Romelu Lukaku says he will "never forgive" Andre Villas-Boas' snubs at Chelsea, including leaving him out of the Champions League squad that went on to win the trophy in 2012.

Villas-Boas was the man who signed Lukaku as a 19-year-old from Anderlecht in August 2011 but the Belgium striker did not make his Premier League start until May 2012.

By that point Villas-Boas had been sacked by the Blues and replaced by club legend Roberto Di Matteo, who led Chelsea to a surprise Champions League triumph.

Lukaku, though, had not been registered to play in Europe's premier competition and, although he respected Di Matteo for bringing him along with the rest of the squad for the showdown against Bayern Munich, the now Inter striker still bears a grudge with Villas-Boas.

"Di Matteo told me that I would stay with the group until after the final," Lukaku told Het Laatste Nieuws. 

"He thought everyone should come along, including the ones who were suspended and the few boys who were not in the Champions League squad. I am also grateful to him for that.

"This win is one of the things I've always dreamed about. You want to celebrate something like that with the team at that time. 

"That is nice in itself at the age of nineteen. I am happy for the whole club, but there is one man who took a lot from me - the previous trainer. I will never forgive him for that."

Lukaku went into more detail about his relationship with Villas-Boas, explaining: "Once I had to play in the front left, another time in the front right. You don't develop that way. 

"Then at some point you have to think about yourself. So I told the club what I thought of it. I know Villas-Boas was also under pressure. But that's why he didn't have to treat me like that. 

"Di Matteo approached me completely differently, he immediately involved me in everything. That should have been much earlier. Really, I never forgave the previous coach."

While Lukaku was in Munich for Chelsea's Champions League success, he insists he did not even touch the trophy as he did not feel as though he had earned the right.

"I didn't touch it with a finger," he said. "Because I didn't win this trophy myself. 

"This has been the case since I was eleven. If I have not contributed anything, it is not my trophy. 

"Only if you have contributed to a cup or a title yourself, you can also show it off."

May 19, 2013 was the end of an era. After 1,500 matches over nearly 27 years, Alex Ferguson's time as Manchester United drew to an end in fittingly thrilling fashion.

Perhaps it may have been truer to form if United had seen out Ferguson's tenure with a win, but there was something delightfully satisfying and apt about him overseeing a chaotic 5-5 draw to finish off.

Having already said his farewells to the Old Trafford crowd a week earlier after a 2-1 win over Swansea City, urging the supporters to back his successor David Moyes, Ferguson's champions had one last hurdle to overcome before a new era began.

West Brom were their hosts at the Hawthorns in a match that looked like giving the wily Scot a typically emphatic send-off – but the match action proved memorable for entirely different reasons.

'Crazy. Wonderful. Entertaining. Outrageous'

"If I needed a result to epitomise what Manchester United were about it came in game No. 1,500, my last," Ferguson wrote in his autobiography. "West Bromwich Albion 5-5 Manchester United. Crazy. Wonderful. Entertaining. Outrageous. If you were on your way to watch Manchester United, you were in for goals and drama."

Ferguson – who was given a guard of honour by the players and, amusingly, West Brom's huge mascot Baggie Bird – made plenty of changes to his side, though initially there were few signs of disruption, as with six minutes played Shinji Kagawa was the unlikely recipient of an even rarer phenomenon – an accurate cross from Javier Hernandez.

A Jonas Olsson own goal from a drilled Antonio Valencia cross made it 2-0 soon after, before Tom Cleverly fed Alexander Buttner to deliver a rasping finish – their combination highlighting the extent of Ferguson's rotation.

James Morrison pulled one back just before the break, but it was a change made by Steve Clarke at half-time that ultimately proved most decisive, as Romelu Lukaku replaced defender Liam Ridgewell.

The Belgian beat the unimpressive Anders Lindegaard with a tame effort from distance four minutes after coming on, only for Robin van Persie to steer home another Valencia delivery a few moments later and Hernandez tapped in a Ryan Giggs pass to seemingly wrap up the win.

But United's collapse was remarkable. Lukaku raced on to a throughball to beat Lindegaard again with 10 minutes left, before Youssouf Mulumbu finished off a well-worked move to make it 5-4.

Lukaku completed his first career hat-trick when bundling over the line in the 86th minute, and United were fortunate to hold on to a point.

'David Moyes has just resigned'

"I told them, 'Thanks boys. Bloody great send-off you've given me'," Ferguson wrote later that year. "David Moyes had already been named as my successor; as we sat in the dressing room after the match, Ryan Giggs teased: 'David Moyes has just resigned'."

It was the fifth time in Premier League history United had conceded five times or more in a single match, though the previous four occasions had all been defeats.

The thriller was also the highest-scoring draw in an English top-flight match since 1984 when QPR and Newcastle United also shared 10 goals.

Everything about the match was box-office – an own goal, bad goalkeeping, hapless defending, all-out attack and the old managerial master being pegged back by the hopeful young upstart.

Lukaku was 20 years and six days at the time, making him the youngest player to ever score a hat-trick against United – a record he still holds.

Thankfully for United, the Premier League title was already locked away, safe and secure from the 'noisy neighbours' Manchester City. Had it not been, this day would likely be remembered entirely differently.

The legacy

Ferguson's association with United will probably be remembered as the greatest managerial tenure of all time – many would argue that to be the case now, and with the modern sport rarely allowing for such time and trust, it's difficult to see anyone ever replicating such success or longevity with a single club.

Although he managed clubs for 39 years, 70 per cent of his 2,145 official matches in club management were at United, for whom his 895 wins is, unsurprisingly, a record.

The Scot also won 13 top-flight titles in England, more than twice as many as anyone else, while his 1999 Premier League, Champions League and FA Cup treble is yet to be repeated.

Ferguson's successes continue to hold great weight at Old Trafford. That era seems to have prevalence in many of the decisions the club still makes – from appointing a youth-driven Ferguson 'disciple' in Ole Gunnar Solskjaer, to refusing to appoint a director of football to oversee transfers.

That final match provided everyone with a final reminder of both the quality and excitement Ferguson brought to English football, and the greatest acknowledgement of his ideals is United are still trying to build around them.

Is that the right move? Only time will tell, but they are still searching for their first league title since the peerless Scot's departure. 

Marcus Rashford has revealed how Romelu Lukaku's selfless gesture enabled him to fire home the winning penalty in Manchester United's memorable Champions League turnaround at Paris Saint-Germain. 

Having lost the first leg of last season's last-16 tie 2-0 at Old Trafford, United made the trip to Paris with several first-team players missing through injury. 

Despite the odds being against the Red Devils, Lukaku's double – which was split by Juan Bernat's leveller – set the scene for a dramatic finale, during which Presnel Kimpembe was judged to have handled in the penalty area deep into second-half stoppage time. 

Lukaku, who has since moved to Inter, could have opted to take the spot-kick himself and try and complete his hat-trick.

Instead he offered the ball to Rashford, who duly smashed his effort home. 

Speaking to tennis star Andy Murray during a live video, Rashford explained: "The penalty was between me and Rom I think.  

"But you know Rom is one of those guys who if, well, in that particular game he'd scored two goals already, he could have taken it and got a hat-trick.  

"But he's the kind of guy that when you play in a strike partnership with him, he wants you both to do well and he just threw the ball to me and said you take it. 

"Which of course I was willing to let him take it because it's an opportunity for a hat-trick you know which is obviously a very good achievement. 

"But he just said he wanted me to take it so that was when you just sort of prepare yourself for the moment and just try and relax.  

"You know you think about the times that you've practiced, and you want your head to be focused." 

Rashford also opened up on how the attention he received off the pitch after bursting onto the scene as a teenager was initially a struggle. 

"I can't say I've ever really enjoyed the attention off the pitch," he added. "That's one thing growing up as a footballer that you never think about. 

"You always think about playing in the first team and scoring goals for United or at Old Trafford or any stadium. But you forget how your life can change overnight. 

"Things that you can do with your friends, things that you can do with your family, the places you can go, it all changes. 

"And I probably wasn't as prepared for that bit as I was the actual going on the pitch and playing. 

"For me that bit was the easier bit. It obviously took a lot of hard work to get there but when the opportunity came up I felt ready to step up." 

Rashford scored twice on debut against Midtjylland in a Europa League tie in February 2016 before marking his Premier League bow against Arsenal with another brace three days later. 

"I remember a couple of months before my debut I was on the bench and at that moment I didn't feel ready. I didn't feel like I belonged in the first team," said Rashford, who credited ex-boss Louis van Gaal for thrusting him into action at the right time. 

"You know that's why timing is so important. I wasn't ready to play that game so I think the manager knew what he was doing at the time. 

"Van Gaal is very experienced with young players and he wanted to wait for the right time. 

"When I made my debut it just felt natural, it just felt like I was playing with my normal team-mates."

Saturday should have seen Barcelona host Atletico Madrid in LaLiga and pit Antoine Griezmann against his old club once more.

Griezmann left Atleti for Camp Nou in the second most expensive transfer of the previous close season, his €120million move eclipsed only by Joao Felix, the man bought to replace him.

Neither player has exactly enjoyed a resoundingly triumphant season, which is an affliction to hit many of the top 10 most expensive transfers of 2019.

We look at each of those players and whether their signings have, until now, been a hit or a miss...

 

JOAO FELIX: Benfica to Atletico Madrid (€126m)

Benfica and Portugal's golden boy scored in pre-season victories over Juventus and Real Madrid to give Atleti fans reason to believe the post-Griezmann future was bright.

However, just six goals in 28 competitive appearances later, doubts have been growing as to whether the 20-year-old forward will ever truly suit Diego Simeone's system.

VERDICT: MISS

ANTOINE GRIEZMANN: Atletico Madrid to Barcelona (€120m)

Griezmann vowed to stay at Atletico in 2018 only to change his mind a year later, and his performances for Barca are in keeping with a man not quite at ease in his surroundings.

Only Lionel Messi and Luis Suarez better his goal involvements for the Blaugrana in LaLiga this term (eight goals and four assists), while he is second only to Messi for chances created (26), but fans were entitled to expect more from the club's latest mega-money forward.

VERDICT: MISS

EDEN HAZARD: Chelsea to Real Madrid (€100m)

Chelsea fans feared the worst when their star man was lost during a transfer embargo, but things have hardly gone swimmingly for Hazard at the Santiago Bernabeu.

Injury problems have restricted him to just nine starts and a solitary goal and assist in LaLiga. He has also only created 14 chances, as many as James Rodriguez (who has started just four league games) and Lucas Vazquez (who has started six).

VERDICT: MISS

HARRY MAGUIRE: Leicester City to Manchester United (€87m)

The world's most expensive central defender might not be thought of as the world's best, but that should not detract from his impact on Ole Gunnar Solskjaer's side.

He leads the way for duels won, aerial duels won, blocks and interceptions among United defenders in the Premier League this season, helping them to eight clean sheets. Oh, and he's already been made club captain.

VERDICT: HIT

MATTHIJS DE LIGT: Ajax to Juventus (€85m)

The most coveted centre-back of the window after Ajax's remarkable Champions League run, De Ligt delivered a dreadful performance on his Juventus debut in a 4-3 win over Napoli.

He has won the most aerial duels and has the pass success rate of any Juve defender to feature more than five times in Serie A this term, but there are already doubts about his long-term suitability to Maurizio Sarri's side.

VERDICT: MISS

LUCAS HERNANDEZ: Atletico Madrid to Bayern Munich (€80m)

Bayern smashed their transfer record to sign defender Hernandez, but injuries have made it difficult to assess whether the money will prove to be well-spent.

A knee problem in September was followed by a serious ankle injury that kept him out for nearly four months, meaning he has started only nine games in all competitions for the Bundesliga champions.

VERDICT: MISS

NICOLAS PEPE: Lille to Arsenal (€80m)

Pepe was something of a symbol of Unai Emery's problematic final few weeks in charge as he struggled badly to find form for the Gunners.

He has certainly shown signs of improvement in 2020 – only Mesut Ozil (38) has created more chances in the league than Pepe (34) for Arsenal – but fans will have hoped for more from their record signing.

VERDICT: MISS

FRENKIE DE JONG: Ajax to Barcelona (€75m)

Another Ajax star who became coveted by clubs across Europe last year, De Jong opted for Barca and immediately became a regular in midfield.

He has not quite adapted to life in LaLiga - Ernesto Valverde's exit and Quique Setien's arrival as coach did not help - but, in turbulent times for the club, he looks to be a safe bet as the beating heart of Barca for years to come: he had created more chances (24) than any other Barca midfielder this term and only Sergio Busquets has more recoveries and interceptions.

VERDICT: HIT

RODRI: Atletico Madrid to Manchester City (€70m)

Manchester City's record signing has proved a smart bit of a business given midfield-anchor supreme Fernandinho has spent much of this season in defence.

Rodri has attempted more passes (1,996), recorded a better passing accuracy (92 per cent) and more recoveries (181) than any other City midfielder in 2019-20. He looks very much at home in Pep Guardiola's system.

VERDICT: HIT

ROMELU LUKAKU: Manchester United to Inter (€65m)

Lukaku's move to Inter seems to have been that rarity in modern-day transfers: a deal that has worked out well for everyone concerned.

United's attack is taking the more fluid shape Solskjaer wants, Antonio Conte at last got the forward he tried to bring to Juventus and Chelsea, and Lukaku has looked in the form of his career, with 17 goals and two assists in Serie A as part of a fearsome partnership with Lautaro Martinez.

VERDICT: HIT

The pause in the football calendar (except in Belarus, of course) gives players across Europe plenty of time to reflect on their efforts so far this season.

While some have a few things to work on when matches return, there are others for whom 2019-20 has been a showcase of the very best they have to offer.

In the latest piece in our series, we look at the best-performing forwards in the Bundesliga, LaLiga, Ligue 1, Premier League and Serie A.

Goals might be the most obvious (and fundamentally important) of metrics for these players, but the number of times the ball crosses that white line is not the only measure of their quality.

To that end, we have also examined seven other parameters: minutes-per-goal rate, shots on target, shooting accuracy, shot conversion rate, big chance conversion rate, dribbles completed and dribble success rate. And these are for those players to make at least 10 league appearances this season, to avoid any unfair imbalance in the results (we're looking at you, Florin Andone).

Without further ado, we present the most ruthless forwards elite-level football in Europe has to offer...

THE MOST RUTHLESS FORWARDS IN EUROPE'S TOP-FIVE LEAGUES 2019-20:

 

BUNDESLIGA:

Most goals scored: Robert Lewandowski (25)
Best minutes-per-goal rate (Min. five goals scored): Robert Lewandowski (81.7)
Most shots on target: Robert Lewandowski (55)
Best shooting accuracy (Min. 30 shots): Marcus Thuram (76.3 per cent)
Best shot conversion rate (Min. five goals scored): Paco Alcacer (35.7 per cent)
Best big chance conversion rate (Min. five big chances): Rouwen Hennings (71.4 per cent)
Most dribbles completed: Marcus Thuram (57)
Best dribbles success rate (Min. 10 completed): Lucas Alario (83.3 per cent)

LALIGA:

Most goals scored: Lionel Messi (19)
Best minutes-per-goal rate (Min. five goals scored): Lionel Messi (99.5)
Most shots on target: Lionel Messi (55)
Best shooting accuracy (Min. 30 shots): Lionel Messi (68.9 per cent)
Best shot conversion rate (Min. five goals scored): Lucas Perez (40.7 per cent)
Best big chance conversion rate (Min. five big chances): Charles (83.3 per cent)
Most dribbles completed: Lionel Messi (118)
Best dribbles success rate (Min. 10 completed): Pione Sisto (76.9 per cent)

LIGUE 1:

Most goals scored: Kylian Mbappe and Wissam Ben Yedder (18)
Best minutes-per-goal rate (Min. five goals scored): Kylian Mbappe (84.1)
Most shots on target: Kylian Mbappe (49)
Best shooting accuracy (Min. 30 shots): Kasper Dolberg (78.1 per cent)
Best shot conversion rate (Min. five goals scored): Mauro Icardi (37.5 per cent)
Best big chance conversion rate (Min. five big chances): Moussa Dembele (72.2 per cent)
Most dribbles completed: Neymar (90)
Best dribbles success rate (Min. 10 completed): Zaydou Youssouf (85.7 per cent)

PREMIER LEAGUE:

Most goals scored: Jamie Vardy (19)
Best minutes-per-goal rate (Min. five goals scored): Sergio Aguero (87.6)
Most shots on target: Mohamed Salah (43)
Best shooting accuracy (Min. 30 shots): Anthony Martial (68.2 per cent)
Best shot conversion rate (Min. five goals scored): Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang (36.2 per cent)
Best big chance conversion rate (Min. five big chances): Harry Kane (70 per cent)
Most dribbles completed: Adama Traore (144)
Best dribbles success rate (Min. 10 completed): Billy Sharp (86.7 per cent)

SERIE A:

Most goals scored: Ciro Immobile (27)
Best minutes-per-goal rate (Min. five goals scored): Luis Muriel (70.2)
Most shots on target: Cristiano Ronaldo (53)
Best shooting accuracy (Min. 30 shots): Romelu Lukaku (65.5 per cent)
Best shot conversion rate (Min. five goals scored): Ante Rebic (42.9 per cent)
Best big chance conversion rate (Min. five big chances): Felipe Caicedo (85.7 per cent)
Most dribbles completed: Jeremie Boga (106)
Best dribbles success rate (Min. 10 completed): Sergio Floccari (72.2 per cent)

AND THE TOP EIGHT:

Most goals scored: Ciro Immobile (27)
Best minutes-per-goal rate (Min. five goals scored): Luis Muriel (70.2)
Most shots on target: Lionel Messi and Robert Lewandowski (55)
Best shooting accuracy (Min. 30 shots): Kasper Dolberg (78.1 per cent)
Best shot conversion rate (Min. five goals scored): Ante Rebic (42.9 per cent)
Best big chance conversion rate (Min. five big chances): Felipe Caicedo (85.7 per cent)
Most dribbles completed: Adama Traore (144)
Best dribbles success rate (Min. 10 completed): Billy Sharp (86.7 per cent)

Sebastiano Esposito and Rafael Leao could not be separated as their virtual Milan derby finished in an entertaining 2-2 draw.

With the coronavirus pandemic leading to a shutdown of the vast majority of all top-level sport, athletes and fans alike are having to satisfy their cravings in other ways, with video games proving an increasingly popular option.

Playing on the latest edition of Pro Evolution Soccer on DAZN, Inter youngster Esposito took charge of the Nerazzurri and Leao controlled his Milan – each player unsurprisingly putting their computerised selves in the respective teams.

Esposito's seriousness quickly became apparent, as he clattered the virtual Leao to the ground early on with Stefan de Vrij – leading to the real Leao brandishing an imaginary card.

Leao, controlling himself, put Milan in front just before half-time, slotting under Samir Handanovic after a one-two with Zlatan Ibrahimovic.

Esposito's reaction to his counterpart's shouts and gloating dance to the camera was minimal, as it was when he restored parity just after half-time – Romelu Lukaku netting off the post after being teed up by Lautaro Martinez.

Inter were then in front in the 76th minute. Lukaku cut out a goal-kick and then blocked a subsequent clearance, before charging into the box and returning the favour for Martinez – Esposito's celebration showing a hint of emotion for the first time.

But he had his head in his hands when Leao secured a share of the spoils, with Ibrahimovic collecting Ismael Bennacer's defence-splitting pass and coolly sweeping home.

Esposito could not help thinking his strikers might have done more.

He said: "Lautaro and Lukaku are the perfect partnership. The numbers show it - they showed it on PES too.

"I got the most out of them having watched them up close and personal. I thank them for scoring the goals, but they could've done even better," he concluded with a chuckle.

Inter striker Romelu Lukaku hit out at officials for allowing Serie A to continue until a player tested positive for coronavirus, insisting health is paramount.

The 2019-20 Serie A season has been suspended amid the COVID-19 pandemic, which has killed more than 53,100 people worldwide.

Juventus defender Daniele Rugani was listed as the first Serie A player to contract coronavirus following the club's 2-0 win over Inter behind closed doors on March 8.

With Italy hit hardest by the virus – more than 13,910 deaths – Belgium star Lukaku questioned why the league was not postponed sooner.

"Health comes first. Why should we play if there are people in the world who are risking their lives?" Lukaku said in an interview with Thierry Henry via Puma's Instagram.

"Why was it only necessary for a player to test positive in order for football to stop? It's not normal.

"I will admit that I do miss football, but now the most important thing is people's health. Everything else comes secondary to that."

Amid the hiatus, Lukaku told Henry: "What I miss most is competing with opponents, being in full stadiums and feeling the support from the fans.

"I am using this time to analyse my performances and indeed, more generally, everything I have done in the last six months. You can always improve in football."

Romelu Lukaku might have been playing for Juventus rather than Inter had the Bianconeri sold Paulo Dybala to Manchester United, according to the Belgium international's agent.

Lukaku left United for Inter in a €65million deal in August and went on to score 17 Serie A goals before the season was halted by the coronavirus pandemic.

However, the former Chelsea and Everton striker could have instead been turning out for title rivals Juve this term.

Lukaku's agent Federico Pastorello claims Dybala's departure would have made room for the 26-year-old in Turin.

Dybala was linked with both United and Tottenham but instead stayed at Juve, netting seven times in the league so far in 2019-20 - including strikes in a pair of precious victories over Inter.

Pastorello told Sky Sport Italia: "If Lukaku is wearing the Inter shirt today, it's only because of Paulo Dybala's failure to join Manchester United."

However, Lukaku's representative also suggested the player felt a warmer welcome at Inter than he would have expected with Juve.

"Romelu wanted to leave the Premier League and move to a club where he felt loved," Pastorello said.

"He immediately noticed the affection and warmth of the Inter fans compared to those of Juve, and this made the difference.

"Lukaku's arrival at Juve would have pleased many fans, but for Inter his engagement instead represented a turning point after the arrival of Antonio Conte, the intention to try to start a winning cycle.

"He perceived this immediately, even on social media. He felt wanted at Inter. Conte put a lot of pressure on the club to have the player."

Romelu Lukaku has acknowledged he is finding it tough living in self-isolation after Italy was put into lockdown amid the coronavirus pandemic.

Serie A has been put on hold until April 3 at the earliest due to the continued spread of the respiratory disease, which has resulted in almost 3,500 deaths in Italy.

Lukaku has been prevented from seeing his son, mother and brother since quarantining last week and said the experience has left him feeling humbled.

"You have to be very careful because you might touch somebody and they might have the virus," he said in an interview on Ian Wright's YouTube channel.

"My mum has diabetes and they have a higher risk to get into trouble when they get it. So I cannot even go home and touch her. 

"My mum is not even going out now. She's just going in the backyard or late at night she does her walk and then she comes back.

"I'm with my physio now. They bring me food every time as I'm on a strict diet. Every day around 12pm they send somebody from the training ground to give us the food so we keep our strict diet. I'm still on my fish and my veggies."

Lukaku, who has scored 23 goals in 35 outings for Inter this term, added: "I can't go outside, I can't train. It's been nine days. They got me a bike because the players live in the city centre in small apartments. 

"I didn't have space so in a group chat they said to the players 'who doesn't have a bike or a treadmill at the house?'. So there were loads of players like 'me, me ,me, me me'. Two hours later they brought every player a bike.

"I miss the regular life. Being with my mum and my son. Even being with my brother and people outside.

"I'm thinking about everybody. It is bad. You can have no more contact with a human being. I miss training and playing games in front of fans. Now you start appreciating what you have."

Romelu Lukaku was "really close" to joining Juventus last year, but the chance to work with Antonio Conte proved pivotal in his decision to sign for Inter.

The Belgium international ended a mixed two-year spell with Manchester United by joining Inter for a reported €80million (£74m) fee in August 2019.

Lukaku has excelled in his debut campaign in Italy, scoring 23 goals in 35 outings in all competitions.

However, the 26-year-old has revealed he almost joined one of Inter's fiercest rivals.

"I was close, really close [to joining Juve], but my mind was always set on Inter and the manager," Lukaku said in an interview on Ian Wright's YouTube channel.

"As a kid I looked up to Adriano, Ronaldo and [Christian] Vieri. 

"Obviously when Inter came – and the manager Conte wanted me at Chelsea and Juve as well – I wanted to go there and see what it was like, keep my head down and work."

Lukaku has already bettered his goals tally from the whole of his final season at United, where he fell out of favour under Ole Gunnar Solskjaer.

"One bad year can happen to everybody, and I was done [at United]," Lukaku, who believes he made the right decision in leaving Old Trafford, added. "It was a difficult situation.

"I had to make a decision over going somewhere where I can learn other aspects of my game and work with somebody that wanted me as well.

"Ole wanted me to stay but I told him it was over. I didn't have the energy. All credit to him because he's been a man and he helped me make the move away."

United have steadily improved in Solskjaer's first full campaign in charge following the January signings of Bruno Fernandes and Odion Ighalo, the latter arriving on an initial loan.

"They are going the right way because they are bringing in the right players," Lukaku said. "Ole is doing a good job and the results are good. 

"I wish them nothing but the best. As a club they gave me a platform that I had never seen in my life."

Juventus returned to the top of Serie A after goals from Aaron Ramsey and Paulo Dybala earned them a 2-0 Derby D'Italia victory over Inter at an empty Allianz Stadium.

Maurizio Sarri's side were clinical in a surreal atmosphere – supporters have been barred from attending matches until April 3 amid coronavirus precautions – securing a third consecutive league win after Ramsey netted for the second game running, while substitute Dybala doubled the hosts lead with a scintillating strike.

Cristiano Ronaldo failed to find the net for the first time in 12 league matches on a night when he could have set a new Serie A record goalscoring streak, the Portugal star missing two excellent late chances.

But there was no hiding Sarri's satisfaction as his charges bounced back from their Champions League defeat to Lyon with a deserved victory against one of their title rivals, who are now nine points behind, although Antonio Conte's side have a game in hand.

Samir Handanovic, on his return from a hairline fracture of his finger, made a smart reaction save to keep out Matthijs de Ligt's close-range header after seven minutes, and Ronaldo then fired a shot into his midriff from 20 yards.

Juve's strong start continued, with Blaise Matuidi's angled drive forcing Handanovic into a low, diving stop, while Inter were restricted to shots over the crossbar from distance by Nicolo Barella and Antonio Candreva.

Marcelo Brozovic gave the champions their first real scare when he struck a curling effort towards goal from outside the box that Wojciech Szczesny parried away, ensuring the sides went in level at the interval.

Juve's breakthrough came nine minutes after the restart when Alex Sandro played Matuidi into the box and his cross was blocked by Alessandro Bastoni, only for Ramsey to pounce on the loose ball and fire it in off Stefan de Vrij's leg from six yards.

Dybala replaced Douglas Costa five minutes later and soon made his mark on the game, immaculately trapping a long pass before exchanging a one-two with Ramsey,  turning Ashley Young inside the box and firing into the corner of the net with the outside of his left foot.

Conte threw on Christian Eriksen as Inter sought a way back into the game and he sent a rising drive narrowly over Szczesny's crossbar, but the visitors' evening took another turn for the worse when Daniele Padelli was sent off from the bench following Brozovic's foul on Matuidi.

Ronaldo fired two late shots narrowly wide of the target as he just missed out on claiming another piece of history, but the night nonetheless belonged to Juve.

 

What does it mean? Inter cut adrift

The Nerazzurri are now playing catch-up in a big way, with Conte's side failing to show the kind of form that made them front-runners in the title race before the turn of the year.

Juventus, meanwhile, are playing some of their most exciting football of the campaign and will feel confident about going toe-to-toe with Lazio – a point behind – for the Scudetto.

Ramsey finding his feet

This was only Ramsey's ninth league start of the season but – having also netted against SPAL – he more than justified his place, scoring the opener, assisting the second, and frequently putting Sarri's men on the front foot with his vision and quick thinking.

Higuain's drought continues

Without a Serie A goal since January 6, Gonzalo Higuain was largely a bystander despite Juve spending long spells camped in and around Inter's box, with Ronaldo so often the preferred passing option.

What's next?

Inter are at home to Getafe in the Europa League on Thursday ahead of their clash with Sassuolo three days later, while Juventus travel to Bologna in Serie A on Friday, with Lyon visiting in the Champions League after that.

Inter recovered from a goal down to beat Ludogorets 2-1 at an empty San Siro and seal a 4-1 aggregate victory in Thursday's Europa League last-32 tie.

Antonio Conte's men took a two-goal lead into the second leg, which was played behind closed doors due to concerns over the coronavirus outbreak in Italy.

Cauly profited from some sloppy defending to halve the deficit with 26 minutes played, but Cristiano Biraghi squeezed in a deflected effort from an angle after being played in by Eriksen to level things up on the night.

Romelu Lukaku edged the Italian club ahead with a strange goal just before half-time and competition favourites Inter saw things through to book a place in Friday's last-16 draw.

Lukaku, who had also scored a late penalty in last week's first leg after Christian Eriksen's opener, failed to beat Plamen Iliev from a one-on-one five minutes into this return match. 

Bulgarian champions Ludogorets gave themselves some hope when Cauly held off Diego Godin and fired past Daniele Padelli at his neat post via the underside of the crossbar.

But Inter restored their two-goal aggregate margin 188 seconds later as Biraghi's drilled effort from the left went in via a deflection off visiting defender Georgi Terziev.

Lukaku then atoned for his earlier miss by scoring a bizarre fourth goal of the tie for Inter, with the ball ricocheting off his body while on the floor after his initial header was saved.

Alexis Sanchez played a big part in that goal and struck the frame of the goal with a 25-yard drive early in the second half.

Lukaku was also denied by a mixture of Iliev and the post five minutes later but, a near-miss from substitute Mavis Tchibota aside, Inter had little trouble in seeing out a second victory on the bounce ahead of Sunday's trip to Juventus.

 

What does it mean? Inter regain some momentum

Successive wins against Ludogorets, either side of Sunday's postponed league clash with Sampdoria, has given Inter some much-needed momentum after back-to-back losses.

This weekend's trip to Juventus has officially been given the go ahead and Conte's men know that defeat in Turin could kill off their Scudetto title hopes, making it a truly huge game.

Lukaku's fine form continues

Lukaku's goal may have been fortunate, but he linked up well with Sanchez in the build-up and now has 23 for the season in all competitions.

The Belgium international joins Samuel Eto'o as the only Inter players to have scored at least two goals in four different competitions in a single season, excluding qualifiers.

Calamity defending for Ludogorets' opener

Godin claimed he was shoved off the ball by Cauly for the visitors' goal, but the VAR officials agreed with the referee's assessment and let it stand.

Not only was the veteran centre-back caught out, captain Andrea Ranocchia also failed to close down the Ludogorets goal-scorer and Padelli was easily beaten at his near post.

What's next?

Inter travel to Serie A leaders Juventus on Sunday in another behind-closed-doors match, while Ludogorets head to Arda the same day as they close in on a ninth successive Bulgarian First League title.

Christian Eriksen's first goal for Inter helped Antonio Conte's men earn a battling 2-0 away win against Ludogorets in the opening leg of their Europa League last-32 tie.

The Serie A side were not at their best at Ludogorets Arena on Thursday but scored the opener from the best move of the match, Eriksen curling home from the edge of the box.

January signing Eriksen hit the crossbar from distance and Romelu Lukaku's late penalty confirmed a victory for the Nerazzurri that saw them bounce back from successive domestic defeats.

Inter, who began with Lukaku on the bench, struggled to impose themselves in the opening exchanges but Ludogorets goalkeeper Plamen Iliev had to make a smart stop to keep out Cristiano Biraghi's volley in the 25th minute.

The upright kept out Alexis Sanchez's clever flick after the restart, then Lautaro Martinez lashed a long-range strike narrowly over the crossbar as Inter increased the tempo.

Iliev made another fine save to turn away Eriksen's bouncing 20-yard volley, but the goalkeeper could do nothing about Inter's first goal in the 71st minute.

Sanchez and substitute Lukaku were involved in patient passing in the build-up, with Eriksen sweeping an excellent finish out of Iliev's reach.

It was almost 2-0 moments later as Eriksen's thumping drive beat Iliev but not the woodwork, Lukaku's arrival having given Ludogorets more to think about in defence.

Ludogorets, who were without their star striker Claudiu Keseru due to injury, failed to record a shot on target and face an uphill battle at San Siro next week after Lukaku converted from 12 yards in added time following Anicet Andrianantenaina's handball.


What does it mean? Inter get the job done

After consecutive defeats in the Coppa Italia and in Serie A to Napoli and Lazio respectively, Inter again found it difficult to produce their best football but they ground out a much-needed win. It is doubtful whether Conte values Europa League success over the Scudetto, though.

Iliev unlucky to miss out on clean sheet

Ludogorets had their backs against the wall for much of the game and relied on goalkeeper Iliev to keep them in the tie. He made a handful of excellent stops in a superb individual showing.

Martinez unable to justify Messi praise

Labelled "spectacular" by Argentina team-mate Lionel Messi in the build-up to the game, reported Barcelona target Martinez made very little impact before he was replaced by regular strike partner Lukaku.

What's next?

Ahead of next week's second leg, Inter host Sampdoria on Sunday while Bulgarian league leaders Ludogorets are away to Etar on the same day.

Christian Vieri believes only Paris Saint-Germain's attacking force of Neymar, Kylian Mbappe and Mauro Icardi can compete with Inter's long-term strike partnership of Romelu Lukaku and Lautaro Martinez.

Inter are top of the table in a thrilling Serie A title race in which just one point separates the Nerazzurri from third-place Lazio, who host Antonio Conte's men in a huge contest at Stadio Olimpico on Sunday.

Lukaku has enjoyed a fine start to life at Inter, scoring 17 goals in 23 top-flight appearances, while Martinez has contributed 11 in 20.

Former Inter striker Vieri says the future is bright for Conte's side and not many teams boast a better long-term strike force.

"The pairing of Lukaku and Lautaro Martinez guarantees Inter both a present and future as a top club," he told La Gazzetta dello Sport. 

"They're among the best three-four partnerships in the world, so considering their age and prospects, only PSG can compete with Kylian Mbappe, Neymar or Mauro Icardi."

Lazio have spent significantly less than Inter and second-place Juventus but are challenging in part due to Ciro Immobile's excellent return of 25 Serie A goals.

Immobile is the leading scorer in the league but Vieri says the Italy international and Lukaku, while outstanding talents in their own right, are not at the level of Juve forward Cristiano Ronaldo, who splits the two in the race for top-scorer honours.

"Ronaldo belongs to another category, he belongs to a world apart. He's a beast, always hungry, matched with impressive quality and technique," he added. 

"Lukaku is a pure centre-forward, devastating, physically strong. He fights, keeps the ball, helps his team-mates. Conte has helped Lukaku reach his physical peak.

"Immobile gives defenders a headache. He never stops moving and is incredibly difficult to mark. 

"He's more of an atypical striker, but is still lethal in front of goal, even with all that work. I respect him, he never stops working."

Having represented all three teams during a nomadic career, Vieri is well-placed to comment on a title race he believes is the best Serie A has seen in some time.

"It's the best title race in 10-15 years and I think it's going to be a battle right to the final round," the ex-Italy striker said.

Vieri also hailed Inter's signing of Christian Eriksen, a move he feels shows the club are displaying their ambition to return to the elite in European football.

"Inter want to win straight away, but with Eriksen, they also build for the future," he said. 

"He has so much quality, can cover all the midfield roles and the fact he chose the Nerazzurri confirms the club has grown on an international level."

Romelu Lukaku has made quite the impact in Serie A this season but he comes up against one of Europe's most in-form strikers in Ciro Immobile when Inter visit Lazio on Sunday.

Lazio have been one of the surprise packages in Italy's top flight this term and are just one point adrift of table-topping Inter ahead of a huge clash at Stadio Olimpico.

The performances of Immobile and Lukaku could well be crucial in determining the outcome of a blockbuster encounter between two teams aiming to end Juventus' stranglehold of Serie A.

With help of Opta data, we look at how the two compare this season.


IMMOBILE ON FIRE IN FRONT OF GOAL

Lukaku said "there's a new king in town" after helping Inter down Milan in the derby last weekend, and he has been an undoubted success during his maiden campaign at Inter. Thus far he has 17 goals in 23 Serie A appearances with an impressive minutes-to-goal average of 116.

But Immobile is Lazio's leading light, scoring 25 times in 23 league games, giving him an impressive average of a goal every 77 minutes in the top flight.

The Lazio man has also taken more shots (including blocked efforts), registering 93 to Lukaku's tally 68, with 46 on target compared to 35 for the Belgium striker.

Lukaku has scored nine and missed 10 'big chances', with Immobile's numbers reading 15 and 12 in that department. The Italian has a slightly better shot conversion rate (including blocks) of 27 per cent to 25.


CIRO THE CREATOR? LUKAKU UP FOR THE BATTLE

Lukaku's strengths are not just his goalscoring prowess but his ability to bring team-mates in to play.

Immobile is no slouch in terms of those attributes, though, and his six assists and 41 chances created outstrip what Lukaku (two and 34 in the respective categories) has managed this season.

Where Lukaku has outperformed Immobile is the number of duels won, with his 104 some way clear of Immobile's 65. Unsurprisingly, his duel success rate of 44.07 per cent is better than the Lazio forward's 38.69.

In terms of recoveries, Immobile has made 59 to Lukaku's 44.


THE STATS

- Immobile has failed to score in his past two league games; he has not gone three without a goal since last May.

- After scoring twice in his first three matches against Inter, Immobile has failed to net in the following eight against the Nerazzurri.

- Lukaku has the most away goals in the top five European leagues this season with 12, while Immobile is the highest scorer in home fixtures with 15 (the same total as Cristiano Ronaldo).

- Indeed, Lukaku's tally of 12 away goals is already the joint-best for a debut Serie A campaign. Andriy Shevchenko (1999-2000) and Antonio Vojak (1929-30) also managed as many on the road in their maiden seasons.

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