Forget Messi & Ronaldo: Mauro Icardi is leading the way for struggling Inter

The Argentine has been involved in all but six of the Nerazzurri’s goals so far this season, despite attracting criticism from fans and even calls to hand in the armband

Inter may have staggered from one crisis to another at the start of the 2016-17 campaign, but at least they can rely on their captain Mauro Icardi to deliver the goods. 

Not only has the Argentine had to contend with an underachieving club, but he has also attracted criticism with comments made about the Inter ultras that led to some calling for his removal as skipper. 

Ronaldo ends injury rumours

And yet, 14 matches into the Serie A season, Icardi outranks the likes of Lionel Messi, Cristiano Ronaldo, Luis Suarez and Antoine Griezmann as Europe’s most prolific striker. 

Icardi’s first-half goal to put the Nerazzurri 3-1 up against Fiorentina on Monday was his 11th of the league season. He scored his 12th late into the tie to secure a 4-2 win for his side.

Those goals, coupled with a further four assists, mean he has contributed directly to 16 strikes this campaign, more than any other player in Europe’s top-five leagues. 

16 – @MauroIcardi ha participado en 16 goles (12 goles 4 asist.), más que cualquier jugador en el Top 5 de ligas europeas en 2016/17. Brillo
— OptaJavier (@OptaJavier) 28 de noviembre de 2016

Inter as a whole have hit the net 22 times, with Icardi scoring more than half their overall total and participating in all but six of the goals. 

The club’s breathtaking start against Fiorentina helped erase memories of Thursday’s disastrous Europa League elimination. 

3- Inter scored 3 goals in the first 19 minutes in a Serie A match for the 1st time since January 1990 (Matthäus-Klinsmann vs Bologna). Epic

— OptaPaolo (@OptaPaolo) 28 de noviembre de 2016

It also set a new milestone for the team, as their best start to a match in no less than 26 years. 

Icardi fires warning to Inter after another second-half scare

The San Siro club need to learn to control matches they are winning after a scare against 10-man Fiorentina, their captain has warned

Inter captain Mauro Icardi has fired a warning to his side over their second-half performances after they almost let a commanding lead slip against Fiorentina on Monday.

Forget Messi & Ronaldo: Mauro Icardi is leading the way for struggling Inter

Stefano Pioli celebrated his first victory as head coach as the home side secured a 4-2 win over the Viola at San Siro to move into the top eight in Serie A.

Inter raced into a 3-0 lead inside 20 minutes and Fiorentina played the second half with 10 men after Gonzalo Rodriguez’s red card, but a first-half goal from Nikola Kalinic and a strike just before the hour-mark from Josip Ilicic gave the visitors hope of a stunning turnaround.

Icardi tapped in his second goal in injury time to kill off the game but the Argentine striker was nonetheless concerned by their inability to control proceedings in the second period, especially in the wake of their shock 3-2 Europa League loss to Hapoel Be’er Sheva last Thursday, when they conceded three times in the last 32 minutes.
“It was a game we needed to perform in, and we did, although we dropped off a bit in the second half in the same way as we did in Israel,” he told Sky Sport Italia. “Clearly that’s something we need to work on.

“I think our fitness levels aren’t the issue. I don’t know if it’s a fear of winning, either, but we need to control the situation better when we take the lead. This keeps happening.”

Icardi scored twice after setting up Marcelo Brozovic to fire home Inter’s opener, with Antonio Candreva also on target in an impressive attacking display in front of representatives from the club’s Suning Group owners.

Ronaldo ends injury rumours

Icardi hopes the performance can be a turning point as they look to challenge for the top three in Serie A and justify the significant outlay on players in the last 18 months.

“They came to wish us the best and I think they’ll go back to China happy,” Icardi said.

“I don’t know what has been going wrong this season. I’ve said since the summer that, individually, we have some of the best players in Serie A, but we need everyone to work as a team.”

Pioli slams Inter mentality after Europa League exit

The coach was angered by his side’s performance which he felt was not worthy of the team’s name and felt their second-half performance in particular was awful

Stefano Pioli criticised the mentality of his fragile Inter side after they crashed out of Europe on Thursday, losing 3-2 at Hapoel Be-er Sheva having led 2-0. 
Schweinsteiger offered escape route
Inter captain Mauro Icardi gave his side the lead in Israel after just 12 minutes and Marcelo Brozovic soon added a second to put Pioli’s men completely in control of the Europa League tie.

But Lucio Maranhao struck back and when goalkeeper Samir Handanovic was sent off and conceded a penalty, Anthony Nwakaeme levelled from the spot before Ben Sahar scored Hapoel’s dramatic late winner to dump Inter out.

Pioli felt Inter believed they had done enough to win the game and allowed the Israeli side to come back into the match by dropping their intensity.
Inter crash out of Europe
“We stopped playing as a team and were presumptuous,” Pioli told reporters. “That should never happen and we cannot afford to do that if we want to win games.

“We had the chance to go 3-0 up and didn’t take it. We must work hard to ensure we don’t keep giving away certain opportunities. We cannot play such a two-faced match. In the first half we did really well, badly in the second. All we needed to do was maintain that attitude.”

The Italian said Inter’s fitness could not be blamed for their collapse, with the Serie A side having conceded five times in his two matches in charge.

“In fitness terms we’re ok, as we pushed at the end. What matters here is the mentality and we must improve,” Pioli said. 

“The past no longer counts, what matters is the present and we cannot be satisfied with our work. We are working on all fronts: physical, psychological and tactical. A team that plays that well in the first half cannot offer a second-half performance like that.
“Inter have players of great quality, but we need to know how to suffer under pressure. The performance was not worthy of Inter. We got too deep and allowed Hapoel back into the game. I changed a few things, trying to recover the balance that we had lost.”

Hapoel coach Barak Bakhar accepted Handanovic’s dismissal was a pivotal moment, but said his attacking changes helped his side to pull off a historic victory over the Serie A giants.

“In the first half we played badly, we were too fragile,” Bakhar said. “Then in the second half we grew, helped by our fans.

“When we play against European teams we must be daring. For this reason I had to introduce offensive players to retrieve the result. Then obviously the game changed with the expulsion of Handanovic.

“Physically we were very good. The credit belongs to everyone, not just mine: the trainers, doctors and all the staff.”

Hapoel Be'er Sheva 3-2 Inter: Nerazzurri crash out of Europa League

Stefano Pioli saw his new charges contrive to throw away a winning position in a dreadful second half, meaning the side can no longer progress to the knockout stages

Ten-man Inter crashed out of the Europa League after letting a two-goal lead slip as Hapoel Be’er Sheva roared back in the second half to win 3-2 on Thursday.

Although Inter’s 2-2 derby draw against AC Milan in Stefano Pioli’s first match as coach on Sunday gave fans reason for optimism, in the end there were few positives to come from their trip to Israel, as the Italian giants’ already slim hopes of reaching the knockout phase were vanquished.

Despite finding themselves in the uncomfortable position of partly relying on the outcome of Southampton’s trip to Sparta Prague in the other Group K fixture, Inter played with freedom during the first half and were deserving of a 2-0 lead thanks to goals from Mauro Icardi and Marcelo Brozovic.

Icardi went close to giving Inter a third when he struck the crossbar just after the break, but Hapoel swiftly capitalised and pulled one back through Lucio Maranhao.

Hapoel then levelled against the odds through Anthony Nwakaeme, with goalkeeper Samir Handanovic receiving his marching orders in the process of conceding the spot-kick.

The home side piled on the pressure and deep into stoppage time, Ben Sahar struck to further confirm Inter’s exit and leave Hapoel needing just a score draw in their final game at Southampton to progress.

Inter almost found themselves in real trouble as early as the fourth minute when Maor Buzaglo saw his low right-wing cross deflect off Yuto Nagatomo and on to the bar.

But if anything, that scare jolted Inter into life and they were ahead eight minutes later, as Icardi got ahead of his marker and steered Eder’s clever disguised cross in at the near post.

The visitors then doubled their advantage just before the half-hour mark and in some style.

Eder inspired a lovely one-touch passing move from the left, gradually making his way inside and exchanging possession with Icardi and Ever Banega, before spreading the play to Brozovic and the Croatian slammed a fine left-footed effort in off the far post from 20 yards.

Inter’s control continued into the second half and Icardi almost grabbed himself an emphatic second in the 52nd minute, as the Argentinian drove a fierce effort on to the crossbar from just inside the box.

Hapoel took full advantage of that let-off and gave themselves a lifeline just before the hour mark – Maranhao heading Maharan Radi’s sweeping cross past Handanovic.

That goal sparked a real upsurge from the hosts and Buzaglo won a penalty 19 minutes from time as Handanovic rushed out to tackle the striker and wildly caught him in the face with a flailing foot, earning himself a second yellow card in the process.

Nwakaeme dispatched the resulting spot-kick past substitute goalkeeper Juan Pablo Carrizo.

Hapoel poured men forward towards the end and their persistence paid off in stoppage time, as Mohammad Ghadir brilliantly back-heeled a pass across the edge of the box and substitute Sahar coolly beat Carrizo to leave the delirious home fans dreaming of a place in the last 32.

Pioli offers Inter hope to Banega

The Argentine is a “great player” despite not being part of the recently appointed manager’s plans for the Milan derby, the Italian has stressed

Inter boss Stefano Pioli insists he is a fan of midfielder Ever Banega, despite dropping him for the Milan derby.

Pioli not worried by Simeone talk

The Nerazzurri drew 2-2 against city rivals AC Milan in Pioli’s first match in charge on Sunday, with the omission of the former Sevilla star one of three changes to his first starting XI from the club’s previous outing.

Banega remained on the substitutes’ bench throughout the match, but the former Lazio boss handed him a boost ahead of Thursday’s Europa League match away to Hapoel Be’er Sheva by praising his ability.

“We are talking about a great player,” Pioli told reporters at his pre-match media conference about Banega, who has made 13 appearances across all competitions this season.

“I like dynamic midfielders and Banega moves very well between the lines.

“I have not dropped anyone – I choose on a game-by-game basis who I consider most suited to that encounter.
“I cannot say if he will play [against Hapoel] or not, but I like a dynamic midfield.”

Winger Antonio Candreva, meanwhile, called on Inter to improve their performances with them sitting bottom of Europa League Group K after four games having lost at home to Hapoel earlier in the campaign.

“We know Be’er Sheva are a well-drilled side but we are Inter – we want to take the game to them and win,” Candreva said.

“The boss wants us to be mobile so that our opponents have no reference points. We all have to give 100 per cent. We have to do better. 

‘Strootman good enough for Barca or Bayern’

“We are playing for a great club and we must honour this shirt at all times.”

Due to Inter’s poor start in the competition, even two straight wins to finish the group campaign will not guarantee them a place in the last 32.

Pioli not worried by Simeone talk

The recently appointed Inter boss is already fending off questions about his job security after only one game in charge at the San Siro

Stefano Pioli insists he is not thinking about speculation suggesting Diego Simeone will replace him as Inter head coach.

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The former Lazio boss saw his first match in charge of Inter end in a dramatic 2-2 draw against rivals AC Milan at San Siro on Sunday thanks to Ivan Perisic’s last-gasp equaliser.

Pioli will lead Inter in the Europa League away to Hapoel Be’er Sheva on Thursday, but has already had to deal with reports in Italy claiming Atletico Madrid coach Diego Simeone will replace him either at the end of this season or in 2018.

However, Pioli insists his only focus is on rebuilding Inter rather than worrying about whether the Simeone speculation is true.

“I don’t think about these things,” he said at his pre-match media conference.

“Pressure is normal, as we are Inter and therefore have to play our cards. 
“I just want to work and make the most of this great opportunity to bring Inter back where the club deserves to be.

“We showed character and determination in the derby. Now we will be ready for this game and give our all to win.”

Inter are bottom of Europa League Group K with only three points from four games, six behind leaders Sparta Prague and four behind second-placed Southampton, who meet in the other match on Thursday.

One of the low points of Pioli’s predecessor Frank de Boer’s brief reign was a 2-0 home loss to Hapoel in September.

“I’m not thinking about the other match in our group, just Hapoel v Inter,” added Pioli. “We have to make sure we win this one.

‘Strootman good enough for Barca or Bayern’

“I have had a good look at Be’er Sheva and reviewed the first game carefully. They are very good technically and physical too.

“We have a mountain to climb [in the group], but we will give it our best shot. We have got what it takes to do well.”

Pioli delighted with Inter 'heart and soul' in Milan derby draw

A late Ivan Perisic goal secured a point for the Nerazzurri and while the coach feels his side must improve in many ways, he was happy with their display

Stefano Pioli praised Inter’s “heart and soul” after beginning his reign with a last-gasp 2-2 draw against city rivals AC Milan.

Perisic’s late strike cancels out Suso double

Ivan Perisic popped up in stoppage time to snatch a point for the Nerazzurri, after Suso had twice given Milan the lead.

Antonio Candreva thumped home the goal of the game in the second half to cancel out the Spanish winger’s opener and Inter dominated for large parts.

However, while encouraged by the spirit shown by his team, Pioli sees much room for improvement.

“I don’t think we deserved defeat considering the performance, but we still have to improve in many areas,” he told Mediaset Premium.

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“I tried to give some balance to the team. We allowed a few too many counters in the first half because the preventative marking wasn’t always done correctly.

“We needed organisation and balance. I asked the team to put in heart and soul, which I think the boys did tonight.”

Candreva, a key player in Pioli’s Lazio side before joining Inter this season, believed victory would have been deserved for the Nerazzurri.

“A fine derby from us, we deserved the victory and achieved the point with merit,” Candreva told Mediaset Premium.

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“The two Milan goals were both counter-attacks, so we need to improve on our defending.

“We are Inter, we have to be in the top spots of the table. Now we need to climb back up and improve by using this performance as the foundation, because it was a great match.”

AC Milan 2-2 Inter: Perisic's late strike cancels out Suso double

The Rossoneri twice took the lead through dazzling 23-year-old Suso, but the Nerazzurri struck back in the dying moments to earn a draw in the Derby della Madonnina

Ivan Perisic scored a dramatic stoppage-time equaliser as Inter salvaged a 2-2 derby draw against AC Milan in Stefano Pioli’s first match in charge of the Nerazzurri.

Inter had the better of the first half, but Suso scored three minutes before the break with a fine strike.

Antonio Candreva netted a thumping equaliser early in the second period, but Suso promptly responded with a well-taken second that looked like it would prove enough for victory.

But Perisic tapped home in the second minute of added time to claim a thrilling point after Samir Handanovic had been sent up for a corner in a dramatic finale, with Pioli running on to the pitch in celebration.

Milan could have gone up to second in Serie A, but instead stay third after failing to take full advantage of Roma’s slip-up against Atalanta earlier on Sunday.

Pioli, meanwhile, will hope the dramatic avoidance of a sixth league defeat of the season will help him lead Inter up the table – they now sit ninth and remain eight points adrift of Vincenzo Montella’s third-placed side.

Milan had an early penalty claim denied when M’Baye Niang went down under pressure from Gary Medel, who was back in the Inter team after suspension as one of the three changes.

Perisic shot straight at Gianluigi Donnarumma for Pioli’s men, before the Croatia international missed an even better opportunity by diverting his diving header inches wide after a superb run and cross from Danilo D’Ambrosio to create the opportunity.

Geoffrey Kondogbia – another of the players to return to Inter’s team – was just off-target with a header of his own, while Perisic could not convert from yet another opportunity in the air.

Medel limped off with injury prior to half-time but Inter continued to dominate, Mauro Icardi striking poorly wide after Candreva’s scuffed shot fell into his path.

Milan were without the injured Alessio Romagnoli and they threatened little until strikes from Mattia De Sciglio and Carlos Bacca tested Handanovic.

But it was Montella’s men who took the lead when Giacomo Bonaventura drove forward and found Suso, with the attacking midfielder incisively cutting inside from the right and curling a fine effort into the far corner.

In a bright start to the second half, Bonaventura had an effort deflected narrowly wide, but it was Inter who got the game’s second goal through Candreva after 53 minutes.

After Milan complaints they should have had a throw-in were ignored, Perisic found Candreva and he took the ball in his stride before unleashing a superb dipping strike into the top corner.

But Milan responded five minutes later after Bacca had made ground down the right. The striker then found Suso in the area and he breezed past a flat-footed Miranda before calmly slotting into the corner for his fourth league goal of the campaign.

Perisic volleyed inches wide after a clever chip from Candreva to set him up, but the winger would have the last say, ghosting onto Kondogbia’s flick-on from a corner to snatch a share of the spoils.

Kondogbia rubbishes talk of Inter exit

The midfielder returned to the Nerazzurri first-team for Sunday’s Milan derby and has moved to dismiss speculation and claims from his agent that he is on his way out of San Siro

Geoffrey Kondogbia remains committed to Inter despite comments from his agent hinting the Nerazzurri are merely a stepping stone in the France international’s career.

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Since his move from Monaco in June 2015, Kondogbia has failed to live up to a hefty €30 million fee, and has struggled this season to break into the first team.

The midfielder was heavily criticised by Inter’s first coach this season, Frank de Boer, who called him out for not listening to instructions, insisting such behaviour was unacceptable.

The 23-year-old made his first Serie A start since September in the Milan derby on Sunday, playing the full 90 minutes as Inter rescued a point late on in a 2-2 draw.

His future at the club came under fresh scrutiny, though, as comments from his representative Jonathan Maarek hinted the player’s future lies away from San Siro.

Pioli delighted with Inter ‘heart and soul’

Speaking to France Football, he said: “His arrival at Inter was another step towards getting to one of the biggest clubs in the world. That was the plan and still is.”

Goal understands that Chelsea are interested in signing him as early as January, though several Premier League clubs are monitoring his situation.

Kondogbia, however, was quick to insist he remains loyal to Stefano Pioli’s side and only his words should be listened to when it comes to his future.

“The words of my agent? I am the player, so you have to listen to me, not other people,” he said. “I only talk about my future.

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“If you have something to ask, then ask me and listen to my words.”

Kondogbia has played just six games for Inter this season, starting four and is yet to score. He has missed each of their Europa League fixtures, as they sit bottom of Group K, below Hapoel Beer Sheva, Southampton and Sparta Prague.

Suso: I proved I'm worthy of Milan after derby brace

The Spaniard scored twice as the Rossoneri played out a thrilling 2-2 draw with city rivals Inter on Sunday, and he was happy with his contribution

After scoring a brace in the derby, AC Milan attacker Suso said he is now worthy of the Serie A giants.

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Suso scored twice as Milan played out a thrilling 2-2 draw with city rivals Inter, who equalised in the 92nd minute on Sunday.

The Spaniard only made one league appearance last season before being loaned out to Genoa, but he is now a mainstay under Vincenzo Montella at San Siro with four goals in 13 matches this term as Milan sit third in the standings, level on points with second-placed Roma.

“I wanted to have a chance and Sinisa Mihajlovic only gave me one chance that went badly,” Suso told Mediaset Premium. “I went to Genoa to prove to everyone that I was worthy of Milan.

“We are on the right track, but there’s a long way to go.”
Suso also denied he would be walking home after the draw, having promised to do so midweek if he scored a brace in the Derby della Madonnina.

“We didn’t win, so I won’t walk home,” he said. “It seemed almost impossible to score a brace, but I did it – and yet we still drew.

“It was a good performance, we just went too deep in the final 20 minutes and allowed Inter to get into gear.”

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Milan team-mate Giacomo Bonaventura, meanwhile, could not hide his disappointment after being forced to share the spoils.

“There is great regret, because the equaliser came so close to the end of the match,” Bonaventura added. “We are disappointed, as we had a great opportunity to win and go into second place. We didn’t have the strength to hold out for the 2-1 result.

“This game must give us the determination to face the next match with stronger spirit. The team worked hard, did some good things, some not so good.

“A result like this will help the younger players to mature.”