Inter assistant coach Cristian Stellini has challenged Nicolo Barella to take the next step in his career by adding more goals to his game after scoring in Friday's 2-0 win at Fiorentina.

The Italy international curled in a delightful opener after 31 minutes at Stadio Artemio Franchi and Ivan Perisic added a second as Inter moved top of Serie A.

Barella, who was earlier denied by a fine Bartlomiej Dragowski save, now has three goals and five assists in 21 league outings this term.

That makes 2020-21 the midfielder's best Serie A season in terms of goal involvements, though he did net six times for Cagliari in the 2017-18 season.

Stellini, who was filling in for suspended head coach Antonio Conte against Fiorentina, hopes to see Barella build on those figures in the remainder of the season.

"He is still growing, like Lautaro [Martinez] and many other young players in the squad," he told Sky Sport Italia. "The next step is a few more goals."

Barella's two other goals this season came from inside the penalty area, the 23-year-old having converted just one of his four Opta-defined big chances.

"I was missing them before, but now the goals are starting to come," Barella said. "Today I could have done better, but I am putting myself in good positions."

Perisic also impressed in the routine victory in Florence before leaving the pitch with a knock 10 minutes from time.

The 32-year-old, linked with an exit in January, was on target for just the second time in 19 league outings this term and Stellini was impressed with the winger's display.

"He adapts well and sacrifices a lot," Stellini said. "Before he was a protagonist in the opposition's half, while today he also helped at the other end.

"He is a precious player for us because he is very physical and can cover the whole wing very well. We are convinced and satisfied with what he is doing."

Victory for Inter was their first away at Fiorentina in the league in seven attempts since 2014 and marked the first time they have won successive Serie A matches in 2021.

The Nerazzurri, beaten 2-1 by Juventus in the first leg of their Coppa Italia semi-final earlier this week, are now a point above Milan ahead of their bitter rivals' game in hand against bottom side Crotone on Sunday.

Romelu Lukaku wasted a couple of opportunities and had a goal ruled out, while Dragowski produced four saves in total, but Stellini had no complaints with his side's profligacy.

"We are satisfied with the chances created," he said. "Our forwards have worked well in partnerships, creating several opportunities to score.

"Our players are very generous and sometimes can lose control, but today they were tidy and precise. It wasn't easy so I congratulate the team.

"We don't think about other sides, only our own path. After the game three days ago, it was not easy to come here on a difficult surface."

Fiorentina had won their previous two home league matches and were unfortunate not to be on level terms at half-time as Giacomo Bonaventura struck the crossbar.

However, head coach Cesare Prandelli accepted that his side were second best and did not deserve anything from the game.

"We reacted well to Inter's goal but then opened ourselves up too much," he said. "They were superior to us, but I don't blame my players for anything.

"When you face a team with players that Inter have, who punish you with speed, it can be hard. It's sometimes easier to just give credit to your opponent."

Inter moved top of the Serie A table with a comfortable 2-0 victory over Fiorentina in Friday's clash at Stadio Artemio Franchi.

The Nerazzurri had failed to win at Fiorentina in the league in six attempts since 2014 but goals from Nicolo Barella and Ivan Perisic put an end to that run.

Barella's sublime opener after 31 minutes was added to by Perisic's close-range finish in the second half, but only after Giacomo Bonaventura had struck the crossbar for the mid-table hosts.

That proved enough as Inter, who were without suspended head coach Antonio Conte, moved a point above Milan - having played a game more than their bitter rivals.

An off-balance Barella was denied by a superb Bartlomiej Dragowski reaction early on but the midfielder found the back of the net from his next attempt.

Inter worked a short corner and Alexis Sanchez set up Barella, who curled an unstoppable shot into the bottom-right corner from 25 yards.

Fiorentina would have been level before half-time if not for Samir Handanovic, who tipped Bonaventura's angled drive onto the bar and saved Cristiano Biraghi's follow-up effort.

Inter doubled their lead when Perisic tapped into an empty net seven minutes into the second half after Achraf Hakimi raced in behind and squared the ball.

Romelu Lukaku, making his 50th start in Serie A, had a goal chalked off soon after, as Perisic was deemed to be offside in the build-up.

Dragowski was then called into action twice in the space of two minutes to save Perisic's drive and substitute Roberto Gagliardini's header from close range.

Inter could not add to their tally but it mattered little as they completed a league double in this fixture for the first time since 2013-14.

Franck Ribery wants to stay with Fiorentina but is awaiting discussions with the Serie A club over a new contract.

Ribery joined La Viola in August 2019 on a free transfer following his release from Bayern Munich, but his two-year deal expires at the end of the season.

The 37-year-old winger has just one goal and four assists in 17 appearances in Serie A this season, and Fiorentina's win percentage is lower with Ribery in the team than without him.

Since he joined the club they have a won 23.7 per cent of their 38 matches with him in the team and that climbs to 40 per cent without him (20 games).

"I am happy in Florence, I have already said it," Ribery told Sky Sport Italia.

"It's a beautiful city, I feel good with the fans, with the club and with my team-mates.

"What will I do next year? I am ready and remain at everyone's disposal, this question should be asked of the club."

Fiorentina sporting director Daniele Prade said now was not the appropriate time to discuss Ribery's future, but acknowledged the former France international has been an asset to the club.

Prade said: "He's a leader, a man of important values and who must give us more from all points of view. Young players grow with him because he transmits important values.

"He will tell us what he wants to do in the future, but this is not the right time. We will talk about it in a more serene moment."

Romelu Lukaku hopes Inter are learning as they continue to struggle to perform consistently over 90 minutes despite sitting second in Serie A and reaching the quarter-finals of the Coppa Italia.

Lukaku headed an extra-time winner to see off Fiorentina 2-1 in the Coppa on Wednesday, his 119th-minute goal settling a tie in which Inter had led at half-time through Arturo Vidal's penalty.

A dominant first 45 minutes had seen the Nerazzurri attempt eight shots to Fiorentina's one, while having 56.6 per cent of the possession.

But Christian Kouame equalised after 57 minutes, prior to Lukaku's introduction as a substitute, as the Viola outshot their visitors nine to six in the second period.

For Inter, it was a second successive match in which they lost the initiative, even if Lukaku's goal this time meant they advanced to face Milan in the last eight.

At Roma on Sunday, despite trailing at half-time, quickfire goals from Milan Skriniar and Achraf Hakimi had Antonio Conte's men in front before they conceded a late leveller.

Ahead of the Roma game, Conte had bemoaned Inter's inability to make fast starts, having led at the interval just four times in Serie A this term.

But Lukaku is now concerned by his team's displays from half-time onwards, a period in which they have scored an impressive 30 goals and conceded just 12 in the league.

"I don't know why it happens," Lukaku told Rai Sport. "We already said it after the draw against Roma that it shouldn't happen, but it happened, even if we still won this time.

"We are young, we must learn from these things, but we want to improve."

Having booked the meeting with Milan, a fixture he was reluctant to immediately discuss, Lukaku acknowledged there were still positives.

"We are happy to have won a difficult match against a great coach [Fiorentina's Cesare Prandelli]," he said. "We are happy and we want to continue like this."

Turning focus back to Serie A, Inter face champions Juventus next on Sunday, with the Derby d'Italia rivals determined to win to keep the pressure on leaders Milan.

"I expect a tactical match between two teams who are doing good things," Lukaku added. "Juventus are a big team. We want to prepare well for this match."

Substitute Romelu Lukaku rescued Inter with a 119th-minute winner to knock Fiorentina out of the Coppa Italia with a 2-1 win for the second season running.

Lukaku started from the bench ahead of Sunday's Derby d'Italia against Juventus but was called for in the second half after Christian Kouame had cancelled out Arturo Vidal's penalty opener.

There was no immediate impact as the Nerazzurri sought to get their season back on track, having taken just a point from their prior two Serie A matches.

Yet Lukaku made his mark deep into extra time at the Artemio Franchi, powering a header past Pietro Terracciano to book Inter's place in the quarter-finals.

Despite the coronavirus situation, Real Madrid are still looking to make a splash in the transfer market.

Madrid have long been linked with Paris Saint-Germain star Kylian Mbappe.

And if reports are to be believed, the LaLiga champions are planning for the Frenchman.

 

TOP STORY – MADRID WORKING ON MBAPPE MOVE

Real Madrid are working on a plan to sign Paris Saint-Germain forward Kylian Mbappe, according to Tuesday's frontpage of Diario AS.

Mbappe – also linked to Liverpool – has been tipped to join Madrid, though Ligue 1 holders PSG remain committed to trying to re-sign the Frenchman.

Despite the economic fallout caused by coronavirus, Madrid are still looking to prise Mbappe to the Santiago Bernabeu thanks to player sales and revenue generated by the return of fans.

 

ROUND-UP

Bayern Munich have identified RB Leipzig star and centre-back Dayot Upamecano as the player to replace David Alaba, reports Sport 1. Alaba is out of contract at season's end and the Bayern star has been linked to the likes of Madrid, Barcelona, Chelsea and Manchester City. With Alaba heading for an exit, in-demand Upamecano is wanted in Munich. It comes as Chelsea, Manchester United, Liverpool and Barca vie for his signature.

- According to Esporte Interativo, Neymar wants to stay at PSG as the French giants prepare a new contract. Neymar has been linked with a return to Barca.

- Fabrizio Romano says an agreement has been reached between United and Bayer Leverkusen for Timothy Fosu-Mensah to join the Bundesliga side.

Milan are eyeing a move for Chelsea's Fikayo Tomori, reports Sky Sports. Strasbourg defender Mohamed Simakan remains the primary target for the Rossoneri. It comes as Fiorentina close in on Milan full-back Andrea Conti.

RB Leipzig defender Dayot Upamecano's long-term future appears uncertain, though there is a strong possibility he will end up in the Premier League.

The France international centre-back has emerged as one of Europe's most-promising defenders in recent seasons and is part of a Leipzig side that has conceded just 12 goals in 15 Bundesliga games this season.

Upamecano, 22, looks certain for a big-money move eventually, and although his next destination is unclear, he has plenty of admirers in England.

TOP STORY – CHELSEA TO RIVAL MAN UNITED FOR UPAMECANO

Chelsea are going through a difficult period as they sit ninth in the Premier League, and their options at centre-back do not appear to be entirely to Frank Lampard's liking.

While 36-year-old Thiago Silva and Kurt Zouma have become his preferred pairing, Lampard seems unconvinced by back-up options Antonio Rudiger, Andreas Christensen and Fikayo Tomori.

The Mail on Sunday reports Chelsea have joined the list of clubs lining up for Upamecano, who reportedly has a release of around €50million (£45m) in the new contract he signed last year.

But Chelsea will not expect a free run at Upamecano – the Manchester Evening News claims Manchester United retain an interest in him, with the Red Devils' centre-back options also far from impressive in 2020-21.

ROUND-UP

- Paul Pogba appears to be returning to form on the evidence of his recent displays, but how much longer will he remain at Old Trafford? The Daily Star believes Mauricio Pochettino has identified him as a key target at Paris Saint-Germain. Real Madrid and Juventus have also been linked.

- Declan Rice's future continues to be subject of speculation, with the Daily Mirror reporting he favours a return to Chelsea – whom he played for at academy level – over joining Manchester United.

- Lucas Torreira could be on the move again. Arsenal loaned the Uruguayan midfielder to Atletico Madrid at the start of the season, but he has featured only six times in LaLiga. Mundo Deportivo suggests he is being lined up by Fiorentina.

- Inter could be set to further increase their contingent of former Manchester United players. The Mirror says Jesse Lingard is the latest to be targeted by the Nerazzurri, who already have Romelu Lukaku, Alexis Sanchez, Matteo Darmian and Ashley Young on their books.

- M'Bala Nzola has been one of the revelations of the season in Serie A with promoted Spezia. Napoli are said to be keen on the striker, though CalcioMercato reports Newcastle United and West Ham are monitoring the situation as well.

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