Antonio Conte believes Inter's hard work is paying off as they target a first Serie A title since the 2009-10 season.

The Nerazzurri sealed a fifth consecutive top-flight win on Sunday, with goals from Romelu Lukaku, Matteo Darmian and Alexis Sanchez securing a 3-0 victory over Genoa at San Siro.

It was Inter's sixth straight top-flight win against Genoa without conceding a single goal – the first time they have achieved this against any opponent in the competition.

The result moved them seven points clear of Milan at the Serie A summit, although Stefano Pioli's side had the chance to rein them in with victory over Roma later on Sunday.

Conte was pleased with his side's display and said his players deserve recognition for being this season's standard-bearers ahead of Juventus, who have won the last nine titles.

"We played against a Genoa side in great shape," Conte told Sky Sport Italia.

"We had the right approach, allowing Genoa little other than a few crosses. We scored three goals, [Genoa goalkeeper] Mattia Perin had to make several big saves, so we are happy.

"All the work is paying off. It had already started to last year, but the team is developing belief in its capabilities, understanding the situations both on and off the ball, when to be aggressive, when to hold possession.

"These are Inter players, they must always have the ambition to win. It has been many years since Inter won anything, we came very close last season [they finished one point behind Juve], despite the fact it was my first year.

"In previous years, the gap with Juventus was a good 15 points for Inter. So, if we want to be objective and calculate the gap from the leaders and Inter before I arrived, last season was already an enormous step forward.

"I think we simply continued the project and we are doing something important, but there are 14 games to go.

"We have to continue like this, knowing the team have grown in every way, that we created wonderful synergy and empathy between everyone here, but winning is the aim."

Inter endured a disappointing Champions League campaign earlier this term, finishing bottom of Group B having won just one of their six games.

Conte believes that disappointment could well have provided the impetus for their Serie A title challenge, acknowledging it forced them to raise their game.

"I think we went out of the Champions League undeservedly, but that made us look inside ourselves and realise we all had to raise the bar, to be more competitive," he added.

"If we had been in the Champions League right now, I think we could've had our say in that tournament."

Inter travel to Parma in Serie A on Thursday before hosting Atalanta four days later.

Inter's Serie A title charge remains on course after goals from Romelu Lukaku, Matteo Darmian and Alexis Sanchez sealed a 3-0 win over Genoa at San Siro on Sunday. 

Belgium international Lukaku set them on their way to a fifth consecutive top-flight win with a goal inside the opening minute. 

Antonio Conte's side largely dominated proceedings thereafter, with Nicolo Barella striking the crossbar, and they wrapped up all three points in the second period through Darmian and Sanchez.

The result moved them seven points ahead of second-placed Milan, although Stefano Pioli's side can rein them back in with victory over Roma later on Sunday.

Inter started in blistering fashion, Lukaku firing into Mattia Perin's bottom-right corner from just outside the penalty area after 32 seconds – Inter's second-fastest Serie A goal since Opta started tracking such data in 2004-05.

Darmian clipped wide after 14 minutes, while Barella hit the bar with a long-range effort soon after.

Perin then kept out Lukaku's powerful strike shortly after the half-hour mark as Inter ultimately failed to double their advantage before the interval.

The hosts put the result beyond doubt in the 69th minute when Darmian lashed home his first Serie A goal for the club from 12 yards after being picked out by Lukaku. 

Substitute Sanchez then added gloss to the scoreline 13 minutes from full-time, heading in from close range after Lukaku's effort had been repelled by Perin. 

 

 

 

Antonio Conte acknowledges he has become a "pain in the a**" as he attempts to guide Inter to their first trophy in a decade.

Ahead of hosting Genoa on Sunday, Inter top Serie A after 23 games – their derby victory over Milan last week moving them four points clear of their city and title rivals.

Inter – who finished second in Serie A behind Juventus in Conte's debut season – last won a trophy in 2010-11, clinching their seventh Coppa Italia trophy.

The Nerazzurri have already seen two opportunities for silverware slip from their grasp this campaign, finishing bottom of their Champions League group and exiting the Coppa Italia in the semi-finals.

With Milan facing a tough trip to Roma and Juve further off the pace, Inter have the chance to consolidate their lead at the top when they hunt a ninth straight home win in Serie A.

It is a feat that only Juve and Roma have managed in the last 10 seasons.

Conte has not shied away from questioning not only his own players but also Inter's hierarchy, yet the former Italy coach believes his rather decisive style is what has helped transform Inter back into title contenders.

"When people talk about me, there is always a 'but'. They say: 'He is a good coach, but…', that 'but' stimulates me," Conte told Il Corriere Della Sera.

"Football is my passion. When I ended my career as a footballer, I started from the beginning with Arezzo. I had won everything as a footballer. Coach Conte had started from zero. Those who played in big clubs think they can be coaches, but it's different.

"An opponent would have pushed for Conte to be kicked out of Inter. As an opponent, I would want to kill my enemy, in a sporting [sense]. 

"I'm more prepared thanks to my experiences. I was advised not to join Inter, but I like challenges, and this one is the most difficult in my career.

"It's hard to change that mental chip. If you don't win for 10 years, you subconsciously get used to the situation, look for excuses or blame someone else, you don't see your limitations or flaws.

"The environment is imbued with this, it is important to work not only on the players but on every sector. So you raise the pressure and become a pain in the a**.

"This is the difference between winning and living peacefully. When I go to a club, I enter into it body and soul. I am passionate and passion makes the difference, it is contagious. If you feel the sense of belonging you give more. I don't know if we will win, but we will do everything to succeed.

“A coach is happy when a project lasts long. If you must leave after a short while, it leaves bitterness. Making your mark and staying for many years is the most beautiful thing. I wish there were continuity in everything."

While his determination to end Inter's barren run is clear, Conte conceded there is one job away from club football which still entices him.

Conte managed Italy from 2014 to 2016 before leaving the role to join Chelsea, who he led to the Premier League title in 2017, and the 51-year-old is open to an Azzurri return should the possibility arise.

"Absolutely no, it gives me goosebumps to think about the national team," Conte replied when asked if his time with Italy was over for good.

"My door will always be open to Italy."

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.

Andrea Pirlo felt Juventus' youngsters proved they were "up to it" but said they must be more ruthless after needing extra time to beat Genoa 3-2 in the Coppa Italia.

Juve dominated Serie A strugglers Genoa in the first half at Allianz Stadium on Wednesday, the lively Dejan Kulusevski opening the scoring inside two minutes before laying on a second goal for Alvaro Morata.

Lennart Czyborra halved the deficit with a header against the run of play midway through the first half and Filippo Melegoni forced extra time with a great finish from 25 yards out.

Cristiano Ronaldo was introduced as a substitute late in normal time, but it was 21-year-old debutant Hamza Rafia who settled it late in the first period of extra time.

Radu Dragusin and Manolo Portanova were among the other young players given an opportunity by Pirlo on a night which saw a much-changed Juve side have 24 shots, 13 of which were on target, as they made hard work of setting up a quarter-final tie against Sassuolo or SPAL.

Pirlo was impressed by the Juve youngsters, but was frustrated the Serie A champions were taken to extra time ahead of a clash with Inter on Sunday.

He said: "They played a great match, I'm happy for them because they proved to be up to it. Too bad the game was complicated, we had to close it in the first half."

Pirlo added: "It happens that every now and then when we think the race is over we lose focus, thinking it's all easy, but if you don't have your head right they become complicated games. 

"As happened today when we went to extra time, we lost energy and had to finish it in the first half."

Kulusevski staked his claim for a regular starting berth, hitting the target with four of his five shots and making four key passes as he tormented Genoa in a classy performance.

Pirlo was not surprised to see the Sweden midfielder and striker Morata, starting for the first time since recovering from a thigh injury, link up so effectively.

The former Italy playmaker said: "They had a great understanding, especially in the first half when they played very close and played for each other. 

"They have been training together since the beginning of the season and they know what their characteristics are and how to look for each other and tonight they proved it."

Hamza Rafia scored the winner on his debut as Juventus needed extra time to beat Genoa 3-2 and reach the quarter-finals of the Coppa Italia.

A much-changed Juve side were a cut above Serie A strugglers Genoa in the first half at Allianz Stadium on Wednesday, but made hard work of setting up a last-eight tie against Sassuolo or SPAL.

Dejan Kulusevski was outstanding in the opening 45 minutes, scoring inside two minutes and laying on a second goal for Alvaro Morata.

Lennart Czyborra pulled a goal back from out of the blue in an otherwise one-sided first half and Filippo Melegoni later equalised, but 21-year-old Tunisia international Rafia came off the bench to settle the tie late in the first half of extra time.

Paulo Dybala could be out for almost three weeks after suffering a knee injury against Sassuolo on Sunday, Juventus have confirmed.

The Argentina international was replaced by Dejan Kulusevski in the 43rd minute of Juve's 3-1 Serie A win at the Allianz Stadium.

The club confirmed on Monday he has suffered a "low-grade lesion of the medial collateral ligament" in his left knee and will be out of action for "approximately 15-20 days".

The 27-year-old looks certain to miss the Coppa Italia clash with Genoa on Wednesday, the Supercoppa Italiana against Napoli next week and Serie A games versus Inter and Bologna. He could also miss another league game against Sampdoria on January 30.

Juve's only Serie A defeat this season came when Dybala was not in the side. Their win ratio without him is 40 per cent compared to 63.6 per when he features.

When going back to the start of the 2019-20 campaign, Juve have lost as many times in the 10 league games without Dybala (four) as they have in the 44 in which he has taken part – their win percentage sliding from 72.7 to 30 in his absence.

Juve also confirmed Weston McKennie and Federico Chiesa underwent tests on Monday, which revealed neither player is suffering from a serious injury.

Serie A strugglers Genoa have sacked head coach Rolando Maran and replaced him with Davide Ballardini.

Maran, 57, was dismissed on Monday following the 2-0 defeat to Benevento.

He had only signed a two-year contract to take charge at the Luigi Ferraris in August.

Ballardini was later confirmed as Maran's replacement, marking the fourth time the 56-year-old has been in charge at Genoa.

He was previously appointed head coach in 2010, 2013 and 2017.

Genoa are 19th in Serie A, with just seven points from their first 13 matches of the season. They have not won in Serie A since beating bottom-club Crotone 4-1 at home on September 20.

They have scored 12 league goals this season and created 85 chances, the lowest of any side except Crotone and Parma.

At the back, they have conceded 26 goals, the fourth-most in the division, and kept only one clean sheet.

Stefano Pioli feels Milan had chances to alter the course of their 2-2 draw against Genoa after missing first-half chances but believes his team are conceding too many goals in Serie A.

The Rossoneri drew 2-2 for the second match running as Davide Calabria and Pierre Kalulu each replied to goals from Mattia Destro in an exciting second half that was the antithesis of a lacklustre opening period.

Milan have conceded only 13 times in Serie A this season, tied for the fourth-best record in the league, while their four clean sheets are bettered only by three teams and just four have faced fewer shots on target.

But only one of those clean sheets has come in Milan's past nine Serie A games, conceding two or more in four of these matches, drawing on each occasion.

Head coach Pioli acknowledged the need to tighten up at the back, telling DAZN after the game: "It's a draw in a complicated game, on a difficult pitch.

"We could take the lead in the first half and the match would have changed tactically. We gave it our all and we took an important result.

"We conceded two goals without conceding [many chances]. In general, we are conceding too many goals. 

"It was a tough game, the pitch didn't allow us to be precise technically; we tried to win it till the end, unluckily we didn't make it."

Despite another draw, Milan still lead the way at the top of the table – albeit their buffer to rivals Inter is now a meagre one point.

Games against Sassuolo and Lazio precede the mid-season break but Pioli believes little will be gleaned from those encounters about how they will fare by the end of the campaign.

"I don't think the next two games will tell us where we can get; our target is to improve what we did last season, it would be a great result to qualify for the Champions League," he added.

"The next two games will be important, we come from a period with many, many games. We are only at the beginning, we can't feel tiredness until the end. We must continue like this."

Milan, who had 13 shots to Genoa's nine but both teams had four on target, were without Zlatan Ibrahimovic, Simon Kjaer, Ismael Bennacer and Matteo Gabbia.

Pioli, whose side had almost 58 per cent of the possession, said such absences can alter the fluidity of the team.

"When you have five or six players out of action, the team changes its characteristics," he said. 

"We didn't have many injuries before. By the way, those who played did well."

Pierre Kalulu's late effort saw Milan rescue a 2-2 draw for the second Serie A match running as Mattia Destro's double ultimately proved in vain for lowly Genoa.

The hosts, the last side to defeat the Rossoneri in Italy's top flight back in March, led twice as ex-Milan loanee Destro scored either side of Davide Calabria's excellent equaliser at the Luigi Ferraris.

But Kalulu tapped in from Alessio Romagnoli's downward header seven minutes from time to complete a breathless second half completely at odds with an insipid opening 45.

Leaders Milan fought back from a two-goal deficit to draw 2-2 at Parma last time out and are now 24 unbeaten in the league but only a point ahead of city rivals Inter. Genoa remain in the bottom three.

Zlatan Ibrahimovic is back in training with the Milan squad ahead of the Serie A leaders' trip to Genoa on Wednesday.

The Swedish striker has not featured for his club since coming off with a hamstring injury during a 3-1 win away at Napoli on November 22. 

Ibrahimovic scored twice in that game to take his tally for the season into double figures – he has managed 10 goals in Serie A in just six appearances so far this campaign. 

However, Milan have not missed him too much during his absence, recording league wins over Fiorentina and Sampdoria prior to Sunday's home draw with Parma. 

Coach Stefano Pioli had said prior to the 2-2 result at San Siro that Ibrahimovic would hopefully be able to return for the midweek game against Genoa. 

As Milan began preparations for that fixture on Monday, the club's social media team released pictures of the squad in training – and Ibrahimovic was among the group. 

Milan remain unbeaten in Serie A – in the previous three seasons when the Italian giants have not lost any of their first 11 league matches (1991-92, 1992-93 and 2003-04) they have gone on to win the Scudetto.

After the Parma result, the Rossoneri hold a three-point advantage at the summit over rivals Inter, while Napoli and reigning champions Juventus are a further point adrift of the early leaders.

Ibrahimovic has played a key role in the club's resurgence since he rejoined for a second spell in January 2020.

The 39-year-old scored 11 goals in the second half of the 2019-20 season, helping Milan qualify for the Europa League. Having progressed through the group stage this term, they will face Red Star Belgrade in the last 32 of the competition.

Paulo Dybala is frustrated at continuous speculation over his Juventus future, claiming the rumours pit the fans against him.

Dybala got off the mark in Serie A this season in his seventh appearance as he opened the scoring in a 3-1 win against Genoa on Sunday, with a pair of Cristiano Ronaldo penalties wrapping up the points after Stefano Sturaro's equaliser.

Former Palermo prodigy Dybala cut in from the right flank, got the better of a defender and picked out the bottom-right corner for what was just his second goal of the season across all competitions.

It has been a difficult start to the season for the 27-year-old, who received the plaudits of coach Andrea Pirlo after the final whistle.

Dybala's deal in Turin runs out at the end of next season, with recent reports suggesting discussions over a new contract had been pushed back a year due to the Argentina international's inconsistent form and injury troubles.

They are rumours which leave Dybala infuriated.

"So many things that aren't true have been said in relation to my contract," Dybala told Sky Italia.

"My agent was in Turin for a long time and was never called up by the club. It disappoints me to hear talk of invested financial figures.

"It would be better if the truth could be told, because talking about those aspects in this period pits the fans against me, with all the love I have for Juventus." 

Dybala's strike was his first in Serie A since July 4 – a run of 162 days – while six of his seven goals against Genoa have come away from home.

His goal capped a fine overall display, with Dybala creating a game-high four chances, with both of his attempts at goal hitting the target.

Cristiano Ronaldo celebrated his 100th Juventus appearance with a brace in Sunday's 3-1 Serie A win over Genoa and he now has sights on reaching a century of goals.

Juve were by no means outstanding at the Stadio Luigi Ferraris and looked to be slumping to a sixth draw in 11 Serie A games this season until the latter stages.

Defensive mistakes led to Juve winning two penalties in the final 12 minutes, and Ronaldo repeated the feat of his spot-kick double against Barcelona in midweek by confidently dispatching another pair in Genoa to take his overall club total to 77 goals.

Not only was Ronaldo making his 100th Juve appearance, he also became the first player to reach 400 wins across Europe's top five leagues this century.

Additionally, Ronaldo reached 31 goals for the calendar year, making him the third Juve player to reach this milestone in the top flight, and the first since Omar Sivori in 1961.

Speaking after the game, Juve superstar Ronaldo told Sky Sport Italia: "It was a difficult match, but I'm happy for the personal achievement.

"In Barcelona we won an important match and after such successes you find confidence. Genoa play defensively and it was difficult to find the result here.

"After the Champions League it is always difficult, we are tired and we had to change things, but the coach told us what we needed and we did it well."

Ronaldo then addressed his personal accomplishment on Twitter, writing: "What better way to celebrate my 100th game for Juventus, than scoring two more goals for the team?

"I'm very proud of reaching this number with the Vecchia Signora jersey, but guess what: I also have my mind already set on the 100 goals for Juve."

Before Ronaldo's penalties, however, it was a moment of inspiration from Paulo Dybala that initially broke Genoa's resistance – the Argentina forward darting in off the right, evading a defender and cleverly finishing into the bottom-right corner.

It was his first Serie A goal of the season and elicited a joyous embrace from coach Andrea Pirlo, who explained the show of emotion.

"[Dybala] deserved it. He had been looking for that performance for several weeks, for himself as well," Pirlo said.

"It's important to go back to scoring and the hug is extended to the whole team that has always supported him."

Cristiano Ronaldo's reliability from the penalty spot was once again a major factor for Juventus as the Portugal star's late brace of spot-kicks secured a 3-1 win at Genoa to spare the Bianconeri's blushes.

Ronaldo netted two penalties in midweek as Andrea Pirlo's men saw off Barcelona 3-0 in the Champions League and he repeated the feat again on his 100th Juve appearance at Stadio Luigi Ferraris to put down a resilient Genoa side.

Adrien Rabiot had a goal disallowed during the early exchanges of a generally tepid first half, though Juve did increase the pressure after the interval and made the breakthrough with Paulo Dybala's first Serie A goal of the season.

Former Juve midfielder Stefano Sturaro equalised and Pirlo's men looked destined to drop points for a sixth time this term, but hapless defending led to Ronaldo getting his double in the final 12 minutes.

Juve briefly thought they had got off to a brilliant start as Rabiot bundled in at the back post following Leonardo Bonucci's header across goal, but celebrations were shortlived as he used his hand to guide the ball over the line.

Genoa otherwise did a good job of restricting Juve's flow of chances for the remainder of the first half, with the champions' only other moderately promising move in the 24th minute seeing Weston McKennie drag a shot wide as Ronaldo threatened to meet it at the far post.

Dybala eventually ended Genoa's resistance in the second half as he latched on to McKennie's flick-on from the right flank and jinked away from a defender before slotting into the bottom-right corner.

But Genoa swiftly levelled, Sturaro ghosting in at the back to tuck in Luca Pellegrini's teasing cross from a tight angle.

Juve had another goal wiped out just past the hour due to an offside in the build-up to Ronaldo's tap-in, but the former Real Madrid star was not to be denied from 12 yards, coolly slotting in to make it 2-1 winner after Nicolo Rovella's woeful attempt to tackle Juan Cuadrado in the box.

He then completed the scoring as a result of Mattia Perin clumsily fouling Alvaro Morata following a hospital pass into the area by Pellegrini.

Andrea Pirlo wants Juventus to move on quickly from their impressive Champions League win at Barcelona, although says the Serie A champions must repeat their Camp Nou performance in the coming weeks.

The standout result of Pirlo's tenure so far saw Juve win 3-0 at Barca on Tuesday to top their group despite previously losing the home match when Cristiano Ronaldo was absent with coronavirus.

Ronaldo netted a pair of penalties and Weston McKennie added a stylish volley as the Bianconeri produced a clinical display.

But European competition is on hold now until the new year, meaning Juve's focus must return to their domestic title defence at Genoa.

Sunday's trip is the first of four matches remaining before the mid-season break and Pirlo's men are six points behind leaders Milan, prompting the coach to discard further reflection of a stunning midweek victory.

"If we still have [Barcelona] in mind, let's forget about it," Pirlo told Juventus TV. "We have to turn the page and have continuity.

"It must not be only this match against Barcelona, ​​we must continue with this desire and pace, because now there is the championship and we must be at our best in these four games.

"These matches [like against Barca] bring great awareness of our improvements, so it can be a big confidence boost for the final matches before the break.

"We must have the same desire, the same concentration, because without this desire we face nasty surprises, so we concentrate to play great matches."

Juve have kept three clean sheets in their past six games in all competitions - conceding three goals - after a run of five matches without one.

But Pirlo believes his side's work going the other way has relieved the pressure on his defence, rather than seeing a vast improvement at the back.

Asked about the defence, the coach replied: "The desire to move forward is growing.

"When you go forward and attack, the opposition also have fewer opportunities to come and play in front [of your defence].

"So we have to be in the opposing half of the field, trying to have offensive pressing, then in the defensive phase, even when we are in our own area, we must be aggressive, not passive. We are growing."

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