation in north London.

The Football Insider’s report states that the Lilywhites enquired about the 21-year-old in the summer before he signed a new long-term deal. Nonetheless, they are continuing to keep tabs on the player and he is ‘firmly on their radar’ as the winter window fast approaches.


Atletico Considering Move for Goalscoring Machine

Timo Werner

​Atletico Madrid have played 15 games in La Liga this season. In this time, they have scored 16 goals.

Timo Werner has played 13 games in the Bundesliga this season. In this time, he has scored 13 goals. 

According to ​COPE, the Spanish side are keen to freshen up their attacking options and are keen to bring in the free-scoring Werner. The report claims that Werner will not be allowed to leave for less than €60m, while it further states that the ‘only question’ is whether Atleti will look to make a move in January or wait until the summer.

This is largely dependent on the future of Diego Costa, who is injured until February. COPE note that the ageing forward has ‘very interesting’ offers from Brazil and Qatar. 


Fiorentina Considering Can, Kessie & Fofana as Italians Search for ‘Strong’ Midfielder 

Emre Can

Fiorentina certainly know what they are looking for in January.

​Sky Sports in Italy are reporting that they are targeting a ‘strong’ midfielder, who can improve the physicality of the team. Right, ok.

More specifically, they are considering Juventus’ ​Emre Can, Milan’s Franck Kessie and Udinese’s Seko Fofana. The report claims that although Fiorentina are keen on signing Can, a deal appears very complicated. The German has made two starts in Serie A for I Bianconeri this season and is certainly struggling under Maurizio Sarri.

As for Kessie, Sky Sports’ report once again describes a potential move as ‘complicated’. But, a deal for Fofana is considered ‘the easiest to reach’.


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Creating a Ballon d’Or for Defenders & Deciding Who Would Have Won it

​It’s been a remarkable year for Virgil van Dijk, putting in arguably the best defensive displays in these 12 months this century (and when you see the state of football before that, probably all time).

There was certainly momentum that wasn’t far short of a campaign for him to scoop either of FIFA’s The Best award or the Ballon d’Or.

Unfortunately for him, ​football is above giving awards to defenders, and Lionel Messi won both instead. Good. Justice has been served.

But that got us thinking – if defenders are so unlikely to win major awards, shouldn’t they have some kind of Yachine Trophy of their own? 90min looks back through the archives and looks at who would be on the podium for such an award.


2007 – John Terry

1 –  John Terry (Chelsea & England)

2 – Alessandro Nesta (Milan & Italy)

3 – Paulo Maldini (Milan & Italy)

John Terry

By this point a double Premier League champion, it was hard to argue that John Terry wasn’t the best defender in the world while in his prime. 

Despite missing out to Manchester United in Chelsea’s quest for a third successive title, he still managed to win the FA Cup and League Cup.

The Blues conceded just 24 Premier League goals in the 2006/07 season to boot, and were also denied a spot in the Champions League final on penalties against Liverpool.


2008 – Nemanja Vidic

1 – Nemanja Vidic (Manchester United & Serbia)

2 – John Terry (Chelsea & England)

3 – Rio Ferdinand (Manchester United & England)

Manchester United's Serbian player Neman

Rivalling Terry for that late-2000s ‘best bastard’ mantra were the duo at Manchester United, but Rio Ferdinand was definitively inferior to his compatriot, so the remaining challenger was Nemanja Vidic.

After winning a Premier League and Champions League double, the Serbian was becoming well-renowned for his no-nonsense style, as United powered there way through England and Europe in 2008.


2009 – Dani Alves

1 – Dani Alves (Barcelona & Brazil)

2 – Carles Puyol (Barcelona & Spain)

3 – Nemanja Vidic (Manchester United & Serbia)

Barcelona´s Brazilian defender Dani Alve

The first defender on​ this list who’s not really a defender, but hey, that’s the way football’s been going. Attacking is defending, go figure.

People knew about how good Dani Alves was at Sevilla, but his transfer to Barcelona at the start of the 2008/09 season propelled him to superstardom – the finest right-back of his generation had arrived.


2010 – Lucio

1 – Lucio (Inter & Brazil)

2 – Maicon (Inter & Brazil)

3 – Carles Puyol (Barcelona & Spain)

Lucio

The clamour for Spain and Barca’s centre-back partnership of Carles Puyol and Gerard Pique​ was in full swing in 2010, but Lucio’s prominence as Inter’s best defender in the Champions League-winning campaign is too hard to ignore.

A shoutout should go to Maicon, whose perception of just how good he was went up in flames as soon as he met Gareth Bale that year, while Carles Puyol was the commanding figure at the heart of Spain’s first World Cup triumph.


2011 – Eric Abidal

1 – Eric Abidal (Barcelona & France)

2 – Dani Alves (Barcelona & Brazil)

3 – Thiago Silva (Milan & Brazil)

Barcelona's French defender Eric Abidal

Playing 41 games for the best team of the world and possibly all time when you’ve had a liver transplant to beat cancer? This isn’t sentiment, this is recognising an absolutely astonishing achievement. Nothing more needs to be said.


2012 – Sergio Ramos

1 – Sergio Ramos (Real Madrid & Spain)

2 – Philipp Lahm (Bayern & Germany)

3 – Leonardo Bonucci (Juventus & Italy)

Spanish defender Sergio Ramos poses with

His first whole year as a​ full-time centre-back, Sergio Ramos stepped up and proved to be one of the world’s finest footballers – just ignore that hilarious penalty vs Bayern Munich in the Champions League.

Jose Mourinho had found his man to lead the defence, to play on the front foot where possible and organise a lower block when needed. Alongside club rival Gerard Pique, a formidable partnership was formed as Spain romped their way to another European Championship.


2013 – Philipp Lahm

1 – Philipp Lahm (Bayern & Germany)

2 – Jerome Boateng (Bayern & Germany)

3 – David Alaba (Bayern & Austria)

Philipp Lahm

​After finishing as runners-up in three competitions in 2012, Bayern and Philipp Lahm stepped up to win it all the following year. As captain, Lahm led his side to an unprecedented German football treble.

Jupp Heynckes’ side may be the most underrated of their era considering how dominant their 2012/13 season was, and Lahm’s influence is often lost among football’s modern full-backs.


2014 – Diego Godin

1 – Diego Godin (Atletico Madrid & Uruguay)

2 – Jerome Boateng (Bayern & Germany)

3 – Sergio Ramos (Real Madrid & Spain)

FBL-ESP-LIGA-ATLETICO-EIBAR

​Welcome to the world stage, Atletico Madrid. Diego Godin was the on-pitch embodiment of manager Diego Simeone, as Atleti leapfrogged Real Madrid and Barcelona to win La Liga.

If not for Sergio Ramos, he would’ve scored the goal to win Los Rojiblancos their first European Cup. Alas, history has been written in permanent ink. Tough luck, Diego.


2015 – Giorgio Chiellini

1 – Giorgio Chiellini (Juventus & Italy)

2 – Gerard Pique (Barcelona & Spain)

3 – Dani Alves (Barcelona & Brazil)

FBL-EUR-C1-JUVENTUS-REALMADRID

Everyone knew how good Juventus were in Serie A by 2015, but prior to this year, they hadn’t established themselves as one of Europe’s big boys again. Under Max Allegri’s management, Chiellini took a huge leap to become the world’s best defender. 

They were unfortunate to fall to Barcelona’s three-headed MSN snake in the Champions League final, but they managed to blunt Cristiano Ronaldo and co. along the way – a great feat that’s only second to being ​likened to Rocky Balboa.


2016 – Pepe

1 – Pepe (Real Madrid & Portugal)

2 – Diego Godin (Atletico Madrid & Uruguay)

3 – Giorgio Chiellini (Juventus & Italy)

UEFA Champions League final - "Real Madrid v Atletico Madrid"

Sergio Ramos has grabbed most of Real Madrid’s headlines from defence this decade, and it’s left his reliable partner in crime Pepe without the attention he deserves.

Known generally for ​being a hothead, the Portuguese defender put in some phenomenal displays to win both the Champions League and Euros in the same summer. Please respect him.


2017 – Marcelo

1 – Marcelo (Real Madrid & Brazil)

2 – Leonardo Bonucci (Juventus/Milan & Italy)

3 – Toby Alderweireld (Tottenham Hotspur & Belgium)

Marcelo

Marcelo > Roberto Carlos, and 2017 confirmed it. 

The displays ​he put it in that year were unlike any we’ve ever seen from a full-back, constantly beating his man, constantly causing havoc, constantly positioning himself so high that there was rarely a need to defend.

A real shame for the other two podium-finishers, whose displays as actual defenders were a cut above the rest. But hey, they can go make their own award.


2018 – Raphael Varane

1 – Raphael Varane (Real Madrid & France)

2 – Virgil van Dijk (Liverpool & Netherlands)

3 – Sergio Ramos (Real Madrid & Spain)

Raphael Varane

Raphael Varane looked like a solid defender ever since breaking into Real Madrid’s team as a teenager, but it wasn’t until 2018 that you could say that he had made the jump to become the best in his role – after all, Ramos and Pepe would have already won this award by then.​

The European and World Cups secured in the summer, he even had a semi-decent shout of winning the actual Ballon d’Or, but he’ll have to settle for our work of fiction instead.


2019 – Virgil van Dijk

1 – Virgil van Dijk (Liverpool & Netherlands)

2 – Trent Alexander-Arnold (Liverpool & England)

3 – Andy Robertson (Liverpool & Scotland)

UEFA Champions League"Tottenham Hotspur FC v Liverpool FC"

Virgil. Trent. Andy.

In that order.

Get the flag printed, Reds.​


For more from Sean Walsh, follow him on Twitter!

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90min’s Definitive European Player Power Rankings: Week 15

Football is a funny sport. Teams can be great one week and rubbish the next, and there were sides all over Europe living up to that.

However, there were still some elite performances from around the continent which were just crying out to be ranked using quotes from Fargo. Don’t worry, we’re here to help.

So, are you excited?

Just one word: yes or no.


15. Karim Benzema (Down 8)

Karim Benzema

Because some roads you shouldn’t go down. Because maps used to say, ‘there be dragons here.’ Now they don’t. But that don’t mean the dragons aren’t there.”

It was a quiet week for Benzema, who failed to get himself on the score sheet for ​Real Madrid. He’ll probably do it next week, but the dragon was missing this time around.


14. Gonzalo Higuaín (Down 10)

Gonzalo Higuain

“The shallow end of the pool is where the turds float.”

A tough day for everyone at ​Juventus when they were held by Sassuolo. Higuaín was one of many to disappoint, and his performance belonged down in the shallow end of the pool.


13. Carlos Vinícius (New Entry)

Carlos Vinicius

“Very good. You just added a zero to your salary.”

Vinícius (no, not that one) is tearing it up in Liga NOS. The 24-year-old fired two goals and two assists in Benfica’s 4-0 win over Marítimo, taking his tally for the season to 11 goals in 16 games.

That’s the kind of form which will earn him a tidy payday in the future.


12. Leon Bailey (New Entry)

Leon Bailey

“When it rains, it pours.”

“Sometimes it drizzles.”

Goals haven’t been pouring in for Bailey this season, but he chose a good time to get started. The winger struck twice against ​Bayern Munich to leave the champions stunned. 

Now, if he wants to stop getting injured and/or suspended, maybe things can really get going this year.


11. Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang (Re-Entry)

Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang

“Mister, it’s been a long day.”

“They’re all long. That’s the nature of existence. Life is suffering. I think you’re beginning to understand that.”

“Amen.”

Poor Aubameyang. He’s really putting in a shift this season, but it’s like nobody wants to help him.

Yet again, his goals saved the day for ​Arsenal, but it can’t be fun constantly watching your teammates let you down.


10. Lautaro Martínez (New Entry)

FBL-EUR-C1-SLAVIA PRAGUE-INTER

“At some level, food knows it’s food.”

Martínez is flat-out feasting for ​Inter this year, and his two goals against SPAL to send Inter top of ​Serie A are all the proof you need. 


9. Virgil van Dijk (New Entry)

Virgil Van Dijk

“Saint Lawrence. Patron saint of hard asses. Burned alive by the Romans. You know what he said? ‘Turn me over. I’m done on this side.’ That’s a goddamn saint.”

Van Dijk has been dominating attackers for years, but now he’s started dominating defenders too. Two goals for ​Liverpool made him their saviour against Brighton.


8. Son Heung-min (Up 5)

Heung-Min Son

“This is a community. People watch each other’s backs. Someone gets sick, someone dies, you bring a casserole, help.”

​Son isn’t here for personal glory. He just wants to win matches and have a good time doing so. 

The winger bagged two assists in ​Tottenham’s 3-2 win over Bournemouth, taking his tally to four in three games for José Mourinho. How helpful.


7. Dele Alli (New Entry)

Dele Alli

“The world is wrong. It looks like the world, but everything’s different.”

Something isn’t right here. Is ​Alli actually good again? 

Two goals against Bournemouth suggests he’s back to his best. Crazy what happens when he’s played in his favourite role.


6. Robert Lewandowski (Down 4)

Robert Lewandowski

“Look, you can’t…that’s just how it is, sometimes. Life. You know, you go to bed unsatisfied. They’re calling the lottery numbers on the TV and you get the first few and already in your mind you’re buying a jet or a fjord or whatever, but it’s just not meant to be. It’s just not meant to be.”

When this season started, Lewandowski had dreams of netting in every game of the campaign. He’s now goalless in his last two matches.

It was a shock to see him draw one blank, so two in a row is about as much of a reality check as you can imagine.


5. Timo Werner (Up 5)

Timo Werner

“See? Simple things. Cause and effect, crime and punishment. Mash a potato, you know what you get? Mashed potatoes.”

Another goal, another assist. That’s just what we’ve come to expect from Werner, who knows how to get the job done in front of goal.


4. Lionel Messi (Up 2)

Lionel Messi

“Kill the king, be the king. That’s the world. If you’re feeling sour about it, write a letter to Napoleon.”

The king of world football, ​Messi showed just how brilliant he is yet again as he fired ​Barcelona to a 1-0 win over Atlético Madrid.

It’s almost like he’s trying to win some funky individual prize. A ballon made of or, perhaps.


3. Jamie Vardy (Up 2)

FBL-ENG-PR-LEICESTER-EVERTON

“Look at me. Look at me. This a $200 suit. I’m wearing a second-hand tie. I fly coach. Not because I can’t afford first – because I’m smart. So look at you, look at me, and tell me who’s the richer?”

Vardy continues to be the most normal footballer around, despite smashing goals at an elite level.

That’s six consecutive games with at least one goal for Vardy, who has netted eight times across that period.


2. Hakim Ziyech (Up 1)

Hakim Ziyech

“There was a fella once. Running for a train. And he’s carrying a pair of gloves, this man. He drops a glove on the platform, but he doesn’t notice. And then later on, inside the train, he’s sitting by the window and he realises that he’s just got this one glove left. But the train’s already started pulling out of the station. So what does he do? He opens the window, and he drops the other glove onto the platform. That way, whoever finds the first glove, can just have the pair.”

You get the feeling that Ziyech would give you the shirt off his back just because you asked for it. The Ajax man is only here to help, and that’s what he has been doing for weeks.

Two more assists at the weekend takes his tally for the season to 20 already. 11 of those came in November alone, as he created at least one goal in all six of his games that month. Crazy.


1. Ciro Immobile (-)

SS Lazio v Udinese Calcio - Serie A

“Remember. Richest guy in the room is always the boss.”

Immobile is sitting pretty on the throne of world football. His run now sits at nine Serie A games in a row with at least a goal, having netted 13 across that period.

As far as strikers go, there is nobody doing the business quite like Immobile right now.


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Antonio Conte Hails Arturo Vidal Amid Speculation Linking Him With Inter Move

​Inter coach Antonio Conte has praised Barcelona’s Arturo Vidal amid transfer speculation linking the midfielder with a move to the Nerazzurri.

The pair worked together for three years at Juventus, winning three successive Scudetto together at the Allianz Stadium.

Recent outbursts about his lack of squad depth, particularly in midfield, have fuelled rumours linking Conte with a move for the Chilean, and the 50-year-old sought to praise the Barcelona star when asked about a possible reunion.

Arturo Vidal,Antonio Conte

During an interview with ​Sky Sports Italia following his side’s 2-1 victory over SPAL, Conte hailed ​Vidal’s attitude and commitment during their stint in Turin.

I had the pleasure of coaching him when he wasn’t at the top level yet because he came to Juve from Leverkusen, I worked there for three years and he’s a player who always gave me everything, just like the players are giving me everything today,” he said.

After his side’s 3-2 defeat to ​Borussia Dortmund in early November – a game in which they led 2-0 at half-time – ​Conte blasted Inter’s hierarchy for failing to strengthen their squad adequately during the summer transfer window. 

The Italian picked out Stefano Sensi and Nicolo Barella as two players whose inexperience shouldn’t be solely relied on as ​Inter look to juggle European and domestic duties.

As a result, Vidal – who has featured sporadically for ​Barca this term – has been strongly linked with a move to San Siro come January. However, Conte seemed less frustrated after his team’s weekend victory that sent them top of the ​Serie A table following ​Juventus‘ 2-2 draw with Sassuolo.

We’re still struggling with depth in some areas of the squad but I’m getting great answers from everyone,” he added. “I prefer to talk about this, about those who are called into question and who respond to the task. The team talks about the market if and when it will be done and how it will be done. Right now, it’s not right to talk about the transfer market. It would be disrespectful against my players.”

AC Milan v FC Internazionale - Serie A

Inter’s 2-1 victory on Sunday means they now sit one point clear of Juventus and have picked up a staggering 37 points from 14 matches, a feat that was not lost on the Inter coach.

“We’ve been working since the first game to try to annoy the teams at the top of the table, I think we’re doing a great job but as I said it’s been 14 games and being back in the lead must fill us with pride, because we know the path we have undertaken to achieve 37 points,” Conte said.

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Inter 2-1 SPAL: Report, Ratings & Reaction as Martinez Brace Sends Nerazzurri Top

A first-half Lautaro Martinez double was enough to see Inter climb to the top of Serie A, as they overcame SPAL 2-1 in a mightily tense encounter at San Siro.

The visitors’ intentions were laid-out almost immediately, quickly sitting in a deep block in an attempt to frustrate I Nerazzurri and hit them effectively in transition. However, their resistance lasted just 16 minutes as the home side took the lead through the red-hot Martinez – the strike coming after some great hustle in midfield by Marcelo Brozovic.

The hosts continued to probe, eventually getting their reward four minutes before the break with Martinez scoring his second – this time with his head – after a wicked cross from the right flank by Antonio Candreva.

FBL-ITA-SERIEA-INTER-SPAL

But then, after failing to register a single shot on target in the opening period, SPAL sprung into life shortly after the restart as Mattia Valoti brought the visitors back into the game after a mazy run and tidy finish. 

Martinez and Matias Vecino spurned golden opportunities to settle the home fans’ nerves, with the visitors starting to open up at the back as they went in search of an equaliser. An equaliser they should’ve had through Nenad Tomovic, but the centre-back fluffed his lines at the pivotal moment after being fed expertly by the head of Andrea Petagna. 

That proved to be SPAL’s best chance of bagging the leveller, as Antonio Conte’s men held on for a slender 2-1 win, sending them top of Serie A.

Here’s 90min’s breakdown of this one.


INTER

Key Talking Point

It wasn’t as convincing as Conte would’ve liked, but his side got the job done.

After cruising to a 2-0 lead at half-time, not many would’ve foreshadowed Diego Godin being brought on in an attempt to secure Inter’s lead.

Antonio Conte

But that’s exactly what happened, as SPAL’s improved second-half display seemed to catch a previously untested Nerazzurri backline by surprise, quickly halving Inter’s lead after the restart.

Nevertheless, Conte’s side showed their resilience and character to shutout a resurgent SPAL side for the remainder of the match, holding on for the win – a victory that sent the home dugout and the fans into delirium, knowing that their side is now at the summit of Serie A.

Some title race this is going to be.


Player Ratings

Starting XI: Handanovic (6); D’Ambrosio (5), De Vrij (6), Skriniar (6); Candreva (7), Gagliardini (6), Brozovic (7), Vecino (6), Lazaro (7); Lukaku (7), Martinez (8*).

Subs: Biraghi (5), Godin (6), Valero (6)


Star Man

Robert Lewandowski and Karim Benzema have been phenomenal this season, but is there a more in-form striker in Europe at the moment than Lautaro Martinez? The man is on fire and he continued his hot streak at San Siro this afternoon.



​​

The Argentine bagged a brace in the first half with two fantastic finishes. The first being an inch-perfect drive into the bottom corner from just outside the area before latching onto a fantastic Candreva cross, heading home emphatically for his second.

While he missed a pair of fantastic chances in the second period, it was still a fine all-round display from Martinez, with his double proving to be the difference.


SPAL 

Player Ratings

Starting XI: Berisha (7); Tomovic (5), Vicari (6), Igor (4); Strefezza (5), Murgia (5), Valdifiori (5), Kurtic (6), Reca (5); Valoti (6), Petagna (6).

Subs: Cionek (5), Floccari (6), Jankovic (5)


Looking Ahead

Serie A’s new leaders return to action on Friday when they host Roma, before welcoming Barcelona for their crucial final Champions League group stage fixture the following Tuesday.

As for SPAL, their attention turns to the Coppa Italia as they take on Lecce in the fourth round on Wednesday evening. They’re then back in Serie A action next Sunday, hosting fellow strugglers Brescia.

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Inter vs SPAL: Romelu Lukaku’s Unbelievable Goalscoring Record & 8 Other Key Facts

They say that defending a league title is one of the hardest and most impressive feats in football. Well, try telling Juventus that. 

The Old Lady has coasted her way to EIGHT successive Serie A scudetti, and she’s very rarely been forced into putting down her knitting needles. 

Giorgio Chiellini

And having reinforced an already well-nourished squad with the likes of Matthijs de Ligt, ​Aaron Ramsey and a re-invigorated ​Gonzalo Higuain, you would be forgiven for thinking that the trophy was heading back to Turin for number nine in a row this May. 

But hold the phone – there‘s a new sheriff in town – and he goes by the name of Antonio Conte. That’s right, Conte is back and working wonders with his new Inter side, who are hot on the slippers of the Old Lady at the top of the table. 

With 11 swashbuckling wins from 13 league games and swaggering displays in the Champions League, Inter are proving that this is not just a lucky streak – they’re the real deal

Better take off your slippers and put on your dancing shoes ​Juve, you’re in for a hell of a battle this season. 

Lautaro Martinez,Matthijs de Ligt

Victory over SPAL could see I Nerazzurri leapfrog their rivals, depending on Juve’s result against Sassuolo in Sunday’s early kickoff. 

But whatever the outcome today, there are no two ways about it – title race fans, we have a title race. 

Now that we’re all hyped up over the pure drama that is Serie A, let’s wash it down with some juicy stats that you can wow your amici with down at the pub, all thanks to our friends ​Opta. 


Romelu’s Gonna Get You

Scoring goals for fun, linking up perfectly with his teammates and firing his side to the top of the table. Ya know who needs a guy like that? ​Manchester United. 

Anyway, Lukaku is on fire and Italy is terrified. The big Belgian forward has scored 10 league goals so far, more than three Serie A teams this season, including SPAL (eight).

If you listen carefully, you can hear the sound of 11 sets of SPAL knees knocking together in fear.

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It’s not only the free-flowing football which is driving the San Siro wild, though. 

Among Inter players with more than two penalties taken in Serie A since 2004/05, ​Lukaku and Lautaro Martínez are the only two to have scored each of the shots they have from the penalty spot (both 3/3). 

Blue and black is the ice cold blood which courses through their veins. 


San Sir-ial Winners 

Pundits often say that head-to-head records mean very little when they stretch back into the distant past, but ​Inter’s unbeaten run over SPAL is not to be sniffed at. 

Matteo Politano,Cedric Soares

I Nerazzurri are unbeaten in their last 14 Serie A meetings against SPAL, winning 11 matches and drawing three.

With Inter second-top and SPAL second-bottom, it’s hard to see that streak coming to an abrupt end any time soon.


The History Boys 

​Conte has come to the city of Milan and got Inter rocking and rolling once again. The Italian giants have made a terrific start to the season, and are on the cusp of an incredible feat which will write this group of players into the record books. 

Nicolo Barella,Paolo Valeri

Inter are looking to win 12 of their first 14 matches in a Serie A season for the first time in their history, and could become the fifth side to find the net in each of their first 14 Serie A matches in a season in the 21st century, after Juventus, ​AC Milan, Fiorentina and AS Roma.

Conte’s men have also scored 2 or more goals in each of their last six league matches, and could do so seven games in a row for the first time since March 2009.

Title-winning stats. 


Going Through a Dry SPAL 

​There’s no ‘I’ in goal, but there are two in ‘he couldn’t hit water if he fell out of a boat.’ That’s pretty much how SPAL’s season has gone thus far, and the lack of goals within the team must keep boss Leonardo Semplici up at night. 

SPAL are goalless in their last six Serie A away games: only once in their top-flight history have they recorded a longer run (nine in 1963). 

Andrea Petagna

That’s not all though – no side have scored fewer goals than SPAL in the top five European leagues this season (eight).

Sorry SPAL pals, one last statto. SPAL are one of the two sides (level with Leganés) to have scored with the fewest different players this term (three).

Hat-tricks all round today, then.


Set Piece Specialists 

Would you believe that Conte has turned a team into one of the most efficient sides from dead-ball situations in Europe? Me neither

FBL-ITA-SERIEA-TORINO-INTER

But surprise surprise, the ​ex-Chelsea coach has worked his magic again, and no side have scored more goals than Inter from set-piece situations in the top five European leagues this term (11, alongside AS Roma).

No silly fouls, boys. 


Not Inter’s Pal 

Some players just have a knack of scoring against the same team every year, regardless of how bad they are at football. 

Alberto Paloschi

SPAL’s Alberto Paloschi has scored two goals in his last three Serie A meetings against Inter, including his last goal in the competition (in October 2018 at the Paolo Mazza).

Methinks it’ll be two out of four Serie A meetings against Inter after Sunday afternoon, and this stat won’t be included next time round. 


Inter’s Confirmed Lineup


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Inter Consider Summer Approach for James Rodríguez as Club Target Other Signings in January

​Inter are contemplating a summer move for Real Madrid midfielder James Rodríguez, but they want to focus their efforts on other signings in January.

Rodríguez has made just nine appearances in all competitions this season, having started just four league games as he has battled injuries and poor form.

James Rodriguez

According to ​La Repubblica, ​Rodríguez wants to leave ​Real after growing frustrated with his lack of first-team football, and ​Inter are considering taking advantage of the situation with a bid for the Colombian midfielder in the summer.

The report suggests that Rodríguez was a serious target for ​Arsenal last summer, only for the move to break down for a number of reasons. Firstly, Real want €50m to part ways with Rodríguez, while the player himself is said to have snubbed the move in favour of a switch to Inter or Paris Saint-Germain.

A January move is unlikely as Real do not want to weaken their squad midway through the season, but a bid at the end of the season is certainly a possibility.

James Rodriguez

Inter are said to be happy to wait until the summer, because they have other plans for the winter window. 

Their primary goal is to find a buyer for Brazilian forward Gabriel Barbosa, who is expected to attract real interest from across Europe after his outstanding season on loan with Flamengo. Plenty of ​Premier League sides have been linked with a move, with Crystal Palace and West Ham regularly tipped to launch a bid.

Alongside selling Gabigol, Inter also want to strike a deal for River Plate centre-back Lucas Martínez Quarta. The 23-year-old has attracted interest from Benfica and Celta Vigo, but I Nerazzurri are confident that they are leading the race for his signature.

River Plate v Alianza Lima - Copa CONMEBOL Libertadores 2019

Once those deals are out of the way, Inter could switch their focus to Rodríguez, whose days at Real certainly seem numbered after failing to win over Zinedine Zidane.

Inter’s squad already boasts plenty of central midfielders, but manager Antonio Conte is eager to add some more quality to try and finally end ​Juventus’ reign of dominance in Italy.


For more from Tom Gott, follow him on Twitter! 

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Luis Suarez Hails ‘Incredible’ Lautaro Martinez as Barcelona Continue to Eye Attacker

​Barcelona striker Luis Suarez has heaped praise on Inter forward Lautaro Martinez, with La Blaugrana continuing to show an interest in the 22-year-old.

Martinez has been in scintillating form in 2019/20, having found the net 11 times so far – including once against the Catalan giants. With Suarez now 32, Barça have been on the lookout for a new striker, with Martinez’s name heavily mentioned.

FBL-EUR-C1-SLAVIA PRAGUE-INTER

It has ​been reported that Barcelona have made the Argentine a top transfer target, but Inter are keen to offer their star man a new deal in a bid to fend off interest.

Suarez has ​previously admitted that he understands why the club are pursing another forward, and the Uruguayan has now praised the impressive Nerazzurri man, but refused to disclose whether he believes a deal will be reached to sign Martinez.

“It would depend on certain circumstances and what Barcelona needs because maybe at that moment ​Barcelona has already a good and young striker,” he told ​Onefootball at Puma’s launch for their new Future 5.1 boots.

Lionel Messi,Lautaro Martinez

“However, he is an incredible striker who is playing extremely well but we cannot forget he belongs to ​Inter nowadays.”

Barcelona director Eric Abidal has ​recently confirmed that the club are keeping tabs on the player, with the 40-year-old revealing that he is a fan of Martinez. He said: “Yes, he is a complete player, I think he is performing at a great level. He is a player we know, but there are other players who also have a lot of quality.”

Eric Abidal

​Suarez’s future at Barça has been called into question, but Abidal went on to insist that the club have been open and honest with the player, regarding their search for a new attacker. 

He continued: “I am transparent with the players, Luis can tell you because last year I already told him that it was going to be like this, that we were going to look for an attacker, and he accepted that because he wants what is best for the team.”

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