Antonio Conte wants to "raise the bar" for his Inter youngsters after Nicolo Barella sparked a late fightback in the Nerazzurri's 3-1 win at Cagliari on Sunday.

Inter peppered the visitors' goal only to find home goalkeeper Alessio Cragno in inspired form and trailed to Riccardo Sottil's 42nd-minute goal at Sardegna Arena.

Former Cagliari midfielder Barella levelled in the 77th minute with a sublime volley and it was his corner from which Danilo D'Ambrosio put Inter ahead before Romelu Lukaku rounded out the comeback in injury time.

In total, Barella had two shots on target, finished with an assist, completed 50 of 61 passes for an 82 per cent success rate and put in seven crosses - two of which were "good crosses" as defined by Opta.

Speaking to DAZN, Conte said: "Barella is a young footballer with important qualities, he needs some self-discipline to control all the energy that he has. He was playing for Cagliari two years ago, he is improving now.

"These players can become top players, we need to work with them and try to raise the bar and make them become players who leave the mark. You only leave the mark by winning, not participating."

It was not such a happy day for Christian Eriksen, who was handed just a fourth start in Serie A this term but hauled off before the hour.

The Denmark international, who only joined from Tottenham in January, continues to be linked with a January exit from San Siro.

Eriksen had two key passes in the match and completed 25 of the 29 he attempted but cut a desolate figure when brought off by Conte.

"I evaluate everyone's performance. I don't like to speak about single players, the general performance was positive, for what we created and for our reaction against a difficult team to face," Conte said when asked about Eriksen's performance.

Inter's fourth straight Serie A win was the perfect riposte to the midweek 0-0 draw with Shakhtar Donetsk in the Champions League that left Inter eliminated from European competition this season.

In truth, three points was a fair result for a team that had 23 shots, 11 on target and almost 58 per cent of possession.

After the Shakhtar game, some in the Italian media accused Conte of having no plan B, something he was asked about following the Cagliari win.

"I joked about plan B, which, for every coach, is represented by substitutions," he said.

"Sometimes you have to make the team more offensive, sometimes more defensive. When you do it, you give more space to improvisation and anything can happen.

"As I always say, you must have all the players available to do it. Some of them may be injured, or not feeling well, or they may stay on the bench just to warm it.  

"Most of times there are judgements from the outside and who stays inside can't say it all."

Barella came through the youth ranks at Cagliari and did not celebrate his goal against his former employers.

The midfielder explained: "I still have many limits, I can improve. I am really happy, and little bit sorry, because I scored against Cagliari, but I am mostly happy for the team.

"It's always exciting to come here, I am a pro and I need to play and give my best for the team I'm playing for."

Nicolo Barella, Danilo d'Ambrosio and Romelu Lukaku scored in the final 13 minutes to ease the growing pressure on Antonio Conte as Inter left it late to beat Cagliari 3-1 in Serie A.

A goalless Champions League draw against Shakhtar Donetsk on Wednesday saw Inter knocked out of European competition for the season to leave head coach Conte's long-term future in doubt.

For long periods at Sardegna Arena it looked as though the situation would become even bleaker, with goalkeeper Alessio Cragno in inspired form, and Lukaku, Alexis Sanchez and Alessandro Bastoni all wasteful.

Riccardo Sottil's expert 42nd-minute finish had Cagliari on course for three points but Barella's wonderful effort preceded D'Ambrosio nodding in from close range and Lukaku completed the comeback to make it four straight Serie A wins for Inter, who are two points adrift of leaders Milan having played a game more.

 

Inter head coach Antonio Conte does not want supporters to buy into negativity surrounding the club's Champions League exit.

The Nerazzurri were frustrated in a goalless midweek draw against Shakhtar Donetsk that saw them dumped out of European competition for the rest of the season.

Real Madrid and Borussia Monchengladbach occupied the top two spots in Group B, with Shakhtar dropping down to the Europa League.

It means Serie A is once again the prime focus for Conte, whose side lie third - five points shy of leaders and bitter rivals Milan as they prepare to travel to Cagliari on Sunday.

The former Italy and Chelsea boss offered an impassioned defence of his 18 months in charge at Inter, who finished as Serie A and Europa League runners-up last term, and believes the foundations he is laying could lead to a "skyscraper" being built that can be the envy of rivals revelling in their miserable week.

"The message I want to send to the fans is don't make it easier for those who are relishing this moment and hope that we'll self-destruct after all we've done over the last year-and-a-half," Conte said. "I see too much negativity.

"Don't make it easier for those who want to destroy us, because they see we can reap the rewards of this work in future.

"We must remain united, remembering this process already took us to second place in Serie A, the Europa League Final and the Coppa Italia semi-final.

"We only started it last year, but already regained credibility. We must have faith.

"I understand the impatience after 10 years of winning nothing, but we must also understand that when you rebuild from the foundations, that is what takes the most time.

"Once you have the foundations, you can build a skyscraper, the kind Inter fans deserve."


Conte added: "Please, let us not offer ourselves up to those who are enjoying Inter's problems, to those who hate Inter and want our destruction. We want what is good for Inter and we want to build."

Recent form suggests Inter are well-placed to bounce back against Cagliari, having won six of the past nine meetings between the sides in Serie A and scoring 21 times in the process.

Since 2015, Cagliari have lost four of their five home matches versus Inter, while Lautaro Martinez has scored in each of his four appearances against the Sardinians.

Antonio Conte hit back at criticism of his Inter side and claimed mistakes from officials also contributed to their Champions League exit after a goalless draw with Shakhtar Donetsk.

The Nerazzurri crashed out of Europe on a wet Wednesday at San Siro as Real Madrid and Borussia Monchengladbach advanced to the round of 16 following a 2-0 win for Zinedine Zidane's side.

Lautaro Martínez hit the crossbar early on and missed several other chances, while Alexis Sanchez's powerful stoppage-time header struck Romelu Lukaku when it may have been heading for the back of the net.

That summed up Inter's night, which ended with them finishing bottom of Group B and Shakhtar having to settle for a Europa League spot.

It is the first time the Serie A side have come last in their Champions League group but Conte did not take kindly to questions about their desire.

He told a Sky Sport Italia reporter: "These are your opinions that I respect, but I disagree.

"I think the team gave everything they had, it's unbelievable that we weren't able to score in 180 minutes [against Shakhtar]."

"The boys gave everything. We cannot make assessments now, there is much regret. I don't feel like there was a lack of determination. There was a lack of goals and if you don't score, you don't win. 

"We weren't lucky with referees and VAR throughout the Champions League, Inter were not respected. Go and see all the situations that have happened to us. We could have gone through."

Conte also defended his substitutions and disagreed with Sky pundit Fabio Capello's suggestion that he did not try a different approach with so much at stake.

"I introduced Alexis Sanchez with 20 minutes to go including stoppages. We would've been unbalanced with three strikers, but then I think Lautaro ran out of steam. In midfield, those were the players I had," the Inter boss said.

"It was either Alexis or [Christian] Eriksen for [Roberto] Gagliardini, but I preferred to add another striker and go for the win. When I saw Lautaro was out of steam, I introduced Eriksen."

He added in response to former Milan coach Capello: "Of course I have plan B. We have it but we don't want to make it public, otherwise the opponents also prepare themselves for that."

While Liverpool, Bayern Munich, Manchester City and Porto have already secured their place in the Champions League knockout stages, some big names are in danger of a shock elimination.

After making history by leading Real Madrid to three straight Champions League titles during his first stint as head coach, Zinedine Zidane is on the verge of another first that could well place his future at the club in serious jeopardy.

Inter are also fighting for their future in the competition, as are Atletico Madrid and semi-finalists from the past two campaigns Ajax and Atalanta.

Ahead of what is sure to be a thrilling finale to the group stage, we take a look at the best stats courtesy of Opta.

 

Midtjylland v Liverpool: A first in reach for Reds

Jurgen Klopp's men are already guaranteed to finish top of Group D but victory over bottom side Midtjylland will see them register five wins in a single Champions League group stage for the first time.

Their form on matchday six in the competition is strong too. They have triumphed in each of their past three final group stage matches by an aggregate score of 10-0.

Taking three points would see the Reds become just the third Premier League side, after Chelsea in 2003-04 and Manchester United in 2010-11, to win all three of their away games in the group stage.

Should Caoimhin Kelleher be given another opportunity between the posts, he could become the first Liverpool goalkeeper to keep a clean sheet in their first two Champions League starts.

Salzburg v Atletico Madrid: Shoot-out for progression

Atletico will be looking to avoid just a second exit at this stage in their eighth campaign in the competition under Diego Simeone.

They will need to be wary of Salzburg forward Mergim Berisha, who has scored four goals in as many Champions League starts for the club this season – only Erling Haaland (eight in 2019-20) has scored more for the Austrian side in a single campaign in Europe's premier club competition.

Enock Mwepu will be another threat for the visitors, having attempted six shots and created four chances in Salzburg's 3-1 win over Lokomotiv Moscow last time out.

Ahead of matchday six, only two players had been directly involved in more shots in a Champions League game this season – Lionel Messi and Munir El Haddad played a part in 11 against Ferencvaros and Krasnodar respectively.

Real Madrid v Borussia Monchengladbach: Blancos on the brink

A win will see Zidane's struggling Madrid into the knockout rounds and avoid the ignominy of suffering their first Champions League group stage exit after 28 consecutive progressions.

The drop-off this season can be seen in the fact their defeat to Shakhtar Donetsk last time out was Madrid's fourth in their past seven matches in the competition – they only lost five of their first 39 Champions League games under Zidane (W25 D9).

Goals should be expected at the Estadio Alfredo Di Stefano, with the previous five meetings between the teams seeing 20 goals scored with 10 apiece.

Gladbach just need to avoid defeat to advance and some game time for Alassane Plea would likely help them achieve that; he has been directly involved in eight goals (five scored, three assisted) in his five Champions League appearances at an average of one every 45 minutes.

Inter v Shakhtar Donetsk: Conte's San Siro woe

Failure to win against high-flying Shakhtar at San Siro will see Inter bow out at the group stage for a third consecutive season. Before this run, they had advanced from 11 of their 12 pool appearances (including the second group stage) in the competition.

Shakhtar may have beaten Madrid twice but they have a goal difference of minus seven; the only teams to have advanced with such a record after five games are Galatasaray in 2013-14 and Atalanta in 2019-20.

Inter will therefore be hoping Romelu Lukaku can help get them over the line. The Belgium striker has played a role in 17 goals in his 15 European matches for the Nerazzurri, including scoring a double in a 5-0 success over the Ukrainian side in last season's Europa League semi-final.

A strong performance from Lukaku would go a significant way to ensuring Antonio Conte does not become the first Inter coach to oversee a Champions League group stage campaign without a home win.

Other fixtures:

Ajax v Atalanta

2 - Ajax are unbeaten in their last seven games against Italian opponents in the Champions League, but five of these have ended in draws. They must win to reach the last 16.

4 - Atalanta went winless at home in the Champions League group stage this season (D2 L1), yet will qualify for the knockout rounds if they avoid defeat here. It will be just the fourth time a team has picked up as little as two points at home in a group stage and still qualified for the next round, after Roma in 2002-03 and Milan in both 2009-10 and 2012-13.

Bayern Munich v Lokomotiv Moscow

13 - Bayern drew 1-1 against Atletico in their most recent Champions League outing – the first time they failed to win in the competition under Hansi Flick after he oversaw 12 straight victories.

1 - Lokomotiv have drawn both of their away games in the Champions League this season and have never previously gone unbeaten away from home in a single season in the competition.

Manchester City v Marseille

16 – If City beat Marseille they will have accrued 16 points in the Champions League group stage this season, the joint-most of any English side in a single campaign along with Arsenal in 2005-06 (finalists), Manchester United in 2007-08 (winners), and Tottenham in 2017-18 (last 16).

8 - Marseille have lost each of their past seven away games in the Champions League and another defeat here would see them record their worst ever losing run on the road in the competition.

Olympiacos v Porto

100 - Olympiacos have won all three of their home Champions League matches against Porto, in three successive seasons between 1997 and 1999 – it is their best 100 per cent record on their own patch against any side in the competition.

4 - Porto have kept a clean sheet in four consecutive Champions League matches since conceding three goals away to Manchester City in October – the last side to record five or more consecutive shutouts in the competition was Juventus in 2016-17. Manchester City are also on a run of four.

Antonio Conte has told Inter to "dig deep" and not worry about how Real Madrid get on as the tightest of all Champions League groups heads for a thrilling finale.

Inter looked "down and out", according to coach Conte, after they followed up draws with Shakhtar and Borussia Monchengladbach by losing home and away to Madrid.

But Zinedine Zidane's Spanish giants have since faltered, losing to Shakhtar last week, and Inter picked up a first win.

That has created an unusual situation where each of the four teams in Group B stand a chance of achieving the top-two finish required to advance to the knockout stage.

It means Wednesday's final round of games could see high drama. Should bottom side Inter beat Shakhtar, they will reach the last-16 stage providing Madrid lose at home to Borussia Monchengladbach.

Such a prospect cannot be written off, with Gladbach looking to hit back after a 3-2 defeat to Inter last week and Madrid on an inconsistent run of form.

"We need to focus on the facts. We have to win our match," Conte said.

"We have problems going into the game. We have issues with the starting XI, but we need to dig deep.

"Last week we were down and out, but now we are back in it. We have to win the game. That is what matters most. As for the rest, I am not worried."

Conte certainly does not expect Madrid to play with a plan to force the draw in their clash with Gladbach, even though that would see Zidane's men through if Inter beat Shakhtar.

"We are talking about the Champions League. We are not talking about a local pub tournament," Conte said, replying to a question floating that idea. "It is worrying if we hear these kinds of things such as teams only playing for a draw."

The encounter will be the third time Inter and Shakhtar have faced each other in 2020, with the first of those resulting in a 5-0 win for Conte’s side in the Europa League semi-finals.

The Nerazzurri will inevitably be looking to Romelu Lukaku to provide the big threat to Shakhtar, with the former Manchester United striker having been directly involved in 17 goals in his 15 matches in the Europa League and Champions League for Inter (13 goals, 4 assists).

The Belgian has four goals in four Champions League appearances this season, which is as many as he plundered in his previous 14 matches in the competition.

Those four goals have come from just 12 shots, with Lukaku converting three of his five opportunities defined by Opta as 'big chances'.

Inter have midfield problems, with the likes of Matias Vecino, Radja Nainggolan and Arturo Vidal set to miss the crunch game.

Vidal was injured in the weekend Serie A win over Bologna, with Conte saying it would be "too risky" to play the former Barcelona man on Wednesday.

Shakhtar will be certain of going through should they win, and a draw may also be enough for the Ukrainians.

"We have only one option available. We will do our all to win," Conte said.

Inter head coach Antonio Conte compared Romelu Lukaku to an NFL quarterback, while he also hailed two-goal hero Achraf Hakimi following Saturday's 3-1 win over Bologna.

Conte's Inter closed the gap on Serie A leaders and city rivals Milan to two points thanks to Lukaku and full-back Hakimi at San Siro.

Inter star Lukaku broke the deadlock in the 16th minute before Hakimi doubled the advantage on the stroke of half-time.

Emanuel Vignato's 67th-minute goal threatened to make things tense for Inter, but Hakimi's second wrapped up proceedings as the Nerazzurri took their tally to 26 goals in the first 10 Serie A games of the season for the first time since 2009-10.

Conte heaped praise on in-form forward Lukaku, who has scored eight goals in his first nine league appearances this term – the Belgium international has scored more than seven goals before the 11th match of the season for the first time in his career.

Lukaku has also scored in all of his first four home appearances in Serie A in 2020-21, joining Christian Vieri as the only Inter players to achieve the feat in the league's three-point-win era.

"I believe he can still get stronger," Conte told DAZN. "I described him as a rough diamond when he arrived and felt that work would help him become one of the best strikers in the world.

"He is on the right track, as he has everything, the physicality of a centre-forward, but also the pace and power of an American Football quarterback.

"He is doing well, has understood what needs to be done, is humble and works for the team. I am very happy with him."

Hakimi, who arrived from LaLiga champions Real Madrid ahead of the current campaign following two successful seasons on loan at Borussia Dortmund, became the only Serie A defender this term to score at least two goals and provide two assists.

"This lad is 20 years old and had just two seasons at Dortmund, where they play a much less tactical style of football. Haki is working hard, he has realised the difference between playing in Italy and Germany, where the opponents don't study you as much, where they don't identify your characteristics as precisely," Conte added.

"I think he is in the right team and with the right coach to become one of the best in the world in his role. It will require a lot of work, but I'm very happy, because this type of performance will boost his confidence, whereas errors in the past might've dented his self-belief.

"He needs a balance, it's going to be a process and I am glad he got this personal satisfaction of a brace."

Christian Eriksen, who is out of favour and heading for a January exit just a year after swapping Tottenham for Inter, was a stoppage-time substitute against Bologna.

"My rapport with Christian is the same as all the other players. I will never tire of explaining that what I do and the choices I make are for the good of Inter," Conte.

"The last thing I do is look at the face of the player, it's about everything else. Eriksen is working and he is at our disposal."

Antonio Conte hailed Inter's "spirit" as they kept alive their chances of progressing in the Champions League with a pulsating 3-2 win away at Borussia Monchengladbach.  

Inter put aside the disappointment of failing to win any of their first four Group B matches to edge past Gladbach, who could have sealed their own qualification for the knockout stages with a win on home turf.  

Matteo Darmian put the Serie A side ahead with his first goal for the club before Alassane Plea pulled the hosts level on the stroke of half-time.  

Lukaku then scored two fine goals to put Inter 3-1 up and despite Plea's second 15 minutes from time, Inter held on to ensure they go into the final round of fixtures next week with something to play for.  

They will need to beat Shakhtar Donetsk and hope Gladbach do them a favour against Real Madrid, who lost for a second time this season to the Ukrainian side in the early kick-off on Tuesday.  

Inter were good value for the win too, carving out 15 shots on goal to Gladbach's 10, and Conte revealed a supportive team talk at half-time was crucial to their success.

"Gladbach are in an excellent period of form, in both the Bundesliga and the Champions League," Conte told Sky Sport Italia. "If you are not a team, tactically, physically, in terms of character, you don't come here and win. 

"We absolutely deserved to win and could've frankly avoided suffering quite so much towards the end. We beat the group leaders and we are alive.  

"I thank the lads; they had the right spirit. When they have this desire to help each other out and be a real team, we cause problems for the opposition. 

"What I ask of the lads is to increase their level of responsibility, each and every one, because if they all do that, then we can become an ambitious side. 

"Performances like this prove the team is there, we are united, we're all working in the same direction and want to give our fans joy. 

"Conceding that equaliser on the stroke of half-time against the run of play could've killed us. We analysed some situations during the break, as we made some mistakes towards half-time, but these lads needed my support at that moment.  

"I told them we had to keep going and rediscover the quality we had early in the game and that we'd be rewarded with the victory. 

"I am glad that I was proved right, because when a coach talks and those things don't happen, you risk losing their trust!" 

Lukaku's double means he has now scored 12 goals in European competitions over the past two seasons, a tally only bettered by Robert Lewandowski (18) and Erling Haaland (16).  

The Belgian, who scored with his only attempts on target, joined Inter in a big-money move from Manchester United in August 2019 and says his time in Italy has been the most enjoyable of his career so far. 

"I am one of the 25 players," he said. "There are far more experienced players here than me. I want to help the team to win, that's what I do in every training session and every match. I want to help Inter. 

"I am so happy to be here with these lads. I've had the best year-and-a-half of my career at Inter, so I thank the coach, his staff and my team-mates." 

Inter take on Bologna in Serie A this weekend before their crunch clash with Shakhtar in Europe.

Antonio Conte hailed Inter's "spirit" as they kept alive their chances of progressing in the Champions League with a pulsating 3-2 win away at Borussia Monchengladbach.  

Inter put aside the disappointment of failing to win any of their first four Group B matches to edge past Gladbach, who could have sealed their own qualification for the knockout stages with a win on home turf.  

Matteo Darmian put the Serie A side ahead with his first goal for the club before Alassane Plea pulled the hosts level on the stroke of half-time.  

Lukaku then scored two fine goals to put Inter 3-1 up and despite Plea's second 15 minutes from time, Inter held on to ensure they go into the final round of fixtures next week with something to play for.  

They will need to beat Shakhtar Donetsk and hope Gladbach do them a favour against Real Madrid, who lost for a second time this season to the Ukrainian side in the early kick-off on Tuesday.  

Inter were good value for the win too, carving out 15 shots on goal to Gladbach's 10, and Conte revealed a supportive team talk at half-time was crucial to their success.

"Gladbach are in an excellent period of form, in both the Bundesliga and the Champions League," Conte told Sky Sport Italia. "If you are not a team, tactically, physically, in terms of character, you don't come here and win. 

"We absolutely deserved to win and could've frankly avoided suffering quite so much towards the end. We beat the group leaders and we are alive.  

"I thank the lads; they had the right spirit. When they have this desire to help each other out and be a real team, we cause problems for the opposition. 

"What I ask of the lads is to increase their level of responsibility, each and every one, because if they all do that, then we can become an ambitious side. 

"Performances like this prove the team is there, we are united, we're all working in the same direction and want to give our fans joy. 

"Conceding that equaliser on the stroke of half-time against the run of play could've killed us. We analysed some situations during the break, as we made some mistakes towards half-time, but these lads needed my support at that moment.  

"I told them we had to keep going and rediscover the quality we had early in the game and that we'd be rewarded with the victory. 

"I am glad that I was proved right, because when a coach talks and those things don't happen, you risk losing their trust!" 

Lukaku's double means he has now scored 12 goals in European competitions over the past two seasons, a tally only bettered by Robert Lewandowski (18) and Erling Haaland (16).  

The Belgian, who scored with his only attempts on target, joined Inter in a big-money move from Manchester United in August 2019 and says his time in Italy has been the most enjoyable of his career so far. 

"I am one of the 25 players," he said. "There are far more experienced players here than me. I want to help the team to win, that's what I do in every training session and every match. I want to help Inter. 

"I am so happy to be here with these lads. I've had the best year-and-a-half of my career at Inter, so I thank the coach, his staff and my team-mates." 

Inter take on Bologna in Serie A this weekend before their crunch clash with Shakhtar in Europe.

Inter kept their hopes of qualifying for the Champions League last 16 alive as Romelu Lukaku's brace sealed a 3-2 win over Borussia Monchengladbach on Tuesday.  

Antonio Conte's side went into the game having failed to win any of their opening four Group B games, yet they got off to a fine start when Matteo Darmian's first goal for the club put them ahead early on.  

Gladbach, who would have qualified as group winners with a victory, drew level in first-half stoppage time thanks to Alassane Plea's header, yet Lukaku restored Inter's lead with the first of two cool finishes after the break. 

Inter held on for all three points despite a second from Plea, meaning they go into next week's clash with Shakhtar Donetsk knowing a win - combined with a defeat for Real Madrid against Gladbach – will see them secure an unlikely spot in the knockout stages.

Antonio Conte challenged his Inter players to learn from last week's defeat against Real Madrid as they prepare for Tuesday's must-win clash with Borussia Monchengladbach.

Inter have failed to win any of their opening four Champions League games for the first time ever and only a victory will do in Germany if they are to avoid early elimination.

The three-time European champions lost 2-0 at home to Madrid in their last Group B outing – Rodrygo's deflected strike off Achraf Hakimi adding to Eden Hazard's early penalty.

Conte acknowledged Inter made life difficult for themselves against Madrid in a match that saw Arturo Vidal dismissed for dissent, and the Inter boss is now after a response if his side are to keep their slim qualification hopes alive.

"There have been many negative comments expressed after our match with Real," Conte said at Monday's pre-match media conference.

"I've heard about how our opponents dominated us, but it has been forgotten that we gave away a penalty right at the start and lost a player after half an hour.

"I challenge anyone to recover quickly in matches like that. We created those negative situations and have to work on that to avoid making things tough for ourselves

"Tomorrow we take on a very good team that is doing well in the Champions League. We need to produce our best and leave the pitch with no regrets."

Inter are bottom of Group B, five points adrift of second-place Madrid and a further point behind a Gladbach side unbeaten in four games against the Nerazzurri.

Conte is under pressure at San Siro following a run of three wins in 11 games in all competitions and accepted anything less than a place in the last 16 will be a failure.

"We started this journey in control of our own destiny and today that is no longer the case," he said. "If we can no longer qualify, that means we have failed in some situations.

"The only way we can stay alive is to win, even if that won't be easy to achieve. Gladbach have shown their strength and this is now a further test for us."

Conte's 20 per cent win rate is the lowest of any Inter coach to have managed at least five games in the Champions League. 

The former Juventus and Chelsea boss tweaked formation for Saturday's 3-0 league win over Sassuolo, with no recognised playmaker selected, and could stick with the same setup against Gladbach.

"I keep saying that after a very short time together we find ourselves having to play competitive matches with newcomers like Hakimi, [Aleksandar] Kolarov and Vidal.

"We have found ourselves having to throw these players into the fray with all the risks involved. But by playing together you start to learn about the characteristics of players.

"We have done well with some players, others less so."

Hakimi was withdrawn a little over an hour into the game with Madrid and was benched for the win over Sassuolo.

The wing-back has two assists and a goal in Serie A since joining from Real Madrid, but only Lautaro Martinez (106) and Nicola Barella (108) have lost possession more often than Hakimi (85) among Inter players.

"Go back and see what I said about him at the start of the season," Conte said. "He has to work a lot more in the defensive phase.

"He has great potential but in Italy there is much more pressure than in England and Germany, especially when you play for Inter."

Antonio Conte has urged Inter to keep rising above the negativity that critics put on them in the wake of a commendable 3-0 win at Sassuolo on Saturday. 

Inter's victory was Sassuolo's first defeat of the season and preserved the Nerazzurri's 11-match unbeaten run away from home in Serie A. 

It was a game in which Conte got his tactics spot-on, as Inter absorbed pressure and capitalised on errors as they looked for the counter – the visitors seeing just 35 per cent possession on their way to victory. 

The result saw them bounce back from a 2-0 loss to Real Madrid in the Champions League earlier in the week, and Conte praised his team for their unity despite attracting a lot of criticism this season. 

"Congratulations to the boys because it's not easy at Inter," he told Sky Sport Italia. "Regardless, we can't wait to dispose of negativity. 

"We have to be good, harmonious, think about ourselves and keep working. We need to know that there are people who can't wait to criticise. 

"Seeing this relentlessness put on us regardless creates difficulties for footballers. Certain situations must give us even more strength to give the best of ourselves.

"When the boat is in a storm you have to be all on it, without letting the coach or a player sink. I hope we're all in the same boat now." 

But one player who may not be on the 'Inter boat' for much longer is Christian Eriksen, who has struggled since joining from Tottenham in January. He has played just 23 Serie A games this year and been involved in only three league goals. 

Before the match, Inter CEO Giuseppe Marotta seemingly confirmed the club's intention to sell Christian Eriksen in January. 

Marotta had previously suggested such an outcome was likely, but he went further this time as he accepted it was a transfer that simply has not worked out. 

"If Eriksen has played little by January, he will be the first to ask for the transfer," Marotta told Sky Sport Italia. 

"We must do it without any controversy on both sides, simply considering it a positive market operation that has not been fully functional for what it is, a technical-tactical need. 

"It happens, and the history of football is full of these cases, that there are players who are not functional to a system. 

"This is up to the coach to evaluate it. We took a market opportunity last January, we bought him for €20million and for everyone he is an excellent player. 

"Then there are difficulties, but the coach has the right and the duty to choose the eleven who give him the best guarantees."

Inter responded to their Champions League loss to Real Madrid by making the most of calamitous Sassuolo defending in a 3-0 win that lifted the Nerazzurri up to second in Serie A.

Antonio Conte's men have been troubled by inconsistency this season and are on the brink of Champions League elimination, but at top-four hopefuls Sassuolo on Saturday they produced a clinical and professional display.

Inter were 2-0 up by the 14th minute as a catalogue of defensive errors led to Alexis Sanchez – partnering Lautaro Martinez in Romelu Lukaku's place – finding the net and Vlad Chiriches' own goal doubled the advantage.

Sassuolo put the visitors under pressure for much of the second half, but Inter's uncompromising rearguard kept them in charge and Roberto Gagliardini made it 3-0 as they moved to within two points of rivals and pacesetters Milan, at least until Sunday.

Inter looked every inch a team with a point to prove early on and had the lead inside four minutes.

Martinez charged down Chiriches' clearance and raced onto Sanchez's subsequent pass, flicking the ball over the approaching Andrea Consigli before outmuscling the Romanian defender and ultimately squaring for his strike partner to tap in.

Chiriches' day got even worse soon after as he headed Arturo Vidal's fierce volley into his own net.

Sassuolo eventually forced Samir Handanovic into a couple of saves via Rogerio and Jeremy Toljan late in the half, though neither were particularly demanding.

But the home side struggled to make the most of their greater share of the possession and the game was effectively put beyond them with an hour played.

Gagliardini latched onto the bouncing ball just inside Sassuolo's penalty area and stabbed a clever volleyed finish into the bottom-left corner.

Lukaku was brought on with 10 minutes to go and quickly found the net after being fed by Arturo Vidal, though an offside call spared Sassuolo.

What does it mean? Inter finding consistency in Serie A as Conte gets it right

While their Champions League form is certainly an area of concern, having claimed just two points from four games, Inter are now unbeaten in five Serie A matches since losing to Milan on October 17.

It was not so long ago that doubts over Conte's future were being raised, but it is fair to say he got his set-up spot-on here. Inter were perfectly happy to allow the hosts to dictate possession, having just 35 per cent themselves, yet they still managed 11 shots and – crucially – scored three times.

Sassuolo were unbeaten in the league this term before Saturday. A 3-0 win in their own stadium is a fine feat for Inter.

Skriniar helps keep Sassuolo at bay

Although Inter scored three times, their defence was arguably more crucial than the attack. Milan Skriniar was the standout. The Slovakia international looked to be on the way out at the start of the season due to concerns over his suitability for Conte's system, but he showed his worth again here, making a couple of interceptions and a match-high eight clearances, while he was also tidy in possession.

An unfortunate day for Chiriches

So calamitous was Chiriches' start to the game that it was going to take something special to redeem him. He was not just at fault for the clearance before Sanchez's opener, he was also the defender knocked over by Martinez in the same passage of play, while he then put into his own goal.

He certainly tried to get back on track given he won 63 per cent of a team-high eight first-half duels, completed 90 per cent of his 40 passes and made two tackles and clearances, but injury ended his day just before the interval.

What's next?

Inter go to Borussia Monchengladbach on Tuesday knowing anything other than a win will see them dumped out of the Champions League, they then host Bologna in Serie A next Saturday. Sassuolo go to Roma a week on Sunday.

Inter head coach Antonio Conte described Diego Maradona as "the poetry of football" following the Argentina and Napoli great's death on Wednesday.

Maradona – arguably football's greatest ever player – died at the age of 60 after a suspected heart attack, the Argentine Football Association (AFA) confirmed midweek.

World Cup winner Maradona was discharged from hospital a fortnight ago following brain surgery, having undergone a routine operation for a subdural haematoma after being admitted to hospital due to concerns over anaemia and dehydration.

Conte came up against Maradona during his time with boyhood club Lecce in Serie A, and he lauded the former Gimnasia y Esgrima La Plata head coach following Wednesday's 2-0 Champions League loss to Real Madrid.

"We are all shedding tears for the loss of a man who wrote football history and will always be an indelible figure in this sport," Conte told Sky Sport Italia.

"He was the poetry of football. I had the pleasure of playing against him, of marking him, and it still doesn't seem real that he's gone, especially as he was still young. It's very sad."

Madrid boss Zidane also spoke glowingly of Maradona after the LaLiga champions won at San Siro for the first time in their history.

Former France international Zidane – also a World Cup winner – added: "It's an enormous loss for the world of football.

"I have him engrained in my head because of what he did at the 1986 World Cup. I was 14 years old... I have no words. We're all very sad."

Maradona, the captain and inspiration behind Argentina's World Cup success in 1986 before going on to coach his country at the 2010 showpiece, had been hospitalised just days after turning 60.

He appeared in a fragile state when he briefly made an appearance as his Gimnasia side played a match on the evening of his birthday last month.

Maradona won 91 caps for Argentina between 1977 and 1994, scoring 34 goals at international level.

He started his career with Argentinos Juniors before joining Boca Juniors and went on to play for Barcelona, Napoli, Sevilla and Newell's Old Boys before returning to Boca in 1995.

Maradona had the best years of his club career in Italy, playing a massive part in Napoli winning the Serie A title in the 1986-87 and 1989-90 seasons.

Playmaker Maradona also lifted the UEFA Cup with Napoli in 1989 and he won three trophies during his time at Barca – including the Copa del Rey in 1983.

Maradona also had stints in charge of Textil Mandiyu, Racing Club, Al-Wasl, Fujairah and Dorados de Sinaloa in Mexico before being appointed by Gimnasia last year.

Inter head coach Antonio Conte said his players should not be downbeat following their 2-0 Champions League loss to Real Madrid as it showed exactly what they must do to reach the level of their opponents.

Eden Hazard's early penalty and substitute Rodrygo's second-half strike in Wednesday's Champions League clash condemned Inter to their first ever home loss against LaLiga champions Madrid.

It is the first time Inter have failed to win any of their opening four group games in the illustrious European competition and leaves their hopes of progressing to the last 16 in tatters.

The Nerazzurri are bottom of Group B, five points adrift of Madrid in second and a further point behind leaders Borussia Monchengladbach with two rounds of fixtures remaining.

Madrid's goals came either side of Arturo Vidal's sending off, the midfielder issued with two quick-fire yellow cards for dissent, which under-fire coach Conte feels was a turning point at San Siro.

"It was always going to be difficult playing against big clubs like Real Madrid, so when going a goal down and a man down, it becomes an impossible mountain to climb," Conte told Sky Sport Italia.

"I think we saw the difference between them and us. It shouldn't knock us down. It should show us there's a path we must take.

"We need to be hungry, hard-working and humble, to realise where we are and not let ourselves get swayed by voices from the outside.

"The only path forward is to work hard and grow in every possible way."

Vidal was unhappy not to have been awarded a penalty when put under pressure by Raphael Varane inside the box and was dismissed by English referee Anthony Taylor after just 33 minutes in Milan.

Chile international Vidal became the third player in Champions League history to be sent off for three different clubs, along with Patrick Vieira and Zlatan Ibrahimovic, but Conte questioned the decision.

"I prefer not to talk about the referee, even if they should be smart not to ruin certain games in this way," he said. "Unless, of course, Vidal has said something very strong to him. He has killed the game."

Inter had just 38 per cent of possession and had only one attempt on target – Ivan Perisic testing Madrid goalkeeper Thibaut Courtois in the final 10 minutes with a weak shot.

Lautaro Martinez and Romelu Lukaku managed four touches in the opposition box between them but Conte does not believe his side have an issue with their attack.

"We're not weak upfront as we score plenty of goals," he said. "We are perhaps conceding a few too many at the moment. 

"As I said, the game was immediately an uphill struggle and it became difficult to get back into it due to a red card that was caused by an excessive protest.

"This is the situation, we accept it. We had done much better and were more aggressive in Madrid, but it was tough here to be almost immediately 1-0 down and then see a player sent off. 

"That knocked the wind out of us. But nonetheless, I think the team worked very hard today and put the effort in. Don't forget, we were against Real Madrid and not the bottom of the table club."

Serie A hopefuls Inter travel to Monchengladbach in their next group game and host Shakhtar Donetsk on the final matchday.

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