Lautaro Martinez scored a hat-trick as Inter Milan kicked off 2021 in blistering form with a 6-2 win over lowly Crotone on Sunday to take top spot in Serie A.
Inter claimed an eighth consecutive league win to move two points ahead of AC Milan who travel to midtable Benevento later on Sunday with champions Juventus hosting Udinese.
Martinez and Romelu Lukaku proved decisive for the northerners, the strike duo being involved in five of Inter’s goals.
Antonio Conte’s side had been pegged back 2-2 at the break with Niccolo Zanellato breaking through with a 12th-minute header for the promoted Calabrians who are second from bottom with the worst attack in the league.
But Martinez picked up a Lukaku cross to pull the hosts level eight minutes later.
Martinez had a role in Inter’s second just after half an hour when Crotone defender Luca Marrone turned the ball into his own net under pressure from Argentina forward.
Vladimir Golemic put the sides level six minutes later after Arturo Vidal fouled Arkadiusz Reca, with Conte replacing the Chilean midfielder after the break.
Martinez pulled Inter ahead before the hour connecting with a Marcelo Brozovic through ball and headed in his third with 12 minutes to go off a rebound.
Lukaku blasted in his 50th goal in the Inter jersey after 64 minutes before going off after taking a knock to his thigh, before Achraf Hakimi sealed the win with three minutes to go.
“There is a great desire and it shows,” said Conte as Inter target their first Serie A title since 2010 with their European campaign over this season.
“It’s important to continue like this, we produce and create a lot, we score a lot of goals, it’s a pity for the goals conceded.”
Napoli got their first win in the newly-named Stadio Diego Armando Maradona on Sunday, beating Sampdoria 2-1 to move third in Serie A behind Inter Milan, who fought back to see off Cagliari 3-1.
Napoli needed to come from behind in the stadium renamed a week ago following the death of club legend Maradona last month.
Maradona led the club to their only league titles in 1987 and 1990 and the UEFA Cup in 1989.
The match in Naples was preceded by a minute’s silence in memory of Italy’s 1982 World Cup winner Paolo Rossi, who died on Wednesday, aged 64.
Jakub Jankto put Sampdoria ahead in the 20th minute, but Hirving Lozano came off the bench in the second half to spark a Napoli revival.
Lozano got his head to a Dries Mertens cross seven minutes after the break with the Mexican international then crossing for Andrea Petagna to nod in the winner with 22 minutes remaining.
Inter Milan bounced back after their Champions League exit, reclaiming second place and moving two points behind leaders AC Milan, who host Parma later on Sunday.
Antonio Conte’s Inter were trailing with a quarter of an hour to go in Sardinia, after Riccardo Sottil put the hosts ahead before the break and a series of fine saves from home goalkeeper Alessio Cragno.
Former Cagliari player Nicolo Barella volleyed in the equaliser after 77 minutes with Danilo D’Ambrosio coming off the bench to immediately nod in a second with six minutes to go.
Romelu Lukaku added a third deep into injury time as Inter returned to second spot two points behind leaders AC Milan who host Parma later on Sunday with champions Juventus at Genoa.
“I’m really happy with their reaction because the lads still had the Shakhtar games on their minds,” said Conte.
“We went a goal down despite a great first-half performance and numerous chances created.
“(Cagliari goalie) Cragno was their best player on the pitch, but the lads believed right up to the end and showed they wanted to win at all costs.”
Roma thump Bologna
Inter’s hopes in Europe are over after finishing bottom of their Champions League group midweek after a goalless draw with Shakhtar Donetsk, having also failed to score in a stalemate in Ukraine.
Conte’s side are now focusing on claiming a first league title since 2010, and preventing Juventus from winning a 10th consecutive ‘Scudetto’.
Roma got back to winning ways with an emphatic 5-1 victory at Bologna to move fifth, one point ahead of Juventus.
All six goals came in the first half at the Stadio Renato Dall’Ara.
Bologna’s Andrea Poli turned into his own net after five minutes before Edin Dzeko added a second to give the hosts a two-goal advantage after 10 minutes.
The Bosnian became the third-highest scorer in Roma’s history with his 111th club goal.
Lorenzo Pellegrini, Jordan Veretout and Henrikh Mkhitaryan added three more before the break, with a Bryan Cristante own goal putting Bologna on the scoresheet.
In Bergamo, Atalanta eased past Fiorentina 3-0, days after qualifying for the Champions League last-16.
Robin Gosens opened the scoring just before half-time when he finished off a Duvan Zapata cross.
A Ruslan Malinovskyi free-kick nine minutes after the break, and a Rafael Toloi header in the 63rd minute secured all three points for the northerners who are in the eighth position with a game in hand.
Fiorentina are in 17th position after their sixth league match in a row without a win.
Zlatan Ibrahimovic scored twice to bring his tally to 10 league goals this season before limping off with a muscle strain as AC Milan stayed top in Serie A on Sunday with a 3-1 win at 10-man Napoli.
Milan move back two points ahead of Sassuolo — 2-0 winners earlier at Hellas Verona — with Roma third after Henrikh Mkhitaryan netted a brace in a dominant 3-0 win over Parma.
“For me Zlatan is stronger now than 10-12 years ago,” said Napoli coach Gennaro Gattuso of his former Milan teammate.
“Milan strongly believes in Ibra, his teammates trust him 100 percent.
“In my opinion, their team is not the strongest but they have the mentality.
“We play well but lose as soon as it gets difficult.”
Ibrahimovic continued his fine form, heading in a Theo Hernandez cross after 20 minutes, sending in the second with his knee nine minutes after the break.
But the 39-year-old pulled up clutching his left hamstring and was substituted after 79 minutes.
The Swede has scored in all six games he has played this season, having missed two after contracting coronavirus.
Coach Stefano Pioli missed the trip south with Covid-19, but his side got their first league win in Naples since October 2010, the season they last won the Scudetto, with Ibrahimovic also on the scoresheet that time.
Napoli played the final half an hour a man down after Tiemoue Bakayoko was sent off for two yellow cards, just after Dries Mertens had pulled a goal back for the hosts.
Norwegian Jens Petter Hauge completed the scoring five minutes into injury time, the 21-year-old getting his first Serie A goal.
Champions Juventus are fourth — four points off top spot — after winning 2-0 at Cagliari on Saturday.
Last season’s runners-up Inter Milan are just behind in fifth, after a Romelu Lukaku double inspired a 4-2 comeback win over Torino, with Napoli dropping from third to sixth — six points off top spot.
Inter ‘lack ferocity’
In Milan, Torino got off to a strong start despite playing without top striker Andrea Belotti who pulled up during the warm-up.
Simone Zaza took the skipper’s place and scored the opener just before the break with Cristian Ansaldi adding a second from the penalty spot after an hour.
Inter reacted in the 64th minute, with Alexis Sanchez bundling the ball in after Lukaku’s initial effort was tipped onto the crossbar, before the Chilean set up his fellow former Manchester United forward for the equaliser three minutes later.
Lukaku pulled Inter ahead from the penalty spot six minutes from time and then provided the cross for substitute Lautaro Martinez to score the fourth on 90 minutes.
“I didn’t like what I saw,” said Inter coach Antonio Conte three days before his side host Real Madrid in the Champions League.
“We lack the ferocity of last season.
“But we showed character as being 2-0 down could have destroyed us.”
Torino drop into the relegation zone after their fifth defeat.
In Verona, Sassuolo continued their impressive run thanks to goals in either half from Jeremie Boga and Domenico Berardi.
The side from Emilia Romagna are unbeaten this season and are the joint top scorers with 20 goals.
Roma meanwhile stretched their unbeaten run in all competitions to 10 matches, cementing victory with three first-half goals.
Borja Mayoral got his first Serie A goal just before the half-hour mark, with Mkhitaryan adding two more before the break to bring his tally to five in two games after scoring a hat-trick last time out against Genoa.
In Tuscany, Cesare Prandelli had a nightmare start as coach of struggling Fiorentina with a 1-0 home defeat by Benevento.
Former Italy coach Prandelli returned to the ‘Viola’ a decade after leaving for the Azzurri job in 2010, but the team fell to their fourth defeat.
To add to Prandelli’s woes, French midfielder Franck Ribery went off injured.
“The fragility worries me most,” said Prandelli.
“Perhaps the team succumbed to their fears and negative thoughts when Franck came off.”
Riccardo Improta scored his first Serie A goal for Benevento on 52 minutes, slotting in a Gabriele Moncini cross after a Cristiano Biraghi defensive error.
Fiorentina slip to 15th in the Serie A table, just behind Benevento.
Zlatan Ibrahimovic missed a penalty before scoring a late equaliser as Serie A leaders AC Milan salvaged a point in a 2-2 Serie A draw against Hellas Verona on Sunday to let rivals Juventus and Inter Milan off the hook after both were held 1-1 in earlier games.
“I’ll let Franck Kessie take the next one, that would be better,” said Ibrahimovic, who has now missed four of the last six penalties he has taken for AC Milan.
Stefano Pioli’s side are top of Serie A with a two-point advantage on second-placed Sassuolo, who were held to a goalless draw against Udinese on Friday.
Champions Juventus drop to fifth, four points behind the leaders after Lazio’s Felipe Caicedo scored five minutes into injury time to cancel out Cristiano Ronaldo’s first-half goal.
Inter Milan and Atalanta also shared the spoils in Bergamo after Aleksey Miranchuk scored on his first Serie A start for the hosts to cancel out Lautaro Martinez’s header.
Milan had the chance to pull four points clear at the top of the table in the final match before the international break.
But the leaders were two goals down in the San Siro after Antonin Barak opened the scoring in the sixth minute and Milan defender Davide Calabria bundled into his own goal quarter of an hour later.
Ibrahimovic had a chance for the equaliser after 66 minutes, after Verona defender Giangiacomo Magnani’s own goal had reduced the deficit for the hosts.
But the 39-year-old embarrassingly fired over the crossbar before redeeming himself deep into injury time by heading in his eighth league goal this season.
“With so many matches you are not always 100 percent,” said the veteran Swedish striker.
“It was important not to lose. Thank goodness there is a break now, so I rest a little.”
Milan avoided a first league defeat after their 24-match unbeaten run was ended with a Europa League loss to Lille during the week.
Napoli move third after a Victor Osimhen header sealed a 1-0 win over Bologna.
Roma are equal on points with Napoli, both one point ahead of Juventus, after a Henrikh Mkhitaryan hat-trick delivered a 3-1 win at Genoa.
– Ronaldo ‘crucial’ for Juve –
Earlier Juventus once again demonstrated how dependent they are on Portuguese star Ronaldo, letting three points slip after he limped off with an ankle injury with 15 minutes to go.
“Ronaldo is a crucial player,” said Juventus coach Andrea Pirlo.
The 35-year-old had scored his sixth goal in four games and had further chances for a second, rattling the post before Pepe Reina tipped a free-kick over the bar.
Caicedo, who came on early in the second half, once again had the final word.
He picked up a Correa cross and swivelled to fire in the equaliser as Juventus drew for the fourth time in seven league games.
Caicedo also scored in the midweek 1-1 Champions League draw at Zenit Saint-Petersburg and the winner in last weekend’s 4-3 victory at Torino.
“We played like Juventus for 93 minutes and 45 seconds, but then we conceded a goal because we eased off,” said defender Leonardo Bonucci who played his 400th game for Juventus.
Simone Inzaghi’s Lazio, embroiled in coronavirus chaos with star striker Ciro Immobile back in isolation after playing last weekend, are ninth, six points off the leaders.
“This team has heart, difficulties are part of our DNA,” said Inzaghi.
The Roman club are being investigated by the Italian football federation for possible Covid violations after UEFA blocked some players from Champions League games at Club Brugge and Zenit after testing positive.
– Inter lack ‘killer instinct’ –
Both Inter and Atalanta missed the chance to close the gap on the leaders days after Champions League defeats to Real Madrid and Liverpool respectively.
Former Lokomotiv Moscow midfielder Miranchuk came off the bench just before the hour and scored 19 minutes later in his first game for the home side.
Romelu Lukaku returned from a thigh strain, playing the final quarter of an hour, but could not find a winner for Inter.
“We’re lacking a bit of the killer instinct to take home games,” said coach Antonio Conte, whose side are seventh just behind Atalanta.
Papu Gomez extended his scoring streak as Atalanta crushed Cagliari 5-2 for a third consecutive win this season, but champions Juventus’s clash against Napoli later Sunday remains in doubt after coronavirus cases at both clubs.
Atalanta struck hard in their first home game this season in Bergamo, bringing their tally to 13 goals in three games played, to sit top of the Serie A table.
“This team is going through an excellent period,” said coach Gian Piero Gasperini.
“They did not suffer much, the goalkeeper was not very busy. The score could have been much bigger.
“We’ve given the maximum in three games, now there is the (international) break that interrupts this momentum.
“After that we will immediately have Napoli and then the Champions League, we have to pick up where we left off.”
Gasperini’s side were four goals up at the break with Luis Muriel opening after seven minute.
Gomez blasted in the second from a distance just before the half-hour mark, five minutes after Uruguayan defender Diego Godin had pulled Cagliari level on his debut since moving from Inter Milan.
Mario Pasalic and Duvan Zapata also scored in a five-minute spell before the break.
Joao Pedro reduced the deficit for the Sardinians after the break but Sam Lammers marked his first home game with an impressive solo effort with nine minutes to go.
Atalanta have the maximum nine points, but can be joined by Inter Milan who play Lazio later, with Hellas Verona and AC Milan also looking for their third wins against Parma and La Spezia.
– Napoli risk forfeit –
Napoli are also looking for a third straight win, against nine-time holders Juventus, who have four points from two games.
But their match remains uncertain with Gennaro Gattuso’s side remaining in Naples, complying with a decision by regional health authorities.
Both Napoli and Atalanta announced new cases among their players on Saturday.
Gennaro Gattuso’s side now count midfielder Eljif Elmas among those with the virus after Poland international Piotr Zielinski on Friday.
Atalanta said their unnamed player had “a low viral load” and was “asymptomatic”.
Juventus confirmed they would “take to the field” as scheduled despite two positive tests among their staff with coach Andrea Pirlo naming his match-day squad.
The Lega Serie A confirmed that the match between the title rivals remains scheduled for Turin at 1845 GMT despite Napoli remaining at home in Naples.
If Napoli do not play Gattuso’s side would forfeit the game 3-0.
The Lega Serie A are applying UEFA rules whereby a match can take place as long as a side have 13 healthy players, including a goalkeeper.
The only possible exemption would be a club which has an active outbreak of Covid-19 with more than ten new positive cases in a week.
In this case, the club can request a postponement, but only once in the season.
Genoa’s game against Torino on Saturday was postponed with the Ligurian club, who lost 6-0 to Napoli last weekend, now counting 22 cases, including 17 players.
Zlatan Ibrahimovic will remain at AC Milan next season having reached agreement on a new deal reportedly worth 7 million euros ($8.3m) without bonuses, according to multiple reports in Italy on Friday.
Ibrahimovic, who turns 39 years in October, on Friday posted a photo of himself on social media wearing an AC Milan jersey with the number 11 written over the 21, and his arms wide: “As I said, I’m just warming up.”
The Swedish forward also posted a photo showing him lying relaxing with the caption “The quiet before the storm.”
Gazzetta Dello Sport reported that Ibrahimovic was expected back in Milan ahead of the new season on August 29, the same day he first joined the club back in 2010.
Ibrahimovic rejoined Milan in January on a six-month contract after leaving Los Angeles Galaxy, on a deal worth 3.5 million euros ($3.9 million) with the option for an additional season.
The former Manchester United, Paris Saint-Germain and Barcelona player had a big impact, scoring 11 goals in 20 games.
“I think that we can all see that Ibra has played an important part in our season and our growth,” AC Milan CEO Ivan Gazidis said this week.
“We are doing everything we can to see that this can continue.”
The former seven-time European champions moved up from 11th on his arrival to sixth, finishing the league season on a 12-game unbeaten run.
Ibrahimovic helped AC Milan to the last of their 18 Serie A titles in 2011.
He also won three league titles with Inter Milan and two with Juventus which were both revoked because of the ‘Calciopoli’ match-fixing scandal.
The Italian season kicks off again on September 19.
Bologna coach Sinisa Mihajlovic, who has undergone treatment for leukaemia since last year, tested positive for COVID-19 and is in isolation, the Serie A club announced on Sunday.
The Serbian coach is “absolutely asymptomatic”, the club said on its website.
“When he returned to Bologna on Friday, he underwent a control test for COVID-19 with positive results.”
Bologna are due to start pre-season training on Monday, but Italian football protocols mean the 51-year-old coach, whose contract has just been extended for another year until 2023, will have to remain in isolation for two weeks.
All the squad and staff must also be tested on Monday.
As players and staff return from their brief holidays, tests have already revealed cases at several clubs, all asymptomatic.
These include four players (Filip Bradaric, Luca Ceppitelli, Alberto Cerri, Kiril Despodov) at Cagliari in Sardinia, a coronavirus hot spot.
Roma’s substitute goalkeeper Antonio Mirante has also said he is positive. Sassuolo announced striker Jeremiah Boga was positive while Napoli said the same of striker Andrea Petagna. Torino reported two cases, without revealing names and Benevento also had an unnamed player test positive.
The Serie A season is due to start on September 19.
Roma on Thursday announced a change of ownership, with US billionaire Dan Friedkin buying the Serie A club for 591 million euros ($700 million).
Friedkin, 54, takes over the Italian side from American businessman James Pallotta, 62.
“AS Roma can confirm that an agreement has tonight been reached between AS Roma SPV, LLC, the majority shareholder of AS Roma S.p.A, and The Friedkin Group regarding the sale of the club,” the club said in a statement.
“The operation is valued at around 591 million euros,” the club added. The final sales agreement must be signed before the end of August.
Pallotta bought two-thirds of the club’s shares in 2012, but has had 100 percent ownership since 2014.
Houston-based Friedkin is the chief executive of the Friedkin Group, a consortium notably involved in the automotive and hotel and entertainment industry.
“All of us at The Friedkin Group are so happy to have taken the steps to become a part of this iconic city and club,” said Friedkin in a statement.
“We look forward to closing the purchase as soon as possible and immersing ourselves in the AS Roma family.”
According to Forbes, his fortune is estimated at just over four billion dollars (3.6 billion euros), which would make him the 504th richest man in the world.
Friedkin’s son Ryan will reportedly be involved in the day to day running of the club.
“Over the last month, Dan and Ryan Friedkin have demonstrated their total commitment to finalising this deal and taking the club forward in a positive way,” said Pallotta.
“I am sure they will be great future owners for AS Roma.”
Boston-based Pallotta had been unpopular among club fans for his rare appearances in Italy and his handling of player transfers and the departures of club legends Francesco Totti and Daniele De Rossi who were both pushed out of the club.
Roma have had recurring financial difficulties and been sanctioned by European football’s governing body UEFA for breaches of financial fair play.
As a result the club are very active in the transfer market, regularly selling off their best players, to the chagrin of fans.
Pallotta’s great project had been the construction of a new stadium in the south of the capital which was delayed because of legal and bureaucratic issues, and remains at the planning stage.
The high-point of Pallotta’s reign was the club’s sensational Champions League 3-0 second leg comeback in 2018 to beat Barcelona, before losing to Liverpool in the semi-finals.
The club won their third Serie A title in 2001, but have not lifted any silverware since the Italian Cup in 2008.
This season they finished fifth, missing out on elite European competition for the second year in a row.
Argentine footballer, Paulo Dybala, has beaten his Juventus teammate Cristiano Ronaldo to the Italian Serie A Player of the Year award for the 2019/2020 season.
Serie A announced Dybala as the winner of the annual prize on Tuesday, stopping Ronaldo from retaining the title he won in his first year at the Allianz Stadium.
Italian football’s main governing body named the 26-year-old forward as the season’s most valuable player, while the club’s newest signing Dejan Kulusevski clinched the Young Player of the Year prize for an outstanding campaign at Parma.
Dybala has scored 11 goals in 33 Serie A appearances for Juventus this term and also recorded 11 assists.
He struggled to adapt to a new role in the team following Ronaldo’s arrival from Real Madrid in 2018 but has enjoyed good form since Maurizio Sarri’s appointment last summer.
Ronaldo might have thought he’d done enough to retain Serie A’s top individual accolade after contributing 31 goals to the Bianconeri’s cause, but his final tally was still five behind Lazio top striker Immobile, who earned the Capocannoniere – the title awarded to the highest goalscorer in the league.
There was more celebration for Juventus as Wojciech Szczesny received the best goalkeeper award.
Inter Milan’s Stefan De Vrij, Atalanta’s Alejandro Gomez, and Lazio’s talisman Ciro Immobile were acknowledged in defensive, midfield and forward roles.
Serie A champions Juventus on Thursday unveiled their new home kit for the 2020-21 season, returning to the traditional stripes which they dropped this term.
Cristiano Ronaldo and his teammates this season wore a half-and-half jersey with white on the right and black on the left.
“Tradition is represented by the return of the black and white stripes which present themselves in a new and more modern form,” Juventus said.
The stripes are black “brush strokes” of an artist on a white background, with the club logo and sponsorship details in gold.
“The stripes are designed as a single brush stroke on the front and the sleeves, giving the kit a new and attractive design, all while maintaining the DNA of the club as well as showcasing the beginning of a new era.”
Juventus sealed their 36th Serie A title, and ninth in succession, last weekend.
The club were founded in 1897, but players have worn black and white stripes of various types since 1903.