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Serie A: AC Milan and Roma draw, Inter blanked at home

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The door to the Serie A top four was wide open, and nobody wanted to walk through.

The teams in third, fourth, and fifth all dropped points on Sunday, with AC Milan and Roma playing to a disappointing 1-1 draw despite any potential winner taking charge of the race for fourth. Krzysztof Piatek scored his first goal for Inter since joining in January, a close-range effort on a cross from Lucas Paqueta after he worked Lorenzo Pellegrini on the by-line.

With Milan up at halftime, the second half kicked off and Roma equalized immediately on a sloppy goal. It started with a cross from Rick Karsdorp that pinged around the box before Milan defender Mateo Musacchio looked to poke the ball clear, but his slide only redirected it on net, and while Gianluigi Donnarumma stopped it, Nicolo Zaniolo charged and popped it into the back of the net.

The draw left things essentially where they started, with Milan a point above Roma in fourth, and the latter sitting barely outside the Champions League places. Roma will be most disappointed with the failure to secure victory, unable to score more despite 17 total shots, including seven on frame. They dominated the attacking numbers, drawing 10 corners to AC Milan’s two.

Elsewhere, second-placed Inter was surprisingly taken down 1-0 at home by 18th-placed Bologna, making Milan and Roma’s failure to secure all three points even more painful. They put just three of their 16 shots on target, and Federico Santander’s 32nd minute header was enough to earn Bologna an enormous result, pulling them within a point of safety.

Udinese and Fiorentina both sandwiched the hour mark with goals in a 1-1 draw that left both sides longing for victory. Fiorentina sits in ninth, but they are just four points back of fourth-placed AC Milan in a crowded Champions League battle, and a win would have lifted them to seventh. Udinese, meanwhile, sits just two points above the drop and could have used the breathing room.

Genoa and Sassuolo also drew 1-1 with first-half goals scored by Filip Djuricic and Antonio Sanabria. Those two teams sit just two mid-table placed apart, although they’re separated by six points.

Finally, SPAL failed to score despite a 25-minute man advantage in a 0-0 draw with Torino. Reported Arsenal target Nicolas N’Koulou was sent off in the 65th minute after earning his second yellow card for essentially ankle-tackling Alberto Paloschi down the right.

Icardi double against Lazio sends Inter to 2nd in Serie A

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Internazionale has not finished in the top two of the Serie A table since the 2010/11 season. They have the look of a team that could bring the Italian giants back to the heights of yore.

Mauro Icardi bagged a brace as Inter spanked Lazio 3-0 and moved past Napoli into second in the Serie A standings. Marcelo Brozovic scored the third as Inter asserted its dominance. The visitors had 63% possession, and put almost half their shots on target while the hosts struggled to create good chances and finish them off. Lazio had just four shots on target of 20 total efforts at Stadio Olimpico.

Icardi’s first was a tap-in, finishing off a deflected shot by Matias Vecino after brilliant one-touch play created the opportunity. Brozovic was a maestro in midfield and deserved his strike that doubled Inter’s lead just before halftime. The Russian fired a long-range effort in the 40th minute low through traffic into the bottom-left corner.

Ciro Immobile was dangerous for Lazio throughout the match, active around the Inter penalty area, but he was ultimately denied of his seventh Serie A goal of the season.

Icardi finished things off in the 70th minute as he got a perfectly weighted pass at the far post from Borja Valero and waited to latch on as he successfully baited Senad Lulic to fly by before finishing cooly with his left foot inside his near post.

With the win, Inter moves to 22 points on the season, level with Napoli but ahead in 2nd place on a better goal differential. They host Genoa in league play this coming Saturday before a massive Champions League bout next week against Barcelona and the Nou Camp.

CL Preview: Liverpool, Spurs have tough tests

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Premier League teams were given tough draws in the 2018/19 Champions League group stages, and that gets under way on Tuesday as Tottenham travels to Italy to take on Internazionale, while Liverpool hosts French giants Paris Saint-Germain to Anfield.

Spurs has a mountain to climb, heading into the trip on the heels of two straight Premier League defeats that saw them squander a lead at Watford and soundly beaten at home by Liverpool. Mauricio Pochettino has the task of getting Harry Kane back on track, without a goal in either of those losses.

[ PREDICTIONS: PST gives CL group stage picks ]

In addition, Tottenham has a number of significant injuries to work around. Goalkeeper Hugo Lloris has been missing since late August with a thigh strain, leaving Michel Vorm in net for the pair of league losses. Midfielder Dele Alli is also confirmed to be out after picking up a hamstring strain on international duty with England. Spurs released a video on social media showing the team departing for Italy, and neither Lloris or Alli – highly visible team stars – were not present in the video. 19-year-old Alfie Whiteman was present in the video, meaning he will likely be the backup.

Inter also comes into this match with early-season struggles, owning just one win and one draw over four matches to start the Serie A season, including a road loss at newly-promoted Parma.

Meanwhile, Liverpool welcomes PSG to England in a marquee Champions League matchup. The defending French champions have a full bill of health Merseyside, and have high hopes for their Champions League campaign after failing to progress past the Round of 16 in each of the last two seasons. “With the players they have and the manager they have, they all brought it together to go as far as possible in the Champions League and we are aware of that,” Klopp said ahead of the match.

The Reds are preparing to start Daniel Sturridge at striker, with a trio of forwards all set to miss the match. Roberto Firmino was injured in the win over Tottenham this weekend after Jan Vertonghen‘s finger went into his eye. Klopp described his fitness as “close” but it is assumed the Brazilian will miss out. Divock Origi and Dominic Solanke were both injured in a U-23 match, so they will be sidelined.

For PSG, American international Timothy Weah did not make the matchday squad, while goalkeeper Gianluigi Buffon is suspended from his antics in last year’s semifinal. Marco Verratti will also sit out after being sent off in the Round of 16 loss to Real Madrid last season. Only Dani Alves and Layvin Kurzawa, who have yet to make their debuts this season, are out injured. Thiago Silva was injured late in the home win over St. Etienne over the weekend, but is expected to return in time.

Elsewhere, Barcelona hosts Dutch side PSV Eindhoven. The visitors are no slouch, having begun the Eredivisie season at the top of the table after five wins out of five, blasting ADO Den Haag and Willem II by a combined 13-1 in their most recent two games. Mexican international Hirving “Chucky” Lozano has already scored six goals this season, while Argentinian Gaston Pereiro and Steven Bergwijn each have five, although the latter’s status is questionable due to a groin problem.

Barcelona will be looking to avenge last season’s early (and stunning) Round of 16 exit, and are at full strength with Sergio Busquets and Philippe Coutinho set to return after being rested over the weekend.

AS Monaco hosts Atletico Madrid in an intriguing first leg. The Spanish side has won just once in its first four La Liga matches, with just three goals in that span. The French side has also struggled to start the season, sitting 15th in the Ligue 1 table with one win and five points in five matches. Monaco could be missing World Cup stars Alexsandr Golovin and Danijel Subašić who have yet to debut this season after struggling to regain match fitness following long summer adventures on international duty.

Christian Pulisic is set for his 100th match in yellow as Borussia Dortmund visits Belgian side Club Brugge. The American has made just one Bundesliga appearance for Dortmund this season thanks to a slight leg injury suffered in the opener against RB Leipzig, but could return on Tuesday according to ESPN. Club Brugge has not won in any of its last 10 Champions League matches, losing nine and drawing just one.

Napoli enters the European competition on a high as they visit Red Star Belgrade. The Italians, having finished second last year in the Serie A table, have wins over Lazio, AC Milan and Fiorentina to start the season, although they did inexplicably fall apart in a 3-0 loss to Sampdoria earlier this month. The hosts have had success of their own of late, into their first Champions League group stage since 1992 thanks to a come-from-behind win over Red Bull Salzburg in the playoff round. Former Le Havre youth product El Fardou Ben Mohammed scored twice in three minutes to complete the comeback, giving Belgrade the spot in the group stage on away goals after a 2-2 draw.

In addition, FC Porto visits German club Schalke, who has suffered a dreadful start to the Bundesliga season with three losses in three. Turkish side Galatasaray also hosts last year’s Russian Premier League winners Lokomotiv Moscow, who are into the Champions League group stage for the first time since the 2002/03 competition when they were also matched up against Tuesday’s opponent.

Madrid president claims Inter wanted Modric “without paying”

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Real Madrid president Florentino Perez claims many things and makes many wild claims, but if what he says is true about a transfer story this summer, it’s not a great look for one of the more storied Italian clubs.

Internazionale was heavily linked to Madrid midfielder Luka Modric this summer after the Croatian’s spectacular performance at the World Cup, but according to Perez, their offers to sign him were an insulting lowball.

Perez told Sky Sports Italy that Inter wanted to sign Modric on the cheap. “They tried to sign our number 10 without paying for him,” he said. “It’s the first time something like that has ever happened to me in my life.” He didn’t give any specifics, but the Evening Standard did. According to a report by Evening Standard reporter Ben Hayward, Inter offered to sign Modric on loan for the season and pay a “small” loan fee after the year was complete. It appears their tactic was to tempt Modric with a hefty salary and hope he forced his way out of Madrid, but that did not occur.

“I’m not just happy at Real Madrid, I’m very happy,” Modric said during his UEFA Player of the Year acceptance speech on Thursday. “I’m at the best club in the world – it’s where I want to be.”

According to the report, Madrid followed up Inter’s move by submitting an official complaint to UEFA. There was no word on the outcome of that complaint.

Over the summer, Perez repeatedly said he would not sell Modric unless a club ponied up to match his outrageous $875 million release clause.

Inter sacks manager Stefano Pioli

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With just three matches left in the Serie A season and Inter Milan sitting in seventh, the Italian side has fired manager Stefano Pioli, the club confirmed in a statement.

Pioli was hired in November with the team in 12th. He had a fantastic impact out of the gates, leading the club on a run of 12 wins in 15 matches, featuring a seven-match win streak as part of that span and reaching as high as fourth in the Serie A table. However, the team has slumped towards the end of the season, without a win since March 12 and suffering five losses in their last seven games.

The club wrote in the statement, “Inter thanks Stefano and his staff for their dedication and hard work for the club during the last six months of what has turned out to be a difficult season.”

U-19 head coach Stefano Vecchi will take over on an interim basis, the second time he has filled in as Inter’s acting manager.

The two Milan clubs have both faced significant struggles in the past decade despite a long history of European success. While AC Milan has at times seemed on the verge of resurrection, Inter has faced a much deeper decline. For a fleeting moment it seemed they nearly vanquished the demons as the club reached the top quarter of the league table in February, but those proved to be fleeting hopes.

The announcement from the club came at almost the exact same time that fellow Italian club Juventus qualified for the Champions League final.