Lionel Messi looks set to leave Barcelona and a select few clubs are preparing to make a move.

Manchester City? Paris Saint-Germain? Inter?

Keep an eye on this saga…

 

TOP STORY – PSG TALKING TO MESSI

Paris Saint-Germain have opened talks with wantaway Barcelona superstar Lionel Messi, according to Ole.

Messi has handed in a transfer request at Barca, and the six-time Ballon d'Or winner has already been linked with Manchester City, Manchester United, Inter, Juventus and PSG.

The frontpage of Thursday's Mundo Deportivo claims City are circling to bring Messi to the Premier League with the 33-year-old believed to be keen on reuniting with former Barca boss Pep Guardiola. Meanwhile, Marca claims City have offered a three-year deal.

However, Ligue 1 champions PSG are also eyeing Messi as they look to add him to a squad that already boasts former team-mate Neymar and Kylian Mbappe.

ROUND-UP

- Fabrizio Romano reports Inter have re-opened talks with Barca for midfielder Arturo Vidal. Antonio Conte, who will remain Inter head coach in 2020-21, wants to bring the Chilean to San Siro.

- It comes as Gazzetta dello Sport reports Inter have struck a deal to sign Brescia star Sandro Tonali. Milan have also been eyeing the Italy midfielder.

- Serie A champions Juventus are set to sign Schalke midfielder Weston McKennie, says Sky Sport Italia. The United States international is poised to arrive on loan with the option to buy. Juve have also been linked with Sassuolo's Manuel Locatelli.

Manchester United are still chasing Aston Villa captain Jack Grealish, according to the Daily Mail. Borussia Dortmund star Jadon Sancho has been United's top priority, though the Red Devils remain in contact with Villa over a potential transfer.

- Sport Bild says Liverpool will make an approach for Bayern Munich midfielder Thiago Alcantara in the coming days.

Milan are poised to sign Real Madrid's Brahim Diaz on loan, reports Gianluca Di Marzio. Brahim has struggled for game time since arriving from City in 2019.

- Signing Lazio star Sergej Milinkovic-Savic is a priority for PSG, claims Le10 Sport. The Serbia international has previously been linked with Madrid, United, Juve, Inter and Chelsea.

The transfer saga that is Jadon Sancho-Manchester United continues to roll on.

Sancho has long been tipped to join United, though Borussia Dortmund are adamant the England star will not return to his homeland this off-season.

United, however, are reportedly not giving up.

 

TOP STORY – UNITED HELD UP BY PERSONAL TERMS

Manchester United remain keen on signing Borussia Dortmund star Jadon Sancho but personal terms and an agent fee are holding up their pursuit, according to ESPN.

Dortmund have insisted Sancho will not be sold, though United continue to target the former Manchester City youngster in a blockbuster transfer.

United have reportedly been given the green light to speak to Sancho and his representative but there has been an impasse with the player's camp over salary demands.

ROUND-UP

- Journalist Fabrizio Romano says Chelsea and Bayer Leverkusen are still negotiating a deal for star Kai Havertz. While Chelsea are confident, there remains a difference between the two clubs as Leverkusen hope to conclude a deal by the end of the month.

Jack Grealish to United? The Aston Villa captain continues to be linked with a move to Old Trafford and ESPN reports United goalkeeper Sergio Romero could be included in a deal to sign Grealish. Romero is United's number two behind David de Gea and the Argentina international's future is unclear, with Ole Gunnar Solskjaer reportedly keen for Dean Henderson to challenge for the number one spot.

- According to Cadena Ser's El Larguero, Luis Suarez is aiming to stay at Barcelona. Linked with a return to former club Ajax, Suarez is reportedly one of a number of players who could be forced out following Ronald Koeman's arrival. However, Suarez, Lionel Messi, Gerard Pique, Sergio Busquets and Sergi Roberto all want to speak to Quique Setien's replacement.

- Amid doubts over Pique's long-term future with Barca, Libero claims newly promoted Premier League side Fulham have made an offer for the Spain international star.

United remain interested in signing Barca teenager Ansu Fati, reports Marca. The 17-year-old reportedly switched agents to Jorge Mendes, having previously been represented by Messi's brother.

- The Telegraph says Chelsea are considering a move for Paris Saint-Germain defender Thiago Silva. The 35-year-old will become a free agent following the Champions League final and he has already been linked with former club Milan and fellow Serie A side Fiorentina.

Juventus are negotiating with United for Federico Bernardeschi and Douglas Costa, claims La Gazzetta dello Sport. The report also says the Serie A champions are speaking to City regarding Alex Sandro, while new boss Andrea Pirlo is eyeing Roma striker Edin Dzeko and Sassuolo midfielder Manuel Locatelli.

- Tuttosport's frontpage on Thursday suggests a merry-go-round of strikers. Inter have reportedly told Real Madrid that Romelu Lukaku is not for sale, Juve are in talks with Wolves to sign Raul Jimenez and Inter are challenging the Bianconeri for Dzeko. Meanwhile, Napoli's Arkadiusz Milik is heading towards Roma.

- The countdown is on for Madrid to sell outcasts Gareth Bale and James Rodriguez, according to Marca.

Sergio Ramos has been the face of Real Madrid, especially since Cristiano Ronaldo's departure in 2018.

Ramos highlighted his importance as Madrid dethroned Barcelona in LaLiga this season.

As the 34-year-old's current deal winds down, talks are reportedly underway to prolong his stay.

 

TOP STORY – RAMOS REVEALS RENEWAL PLANS

Real Madrid captain Ramos wants €17million to renew his contract with the LaLiga champions, according to Diario Sport.

Ramos is out of contract in 2021 and there have been question marks as to whether the Spain skipper will sign a new deal at the Santiago Bernabeu.

The defender has called Madrid home since arriving from Sevilla in 2005.

ROUND-UP

- The front page of Thursday's Diario Sport claims Barcelona are determined to sign Manchester City defender Eric Garcia. The 19-year-old left Barca for City in 2017. It comes as Premier League outfit City push for a swap deal involving full-back Joao Cancelo and Barca's Nelson Semedo.

- Could Real Madrid forward Luka Jovic reunite with former Eintracht Frankfurt team-mate Ante Rebic at Milan? According to reports, Fali Ramadani – agent to both Jovic and Rebic – met with Milan directors Paolo Maldini and Ricky Massara on Wednesday. Jovic has struggled since leaving Eintracht for Madrid at the start of the season, with the Serbia international linked to Milan, Napoli, Leicester City and Chelsea among others. Rebic, meanwhile, is on a two-season loan from Eintracht.

Manchester United are interested in signing Adrien Rabiot from Juventus, claims Calciomercato. Fellow Premier League teams Everton and Newcastle United are also reportedly interested.

- Sky Sport Italia and Sportitalia report Victor Osimhen is set to be presented as a Napoli player on Friday. The Lille forward had previously been the subject of reported interest from the likes of Liverpool and United. Sky journalist Fabrizio Romano also says talks are ongoing for Napoli to sign Jeremie Boga from Sassuolo.

- According to RAC1 journalist Gerard Romero, Barca are eyeing Villarreal defender Pau Torres. The 23-year-old – also linked to City – reportedly has a €50m release clause.

City have offered Yangel Herrera to Valencia in an attempt to lure winger Ferran Torres to Manchester, says Gols Media. City are looking to replace Leroy Sane following his Bayern Munich switch.

Milan have contacted the agent of Brescia star Sandro Tonali, claims Sportmediaset. While Inter remain the frontrunners, their city rivals are not giving up on the Italy midfielder.

- Mundo Deportivo says Chelsea are dreaming of signing Barcelona goalkeeper Marc-Andre ter Stegen amid doubts over current number one Kepa Arrizabalaga. Chelsea have also been linked to Atletico Madrid star Jan Oblak.

Zlatan Ibrahimovic still remains unsure about his Milan future with just three games remaining this season.

The star striker, 38, scored a brace as Milan beat a 10-man Sassuolo 2-1 in Serie A on Tuesday.

While Ibrahimovic is only contracted at Milan until the end of the season, the club announced on Tuesday an extension for head coach Stefano Pioli until 2022.

Ibrahimovic, speaking when still unaware of the Pioli announcement, said he was unsure about his future.

"I still have three games, still 10 days, nobody said anything to me and I don't expect anything else," he said, via Sky Sport Italia.

"There are things that we cannot control, but that seem strange to me, but we are doing great things.

"We play with great confidence and we believe in what we do."

Milan are unbeaten in 10 games since the season resumed last month, and are now fifth in the table.

Ibrahimovic, who has scored eight goals in 17 games this season, praised Milan's form.

"I'm working, I'm fine, the team is fine and doing good things," he said.

"When I arrived we are second or third in the standings, it means it is not bad."

Milan are in action again on Friday, when they host high-flying Atalanta.

Milan moved into fifth in Serie A after Zlatan Ibrahimovic secured a 2-1 victory away to 10-man Sassuolo on Tuesday. 

The Rossoneri edged above Roma and Napoli in the table thanks to a first-half double from their veteran striker either side of Francesco Caputo's penalty, before Mehdi Bourabia was sent off late in the first half. 

It marked the ninth league game in a row in which Milan scored at least twice and further highlighted their progress under Stefano Pioli, who could well be staying in charge for next season. 

Sassuolo were surprisingly slack with their customary passing out from the back and paid the price 19 minutes in, with Hakan Calhanoglu's exquisite cross nodded in by Ibrahimovic after Franck Kessie had won back the ball. 

Milan were dealt a double injury blow, losing Andrea Conti and Alessio Romagnoli, before Caputo levelled for Sassuolo from the penalty spot after Calhanoglu was penalised for handball following a lengthy VAR review. 

Calhanoglu and Ibrahimovic combined again to restore the lead in first-half injury time, though, the striker gathering a throughball and rounding Andrea Consigli to finish, having earlier missed another good headed chance. 

Sassuolo's hopes of another comeback were ruined when Bourabia lunged in on Ante Rebic to earn a second yellow card with seconds left in the first half. 

Ibrahimovic just failed to get a shot away after combining with Kessie, and Ismael Bennacer clipped the post as Milan sought a decisive third, although Gianluigi Donnarumma - making his 200th appearance for the club at the age of just 21 - was largely a spectator at the other end. 

By contrast, Consigli had to produce a brilliant triple save to deny Kessie and Giacomo Bonaventura twice to keep it at 2-1. 

What does it mean? Pioli efforts paying off 

Milan are a point above Roma and three ahead of Napoli in fifth place, and few would bet against them doing enough to seal a top-six finish even if their closest rivals have a game in hand. 

In the longer term, the evidence of their improvement under Pioli becomes clearer by the game and any new deal for the coach would represent a wholly sensible move by the club. 

The only concern for Milan will be facing Atalanta next with potential injury absentees and Theo Hernandez and Bennacer suspended. 

Hakan and Zlatan weaving a pattern 

Calhanoglu's recent form has rivalled any attacking player in Serie A. Ibrahimovic is the seventh player to receive an assist this season from the Turkey playmaker, and their combination play pointed to a few more goals to come. 

Brainless from Bourabia 

Bourabia's first booking was for a poor lunge on Ibrahimovic. His second, for a reckless challenge on Rebic with seconds of the first half remaining, was probably worse. Roberto De Zerbi will have been furious. 

What's next? 

Milan host Atalanta on Friday in what could be key to their European hopes, with Sassuolo heading to Napoli on Saturday. 

Gianluigi Donnarumma made his 200th appearance in club football on Tuesday in Milan's Serie A clash with Sassuolo. 

The goalkeeper made his debut against the same opposition at the age of 16 years and 242 days on October 25, 2015. 

The Italy international made his 100th appearance against Fiorentina on December 30, 2017, when he was still shy of his 19th birthday. 

Donnarumma reached his double century at 21 years and 146 days. At the same age, Juventus veteran Gianluigi Buffon had played 134 club matches, all for Parma. 

Unsurprisingly, Donnarumma has made more appearances for Milan than any player currently in the squad, the keeper having been a rare point of consistency during some turbulent years. 

He conceded 208 goals in his first 199 games, keeping 68 clean sheets, 56 of which came in Serie A. In the past five seasons, only Inter keeper Samir Handanovic (67) has managed more in the top tier of Italian football. 

Since his debut, Donnarumma made 511 saves in league games, a number bettered only by Andrea Consigli (532), the man in the opposite goal on Tuesday. 

In all competitions, Donnarumma had made 601 saves in 199 matches - including six from penalties - and has an impressive save percentage of 74.06. 

Liverpool are reportedly getting closer to signing Thiago Alcantara, while Kai Havertz knows what he wants.

Thiago has continued to be linked with a move to the Premier League champions amid uncertainty over his future at Bayern Munich.

A switch to Anfield could be getting closer.

 

TOP STORY – KLOPP APPROVES OF LIVERPOOL MOVE FOR THIAGO

Liverpool manager Jurgen Klopp has approved a move for Bayern midfielder Thiago, according to Sport Bild.

Thiago, 29, is out of contract at the Bundesliga club next year and reportedly wants a move to Liverpool.

However, the Premier League champions are apparently only willing to pay £23million (€25.4m), well short of Bayern's asking price of £36m (€39.7m).

ROUND-UP

- Havertz looks likely to leave Bayer Leverkusen this close season. Kicker says the Germany international wants a move in the upcoming transfer window amid strong links to Chelsea. According to Sport Bild, Leverkusen still want around £90.6m (€100m) for Havertz but are prepared to accept add-ons and bonuses.

- Mauricio Pochettino may be nearing a return to management. The Telegraph reports the former Tottenham boss is on the shortlist of candidates at Juventus and Inter should the Serie A clubs sack Maurizio Sarri or Antonio Conte respectively.

- Jude Bellingham is close to completing his move to Borussia Dortmund. Sky Sports claims the Birmingham City teenager has completed his medical at the Bundesliga club.

- Sassuolo midfielder Manuel Locatelli seems to be catching the eye. CalcioMercato reports Juventus are interested in the 22-year-old.

- Staying in Italy and CalcioMercato says Inter and Napoli are interested in Milan midfielder Franck Kessie.

- Manchester United are reportedly set to land a Real Madrid youngster. Alvaro Fernandez, 17, has agreed to a four-year deal with United, according to AS.

Juventus head coach Maurizio Sarri bemoaned his team's thrilling 3-3 draw at Sassuolo, with the stuttering Serie A leaders' inconsistency leaving him "perplexed".

Juve surrendered a 2-0 lead against in-form Sassuolo as they suffered a setback in their efforts to clinch a ninth successive Scudetto on Wednesday.

Defending champions Juve – who squandered a 2-0 advantage as they lost 4-2 to rivals Milan earlier this month – raced out to a two-goal advantage inside 12 minutes via Danilo and Gonzalo Higuain before Filip Djuricic reduced the deficit prior to half-time.

Domenico Berardi's stunning free-kick restored parity six minutes into the second half and the forward then set up Francesco Caputo to put Sassuolo 3-2 ahead three minutes later.

Alex Sandro salvaged a point for Juve past the hour-mark as the league leaders improved to 77 points through 33 games, seven clear of high-flying Atalanta.

"A coach expects consistency from his team, it's something we've been lacking both physically and mentally. We have some very strong moments in a match and some moments of passivity that are difficult to understand," Sarri told Sky Sport Italia.

"We've been up against teams in remarkable form recently and Sassuolo are no different, as they'd won four in a row and if they consolidate, they can become the Atalanta of the future.

"I do believe that if we resolve the issue of consistency throughout the game, we are on the right track. Any team becomes dangerous if you let them pass it around in our final third.

"We struggled because they played between the lines with the trequartista and we gave the ball away too many times. It was strange, as our full-backs in the first half were conservative, but then started to push forward and win the ball back early towards the end of the game.

"It's not so much something that doesn't work as it works in fits and starts. At times, I get the feeling this team has enormous potential. At other times, it leaves you perplexed, as it allows the opponents to enter the box far too easily. We need to find the right balance and that is not easy.

"We had to keep the ball more, as there are times when the passing move will help you to control the tempo and stay in the opposition half. We sometimes feel too rushed in trying to get to the goal in a couple of passes, which creates a situation where you go from end to end."

Juve host struggling Lazio – third in the standings – in Turin on Monday.

Juventus suffered a setback in their efforts to clinch a ninth successive Serie A title as they were held to a thrilling 3-3 draw at Sassuolo.

The Bianconeri looked to have all but sealed the Scudetto when two penalties helped them preserve a nine-point lead at the top with a 2-2 draw against Atalanta on Saturday.

Atalanta cut the lead down to six points with a 6-2 thumping of Brescia on Tuesday and Juve could be only four points ahead by the time they face Lazio on Monday after an engrossing contest saw the spoils shared.

Danilo and Gonzalo Higuain put them 2-0 up inside 12 minutes before Filip Djuricic pulled one back. Domenico Berardi levelled matters six minutes into the second half and then teed up Francesco Caputo to make it 3-2, only for Alex Sandro to secure a point for Maurizio Sarri's men.

Former Manchester City defender Danilo bent home from Miralem Pjanic's low corner delivery to the edge of the area and the Bosnia-Herzegovina international's sublime throughball led to the second goal as Higuain – preferred to Paulo Dybala – converted confidently on the half-volley.

Wojciech Szczesny produced a pair of stunning saves to first deny Mert Muldur and then Berardi, but he could do nothing to prevent Djuricic from finding the top-right corner with a fine first-time finish after more good work from Muldur.

Szczesny did well to hold a drive from Berardi as Sassuolo continued to press for an equaliser, with Cristiano Ronaldo seeing a gilt-edged chance to restore Juve's two-goal lead in first-half stoppage time deflected over.

That advantage was eradicated in spectacular fashion by Berardi as he left Szczesny no chance with a superb free-kick from the edge of the area.

And a remarkable turnaround was completed three minutes later when Berardi's ball across the face of goal found Caputo to tap in at the far post.

Adrien Rabiot headed wide and Ronaldo shot straight at Consigli but Alex Sandro made no mistake in converting from Rodrigo Bentancur's corner to make it three apiece.

Consigli thwarted Ronaldo from close range and at the other Szczesny produced heroics to deny Hamed Junior Traore, with Alex Sandro clearing Jeremie Boga's goal-bound follow-up in a fittingly frantic finale.

Juventus coach Maurizio Sarri insisted he was unworried about criticism as his team continue to chase trophies this season.

Ahead of a trip to Sassuolo on Wednesday, Juve are six points clear atop Serie A with six games left to play, and also in the Champions League last 16.

Sarri, who has lost the Coppa Italia final and Supercoppa Italiana this season, has faced some criticism, but the Juventus coach is not bothered.

"Honestly, I don't pay much attention to criticism, I always try to be focused only on what I can do," he told a news conference.

"I don't know what people say on social media because I'm not on them and I will never be in my life.

"If we talk instead of people in the streets, I only receive support and affection."

Juventus are winless in their past two games and needed a pair of penalties from Cristiano Ronaldo to draw with Atalanta last time out.

Sarri was asked about his side's lack of goals from midfield, but he has no concerns about their firepower, although Ronaldo (seven) and Paulo Dybala (four) have netted the majority of their goals in the past six games.

"We scored 17 goals in the last six matches and I'm not concerned about our scoring ratio frankly," he said.

"We all know that among our midfielders [Aaron] Ramsey is the one that can potentially score more goals considering his individual characteristics.

"Then we have two players that are growing a lot and in the future, I'm sure they will score more like [Rodrigo] Bentancur and [Adrien] Rabiot."

Giorgio Chiellini's absence through injury and fitness issues has been one of the "great regrets" for Juventus coach Maurizio Sarri this season.

Chiellini, 35, ruptured a knee ligament in August, ruling him out of action until February, when he made a couple of Serie A appearances before the league was suspended due to coronavirus.

The centre-back still has not featured since the resumption last month because of fitness-related issues, though he was given a new one-year contract to keep him at the club until 2021.

Sarri confirmed Chiellini has been in full training over the past week and is still considered an important player.

Speaking ahead of Wednesday's trip to Sassuolo, Sarri said: "Chiellini's absence is one of the great regrets of this season.

"He is a player who knows how to be enthralling. He has been training with the team for five days. I see him growing, and, in the future, he will give a great contribution for us."

The centre of defence is causing Sarri regular headaches at the moment, with Merih Demiral still recovering from his cruciate ligament rupture, while Leonardo Bonucci is a doubt for Wednesday's match.

"Merih Demiral is fine, but he needs time to get back into physical form," he said, before adding: "Bonucci has a problem with his foot that we need to evaluate today [Tuesday]."

Despite dropping points in each of their past two league matches, Juve remain in charge at the Serie A summit with an eight-point lead over Inter and Lazio.

But Sarri is not expecting a straightforward contest at Sassuolo, who are making a late push for the European places after going unbeaten in six and winning each of their past four games.

"Sassuolo is a team that is on the same path as Atalanta," Sarri continued. "They are giving continuity to a project, they are organised, and with a smart coach.

"They are in excellent form and are a dangerous team. The team has scored 17 goals in six games, so they don't have a problem when it comes to scoring.

"[Roberto] De Zerbi always manages to make an impression on his teams. He is the most interesting of the young coaches.

"We will be at least equal on the level of enthusiasm and determination, because we are in a moment where we are playing for the Scudetto."

Antonio Conte conceded Inter's failure to claim all three points against Sassuolo was "troubling", but the coach believes his side would have been worthy winners.

Inter twice threw away a lead late on as a frantic Serie A encounter ended 3-3 at San Siro, with the Nerazzurri missing the chance to apply some pressure to Lazio and Juventus.

Francesco Caputo's early goal gave Sassuolo the lead, but Romelu Lukaku and Cristiano Biraghi put Inter ahead by the break, before Roberto Gagliardini missed a golden chance to make it 3-1.

Sassuolo made their luck count, with Domenico Berardi scoring from the spot in the 81st minute, before Borja Valero then restored Inter's lead only for Giangiacomo Magnani to salvage a point for the visitors. Milan Skriniar's red card capped a remarkable conclusion to the clash.

"I think we deserved much more considering how much we created, whereas I don't recall any Samir Handanovic saves," a frustrated Conte told reporters. 

"It's something we keep repeating in this pattern and we are paying a heavy price. I am very disappointed and so are the lads.

"When you play this type of game and put so much into it, you have the chance to win despite the difficulties in the key area of midfield, you have to take home the three points. We didn't do that - it's disappointing and troubling.

"There are situations where we need to score goals and we are paying for these naive errors. We had the chances to finish it and we didn't. I don't know what more we can do other than keep working.

"I am happy with the performance, we've got to be more careful on the details. That is where we can grow and improve.

"We must try to win all of our remaining matches, regardless of what will happen, because I want the team always aiming for the maximum. I don't want any regrets, but we have some tonight."

Biraghi's goal was his first in Serie A since September 2018, yet the full-back was left equally as disappointed as his coach.

"When you play for Inter, you're part of a great team and need to move on immediately. The away trip to Parma is a chance to get back on track," he told Inter's official website.

"We need to think like a great team. We are focused on winning. Since we've been back, we've had more opportunities than our opponents. Failing to kill off games has become a problem."

Giangiacomo Magnani's 89th-minute goal stunned Inter as the Nerazzurri were made to pay for a dreadful miss from Roberto Gagliardini in a thrilling 3-3 draw with Sassuolo in Serie A.

Gagliardini was guilty of one of the misses of the season midway through the second half at San Siro, yet Inter – who took a 2-1 lead into half-time following goals from Romelu Lukaku and Cristiano Biraghi – seemed to have got away with it thanks to Borja Valero's 86th-minute effort.

Yet Sassuolo, who had drawn level at 2-2 following Gagliardini's miss through Domenico Berardi's spot-kick, fought back again – Magnani bundling home from two yards out.

With tempers frayed, there was still time for more drama when Milan Skriniar received a second booking for a foul on Lukas Haraslin in stoppage time as Inter squandered the chance to keep the pressure on Serie A's top two.

It took just four minutes for Sassuolo to open the scoring – Francesco Caputo finishing from Filip Djuricic's throughball.

Jeremie Boga's foul on Skriniar ended Sassuolo's resistance four minutes before the break, with Lukaku making no mistake from the resulting penalty. 

Inter's tails were up and, with Sassuolo's resolve broken, the hosts had their second in the first minute of stoppage time when Biraghi lashed in from a tight angle.

Gagliardini seemed destined to put the result beyond doubt in the 64th minute, only to slam an effort against the crossbar of a gaping goal after Andrea Consigli had parried out Lukaku's low strike.

Sassuolo made their good fortune count – Berardi keeping his composure from 12 yards following Ashley Young's foul on Mert Muldur to spark late drama.

After Lukaku saw a goal ruled out for offside, Valero's close-range finish from Antonio Candreva's free-kick seemed to have handed Inter victory, but Sassuolo rallied once more, with Antonio Conte left seething as the unmarked Magnani rescued a point for the visitors.

But Inter's frustrations were compounded moments later – Skriniar receiving his marching orders for a rash tackle on Haraslin in a frantic conclusion to a thrilling clash.

What does it mean? Inter's slim title hopes fading fast

Some costly defeats prior to Serie A's suspension due to coronavirus saw Inter slip down to third, but they would have, temporarily at least, moved to within two points of Lazio – and six of Juventus – with a victory on Wednesday.

Now, they sit on 58 points, with what seems too much ground to make up in the remaining 11 fixtures.

Berardi keeps up his run against Serie A's leading sides
With his penalty, which just snuck under Samir Handanovic, Sassuolo star Berardi has now scored four goals in his last four league matches against a side in the top three, with his previous such effort coming against Inter in the reverse fixture.

Gagliardini set for the blooper reel

In terms of misses, there will surely not be many more glaring ones this season than Gagliardini's. With the entire goal to aim at, the midfielder somehow managed to hit the woodwork from inside the six-yard box, and he will likely have to face Conte's wrath after Inter’s collapse.

Key Opta Facts

Inter have conceded three goals in a single Serie A game for the first time since the reverse fixture against Sassuolo (4-3 win).
Inter have conceded three goals in a single Serie A home game for the first time since April 2018 (2-3 v Juventus).
Lukaku has scored 19 goals in Serie A this season, his second-best campaign in the top five European Leagues (only fewer than in 2016-17 with 25 goals scored for Everton in Premier League).
Valero scored his first Serie A goal for Inter at San Siro, he had scored the first three away from home.

What's next?

A trip to Parma comes next for Inter on Sunday, shortly after Sassuolo face Hellas Verona.

Antonio Conte acknowledges Inter have no room for error as they aim to "be a nuisance right until the end" in the Serie A title race.

Defeats to Scudetto rivals Lazio and Juventus ahead of the season's suspension in March dealt a significant blow to Inter's hopes of claiming the championship.

The Nerazzurri won against Sampdoria on their return on Sunday but are nine points behind leaders and defending champions Juve, albeit with a game in hand.

Conte is still not giving up hope, as he hopes victory against Sassuolo on Wednesday can keep pressure on the top two.

"I've found myself in all kinds of situations," Conte told Inter TV of the title race. "Those in the lead are the masters of their own fate, the others need to pick up the pace to keep up.

"Juventus and Lazio have done better than us so far and, as a result, they have more room to slip up.

"For us, every game is make or break. We want to continue to be a nuisance right until the end."

The coach could look to rotate his squad given the swift return to action, but he has faith in the players.

"The short recovery times are added to the heat: it's a one-of-a-kind situation," Conte said.

"We'll look to give those who need it a rest from game to game. I've got faith in every player in the squad: we're hoping to have as few setbacks as possible, we need everyone.

"We're a bit short in midfield, [Matias] Vecino's carrying a knee problem and we're hoping to have him back soon."

Hot on the heels of the Premier League, it was announced on May 28 that Serie A would be resuming its season next month.

Italy's top flight is to get back underway from June 20, all being well, with the Coppa Italia semi-final second legs and final to be held during the week prior.

It means four of Europe's top-five leagues are committed to finishing the coronavirus-disrupted campaign, with only Ligue 1 having declared the season over.

Ahead of the return of the action, which includes a true title tussle, a fight for Europe and unease in the bottom half, we look at the story so far of 2019-20...

 

What is the state of play?

It's hardly a surprise that Juventus were top when the season was suspended in March, but this has by no means been a procession towards what would be a ninth consecutive Scudetto.

Simone Inzaghi's Lazio are just a point behind, while Inter, who have a game in hand, are a further eight points back.

Antonio Conte's Nerazzurri were beaten 2-0 by Juve in their final match before the season was halted, but while the title looks a touch beyond their reach, there would be little sense in writing them off entirely.

The race for Europe is similarly close. Free-scoring Atalanta are fourth but only three points above Roma, having played one game fewer, while only five points separate Napoli in sixth and Bologna in 10th. Milan, Hellas Verona and Parma are all in need of some improved form, though.

At the bottom, Brescia and SPAL look to be fighting a losing battle, but no side in the bottom half of the table could realistically declare themselves safe. Lecce are 18th, level on points with Genoa, but it's Torino who are enduring the worst form of all, losing six league games in a row to slide to within two points of the drop zone.

 

What have been the big controversies?

The return of football, for one.

There has been plenty of uncertainty around whether or not Italy, one of the world's hardest-hit countries by the pandemic, would sanction the resumption of the league. Indeed, Brescia owner Massimo Cellino has been outspoken against the idea from the start and branded the decision to declare a return date "crazy".

There is also concern around kick-off times as we move into the Italian summer. Umberto Calcagno, the vice-president of the Italian Footballers' Association, told La Repubblica there was "no way" the organisation would support matches taking place at 16:30 local time in June and July, when average temperatures exceed 30 degrees Celcius.

Even before the league was suspended, confusion reigned. When Parma were due to face SPAL in early March, players were sent back to the dressing rooms minutes before kick-off after sports minister Vincenzo Spadafora recommended all matches be stopped. The game eventually went ahead, 75 minutes late, with SPAL winning 1-0 in front of empty stands.

Juve might be top of the table, but things haven't been going swimmingly for Maurizio Sarri this season, either. The Bianconeri have often produced rather turgid displays and relied on individual brilliance from the likes of Cristiano Ronaldo to see them through, and they only won four of their final eight games in all competitions before the enforced break.

Ronaldo's frustrations have boiled over at times. There have been suggestions of discord between the head coach and the 34-year-old, who was angry at being substituted last November and was caught on camera telling Paulo Dybala "We're left alone out there" at half-time of their Champions League last-16 first-leg loss to Lyon.

 

Who had momentum before everything stopped?

Juve's results have been sufficient to keep them top and the convincing 2-0 defeat of Inter on March 8 was a real statement of intent, but Lazio, unbeaten since September in the league, are the real form team.

Led by 27-goal man Ciro Immobile, their run of 16 wins from their past 18 games has come in stark contrast to city rivals Roma, who have lost five of their past nine in Serie A to lose ground on Atalanta in the Champions League race. As for Milan, some bright January form tailed off in February and their season is in danger of petering out, although they are level at 1-1 with Juve after the first leg of the Coppa semi-final.

Lecce's improved form has left SPAL and Brescia looking forlorn at the bottom, but Torino should be particularly concerned - their last points came on January 12.

 

Which clubs have had it toughest during the COVID-19 months?

Although the most high-profile confirmed coronavirus cases came from Juve, where Dybala, Blaise Matuidi and Daniele Rugani were infected, other clubs have had higher figures.

Fiorentina returned six positive tests this month, while Patrick Cutrone, German Pezzella and Dusan Vlahovic were all confirmed as having contracted the virus in March.

There were also confirmed positive tests at Sampdoria, one at Atalanta and one at Torino, while Milan director Paolo Maldini and son Daniel both had the virus.

All clubs have, of course, been hugely impacted by the loss of earnings during the suspended season.

Italian Football Federation (FIGC) president Gabriele Gravina said to Riparte l'Italia this week that "more than €500million has already been lost to the COVID-19 pandemic lockdown".

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