Crotone 0-2 Inter: Eriksen and Hakimi put Nerazzurri on brink of Serie A title

By Sports Desk May 01, 2021

Christian Eriksen and Achraf Hakimi put Inter on the brink of securing the Serie A title with second-half goals in a 2-0 victory at Crotone.

The runaway leaders had been frustrated against a relegated side who are bottom of the table until Eriksen struck just a few minutes after coming on midway through the second half on Saturday.

Romelu Lukaku struck the woodwork and had a goal ruled out, while Lautaro Martinez hit the post, but Eriksen opened the scoring with a deflected drive and Hakimi sealed all three points with the last kick of the game.

Victory at Stadio Ezio Scida ensured the Nerazzurri will end an 11-year wait to win a Scudetto if second-placed Atalanta fail to win at Sassuolo on Sunday.

Adam Ounas forced a save from Samir Handanovic and Stefano Sensi's shot deflected wide at the other end in a frantic start.

Sensi was denied by Alex Cordaz from a tight angle when the midfielder was presented with another early opportunity before he whipped in a corner that Lukaku headed against the post.

Martinez's right-footed strike rattled off the inside of the post and Cordaz palmed away another effort from Sensi as the Nerazzurri somehow failed to open the scoring in the first half.

Battling Crotone got everyone behind the ball in what resembled a training exercise with Inter continuing to probe after the break, Sensi's scuffed strike gathered by Cordaz after his free-kick struck the wall.

Antonio Conte made a triple substitution after 65 minutes and Eriksen made just the impact he was hoping for soon after coming on.

Lukaku showed great strength before laying the ball off to the Denmark midfielder, whose right-footed drive from around 20 yards out deflected into the corner of the net.

Leading scorer Lukaku had a goal disallowed for offside seven minutes from time but Hakimi put the icing on the cake with a second goal right at the end, finishing off a counter-attack with a clinical finish.

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  • Healthy starters, cushy schedule, and the Milwaukee Bucks enter December surging Healthy starters, cushy schedule, and the Milwaukee Bucks enter December surging

    The Milwaukee Bucks looked out of sorts as they limped into November having lost three in a row with two of the defending champions' top scorers sidelined.

    Thirty days later at the season's quarter-mark, they are healthier and look capable of repeating as champs as they enter December riding an impressive seven-game winning streak.

    A mere 91 days after winning the franchise's first NBA title since 1971, Milwaukee raised its championship banner and then emphatically beat a Brooklyn Nets team expected to contend for this season's title by 23 points. In that convincing win, the starting five of Giannis Antetokounmpo, Khris Middleton, Jrue Holiday, Grayson Allen and Brook Lopez combined for 82 points.

    That has still been the only game this season coach Mike Budenholzer has been able to use that starting five, as Holiday, Middleton and Lopez have all missed significant time.

    With Lopez still sidelined since the season opener with a sore back, the Bucks signed veteran big man DeMarcus Cousins on Tuesday to provide frontcourt depth.

    A four-time All-Star, Cousins isn't the same player he was in 2015 and 2016 when he earned second-team all-NBA honours, but the 31-year-old should be able to step in and provide size off the bench.

    Milwaukee got Holiday back in early November after he sat out one game with a right heel contusion and another five with a sprained left ankle, but by the time he returned Middleton was already out with COVID-19.

    The Bucks finished up October with a 3-4 record and were 4-6 on November 7, scoring fewer than 100 points in exactly half of their 10 games – this after failing to reach triple digits in just four regular-season games all last season.

    In 11 games since then, they've only dipped below the century mark once and their current win streak has coincided with the return of Middleton from his eight-game absence.

    It should be noted, though, that a 12-11 Los Angeles Lakers team playing without LeBron James is the only team the Bucks beat in their last seven games currently holding a winning record and the collective .325 winning percentage by their opponents from November 17-30 was the worst in the league for any team's opponents in that time span.

    With that said, they still have thoroughly annihilated some overmatched opponents, holding leads of 20, 29, 51, 24, 20 and 22 in their last six games and now stand within a half-game of the Chicago Bulls for the Central Division lead.

    Antetokounmpo posted a plus-38 plus-minus rating in Milwaukee's 123-92 beatdown of the Orlando Magic last Monday, a game in which the Bucks had a 77-36 advantage at the half for the largest half-time lead in franchise history, while Holiday had a plus-37 rating – kicking off a historic stretch for the veteran point guard.

    In the last four games, Holiday has compiled a plus-117 rating – the highest for any player over a single-season four-game stretch since Stats Perform began tracking plus-minus rating in 2002-03. In that time, only two other players have registered a rating of plus-115 or better and that was Stephen Curry with a plus-115 in his 2015-16 MVP season and Mike Conley with a plus-116 last season.

    Holiday is averaging 19.8 points on 55.7 per cent shooting with a 61.5 eFG percentage in the last four contests following a three-game stretch in which he averaged 9.7 points on 30.6 per cent shooting with a 36.1 eFG percentage. In the four games since November 22, he's connecting on 69.2 per cent of 39 2-point tries and has made 8-of-9 jump shots from 10-15 feet.

    Holiday still hasn't found his touch from the perimeter, shooting 25.5 per cent on 51 3-point attempts in the last nine games, but that hasn't been much of a deterrent for Milwaukee as the team is getting outside help from an unlikely source.

    Bobby Portis has drained 19-of-32 shots from 3-point range (59.4 per cent) in the last six games, twice going 6-for-7 from beyond the arc. This is after he made 13-of-40 3-point tries (32.5 per cent) in his first 10 contests, only making more than one 3-pointer in a game on two occasions.

    Since his tear began on November 19, Portis and the Charlotte Hornets' LaMelo Ball are the only players in the league with 100-plus points, 60-plus rebounds and 15-plus 3-pointers made – and Ball has played one more game and made the same number of 3-pointers on 19 more tries.

    While Holiday and Portis have been putting up gaudy MVP-type number over the last week, the actual two-time league MVP continues to be his same outstanding self in the season's early going.

    Antetokounmpo has recorded 12 double-doubles in 20 games played and has a pair of 40-point games – only Curry has more with four. He leads all players with 127 field goals made in the restricted area, but defences simply can’t converge on him because he's adept at kicking the ball out to a teammate to knock down a 3-ponter – his 73 assists on made 3s are the most in the NBA.

    The trio of Antetokounmpo, Holiday and Middleton together on the court has always been a boon for Milwaukee but lately it's been utterly dominant. The Bucks averaged a stellar 113.9 points per 100 possessions with Antetokounmpo, Holiday and Middleton together on the court in their first 17 games before averaging 133.0 points per 100 possessions with that threesome in the last four.

    No big surprise, with all the Bucks' opening-night starters back with the exception of Lopez, the offence has found its rhythm. Since its win streak begin on November 17, Milwaukee's starters are averaging a league-leading 84.9 points. The starters averaged 77.6 points in their first 14 games.

    While Milwaukee's offence is rolling, the defence has keyed the team's turnaround – setting the tone from the get-go.

    During their 2020-21 championship season, the Bucks jumped out on their opponents, leading by an average of 2.6 points after one quarter – the fourth-largest margin in the league. Through the first month of this season, though, they often found themselves trailing early.

    Aside from leading the Nets by 12 points after 12 minutes in the opener with the starting five intact, the Bucks only had four other leads after one quarter in the first 15 games, recording a minus-0.9 scoring differential through one period in those contests. It's been a completely different story lately, as they’ve been putting away teams early, outscoring opponents by an average of 9.8 in the first quarter in the last six games.

    The offence has been slightly better in the last six – averaging 31.8 first-quarter points after averaging 29.0 in the first 15 – but the biggest improvement has been on the defensive end.

    Facing their opponents' starting five, Milwaukee is holding teams to 37.4 per cet shooting – including 32.8 per cent from beyond the arc – in the first quarter in the last six games after opponents shot 50.4 per cent from the field and 44.1 per cent from 3-point range in the first quarter in the first 15.

    Overall since November 17, the Bucks lead the league in opponent field goal percentage at 39.1 and only the Warriors are allowing fewer points than Milwaukee’s 99.0 per game at 98.3. This comes after the Bucks allowed an average of 109.8 points on 45.1 per cent shooting in their first 14 games.

    The Bucks have yet to lose this season with Antetokounmpo, Holiday and Middleton in the lineup, and while they won't have the luxury of playing teams like the Magic, Oklahoma City Thunder and Detroit Pistons every night, they will play each of those three teams again over the next four and a half weeks.

    Beginning with the Hornets and running through a date with the Pistons on January 3, Milwaukee's opponents' winning percentage of .400 is the worst in the league. It's probably a lot to ask for the Bucks to continue to play at their current pace over this next stretch, but the opportunity is there for them to build a lead atop the Central come the new year.

  • Championship hangs in balance as Hamilton seeks third straight win in Saudi Arabia Championship hangs in balance as Hamilton seeks third straight win in Saudi Arabia

    One of the most memorable Formula One title races in history could be settled this weekend as Max Verstappen and Lewis Hamilton continue their thrilling 2021 battle at the Saudi Arabian Grand Prix.

    A high-speed street race in Jeddah will become the 76th circuit to host an event in F1 history and could be the scene of Verstappen being crowned world champion for the first time.

    Verstappen takes an eight-point lead to Saudi Arabia and after the event there will only be 26 left up for grabs in the Abu Dhabi season finale.

    But it is his in-form title rival Hamilton who will be feeling the best heading to a new venue as he seeks a third consecutive race victory for the first time in 2021.

    Hamilton has launched a stunning late-season charge in his bid to win an eighth world title that would take him above Michael Schumacher for the all-time record but still finds himself with little margin for error.

    Should Verstappen win the title, it would be the first time a championship has been decided at a debuting circuit since 1981 when Nelson Piquet was crowned in Las Vegas.

    There is also a scenario where the two drivers could, fittingly, go into the last race of the season tied.

    If Hamilton wins while setting the fastest lap and Verstappen comes second, the top two would be level going into the final event for the first time since 1974, when Emerson Fittipaldi did battle against Clay Regazzoni.

    It has been an incredibly consistent season for Verstappen, who has nine wins, nine pole positions and finished in the top two for 16 of the 17 races he has finished.

    Verstappen could earn a 17th podium in Saudi Arabia that would equal the record jointly held by Hamilton, Sebastian Vettel and Schumacher for the most in a single season.

    But victory is all that really matters to both drivers on Sunday, with a brand-new circuit containing 27 corners – the most on the F1 calendar – set to play a huge role in determining the outcome of a dramatic season.

    LAST TIME OUT

    Hamilton celebrated consecutive Formula One wins for the first time since May in the first-ever edition of the Qatar Grand Prix.

    Verstappen limited the damage despite a five-place grid penalty due to a yellow-flag infringement in qualifying, impressively recovering to finish second.

    The Dutchman also took the extra point for the fastest lap, assured of beating Hamilton to that feat due to a late virtual safety car following a series of punctures.

    That outcome set up a tantalising final two races of the season in Saudi Arabia and Abu Dhabi.

    The two title rivals were joined on the Losail podium by Fernando Alonso, the two-time champion's first top-three finish since 2014.

    Valtteri Bottas, running in third, suffered a puncture as he attempted a one-stop strategy and ultimately retired, while Sergio Perez questioned Red Bull's call to bring him in twice as he pursued a podium.

    The Mexican could not catch Alonso and had to settle for fourth place, ahead of Esteban Ocon and Lance Stroll.

    WHAT TO EXPECT IN SAUDI ARABIA

    With all the momentum behind him, Hamilton goes into the race at Jeddah Corniche Circuit as the favourite for victory, a result which would put the record eighth title within his grasp.

    But for Verstappen this event is the first of two opportunities he will have to be crowned world champion. Even a small mistake from either driver at this stage could prove pivotal and the stakes could not be higher.

    Mercedes team boss Toto Wolff said their W12 car is performing better than it has been all season ahead of the event, with Red Bull under pressure to bounce back.

    The constructors' championship is also up for grabs. Red Bull have closed to within five points of their rivals, while Ferrari are looking to lock up third place ahead of McLaren.

    Aside from the championship implications, the debut of the fastest street circuit on the calendar at another new F1 venue should be intriguing.

    F1 have revealed average speeds are predicted to be over 155mph with top speeds almost reaching 200mph in what could be a spectacular night race under the lights.

    TOP FIVE OPTA FACTS

    Hamilton history – The Briton has become the F1 driver with the most seasons (eight) that contain at least seven victories, surpassing Schumacher (seven seasons).

    Maiden Mercedes – The team have won the race and taken pole position in the last five circuit debuts in F1. As well as in Qatar time out, it also happened in Sochi (2014), Baku (2016), Mugello (2020), Portimao (2020).

    Pole position – If Mercedes claim pole it will be their fourth in a row and best run of the season. However, Red Bull have had the better of qualifying this season, as Hamilton and Bottas combined (eight) have fewer poles than Verstappen alone (nine).

    Max milestones – Should Verstappen be crowned world champion, he will be the first Dutchman to achieve the feat, the first non-Mercedes driver to do it in the eight hybrid era years and the fourth-youngest in history at 24.

    Perez progress – While Verstappen's team-mate will not be thrilled to sit fourth in the standings, he has still collected nine points more in 20 races for Red Bull (190) than his predecessor Alex Albon did in 26 races (181) for the team.

    CHAMPIONSHIP STANDINGS

    Drivers

    1. Max Verstappen (Red Bull) 351.5
    2. Lewis Hamilton (Mercedes) 343.5
    3. Valtteri Bottas (Mercedes) 203
    4. Sergio Perez (Red Bull) 190
    5. Lando Norris (McLaren) 153

    Constructors

    1. Mercedes 546.5
    2. Red Bull 541.5
    3. Ferrari 297.5
    4. McLaren 258
    5. Alpine 137

  • Tottenham defender Romero ruled out until 2022 Tottenham defender Romero ruled out until 2022

    Tottenham head coach Antonio Conte does not expect centre-back Cristian Romero to return from injury before the end of the year.

    Romero damaged his hamstring during Argentina's goalless draw with Brazil last month and has missed Tottenham's last two games.

    Conte said last week the injury was more serious than first thought and a second scan has confirmed the defender is facing a spell on the sidelines.

    "The news is not positive. Not good," Conte said at a news conference previewing Tottenham's home Premier League clash with Brentford on Thursday.

    "The injury is serious. I think it'll take time to see him again. Surely next year. We need to check his injury week by week but the injury is serious.

    "Now he's trying to recover but he needs a long time to recover. It's a pity because you know he's an important player for us. The injury is very serious."

    Pressed on when exactly he expects to see Romero back in action, Conte replied: "Next year. Next year. January, February, I don't know. But for sure in 2021 he has finished. 

    "We have to wait and see his recovery but the injury is serious."

    Romero was named as Defender of the Year in Serie A last term before joining Tottenham from Atalanta on an initial loan that will be made permanent next year.

    The 23-year-old has made 13 appearances in all competitions to date for Spurs and started Conte's first two games in charge.

    Despite losing a key player to injury, plus some mixed results since succeeding Nuno Espirito Santo last month, Conte is not looking ahead to the January transfer window.

    "Honestly, when I decided to become Tottenham manager, I didn't speak about this aspect," he said. "When you take a job, you have to make your evaluations and you have to feel your sensations. 

    "And honestly, I felt Tottenham was the right club to work and to bring my ideas and philosophy of football. For this reason, I accepted the job.

    "I didn't talk about January or the way to improve the team. I repeat: I'm here because I have great enthusiasm, great patience to start a new work with Tottenham. 

    "If I'm here it's because I want to build something important with the club. I know at the moment we're a bit far from the top clubs but we need to work to improve the situation. 

    "To start to and also to create a good basis where you start – and then you build. We can do this and then our fans will support us.

    "At the moment it's not simple, but I have great enthusiasm and great patience and I believe that here we can win something importance. 

    "We need patience and time but I have great desire to do something great."

    Conte did provide some more positive injury news with regard to Giovani Lo Celso, who he expects to return to training the day after the Brentford game.

    Spurs welcome Brentford to the Tottenham Hotspur Stadium unbeaten in their last 11 meetings with their London rivals in all competitions in a run stretching back to 1948.

    However, Tottenham have lost each of their last five London derbies in the Premier League – their worst-such run since losing six in a row between March 2003 and January 2004.

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