Andrea Pirlo insists Juventus remain determined to push for glory on all fronts despite not being at 100 per cent, with the club heading into a pivotal stage of the season.

The reigning champions find themselves in a battle to remain in touch with Inter in the Serie A title race; they trail the leaders by 10 points, albeit with a game in hand. 

They host Lazio on Saturday in league action, then have a crucial Champions League clash with Porto to follow on Tuesday, the Bianconeri needing to overturn a 2-1 first-leg deficit to make it through to the quarter-finals.

With a Coppa Italia final to come later in the year, Pirlo appreciates he will have to manage his squad carefully in the coming weeks, though insists his focus will not switch away from the Scudetto while there is still a chance of winning it for a 10th successive season. 

"All the matches are decisive for Juventus. The next game is tomorrow's match and we will concentrate on it with all our strength to win and only then will we think about Porto," Pirlo told the media on Friday. 

"We are still in the race on all fronts and as long as there is hope we will give our all to try to win the league. 

"The enthusiasm is there because we are going through a period of tough and important games. Tomorrow's match is also important for the standings and where we are is the same as last week. We can't make mistakes in case those in front of us do so."

He added: "We must play an intelligent game tomorrow, knowing that we are in a delicate period and we are not at 100 per cent.  

"It will be important to manage every situation and every play well, because you won't be able to go to 100 miles per hour for 90 minutes."

Pirlo is hampered in his preparations by injuries within the first-team squad, while Rodrigo Bentancur is isolating away from the group after testing positive for COVID-19. 

Alvaro Morata is nearing a return to action; the striker's recent absence has increased the reliance on Cristiano Ronaldo, who has scored four goals in Juve's past three games. 

"When you play a lot of games, a day or two of rest is good," Pirlo said. "It also applies to Cristiano. 

"Now that we are short up front, he has gritted his teeth and will do it for as long as we need it. He has shown and continues to demonstrate his great professionalism."

Pirlo revealed Leonardo Bonucci has been able to take part in some sessions, though fellow defender Matthijs de Ligt is yet to resume training. Morata, meanwhile, is "getting better every day". 

There was also good news regarding Arthur, with the midfielder sidelined since early February but potentially close to a comeback.

"Arthur's medical check-up went well yesterday, the pain is reducing," the Juve boss revealed. "We hope he can give us a hand in the next few matches, it will depend on the pain when he resumes training with the team.

"Aaron Ramsey is fine and could play tomorrow. He can be an extra resource and we might need him."

Antonio Conte has apologised for his actions during Inter's Coppa Italia exit to Juventus, saying he should have "reacted differently" after he was "insulted".

The Inter coach, previously in charge in Turin, aimed an insulting gesture at Juve chairman Andrea Agnelli as the pair traded comments at the Allianz Stadium.

The Bianconeri earned a goalless draw to advance to the final 2-1 on aggregate, but Conte was apologetic when revisiting the incident ahead of Inter's Serie A meeting with Lazio on Sunday.

However, the former Italy boss, who said after the game Juve "need more sportsmanship and respect", suggested he was insulted first.

Conte said: "I want to only talk about football during the press conference, so I will say this before we begin: I am here to apologise.

"I reacted in the wrong way to being insulted. I could have reacted differently and that would have been more positive.

"I am sorry and I will learn from this for future reference. The insults and provocation should not be an excuse, because I still shouldn't have responded like that.

"Everyone saw what happened; that is important to me.

"However, we as coaches, players and presidents are meant to set an example and therefore I should have reacted to insults and provocation in a different way - perhaps with a thumbs up or applause, to show I could hear what was being said, but it would've been a more positive response.

"Having said all that, now we should concentrate on the game. People want to talk about football, not gossip."

Leonardo Bonucci admitted an attention-grabbing exchange between Inter boss Antonio Conte and Juventus chairman Andrea Agnelli was "bad" but stressed it was in keeping with the heat of battle.

Conte and Agnelli clashed on Tuesday during the second leg of the Coppa Italia semi-final in Turin, a match that ended 0-0 to see Juve prevail 2-1 on aggregate.

Footage appeared to show the ex-Juve boss making a gesture that was reportedly towards Agnelli, who could be heard on a pitch-side microphone making comments aimed at the touchline following the end of the game.

Speaking to RAI after the draw, Conte said Juventus should "tell the truth" over what unfolded, adding: "They should be more polite in my opinion. They need more sportsmanship and respect for those who work."

Juventus defender Bonucci understands that while those involved in top-level football must set an example to the audience watching on, it is not always easy to stay calm in such high-pressure situations.

"There is little to add, the images speak clearly," Bonucci said in an interview with Sky Sport Italia. "What happened is bad, but it is not up to me to judge why it happened or what had to be done.

"Obviously we must always be an example, but sometimes it is difficult. When you step onto the pitch the environmental situation does not make you think.

"In some moments, adrenaline and tension make you become something different than what you would like to be, episodes like this happen, amplified by the empty stage with the sideline microphones that can transmit a sneeze."

Juve had won the first leg 2-1 at San Siro, having previously lost 2-0 at the same venue in January when going up against the Nerazzurri in Serie A action.

Bonucci points to that league defeat as a turning point for the reigning champions of Italy, as Juventus have not lost in seven games since that setback. Their reward for progressing in the Coppa Italia is a final showdown with Atalanta, which takes place in May.

"It represents a small step towards another goal, which is to bring home the trophy. It will be difficult, because Atalanta have been one of the best Italian teams for several years, they have also shown it in Europe," the defender said.

"It will be an unprecedented and complicated final, but there will be the desire to take home the cup.

"For the group it is yet another confirmation that after the match in Milan with Inter something different has taken place in us as a team and as individuals and this bodes well."

Juve switch their focus back to Serie A this weekend, though Bonucci is an injury doubt for Saturday's game away at Napoli due to a muscle issue.

Midfielder Arthur also appears set to miss the fixture after the club revealed he has "the presence of a post-traumatic calcification at the level of the interosseous membrane" in his right leg. The Brazilian will be monitored on a daily basis, though it is unclear when he will return to action.

Gennaro Gattuso came out in bullish fashion when asked about his Napoli future after his team were defeated 3-1 by Atalanta in their Coppa Italia semi-final.

Duvan Zapata was integral as Atalanta claimed a place in the Coppa final for the second time in three seasons, with the striker scoring a thunderous opener before teeing up Matteo Pessina in a blistering first-half display from Gian Piero Gasperini's side.

Hirving Lozano's goal had given Napoli a glimmer of hope early in the second half, but Zapata and Pessina combined again to seal Atalanta's progression into a final against Juventus with a 3-1 aggregate success.

With Napoli sitting in sixth in Serie A – having lost seven games – reports have emerged over recent weeks claiming Gattuso, who joined last season, is fighting to save his job.

Napoli face Juve in their next outing on Saturday and, asked if that match will prove make or break for his tenure, Gattuso insisted it was the club's hierarchy who must answer that question.

"I don't know, you have to ask the club," he said. "The captain of the ship is me, when things go badly, they are at the expense of the captain.

"I can't think of this as the penultimate or last resort, I have to work and I have to be able to trust.

"I'm a coach, it's like that. I won't be the first, nor the last, but I have the duty to try until the end."

Without first-choice centre-backs Kostas Manolas and Kalidou Koulibaly, Napoli allowed 19 attempts at their goal, with Atalanta landing seven on target.

Atalanta were worthy winners, and Gasperini had only one regret.

"It's a great satisfaction," he said. "We dedicate it to the fans.

"The regret is not living these moments with them, but reaching the final is a sign of continuity. This team are at the top. 

"We will think about the final later. For us it's already a great success. Then we will play against an extraordinary side like Juventus.

"Now we have many important games, we will host Real Madrid [in the Champions League]. That will be an event for Bergamo."

Gennaro Gattuso's Napoli future appears bleak after the Coppa Italia holders' hopes of retaining their crown were ended by a 3-1 defeat at Atalanta.

Gattuso led Napoli to their sixth Coppa Italia triumph in his first half-season at the club in 2019-20, and talks of a new deal were rife earlier this season.

Yet those discussions have made way for reports of Gattuso's imminent departure and, despite a spirited second-half showing sparked by Hirving Lozano's 53rd-minute goal, his time might be up.

Without Kostas Manolas or Kalidou Koulibaly, Napoli's defence was carved open in the first half – Duvan Zapata integral as he scored the opener and twice set up Matteo Pessina, whose double sent Atalanta into a final against last season's runners up Juventus.

After drawing 0-0 in the first leg, Atalanta threw away a three-goal lead against Torino on Saturday and might have conceded early on this time had Lorenzo Insigne directed a dipping volley on target.

But it was Atalanta who hit the front when Zapata arrowed a brilliant 10th-minute shot into the left-hand corner from 25 yards out.

Zapata turned provider six minutes later, the Colombia striker playing a crisp first-time pass into the path of Pessina to round off a slick team move.

Atalanta could have had a third prior to the break if Zapata had kept a close-range prod down.

With nothing to lose, Napoli came out rejuvenated after the break, and had their rewards when Lozano turned in at the second attempt following Pierluigi Gollini's save.

Zapata should then have restored Atalanta's two-goal lead, yet failed to keep his header on target after meeting Josip Ilicic's corner.

His profligacy may have proved costly, but Gollini made a superb stop to deny Victor Osimhen, and Pessina ultimately wrapped up the win with a deft close-range finish to book Atalanta's place in the final.

Antonio Conte was left fuming over a heated post-match exchange with Juventus chairman Andrea Agnelli following Inter's Coppa Italia semi-final exit.

The Milan-based side were held to a tense 0-0 draw in the second leg at the Allianz Stadium as the Old Lady advanced to the final, 2-1 on aggregate, before ugly scenes allegedly erupted following the final whistle.

Media outlet RAI reported that Conte made an insulting gesture towards his former employer Agnelli at half-time, and the Juve chief retaliated by verbally abusing the Inter coach as the teams left the field.

Conte criticised his former club's behaviour in his post-match interview but stopped short of pointing any fingers.

"Juventus should tell the truth," Conte told RAI. 

"I think the fourth official heard and saw what happened throughout the match.

"They should be more polite in my opinion. They need more sportsmanship and respect for those who work."

Conte coached in Turin between 2011 and 2014 and led the Bianconeri to three Serie A titles before taking up a role in charge of Italy after the 2014 World Cup.

The 51-year-old was questioned on the incident in his post-match news conference but he refused to elaborate.

"What happened at the end of the game? I have neither the desire nor the pleasure to comment on anything," Conte said.

"I think that in all things there must be education. Enough."

The competition's most successful club, Juventus, advance to the final to face Atalanta or Napoli, as Andrea Pirlo's side search for a 14th Coppa Italia triumph.

Andrea Pirlo was happy to go back to the future to seal a place in the Coppa Italia final for Juventus at Inter's expense.

Juventus played out a 0-0 draw in Tuesday's semi-final second leg, meaning Cristiano Ronaldo's double in the 2-1 win at San Siro last week proved decisive.

Pirlo has tried to bring in an expansive passing style at Juve this season with mixed results, but the sight of black and white shirts soaking up pressure with ease in front of Gianluigi Buffon evoked memories of the years under former bosses Massimiliano Allegri and Antonio Conte - the latter now cutting  a frustrated figure in the Inter dugout.

"It's very nice," Juve head coach Pirlo told Rai Sports of the comparison.
"If I have to win what he won, you can also call me 'Allegriano'.

"We were very good, they almost never shot on goal."

Pirlo hailed Samir Handanovic as the best player on the field and the Inter goalkeeper made a couple of stunning second-half saves to thwart Ronaldo.

A final awaits against Atalanta or Napoli, who Juve beat in the Supercoppa Italiana to claim the first piece of silverware of Pirlo's embryonic coaching career.

"It was in my plans to win the Supercoppa and get to the Coppa final, but there is work to be done," he added.

"As a coach it is completely different. We are satisfied so far but we have not done anything yet."

Juve have reached the Coppa Italia final in six of the last seven seasons, failing to do so only in 2018-19.

Pirlo's Juve are unbeaten in 11 of their 12 games since the start of 2021 in all competitions, having won 10 of those matches (D1). 

Meanwhile, Juventus are unbeaten in nine of their last 10 matches against Inter in all competitions, winning six games (D3). 

After turning 36 last week, Cristiano Ronaldo felt compelled to remind fans that he cannot go on forever.

"I'm sorry that I can't promise you 20 more years of this," said the Juventus star, who looks every inch a man that could quite comfortably play professional football into his mid-fifties. "But what I can promise you, is that as long as I keep going, you'll never receive less than 100 per cent from me."

That much would never be in doubt from a man who, blessed with talent as he is, has built an extraordinary career on a foundation of boundless ambition and unyielding endeavour. He brings to mind Brad Pitt's turn as Achilles in Troy, the war-seeking warrior-hero who wins a skirmish singlehandedly before, abs a-glistening, he proclaims to a prisoner: "I want what all men want. I just want it more."

Achilles, as this version has it, knew Troy would bring about his death in a blaze of glory. Ronaldo, too, can already sense time's winged chariot hurrying near.

Which brings us to Gianluigi Buffon.

Juve's veteran goalkeeper, who celebrated his 43rd birthday less than two weeks ago, has for so long defied convention when it comes to a footballer's longevity. Even keepers rarely keep playing beyond the age of 40 and certainly not for Europe's grandest teams.

Buffon is not Juve's first choice these days, of course, but he remains the cup stand-in for Wojciech Szczesny and he duly kept his spot for Tuesday's Coppa Italia semi-final second leg with Inter. It was a day to celebrate, too, as a goalless draw earned him club clean sheet number 288 of his Juve career and sent his team into the final 2-1 on aggregate.

The game also showed why head coach Andrea Pirlo would do well to consider how much more his old friend has to offer.

A resolute defence meant he only had two saves to make throughout; in fact, the only time Juve looked especially anxious was when Buffon had the ball. There was one pass under pressure that went straight out for a corner, another in the second half that let Lautaro Martinez drive into the box only to foul Buffon after a heavy touch. There were three attempted punches while under pressure from Romelu Lukaku, all of which ended with Buffon clueless as to the ball's position as he landed, then grateful that it had already bounced away, and another positional mishap on which Martinez really should have capitalised.

The contrast with Samir Handanovic - himself no spring chicken at 36 - was stark. Handanovic made four saves to Buffon's two, a couple of which were exceptional stops to deny Ronaldo, who could have killed the tie long before full-time in Turin. Commanding in his penalty area, he gave quite a different impression to Buffon, who seemed like a doddering uncle at a family wedding trying desperately to keep up with the dance moves. Indeed, had Inter's attacking players showed the same level of laser-focus as Handanovic, perhaps they could have rescued this contest.

Pirlo's Juve have become supremely difficult to beat. They have won 10 of their 12 games in 2021, the sole defeat being a 2-0 Serie A loss to the Nerazzurri. Since that game on January 17, they had won six out of six games before this encounter and conceded only one goal: a close-range strike by Martinez in the first leg that squirmed into the net when Buffon, in game number 1,100 of his club career, was too slow to get to ground.

The Bianconeri are on course for more silverware this season and Buffon will deserve any more medals he can add to his impeccable collection. He may well start the final, too - one more turn in the limelight. But there is no shame in admitting that, in the 26th year of his professional career, the time is approaching when he should graciously step into the wings.

Juventus progressed to the Coppa Italia final as they kept Inter at bay to secure a goalless draw in the semi-final second leg and a 2-1 aggregate victory.

A mistake-ridden Inter performance had given Juve the advantage in the tie and crucial away goals in the first leg.

The Nerazzurri consequently spent much of the return leg in Turin attacking in search of the goals that would turn the tie on its head.

Impressive work by Juve's rearguard ensured they never arrived and only the reflexes of Samir Handanvoic stopped Cristiano Ronaldo from sending the Bianconeri into a final with Atalanta or Napoli in more convincing fashion.

Achraf Hakimi was a constant threat down the right in the opening 45 minutes, and the game's first clear-cut chance came in the 25th minute after he was hacked down on the edge of the area by Alex Sandro.

Romelu Lukaku could not get telling contact on Christian Eriksen's free-kick but Inter's pressing continued to cause Juve problems, with the Bianconeri throwing their bodies in the way to prevent Gianluigi Buffon from being tested.

It wasn't until the 42nd minute that either goalkeeper was forced into a meaningful save, Handanovic using his legs to stop Ronaldo from squeaking an effort inside his near post.

Ronaldo was profligate in blazing high and wide just before the hour following a counter from Adrien Rabiot and Handanovic then prevented him from converting Weston McKennie's excellently placed pass with a close-range save.

The Portugal star was left looking to the heavens in disbelief after he weaved past two Inter defenders and into the area, only to see Handanovic get down to his right and turn away a fierce drive.

Hakimi lashed into the side-netting from a tight angle with better options available in the middle, his team-mates' reactions summing up a frustrating night for Inter.

Andrea Pirlo will work to make sure Juventus do not think the job is already done ahead of their Coppa Italia semi-final second leg against Inter, a tie he says they must negotiate "at all costs".

The Bianconeri returned to Turin with a 2-1 lead after Cristiano Ronaldo's brace at San Siro last week turned the first leg on its head following Lautaro Martinez's opener.

Juve are going for a 10th successive Serie A title this season, but the Coppa has not treated Italy's dominant club quite so well of late.

They lost last season's final under Maurizio Sarri and have won the competition just four times in 26 years, those triumphs coming in four straight campaigns from 2014-15.

Pirlo is making no secret of his desire to deliver success and wants Juve to maintain their recent form, a run of six wins in which they have conceded only once and won the Supercoppa Italiana.

"The team will have to play for Juventus as we have been doing in the last few games," Pirlo told Juventus TV.

"It is the second leg of a great challenge that will give us the opportunity to go to the final, a goal that we must achieve at all costs.

"It will be a tough and difficult match, a battle; however, we are ready to face it in the best possible way.

"We have to start with the attitude of being equal, we start from 0-0. We cannot remain stuck on the result of the first leg, because everything has been reset.

"It is as if it were a final, so we must have the attitude of an aggressive team who know what they want. We have to be pretty focused because this is too important to let it get away."

Juve lost 2-0 at Inter in the league immediately before this winning run and have also suffered humbling defeats to Barcelona and Fiorentina this season.

But Pirlo feels those setbacks have only made his team stronger, explaining: "The mental aspect [is better].

"We are very positive and we believe in what we do, and this is a good starting point. We have very specific goals in mind that we want to achieve and we work on this.

"The defeats have convinced us that we can do many things. We have great quality within the whole group. We have 23 starters who can play any game and we are working on this."

Kalidou Koulibaly tested positive for coronavirus ahead of Napoli's Coppa Italia semi-final second leg with Atalanta and Serie A meeting with Juventus.

The centre-back returned a positive result on Friday and began self-isolating ahead of Saturday's league game against struggling Genoa.

Napoli are scheduled to face Atalanta for a place in the Coppa Italia final on Wednesday and Juve – who sit two points ahead of them in fourth in Serie A – the following Saturday.

A club statement read: "After the swabs carried out this morning, Kalidou Koulibaly tested positive for COVID-19.

"The player is asymptomatic and will observe a period of self-isolation at home."

Napoli are already without Faouzi Ghoulam for their trip to Genoa after the full-back tested positive for coronavirus.

After taking on Juventus, Napoli travel to Granada for the first leg of their Europa League last-32 tie on February 18.

Atalanta were unable to make the most of their superiority as they were held to a 0-0 draw at Napoli in the first leg of their Coppa Italia semi-final, with David Ospina keeping the visitors at bay.

Gian Piero Gasperini's men were in control for much of the game and created the best chances of the match, but they ultimately had to settle for a draw ahead of the return leg in Bergamo next week.

Luis Muriel was Atalanta's danger man, proving a real nuisance to Napoli as he offered a threat in front of goal and also proved an able creator, though Ospina in the home side's net stood firm.

Napoli might have been expected to produce an improvement after the interval but still they struggled to craft openings of their own, consigning them to an underwhelming 0-0 first-leg draw.

Although Napoli looked bright at first, Atalanta soon became the dominant force and went close to a fluke early lead when Muriel's wicked free-kick delivery from the left drew a desperate save from his compatriot Ospina in the hosts' net.

The excellent Muriel was involved again soon after as he fed Matteo Pessina into the box, but Ospina saved at his feet and Rafael Toloi hopelessly shot wide a few minutes later following a clever one-two.

Muriel then wasted a decent chance of his own late in the half, blazing over from just inside the area after cleverly evading Kalidou Koulibaly.

Ospina remained busy at the start of the second period as he first rushed out to thwart Muriel, before holding on to Joakim Maehle's excellent header from a corner just past the hour.

Napoli's midfield presence diminished considerably as they lost Diego Demme and Lorenzo Insigne in quick succession to knocks, with Atalanta's dominance increasing as a result.

But Robin Gosens missed a glorious chance as he headed wide 13 minutes from time and that proved to be their final opportunity.

 

Antonio Conte was left with "enormous" regret as the Inter head coach rued errors after a Coppa Italia loss to Juventus.

A Cristiano Ronaldo penalty cancelled out Lautaro Martinez's opener before the Juve star scored what proved to be a 35th-minute winner in a 2-1 victory in the semi-final first leg at San Siro on Tuesday.

Ashley Young's foul on Juan Cuadrado led to the spot-kick and Ronaldo's second arrived after Inter goalkeeper Samir Handanovic came charging out, the Portuguese star tucking into an open goal after dispossessing Alessandro Bastoni.

Conte rued the mistakes made by Inter as they were left with work to do ahead of next week's second leg.

"We did it all today and our regret is enormous. Juventus didn't have to work for their goals and I don’t remember Handanovic having to make any big saves," he told Rai Sport.

"We committed two gross errors that gifted them the lead. I think the team did really well and the boys gave it their all.

"As always, we created a lot and put Juventus under immense pressure but we need to be more clinical because goals make the difference."

For the first time since April 2000, Inter have conceded at least one goal in 10 consecutive matches in the Coppa Italia.

Conte accepted turning the tie around would be tough for Inter, as he turns his focus to Friday's Serie A clash against Fiorentina.

"We'll need to win by two goals and not concede. This obviously won't be a walk in the park because Juve are a strong side," he said.

"Anything can happen but we need to recharge and think about our game in Florence in two days. It'll be a tough game in all aspects.

"After that, we'll prepare for the second leg."

Cristiano Ronaldo "proved his worth" in Juventus' 2-1 win over Inter on Tuesday, according to head coach Andrea Pirlo.

Ronaldo was rested for Juve's previous Coppa Italia win – against SPAL last month – but netted a brace in the first leg of the semi-final victory over Inter at San Siro.

The Portuguese star has scored the most braces of players in Europe's top five leagues with eight in all competitions this season.

Pirlo praised Ronaldo, who was replaced by Alvaro Morata with 13 minutes remaining.

"He played an excellent match and proved his worth," Pirlo said.

On substituting Ronaldo, Pirlo added: "He is playing a lot and we have many matches very close to each other.

"Saturday we will have a very important one against Roma, so I thought it would be good for him to rest and recover some energies."

Ronaldo's double came after Lautaro Martinez had opened the scoring for Inter, who beat Juve in Serie A action last month.

Pirlo, whose team won the Supercoppa Italiana against Napoli in January, said his side learned from the league outing against Inter.

"We weren't in the championship match, but it served us as a lesson, because we gathered together and the victory in the Supercoppa made us realise we can compete for every objective. We haven't done anything yet, we just won the first leg," he said.

"We have prepared the game well and if we are focused and have the right attitude it becomes hard for everyone, even though we know that it is not easy to maintain this pace by playing every three days.

"However, the squad is large and there is no problem in alternating players. In the second half we lowered ourselves a bit, also thanks to Inter, but it's normal in the 90 minutes."

Before next week's semi-final second leg, Juve host Roma in Serie A on Saturday.

Antonio Conte muttered to himself and looked rather resigned as Arturo Vidal angrily gestured towards him while being replaced by Christian Eriksen on Tuesday. Perhaps he realised his errors had already done irreparable damage.

Juventus went on to put one foot in the Coppa Italia final with a 2-1 win at Inter in their semi-final first leg, with Conte seemingly made to rue a tactical set-up that invited pressure in the absence of talisman Romelu Lukaku.

While Inter's second-half display in San Siro showed evidence of Conte wising up to his team's problems, it was too little, too late as the Nerazzurri were unable to rescue a game lost in the first half.

A chief component of Inter's struggles here was rooted in last week's quarter-final win over bitter rivals Milan, as Lukaku's much-discussed altercation with Zlatan Ibrahimovic resulted in a yellow card for the Belgian.

The pair went head-to-head in ugly scenes that were accentuated by the lack of a crowd, every word of Ibrahimovic's questionable antagonising audible thanks to the television cameras and microphones.

Whether Lukaku's reaction was justified is a discussion for another day, but beyond doubt is the fact he was sorely missed by Conte's men, whose lack of an out-ball left them without options.

Alexis Sanchez, who ultimately remained with Inter at the end of the transfer window despite links to Roma, was the man chosen to partner Lautaro Martinez and the Chilean initially showed reason for optimism.

After holding the ball up admirably and working space on the break in the ninth minute, Sanchez fed Nicolo Barella up the right flank and his low cross was turned home by Martinez – his shot creeping under the hand of Gianluigi Buffon's hand.

It wasn't the ideal way to celebrate the 43-year-old's 1,100th professional game, but the Inter defence ensured the spotlight wouldn't be on Buffon's error for long.

First, Ashley Young took centre stage a little over 15 minutes later, bizarrely opting to haul back Juan Cuadrado in the box despite Federico Bernardeschi's cross always looking incapable of doing any damage, and Ronaldo slammed the resulting penalty right down the middle.

Ronaldo then capitalised on a mix-up between Alessandro Bastoni and Samir Handanovic, robbing the defender and slotting in from a tight angle outside of the box with the goalkeeper stranded.

Inter dug their own hole with their poor decision-making, and without Lukaku they were without the means to haul themselves out.

Neither Young nor Matteo Darmian on the flanks – the latter in for the absent Achraf Hakimi – could offer any kind of attacking support in the first half, with both failing to deliver a single cross before the interval.

Then, with Sanchez and Martinez largely unable to impose themselves against the physically dominant Merih Demiral and Matthijs de Ligt, Inter's options when looking to move out from the back were minimal.

And that was another issue – in the first half, Inter were very deep and endured great difficulty trying to play through Juve's press. It might have been effective with players potentially trying to get in behind the visitors' defence, but Andrea Pirlo's side subjugated their hosts virtually throughout the opening half.

Conte's tweaks at the break saw Inter's backline move further up the pitch and that certainly seemed to improve their standing in the match – Juve's share of the possession going from 63 per cent in the first half to just 40 in the second.

Similarly, Inter's shot count rocketed from two at half-time to 11 at the end, and, to be fair, Sanchez should have taken one of those when his goal-bound effort was stopped on the line by Demiral.

Additionally, Buffon made amends for his first-half error by making a crucial stop to deny Darmian, but otherwise there were few moments when Juve looked especially worried defensively.

On another day perhaps Inter would have done enough to at least keep themselves on level terms ahead of the second leg, but Conte's negative set-up left them at a disadvantage right from the off.

Lukaku will return for the next game, but Juve's away goals advantage gives them a significant edge – Conte has much work to do.

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