Antonio Conte has commended the hard-working selflessness of Inter's in-form forwards and believes more of the same will help Lautaro Martinez realise his "immense" potential.

Argentina international Martinez has struck up a strong understanding with new strike partner Romelu Lukaku, as seen in Sunday's thrilling 4-3 victory over Sassuolo.

The forwards scored twice each in a devastating double act as the Nerazzurri secured a seventh win in eight Serie A games.

Martinez won the penalty for Lukaku's second goal and converted a spot-kick of his own in the second half after his team-mate gave up the chance to complete a hat-trick.

It is that sort of attitude that has impressed head coach Conte.

"I think Lukaku is a real team player," the Inter boss told a news conference on Tuesday.

"He celebrates his goals with the players and the bench. The press go from criticising to praising too quickly. I look at the performance, not just the numbers.

"I am very pleased with Lukaku. He has settled in well and impressed. We are a good group.

"As for Lautaro, he needs to keep working – that is what he has to focus on. Head down and pedal, as I say. Goals are important but that is not everything for a forward.

"He needs to work hard for the team, as he is doing. I like that he plays for the team. He is setting up goals and scoring.

"He has areas to work on, but he has immense potential."

Conte will hope Lukaku and Martinez can fire his team back into contention for a place in the Champions League knockout rounds when they entertain Borussia Dortmund on Wednesday.

Inter know anything less than three points would make qualification from Group F, which also contains Barcelona, a tall order.

Conte wants his side to get on the front foot at San Siro in spite of their suspect defending against Sassuolo.

"We will take the game to them," he said.

"We have our ideas and way we want to play. We know there will be risks, but we are a side that will look to take the initiative."

Romelu Lukaku described Inter coach Antonio Conte as a team player after rushing to the bench to celebrate a goal with his boss in the Nerazzurri's 4-3 victory at Sassuolo.

Conte called for Lukaku to "train more" after Inter lost two consecutive matches going into the international break, and the former Manchester Untied striker underlined his commitment to meet his coach's demands after netting a brace at MAPEI Stadium.

After goals at either end in the opening 16 minutes, Lukaku struck twice to put Inter 3-1 up at half-time against Sassuolo and Lautaro Martinez added a fourth to ensure the hosts' late rally came to nothing.

Belgium international Lukaku, who scored twice in his country's win over San Marino 10 days earlier, told DAZN: "It ought to have been over at 4-1.

"We did everything right in the first half, should have scored more in the second. Once it goes to 3-1 and 4-1, it ought to be over.

"The positive we take is that we got the three points, but we need to defend better than that. I try to help the team throughout the game and am happy for the side, because it was very important to get this win."

Lukaku has scored five goals in eight Serie A appearances for Inter since joining the club for €65million in August.

He is almost half way to matching his league tally of 12 for Manchester United last season but wants to make further improvements to his game at his new club.

"Conte and I are both team players, so when I score a goal, I want to celebrate with everyone," said the 26-year-old.

"I am focused only on working and giving my best in every match.

"I'm fine, but I have to work even more to help the team throughout the game. But today I'm happy because the victory was important for the group. Now I just think about improving again."

Romelu Lukaku and Lautaro Martinez combined brilliantly as Inter survived a late Sassuolo recovery to win 4-3 at Mapei Stadium on Sunday.

Defeat to Juventus before the international break shunted Antonio Conte's men down to second in Serie A but a superb performances from their front two trimmed the margin at the top back to a point.

Martinez made an early incision and Lukaku struck twice in seven minutes to establish a two-goal advantage at half-time, Domenico Berardi having fleetingly restored parity for the hosts.

The exceptional Martinez won the penalty for his strike partner's second and, in the 71st minute, dispatched a spot-kick of his own, although the visitors were made to fight for victory as substitutes Filip Djuricic and Jeremie Boga set up a grandstand finale.

 

Zlatan Ibrahimovic claimed he would still score 20 goals a season in Serie A as he talked up his chances of a return to Italy's top flight.

But Ibrahimovic labelled former club AC Milan "a disaster" in a wide-ranging interview with Gazzetta dello Sport, while also poking fun at Inter forward Romelu Lukaku's first touch.

Former Sweden striker Ibrahimovic was discussing his options for a next move as his LA Galaxy contract expires in December following the MLS playoffs.

The 38-year-old has been linked with a return to Manchester United, but he suggested Serie A, where he represented Juventus and both Milan clubs, might be his preferred destination.

"I am 38 years old and have the enthusiasm of a kid, with that same desire to win. That, for me, is everything," Ibrahimovic said.

"Italy is my second home. I will listen to all offers, but I want to fight for the maximum target. If I were to come back, I'd want to challenge for the Scudetto, not just be signed by someone because I am Ibrahimovic.

"I can still make the difference. I'm not a zoo animal to be put on display for people to see. I can still get 20 goals in Serie A."

Milan, who are 13th in Serie A with nine points from seven matches, would not appear to be an option, though, and Ibrahimovic picked out Paolo Maldini for criticism.

"Milan are a disaster. They're all talk and no action," he said.

"This is not the club everyone fell in love with, in Italy and all over the world. Perhaps there are too many wrong people who should be elsewhere.

"Paolo Maldini doesn't have what it takes to be a director, whereas in his playing career he was one of my all-time favourites."

Meanwhile, the striker revealed a mooted bet with former team-mate Lukaku, whose touch was maligned by some supporters during his time at United.

Ibrahimovic explained: "At Manchester United, we made a bet, 'I'll give you £50 for every decent first touch you make'. He replied: 'What do I win if I get them all right?'

"I told him nothing, he would simply become a better player. For the record, he never accepted the bet! Perhaps he was afraid of losing."

Mauro Icardi rejected criticism of Romelu Lukaku's performances since joining Inter and expects the Belgium striker to find form for the Nerazzuri.

Lukaku has replaced Icardi at the head of the Inter attack, signing a five-year contract with the Serie A club in a reported €80million transfer from Manchester United in August.

He has scored only three goals in eight appearances but Icardi, who last month left Inter for Paris Saint-Germain in a loan deal that can be made permanent, does not believe Lukaku has endured a poor start to life in Italian football.

"It doesn't seem to me that he's experiencing a moment of difficulty," Icardi told Gazzetta dello Sport. "In fact, I think he's started well, scoring a couple of goals immediately.

"It's not easy for anyone to play in Italy. Serie A is the most defensive championship in Europe.

"Maybe he needs a little more time to settle in, but he's already scored a lot of goals in his career. And he will do it again."

Icardi is not focused on what his future may hold, instead concentrating solely on his form for PSG. The Argentina international has scored two goals in four games for the defending Ligue 1 champions.

"This year, I'm at PSG and my goal is to give my best for this shirt," Icardi added,

"Then at the end of the season, around May or June, we'll see what happens. It's still too early to say anything."

Belgium became the first team to secure qualification for Euro 2020 with a huge 9-0 win at home to minnows San Marino.

Romelu Lukaku's 50th international goal broke the deadlock in Brussels on Thursday, and the striker set up Nacer Chadli for the second before Cristian Brolli's own goal made it 3-0.

Lukaku struck again, Andrea Grandoni deflected in Toby Alderweireld's shot and Youri Tielemans scored ahead of the interval, after which Roberto Martinez's side took their foot off the gas.

Christian Benteke, Yari Verschaeren and Timothy Castagne wrapped up the scoring and, with seven wins out of seven in Group I, Belgium are guaranteed to finish in the top two and can look forward to the European Championship.

Despite dominating, it took Belgium until the 28th minute to open the scoring, goalkeeper Simone Benedettini having had little to do amid a flurry of off-target efforts.

But when San Marino lost the ball in their own half, Lukaku and Tielemans swapped passes, with the Inter striker rifling in a powerful finish at the near post.

Benedettini was soon beaten twice again, Eden Hazard and Lukaku combining to set up Chadli for a curling 20-yard finish before Brolli unfortunately scored into his own goal.

A deflected drive from Lukaku and Grandoni's own goal from Alderweireld's shot preceded a fine strike from Tielemans that made it 6-0 before half-time as San Marino's early defensive resilience crumbled.

Dries Mertens hit the post on the hour mark as the tempo slowed to walking pace and Lukaku missed chances to claim the match ball before his substitution.

Lukaku's replacement Benteke struck with a shot from the edge of the box that deceived the luckless Benedettini before 18-year-old Verschaeren converted a penalty he won himself to score his first international goal.

Castagne smashed home a late ninth for the hosts, but San Marino were at least able to avoid conceding double figures as Benedettini denied Benteke in added time.


What does it mean? Euro 2020 planning starts now for Martinez

As the first team to book their place at the finals, Roberto Martinez can start thinking ahead to Belgium's campaign in next year's tournament. The top-ranked team in the world, Belgium will be expected to go far.

For San Marino, this game was always about retaining as much pride as possible. The last time they avoided defeat was back in 2014, when they earned a 0-0 draw at home to Estonia.


Record scorer Lukaku looks sharp

Already the top Belgium goalscorer of all time, Lukaku was bright in attack to continue his fine start to the season, having impressed with Inter since leaving Manchester United. Belgium initially found it hard to break down San Marino before Lukaku found a way through, pinching the ball back for his side and smashing in the opener.


Mertens fails to make his mark

San Marino at home should have been a golden chance for Napoli forward Mertens to add to his international tally. But he was barely involved, hitting the woodwork with a rare effort before he made way for teenager Verschaeren midway through the second half.


What's next?

Martinez is likely to rotate his Belgium squad for Sunday's trip to Kazakhstan. San Marino travel to Scotland on the same day.

Inter head coach Antonio Conte said star striker Romelu Lukaku must train more to be in great shape due to his physique.

Lukaku experienced a quiet game as Inter suffered a 2-1 loss to Serie A rivals Juventus in the Derby d'Italia at San Siro on Sunday.

A club-record signing from Manchester United before the transfer window shut, Lukaku returned to the line-up after missing Wednesday's Champions League defeat against Barcelona due to a muscular problem.

Asked about Lukaku, Conte told reporters: "Romelu is definitely a player that must train more, because being a player with a massive body he needs to train, to play, to be in great shape.

"In this beginning of the season he had this back issue, now he's been dealing with this other quadricep issue since the game against Lazio.

"But I think he gave everything, it's inevitable that against Barcelona we didn't have Lukaku and it was important to have him. And we didn't have him. 

"However, Romelu as well was very committed today, he tried to do his best, and now let's hope he can leave these little issues behind him and be at his 100 per cent."

Lukaku has scored three goals for Inter since arriving from United for a fee understood to be €80million (£73m) in August.

Gonzalo Higuain sent Juventus top of Serie A - and handed Antonio Conte his first league defeat as Inter boss - as the reigning champions secured a 2-1 victory at San Siro.

Higuain started on the bench but the experienced striker once more came up with the goods for Maurizio Sarri, who he has played under at Napoli and Chelsea, guiding home the winner 10 minutes from time.

Paulo Dybala was deployed in the first XI at his compatriot's expense and took just four minutes to break the Derby d'Italia deadlock, but Lautaro Martinez equalised from the penalty spot after a handball by Matthijs de Ligt.

Although Inter rattled the post through a deflected Matias Vecino shot, a sweeping Juve move ended with Rodrigo Bentancur teeing up fellow replacement Higuain to ensure the Bianconeri remain the only unbeaten side in Italy's top tier.

Romelu Lukaku has been passed fit to lead Inter's attack in Sunday's Derby d'Italia against Juventus. 

Lukaku sat out the midweek Champions League trip to Barcelona with a muscular problem but the Belgium striker will look to add to three goals in six Serie A appearances when Antonio Conte's men entertain champions Juve at San Siro. 

Maurizio Sarri has given Federico Bernardeschi the nod to start ahead of Aaron Ramsey, while Paulo Dybala will partner Cristiano Ronaldo up front – Gonzalo Higuain reverting to the bench alongside the former Arsenal midfielder. 

Ramsey's old colleague Alexis Sanchez is suspended, meaning he is unable to test Juan Cuadrado, who once again lines up as an emergency right-back for Juventus in the absence of Mattia De Sciglio and Danilo. 

Kwadwo Asamoah will start at left wing-back for Inter against his old club, while Ronaldo will resume a decade long rivalry forged in Madrid against ex-Atletico centre-back Diego Godin in the Nerazzurri defence.

Juventus are chasing a ninth Serie A title in a row this season but trail Inter at the summit by two points after ex-Bianconeri boss Conte's 100 per cent start to life in Milan.

Real Madrid are eager to strengthen and moves are set to be made in January.

The LaLiga giants' mixed start to the season continued with a surprise draw against Club Brugge in the Champions League on Tuesday.

Madrid plan to make signings in January – and two midfielders remain on their list.

 

TOP STORY – MADRID WANT JANUARY SIGNINGS AMID ERIKSEN, VAN DE BEEK LINKS

Real Madrid are planning to strengthen their squad in January and Tottenham's Christian Eriksen and Ajax's Donny van de Beek are at the forefront of their thinking, according to Marca.

Eriksen is coming out of contract at the end of the season, while Van de Beek seemingly wants to finish the campaign at Ajax.

While Madrid are top of LaLiga, they have collected just one point from their opening two Champions League games in Group A.


ROUND-UP

- Manchester United's main targets seemingly remain unchanged. Sky Sports News reports the Premier League club have Juventus' Mario Mandzukic and Bournemouth's Callum Wilson as their main striker targets ahead of the January window.

- Leicester City are keeping tabs on 15-year-old Turkish midfielder Burak Ince, according to Fotospor. Manchester City are also reportedly interested in the teenager who would cost in the region of £1.3m.

- Spain are still waiting for Ansu Fati. The Barcelona teenager is yet to receive the necessary paperwork to debut for Spain, according to AS. Sport reports authorisation will arrive next week, with a debut for the senior team or Under-21s a possibility.

- The Football Association has requested to see evidence after Liverpool allegedly paid Manchester City £1million after a complaint from the Premier League champions that their scouting system had been hacked, according to The Times.

Lionel Messi and Ousmane Dembele have been passed fit to be included in the Barcelona squad to face Inter in the Champions League.

Club captain Messi has only started one game this season in all competitions due to calf and thigh injuries respectively.

Dembele has also been included in a 20-man squad named by coach Ernesto Valverde, after a minor knock, but teenage prodigy Ansu Fati remains out with a knee problem.

Defenders Samuel Umtiti and Jordi Alba are still sidelined and will miss Wednesday's Group F game at Camp Nou.

Inter have been dealt a blow with head coach Antonio Conte confirming in a news conference that striker Romelu Lukaku has been ruled out.

Lukaku's absence could open the door for former Barca forward Alexis Sanchez to start for the Nerazzurri, who drew their opener at Slavia Prague.

Romelu Lukaku will miss Inter's blockbuster Champions League clash against Barcelona due to injury.

The Belgium striker has not travelled to Camp Nou with the Nerazzurri squad for the Group F clash against the reigning La Liga champions due to a muscular issue.

It remains to be seen if Lukaku will be fit for the huge Serie A contest with Juventus on Sunday, but head coach Antonio Conte is hopeful the quadricep problem is not too serious.

"Lukaku isn't here, he had a slight muscular issue in the quadricep that he has been carrying for 10 days," Conte said a pre-match news conference.

"He was continuing to feel the problem and the tests were negative, but we preferred in any case not to risk him. We have to rely on how the player feels in these cases.

"It's not a tear, so we are fairly relaxed and will focus on that [if he can face Juve] only after tomorrow's game with Barcelona."

Manchester United manager Ole Gunnar Solskjaer said the struggling Premier League giants want to solve their striker crisis during the January transfer window.

United have struggled for goals and creativity since sanctioning the exits of Romelu Lukaku and Alexis Sanchez, with the Red Devils languishing in 11th position ahead of Monday's showdown against Arsenal.

Solskjaer's side were linked to Juventus pair Mario Mandzukic and Paulo Dybala, Borussia Dortmund sensation Jadon Sancho and Athletic Bilbao star Inaki Williams before the window shut.

Speculation continues to link United with Mandzukic and Sancho, while Lyon's Moussa Dembele has emerged as another option, with Leicester City's James Maddison also a reported target in Solskjaer's pursuit of creativity.

"We let Alexis and Romelu go, you don't have to be a rocket scientist to see that it's forward that next time we're going to recruit," said Solskjaer, whose side have only scored eight goals in six games as they sit 13 points adrift of leaders Liverpool. "We're looking for some creativity and goals.

"There's no point getting players in that you're not 100 percent sure about. When you get players in, you need the right ones that are going to stay here for a longer period and that's the long-term thinking we have to show.

"I cannot think, 'I need a player because this is my reputation'. No, it's the club. There were strikers [available in the off-season], but they weren't the ones we wanted. We couldn't get the one we wanted."

While United have struggled, Lukaku has flourished since his club-record move to Inter, where the Belgian star has scored three goals to lead Antonio Conte's men to six wins from as many Serie A fixtures.

Solskjaer added: "It was time for Rom to go. He knows that. He didn't want to be here. What is the point in having players that don't want to be here?

"We need to score more goals, definitely, and that's what I've said here. We're working on improving relationships, the patterns, the understanding and we've started in one end with the foundation, we've done great defensively, but we're not happy with the return going forward.

"You wouldn't mind scoring a few goals on set-plays and from midfield, of course. I think the forwards are always going to give us goals, so of course, we both expect and hope they're going to come."

Alexis Sanchez has been handed his first start for Inter in their Serie A clash with Sampdoria on Saturday.

Sanchez joined Inter on a season-long loan from Manchester United last month but has managed a combined total of just 17 minutes in two substitute appearances.

He lines up alongside Lautaro Martinez in attack, with Romelu Lukaku dropping to the bench.

Antonio Conte has made a host of changes from the side that beat Lazio in midweek, with Alessandro Bastoni, Antonio Candreva, Roberto Gagliardini, Stefano Sensi and Kwadwo Asamoah all coming into the starting XI.

Inter maintained their 100 per cent record in Serie A as Antonio Conte's side recorded a 1-0 win over Lazio at San Siro on Wednesday.

The hosts, fresh from a 2-0 derby triumph over AC Milan at the weekend, opened the scoring with the first effort at goal when Danilo D'Ambrosio headed home after 23 minutes.

Lazio ought to have been level before the interval, with Joaquin Correa guilty of wasting two excellent opportunities against an in-form Samir Handanovic.

The second-half introduction of Ciro Immobile, benched after his adverse reaction at being substituted in the 2-0 win over Parma on Sunday, failed to prompt a Lazio comeback.

Conte's men have now won five from five to mark themselves out as the most likely challengers to Juventus' top-flight supremacy.

Inter dominated possession from the start but it was the visitors who threatened first. 

Felipe Caicedo ran into the penalty area but his heavy touch allowed the alert Handanovic - making his 300th appearance in all competitions for the Nerazzurri - to clean up the loose ball.

When the first attempt finally arrived it found the back of the net, D'Ambrosio leaping above Jony to nod in Cristiano Biraghi's cross.

Lazio sought a swift response and forced Handanovic into a superb save to tip Correa's curling strike over the crossbar.

With the game suddenly stretched, Romelu Lukaku drilled narrowly wide and Correa fluffed his lines when clean through on goal.

Handanovic again came to Inter's rescue with a reflex save from Correa's close-range shot to ensure his team were ahead at the break.

Correa was soon at it again in the second half, jumping to head a corner wide from just six yards, and Simone Inzaghi could wait no longer to bring on Immobile.

A fine double save from Thomas Strakosha, denying first Nicolo Barella then Matteo Politano, kept Lazio in the contest before the hour mark, while substitute Lautaro Martinez fired narrowly wide in added time.

Yet despite those reprieves, Inzaghi's side were unable to find an equaliser to put an end to Inter's perfect start to the Serie A season.

 

What does it mean? Inter have the stomach for a title tussle

Following a derby win over their city rivals, Inter could have fallen victim to a touch of complacency in this match. However, Conte's team produced another impressive showing, combining defensive solidity – they have still only conceded one league goal this term – with a calm and measured approach on the ball.

They face Juve early next month in what is shaping up to be an intriguing contest. 

A big hand for super Samir

That Inter kept their excellent defensive record intact was in large part down to Handanovic. On several occasions it was solely the Slovenian who stood between Lazio and a goal that would have changed the course of the game.

You must be Joaquin!

Creating chances was not really Lazio's problem; they had enough in the first half alone to have seriously troubled their opponents. Correa was more culpable than anyone in their failure to make a breakthrough. A little composure could have made a big difference.

What's next?

Both sides are in domestic action at the weekend before a return to continental competition, with Inter off to Sampdoria and then Barcelona, while Lazio have back-to-back home games against Genoa and Rennes.

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