Inter beat Juventus. Juventus beat Milan. Milan beat Inter. For once it has been tough to predict the title race in Serie A.

Winning the Scudetto was not enough for Maurizio Sarri to keep his job at Juve last season, meaning Andrea Pirlo is under significant pressure as the Bianconeri chase a 10th straight league crown.

However, they have struggled to convince under the former midfield metronome and sit seven points adrift of leaders Milan in fourth, although they hold a game in hand.

There has seemingly never been a better chance for Inter, who are two points off top in second, and Milan to end Scudetto droughts that date back to 2009-10 and 2010-11 respectively.

Fans and pundits will continue to have their say on who will sit top come the end of the season, and the Stats Perform AI team have also crunched the numbers to predict the champions for the 2020-21 campaign.

With the majority of the 20 teams having reached the halfway stage of the league campaign, they have simulated how the rest of the season may play out.

 

The data model estimates the probability of each match outcome – either a win, draw or loss – based on each team's attacking and defensive quality.

Those ratings are allocated based on four years' worth of comprehensive historic data points and results, with more weighting given to recent matches to account for improvements or declines in form and performance trends.

The AI simulation takes into account the quality of the opposition that a team scores or concedes goals against and rewards them accordingly.

All that data is used to simulate upcoming matches using goal predictions from the Poisson distribution – a detailed mathematical model – with the two teams' attacking and defending ratings used as inputs.

The outcome of the season is then simulated on 10,000 different occasions in order to generate the most accurate possible percentage chance of each team finishing in their ultimate league position.

Without further ado, let's have a good look at the results of the simulation with the predicted final league table.

 

INTER END JUVE'S REIGN

Although they sit second at the halfway stage, our model predicts Inter will end Juve's dominance of Serie A.

Inter have a 35.7 per cent chance of topping the table for the first time since their treble-winning campaign of 2009-10 and it is projected they will do so by a two-point advantage.

Not only do Milan surrender top spot to the Nerazzurri, they slip behind Juve into third with the top three separated by just three points. It would still represent their best finish since 2012-13.

Juve's chance of retaining the title is deemed to be 23.1 per cent, marginally better than Milan's 21.6 per cent.

ATALANTA RETURN TO CHAMPIONS LEAGUE

Gian Piero Gasperini steered Atalanta to Champions League qualification for the first time in their history in 2018-19 and made it back-to-back top-three finishes last season.

They are predicted to return to Europe's premier club competition by finishing fourth, edging out Napoli – they even have a 6.8 per cent chance of pulling off an unlikely title win.

Gennaro Gattuso's side have a 17 per cent probability of snatching the final Champions League qualification berth, with Atalanta's prospects narrowly superior at 17.4 per cent.

Roma are predicted to fall from their current position of third down to sixth but that is still good enough for them to deny arch-rivals Lazio qualification to the inaugural Europa Conference League.

The top six may need to beware of Sassuolo, Hellas Verona and Sampdoria, however. Sassuolo have a 0.3 per cent likelihood of finishing inside the top four, while Verona (0.6 per cent) and Sampdoria (0.3 per cent) also have an outside chance of stealing European qualification, though our predictor suggests Lazio will finish 12 points clear of Sassuolo in seventh.

 

GENOA AND TORINO ESCAPE DROP

At the turn of the year Torino were rock bottom with one win from their opening 14 games and Genoa were in the relegation zone with them.

However, Torino and Genoa have both moved out of the bottom three by claiming six points and eight points respectively over their past five games.

The two sides are predicted to maintain strong enough form to stay out of the drop zone, with Crotone (20th), Parma (19th) and Cagliari (18th) projected to suffer relegation to Serie B.

It is by no means a guarantee, though. Genoa are only 0.2 per cent more likely to come 17th than they are to suffer relegation by finishing 18th, while Torino's differential between 15th – where they are predicted to place – and third-bottom is 2.7 per cent.

If Paris Saint-Germain have their way, Lionel Messi will be playing for the French giants in 2021-22.

But will he be playing alongside Kylian Mbappe in Paris?

Real Madrid target Mbappe could stay.

 

TOP STORY – MESSI IN, MBAPPE OUT?

Paris Saint-Germain want to sign Lionel Messi but Kylian Mbappe could remain with the Ligue 1 champions, according to reports.

Barcelona captain Messi is out of contract at season's end and has been heavily linked with PSG and Manchester City.

Le Parisien says there is no doubt who will replace Mbappe at PSG if he departs for LaLiga champions Real Madrid, though Canal + journalist Pierre Menes claims the French forward is interested in staying at Parc des Princes.

 

ROUND-UP

Madrid are considering a €45million (£39.9m) bid to re-sign Sergio Reguilon from Tottenham, according to Sport. Reguilon left the LaLiga champions at the start of the season, but Madrid have an option to buy him back within two years.

- Calciomercato says Juventus are eyeing Bayern Munich duo Corentin Tolisso and Joshua Zirkzee. Bayern are reportedly unwilling to let Zirkzee leave permanently.

- Sport 1 claims Borussia Dortmund are set to battle German rivals Bayern for Borussia Monchengladbach star Florian Neuhaus. The 23-year-old reportedly has a €40m release clause.

- RB Leipzig attacker Hwang Hee-chan could be loaned out amid links to West Ham, reports Kicker.

Inter and Lautaro Martinez remain in negotiations over a new contract, reports Calciomercato. Once tipped to join Barca, Martinez's Camp Nou dream appears to be fading due to the economic situation caused by the coronavirus pandemic. Inter are not prepared to meet Martinez's wage demands at the moment.

Former Milan midfielder and head coach Cristian Brocchi is hopeful the Rossoneri can maintain their charge for a drought-ending Serie A title as they vie for domestic silverware with neighbours Inter.

Milan have not won the Scudetto since 2011, but the Italian giants top the table at the halfway stage of the season – two points clear of Inter despite a 3-0 humbling at the hands of Atalanta.

Following years of pain, Stefano Pioli's Milan and their fans are daring to dream as they rise to the summit of Italian football once again.

Monza head coach Brocchi was part of the successful Milan era between 2001 and 2008, after a brief spell with city rivals Inter, winning two Champions League titles, the Scudetto, UEFA Super Cup, Club World Cup, Coppa Italia and Supercoppa Italiana.

While Brocchi attempts to lead Monza from Serie B to the top flight this season, the 44-year-old's heart still beats for boyhood club Milan as they prepare for Tuesday's blockbuster Coppa Italia quarter-final against Inter.

Brocchi, who oversaw seven matches in charge of Milan before being replaced by Vincenzo Montella in 2016, told Stats Perform News: "Milan are a family for me.

"I arrived there at nine, was in the all the youth ranks. I won everything with Milan and when I quit I managed to be Milan's coach for a short period. I will never feel colder toward Milan.

"I root for them, watch every game and hopefully, as they are doing great, they can go on down this path."

Milan have already beaten Inter in 2020-21 – a three-minute brace from Zlatan Ibrahimovic leading the Rossoneri past the Nerazzurri 2-1 in October's Serie A showdown.

The two teams will meet again at San Siro, where a Coppa Italia semi-final berth is on the line amid an intriguing title race, with nine-time reigning champions Juventus, Roma, Atalanta and Napoli also vying for honours.

Brocchi is no stranger to the Derby della Madonnina, having also experienced the build-up from the opposing side during his stint with Inter in 2000-01.

"First of all, I think the most beautiful derby ever played was the one in the Champions League semi-final in 2003 [Milan prevailed on away goals after a 1-1 draw]. It was the ultimate derby for adrenaline and all the feelings you can feel," Brocchi said ahead of Monday's Serie B showdown with Brescia.

"The Milan derby is emotional, everybody wants to win and even if now it will be played without public, it still gives us great feelings."

All eyes will be on Ibrahimovic in Milan, where the 39-year-old continues to defy his age to inspire a title charge this term.

Ibrahimovic, who re-joined Milan from LA Galaxy in January 2020 having featured in the last Rossoneri team to celebrate league success almost a decade ago, has scored 12 goals in just nine Serie A matches this season.

After scoring twice in a 2-0 win over Cagliari on January 18, it meant Ibrahimovic managed to find the back of the net in nine successive starts for the first time in his career in Europe's top five leagues.

Ibrahimovic – who made his 600th career appearance (excluding playoffs) in the loss to Atalanta – is just two goals shy of reaching the 500 mark in club football.

"Strong players have no age as long as they feel fine. Ibra is an example, he is still strong physically," Brocchi continued.

"He is serving with character and class all the young player at Milan, who as I said before for us [Monza] with [Mario] Balotelli and [Kevin-Prince] Boateng. We have young players that can run for them too.

"Milan did the same. They assembled a squad of youngsters full of enthusiasm, legs and speed with a strong leader, Ibra, who is still at the top of his game and can be the icing on the cake of this winning choice." 

Napoli head coach Gennaro Gattuso said "you can't just go to the supermarket and ask for €10 of determination" as the club continue to stutter following a shock loss at Hellas Verona.

Gattuso's Napoli lost for the second time in five days after being overhauled 3-1 by Verona in Serie A action on Sunday.

Napoli were beaten 2-0 by rivals Juventus in the Supercoppa Italiana on Wednesday, and they tasted defeat again, despite Hirving Lozano's memorable opener.

Lozano broke the deadlock after just 8.95 seconds – the third fastest goal in Serie A history, behind Rafael Leao (2020) and Paolo Poggi (2001).

Excluding penalty goals, only Cristiano Ronaldo (11) and Luis Muriel (10) have scored more than Lozano (nine) this season in Serie A.

But that was as good as it got for Napoli, who conceded an equaliser prior to half-time before Antonin Barak and Mattia Zaccagni secured maximum points for hosts Verona.

Napoli – sixth in the standings, two points outside the top four and nine adrift of leaders Milan – have only won three of their past eight league matches as Gattuso voiced his frustration post-game.

"I make the decisions, so when we don't win, it's my responsibility. It's disappointing, because we had the right game-plan, we made it difficult for them, created four or five scoring opportunities in the first half and could've killed the game," Gattuso – who is yet to sign a new contract despite speculation – told Sky Sport Italia.

"The regret is that we could've done so much and kept wasting it. We were always four against four and didn’t make the right passes. We know this Verona side loves to play physical football, so we started to do what they wanted.

"All teams have ups and downs this season, we need to clear our minds. I expect what we prepare during the week. We played the first half exactly the way we wanted to, but we did everything wrong in the second half.

"We made the wrong choices. It's not easy, you can't just go to the supermarket and ask for €10 of determination. It can't be brought out of the players just by saying it. It's about the interpretation of the game, we had one in the first half and a totally different attitude after the break."

It was the first time Napoli lost to Verona since suffering a 2-0 Serie A defeat in 2015.

Andrea Pirlo revealed he hopes to sign a striker before the transfer window closes if the right opportunity arises after Juventus beat Bologna 2-0 in Serie A on Sunday.

Roma frontman Edin Dzeko and Sassuolo's Gianluca Scamacca – who is on loan at Genoa – have been linked with a move to Juve ahead of the February 1 deadline.

Dzeko was left out of Roma's squad for their 4-3 win over Spezia on Saturday, leading to further speculation he could be on his way out of the club.

Scamacca, Olivier Giroud, Fernando Llorente and Graziano Pelle have also been mentioned as potential signings for the Bianconeri.

Pirlo said he would like to add more firepower to his squad after goals from Arthur and Weston McKennie moved the champions into fourth place in Serie A, seven points behind leaders Milan with a game in hand.

"We are watching what happens, there is not much around," Juve head coach Pirlo told Sky Sport Italia when asked about the possibility of going into the market.

"We do not have the obligation [to do any business], it will be a last-minute thing and if there is an opportunity to take it we will be happy."

Arthur scored his first Juve goal in fortuitous fashion with a long-range strike that took a big deflection in the first half and McKennie sealed all three points with a header 19 minutes from time.

Juve had 23 shots, 11 of which were on target, and Cristiano Ronaldo endured a rare off day, failing to find the back of the net with any of his five attempts.

Pirlo warned the Turin giants must be more clinical as they go in search of more trophies after their Supercoppa Italiana triumph in midweek.

"The important thing was to win after the satisfaction of the victory in the Supercoppa," he said.

"We started well but missed a few too many opportunities to end the game."

He added: "We played a good match against a team that attacks well, we were good at finding the spaces they left us."

Fikayo Tomori is eager to learn as much as he can from legendary defender Paolo Maldini after joining Milan from Chelsea.

The 23-year-old this week completed a switch to Milan on an initial loan deal until the end of the season with the option to make that move permanent.

Tomori struggled for first-team opportunities under Frank Lampard at Stamford Bridge, featuring just once in the Premier League this term.

But the centre-back now has the opportunity to kickstart his career at San Siro, where he is hoping to follow in the steps of the great Maldini.

Five-time European Cup winner Maldini is now working as Milan's technical director and Tomori says he could not turn down the chance to link up with one of the all-time greats.

"I chose to come here to Milan because it's a club with a great history, with great players and obviously the club is in a good moment right now," he told the Italian club's official website.

"It's an opportunity that I couldn't turn down. It's a huge honour for me to be here. When I first got the call, I was a bit… I wouldn't say confused, but I was surprised.

"I spoke to Paolo Maldini. The best defender to ever play football was talking to me and asking me to come, so from there I knew this is where I wanted to come and play football and to learn from him."

Tomori added: "When I was young and I was [playing as] a striker or a midfielder, Kaka was someone that I really enjoyed watching, [Clarence] Seedorf as well.

"To be able to put on the shirt that they wore is a huge honour and if I have half the success that they had, I'll have a good time here."

Tomori, an unused substitute in Milan's 3-0 home loss against Atalanta on Saturday, will wear the number 23 shirt during his time at the club.

Explaining the choice of jersey, the one-cap England international said: "I'm 23 years old so I thought I'd choose number 23.

"Michael Jordan is someone I look up to a lot and he wore number 23, so I think it made a lot of sense for me to choose it. Hopefully I can be successful in it."

Tomori impressed during a spell on loan with Lampard at Derby County in 2018-19 and was used more regularly on his return to Stamford Bridge last season.

He featured 15 times in the Premier League and averaged 6.68 recoveries per 90 minutes, which is behind only Antonio Rudiger (7.42) among Chelsea's regular defenders.

Only Kurt Zouma (70.68 successful passes per match), meanwhile, boasted a better pass success rate among Chelsea's defenders than Tomori's 69.95 in the league last season.

"I'm quite aggressive, I like to win the ball, go and take the ball off opponents," Tomori added. "I like to defend, I enjoy defending and helping the team to win.

"That's the attitude I’m going to bring to this team. I spoke to the manager and he was very happy for me to join. He gave me the fire to come and play and to enjoy myself.

"I spoke to some players who had been here before and who have played in Italy before and everyone had only good things to say about Milan. It was 100 per cent Milan for me."

Arthur scored his first goal for Juventus as the defending champions beat Bologna 2-0 to go fourth in Serie A.

Juve claimed their first trophy under boss Andrea Pirlo with a Supercoppa Italiana victory over Napoli in midweek and got their title bid back on track at Allianz Stadium on Sunday.

Arthur's deflected first-half strike and a Weston McKennie header moved the Turin giants seven points adrift of leaders Milan with a game in hand.

Juve, beaten by Inter last weekend, were not at their best but although Bologna had their chances, they are now without a win over the Bianconeri in 19 attempts.

Pirlo's side took the lead in fortuitous fashion after 15 minutes, when Arthur's long-range drive struck Jerdy Schouten and gave wrongfooted goalkeeper Lukasz Skorupski no chance.

Skorupski produced a fine double save to prevent Juve from increasing their advantage, using his feet to deny Federico Bernardeschi from close range after palming away a strike from Cristiano Ronaldo.

Juan Cuadrado fired wastefully off target before Roberto Soriano went close to equalising late in the first half with a shot from inside the penalty area that flashed wide.

A fine reflex save from Wojciech Szczesny prevented Cuadrado's header from gifting Bologna an own goal early in the second half and the Juve keeper once again had to be alert keep out Riccardo Orsolini's left-footed strike.

Bologna were made to pay for their profligacy when an unmarked McKennie nodded in Cuadrado's corner 19 minutes from time.

Skorupski denied McKennie a quickfire double with a great reaction save before preventing Alvaro Morata from adding a third goal at his near post.

The busy Skorupski beat away Adrien Rabiot's left-footed shot and saved a powerful Ronaldo strike as Juve saw out a comfortable win.

Liverpool are reportedly prioritising a new deal for Virgil van Dijk over Mohamed Salah, while they could be beaten to Dayot Upamecano by Manchester United.

Salah's future has been a talking point in recent weeks, although the forward is contracted until 2023.

Van Dijk also has an agreement at Anfield until 2023, but the injured defender is apparently Liverpool's focus.

 

TOP STORY – LIVERPOOL PRIORITISE VAN DIJK DEAL OVER SALAH

Liverpool are prioritising a new contract for Van Dijk over Salah, according to Eurosport.

Van Dijk, 29, is recovering from a serious knee injury and his absence has been felt by the Premier League champions.

Salah, meanwhile, has scored 13 goals in 18 league games this season, but in an interview with AS last month the 28-year-old refused to rule out a move to Real Madrid or Barcelona.

The report also says Liverpool may look at West Ham midfielder Declan Rice, with Georginio Wijnaldum set to leave as a free agent at the end of the campaign.

ROUND-UP

- With Van Dijk and Joe Gomez injured, Liverpool have been linked with a move for RB Leipzig defender Upamecano. But The Sun reports Manchester United are poised to sign the centre-back for £38million (€42.7m).

- Amid uncertainty over his future at Barcelona, Ousmane Dembele is being looked at by numerous European giants. Sport reports Chelsea, Manchester United, Juventus and Bayern Munich are monitoring the forward's situation. Dembele is out of contract in 2022 and the Catalan giants could sell him if he does not extend his deal.

- Frank Lampard is under enormous pressure at Chelsea as the Premier League side struggle for form. The Mirror reports Chelsea could turn to Leicester City manager Brendan Rodgers if they move on from Lampard.

- Yet to re-sign with Southampton with his contract expiring next year, Danny Ings is linked with a move. 90min reports Leicester City and Everton have joined the race for the forward, who has also been linked to Tottenham.

Zlatan Ibrahimovic feels Milan have become "fragile" and is seeking an instant response to Saturday's 3-0 thrashing against Atalanta when they take on fierce rivals Inter next.

Previously unbeaten in 27 league matches stretching back into the 2019-20 season, Milan have now lost two of their last four games - they also went down 3-1 to Juventus earlier this month. 

Goals from Cristian Romero, Josip Ilicic and Duvan Zapata condemned Stefano Pioli's side to their latest defeat, but they are still top at the midway point of the season as closest challengers Inter could only manage a 0-0 draw with Udinese. 

However, Ibrahimovic accepts being winter champions will count for little unless Milan regain some consistency and end their decade-long wait for Scudetto success. 

"We lost two games after more than 30 matches that we didn't lose," he told Sky Sport Italia.  

"The team is a bit fragile because when certain players are missing, we lack a bit of experience. They are replaced by young players, but this is no excuse.  

"We make many sacrifices; we work and we are first for a reason.

"But being top at this stage does not matter. We are halfway through the championship, so far we have done well but still nothing this is the most difficult period because there are so many games and now we just have to continue." 

Asked if Tuesday's Coppa Italia quarter-final with Inter has now taken on even more importance, Ibrahimovic said: "We have to redeem ourselves after this defeat.  

"We have the chance to do it in a few days and then against Inter. That will be a good match." 

Milan's club-record run of scoring in 38 successive league games was ended in Saturday's loss at San Siro, a game in which the Rossoneri managed only two shots on target. 

Ibrahimovic was unable to test Pierluigi Gollini with any of his five efforts, while his 36 touches of the ball were the fewest by any home player to take part in the entire game. 

The veteran striker, who has 12 goals in nine league outings this term, admitted afterwards that he felt isolated up front. 

"In the first half I was too alone in attack," he said. "I didn't have anyone close to support me, but it could also be because of the pressure from Atalanta that put us in trouble.  

"Today many things were missing, it was not our day. Now the important thing is to recover and think about the next match to redeem ourselves."

Antonio Conte insists Inter will continue to focus on themselves and not Milan after missing out on the chance to leapfrog their rivals at the top of Serie A. 

A week on from beating fellow Scudetto contenders Juventus 2-0, Inter failed to get going as they were held to a goalless draw away at lowly Udinese on Saturday. 

Conte's side attempted just 10 shots at the Dacia Arena - their joint-fewest in an away league match this season - in a game that saw Conte sent off late on for dissent. 

Milan lost 3-0 to Atalanta on Saturday but Inter could only close the gap on the leaders to two points at the midway stage in the campaign. 

The Nerazzurri have now triumphed in only one of their last four Serie A matches, having won their previous eight in a row, and Conte accepts an improvement is needed. 

"As I always say, we need to think only of ourselves and not others, such as Milan. We just have to focus on improving our performances and results," he told Sky Sport Italia. 

"We just try to work and get the best out of ourselves. I think that amid the many, many difficulties we had this year, Inter are having their say and are real protagonists. 

"Inter deserve that for their history. The second half of the season is still to play, but what we've done for the last year and a half has been wonderful." 

Conte was issued a yellow card and then a swift red by referee Fabio Maresca as the game entered added time, while team manager Lele Oriali was dismissed after the final whistle. 

Explaining the touchline commotion during a game otherwise devoid of many talking points, Conte said: "We had a disagreement over the amount of stoppages awarded. 

"The referee booked me and then chose to send me off. I thought four minutes weren't enough to add on in the circumstances.  

"Then the referee makes his decisions and we have to accept them, even if we do not agree with those decisions." 

A number of visiting players had an off day against an Udinese side without a goal in six successive league games against Inter - their longest such streak against any side in the division. 

Achraf Hakimi in particular struggled, losing possession more times (23) than any other player, with Lautaro Martinez and Romelu Lukaku failing to get on the end of balls into the penalty box. 

"We could've been more precise today and lacked quality in the final ball," Conte admitted. "When we put crosses in, we usually have four players push into the box.  

"That's usually the intent, then it's about the accuracy of the cross. For instance, Nicolo Barella's cross was what created the goal for Arturo Vidal against Juventus.  

"You need both the cross and to get bodies into the box." 

Focus for Inter now switches to Tuesday's derby with Milan in the Coppa Italia quarter-finals, though Conte is prioritising the league over domestic cup success. 

"We know that Serie A represents something important for the club and on an economic level, so winning the Scudetto or qualifying for the Champions League is more important than the Coppa Italia," he said.  

"Having said that, we still respect the tournament and want to do well. Inevitably, we will evaluate the situation, see who has recovered and who needs more playing time.  

"Nobody is underestimating this match and we'll try to win, as we always do. We don't put limits on ourselves, but we must find the right approach to beat Milan and go into the semi-finals."

Stefano Pioli insisted Milan had "nothing to be ashamed of" after an imperious Atalanta side condemned them to a second Serie A defeat of the season.

Having seen their unbeaten start to the campaign ended by Juventus on January 6, the Rossoneri suffered a second loss in four league games as they fell 3-0 to Atalanta at San Siro on Saturday.

Cristian Romero, Josip Ilicic and Duvan Zapata scored in a one-sided victory that stretched Milan's winless run against Gian Piero Gasperini's side to seven in the top flight.

However, Milan were confirmed as winter champions as Inter's 0-0 draw at Udinese means they will be top of the table even after each side in the league has played 19 games.

Pioli watched his team muster just two shots on target as a club-record run of scoring in 38 consecutive league games came to an end.

But the coach sees little reason to be overly concerned about losing to the reigning champions and an Atalanta side who have recorded 36 points from their first 19 matchdays, their best return in a 20-team division.

"We started well, with a lot of players in attack," he told Sky Sport Italia.

"They played very well. I'm disappointed with how we conceded the first goal from a dead ball, and the second one killed the game.

"It wasn't supposed to be like that, we could have done more, but we didn't manage it. Atalanta's strong points were evident, but we had to play better from a technical point of view.

"They were stronger than us tonight, but we're strong regardless. A game like this can happen. We know the league is competitive and difficult.

"I think defeats to Juventus and Atalanta are nothing to be ashamed of. Atalanta were physically superior, more intense, winning all the duels and the second balls as well.

"It's tight when you reach this level. We'll analyse the defeat, try to see where we can improve and focus on the next match."

Milan face Inter in the Coppa Italia quarter-finals on Tuesday before heading to Bologna next Saturday in Serie A.

Antonio Conte saw red as Inter were held to a goalless draw by Udinese and missed out on the chance to overtake Serie A leaders Milan at the midway point of the season

Inter beat Juventus 2-0 last weekend to enhance their title credentials but could not follow that up with another win in Saturday's stalemate at the Dacia Arena.

Relegation-threatened Udinese entered the game winless in eight but they restricted Inter to minimal chances, the best falling to Lautaro Martinez in the first half.

Conte's frustration boiled over late on, the Inter coach receiving his marching orders due to dissent, though the Nerazzurri at least gained a point on their bitter rivals Milan, who were beaten 3-0 by Atalanta ahead of the sides' Coppa Italia quarter-final on Tuesday.

Bayern Munich are the only side to have scored more goals in Europe's top-five leagues than Inter this season but the visitors could not get going against Udinese.

Martinez had a goal correctly ruled out for offside from Inter's first meaningful attack and was denied by a superb one-handed Juan Musso save 15 minutes later.

Udinese otherwise kept their opponents at bay in a low-tempo first half, with Arturo Vidal and Ashley Young failing to truly test Musso from weak attempts.

Inter continued to lack ideas as the match wore on and were almost dealt a sucker punch when first Roberto Pereyra and then Rodrigo de Paul fired just wide of the target.

Achraf Hakimi lashed across the face of goal and a bad day for Conte got worse when he was booked and then sent off for protesting a decision that went against his side as Inter fired a blank for the first time in 22 league games.

Atalanta struck a blow to Milan's Serie A title hopes after winning 3-0 against the league leaders at San Siro on Saturday.

A first-half header from Cristian Romero and a penalty after the break from Josip Ilicic set the Rossoneri on course for just a second league loss of the season.

Stefano Pioli's side secured the title of winter champions by staying top at the halfway stage of the season, but Inter have closed the gap and the rest of the chasing pack will feel emboldened by the result.

Duvan Zapata struck a clinical third goal on the break to make certain there would be no comeback from Milan, who are now winless in seven home league matches against Atalanta stretching back to January 2014.

New signing Soualiho Meite almost marked his debut with a goal three minutes in, the midfielder sending a header high and wide from Sandro Tonali's corner.

Atalanta began to build some pressure and found the breakthrough 26 minutes in, Romero stooping to nod the ball past Gianluigi Donnarumma from Robin Gosens' delivery.

The visitors doubled their advantage just seven minutes into the second half, Ilicic firing a penalty beneath Donnarumma after Franck Kessie had caught him in the face with a raised arm.

It should have been 3-0 on the hour mark, Zapata heading over after being picked out by a brilliant Ilicic cross from the right.

Pioli handed a debut off the bench to Mario Mandzukic, and he nearly marked his Serie A return with an immediate impact, Pierluigi Gollini doing well to get a hand down and claw away his shot.

As Milan sought a lifeline, Atalanta hit them on the break in ruthless fashion.

Romero slipped in Zapata - who had hit the post with a header in his side's previous attack - and the forward rifled a left-footed shot beyond Donnarumma.

What does it mean? Milan are winter champions but Scudetto battle is on

Inter's goalless draw at Udinese means Milan stay top of the table at the midway point of the season despite this defeat.

Still, their lead over the Nerazzurri is now down to two points as they have now lost twice in their previous four league games.

Atalanta are up into fourth, although they have played two games more than Napoli and Juventus below them.

Ilicic shines at San Siro

With Alejandro Gomez almost certain to leave this month, Atalanta's creative burden is firmly on Ilicic's shoulders, and he did not disappoint here.

He created five openings from crosses, one of which set up Romero's opener, and ended with more shots (seven) and more on target (three) than anyone else.

No milestone magic from Zlatan

Zlatan Ibrahimovic was making the 600th appearance in regular-season league competition of his storied career, but this was not much of a way to celebrate.

The 39-year-old played the whole game but had just 35 touches of the ball, completed only 15 passes and did not muster a shot on target.

What's next?

Milan face Inter in the Coppa Italia quarter-finals on Tuesday before heading to Bologna in Serie A next Saturday. Atalanta meet Lazio twice next week, in the cup and then the league.

Andrea Pirlo is hopeful Juventus can use this week's Supercoppa Italiana success to get their Serie A title defence back on track.

Juve saw off Napoli 2-0 in Reggio Emilia on Wednesday through goals from Cristiano Ronaldo and Alvaro Morata as Pirlo claimed his first piece of silverware as a coach. 

The nine-in-a-row Scudetto champions have struggled in the league this term, however, and sit 10 points adrift of pace-setters Milan with a game in hand on the leaders.

After losing 2-0 away to Inter last time out in the top flight, Pirlo accepts that Juve must start showing more consistency if they are to retain their title.

"All matches are different but we need to continue entering the field with the attitude we had the other evening," he said at a news conference ahead of Sunday's home meeting with Bologna.  

"If we have this desire and concentration, positive results will come. Winning a trophy doesn't change my enthusiasm for the job. I have felt the same since day one.

"Winning a trophy does not change anything – I want to win others. I know we have to improve and continue growing as a team.

"We have had many ups and downs already, like many other teams. It's down to the number of games and not having the right preparation ahead of the season.

"It's hard to stay focused for the full 90 minutes every three days. It's something we are working on and know we have to improve on. It's our Achilles heel."

Juve's return of 33 points is their joint-lowest at this stage of a Serie A campaign in the last 10 seasons, equal to their tally after 17 games in 2015-16.

The Bianconeri have gone league games without a clean sheet, conceding eight goals during that run - including a 3-0 home reverse at the hands of Fiorentina.

Among Juventus coaches with at least 17 league games under their belt, only Alberto Zaccheroni (two) managed fewer shutouts than Pirlo after as many matches.

And Pirlo acknowledged the importance of tightening up at the back if his side are to climb up the standings.

"You always have to work on aspects," he said. "There are so many teams that want to play football and develop their game.

"Maybe teams tend to attack more and defend less, leading to more open games. But if you have the best defence, you often win championships."

Pirlo attempted to freshen up his attack against Napoli by using Federico Chiesa and Dejan Kulusevski either side of Ronaldo, with Weston McKennie providing further support.

The rookie coach is pleased with the tactical versatility of his players and reserved special praise for McKennie, who created more chances in the Supercoppa clash (three) than any other player on the field.

"McKennie is an important player for us," Pirlo said. "He has strength and dynamism, can play between the lines and gives us a lot in attack.

"Each of these players can exchange positions with Cristiano, as we saw the other night. Chiesa is another who can player on the left if he has to.

"As for Kulusevski, he can cover a number of positions. Perhaps in this period of his career, a second striker allows him to be freer so that is perhaps the best solution for him."

Real Madrid have flatly denied there is any "tension" with Inter concerning an alleged agreement over deferred payments for the transfer of Achraf Hakimi.

The full-back moved to San Siro last July for a reported fee of around €40million, which was to be paid in four instalments.

It has been claimed in Italy and Spain that, due largely to the impact of the coronavirus pandemic, Madrid agreed with Inter's request to defer the first payment of €10m, which had been due last month, until March 30.

However, according to a story in Corriere dello Sport on Saturday, Madrid insisted on "a series of guarantees" over the outstanding balance and that the LaLiga champions could even move to bring Hakimi back if Inter appear unable to keep up with payments.

In a subsequent statement, Madrid said there was no basis to claims of a dispute with the Nerazzurri and that relations between the clubs remain positive.

"In relation to the story published by Corriere dello Sport regarding alleged tension between our club and Inter Milan, Real Madrid wishes to clarify that these reports are completely false," the statement said.

"At no point in time has Real Madrid asked Inter Milan for an alleged guarantor, as the aforementioned publication states.

"The terms of the player's transfer to Inter fall within the standard and normal contractual relationships between football clubs. 

"This is particularly true in this case with Inter Milan, with whom Real Madrid has always and continues to enjoy an excellent relationship on account of its status as a historic club and one that is a friend of ours."

Hakimi's agent, Alejandro Camano, told FCInter1908.it that he did not know anything about the rumoured dispute between the clubs.

"We haven't received any calls from Madrid," he said. "Achraf is happy at Inter and is only focused on doing his best for Inter.

"His goal is to win with the Inter shirt, and he's not thinking about anything else."

Hakimi has enjoyed a strong first season in Italy, with six goals and four assists in 24 appearances in all competitions.

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