Romelu Lukaku

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VIDEO: Lukaku continues tear with goal in opening 20 seconds

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Romelu Lukaku has settled in quite well since joining Inter Milan from Manchester United last summer, hasn’t he?

[ MORE: Inter Milan still chasing January deal for Christian Eriksen ]

The 26-year-old Belgian forward already has 14 Serie A goals (in 19 games) to his name, plus another four in various other competitions, including the opening goal in Inter’s 4-1 Coppa Italia victory over Cagliari on Tuesday.

Just like he hasn’t taken long to get started in his Inter career, Lukaku needed very little time to start firing on Tuesday. He struck the ball with 00:20 on the clock, and by the time it read 00:21 he had already put Inter 1-0 ahead.

That 20th-second strike stood up as the potential game-winner for more than 70 minutes, until Cagliari pulled a consolation goal back late. Fortunately for Inter, Lukaku had already bagged his second of the game (49th minute), sandwiching a supplementary goal from Borja Valero in the first half. Andrea Ranocchia tacked on a late insurance goal and Inter are through to the quarterfinals on Jan. 29.

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Lukaku’s early successes at Inter have been such that it almost seems impossible that he could have been anything but a similarly raging success at Manchester United. If Inter manage to do the unthinkable — dethrone Juventus by winning the Serie A title — he’ll almost certainly be remembered as the key protagonist. After Tuesday’s game, Lukaku sounded like a player who was back to enjoying the game when he gave all credit to his Inter teammates, coaches, staff and fans — translation via Google:

“Did I settle in well at Inter? The merit is of the teammates, the coach, the staff and the fans. Inter was the best option for me, I can help this team to achieve its ambitions. I am a team man, I only think of the team, not me.”

Serie A roundup: Handanovic saves late penalty, earns Inter draw against Atalanta (video)

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Zlatan Ibrahimovic scored on his first start for AC Milan, but Atalanta’s shock draw at San Siro highlights Saturday’s Serie A action.

 [ MORE: Serie A scores, schedule ]

Inter Milan 1-1 Atalanta 

Samir Handanovic’s last penalty save on Atalanta’s Luis Muriel bagged a point for top-of-the-table Inter Milan on Saturday, moving them a point clear of second-place Juventus.

Lautaro Martinez put Antonio Conte‘s side in front of the visitor’s in the fourth minute, following a pair of passes between the him and Romelu Lukaku.

But with with the clock winding down, Robin Gosens tied it up for Atalanta, finishing one of the six clear chances the side had at the San Siro on Saturday.

13 minutes later, with two minutes remaining in regular time, the visitor’s had their best opportunity yet to edge Inter. Handanovic, however, dived to his right side, blocking Muriel’s attempt on goal from the spot.

Inter remain atop of the table with 46 points, but Juventus have a clear-cut chance to surpass I Nerazzurri if they defeat AS Roma away on Sunday.

Atalanta remain in the fifth spot with 35 points, level with fourth-place Roma.

Inter host Cagliari on Tuesday in the Round of 16 of the Coppa Italia, while Gian Piero Gasperini’s men travel Florence to take on Fiorentina in the same tournament.

Elsewhere

Cagliari 0-2 AC Milan

Lazio 1-0 Napoli

Lukaku dominates as Inter beat Napoli, stay level with Juve (video)

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Romelu Lukaku scored twice as Inter Milan cruised to a 3-1 win over Napoli on Monday to pull even with Juventus atop the table and further their bid to unseat eight-time Serie A champions.

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Inter extended its unbeaten run to 11 games (eight wins) in the process and moved back to a level points total with Juve, though they remain second in the title race due to head-to-head points (Juve won 3-1 at the San Siro in October).

Lukaku scored the game’s first and second goals, putting Inter 2-0 ahead after 33 minutes. The first came just before the quarter-hour mark, when the big Belgian striker dribbled half the length of the field, beating two defenders before pinging his left-footed strike on the inside of the post from near the top of the 18-yard box.

It was 2-0 just beyond the half-hour mark, and it was Lukaku again, though goal no. 2 was much more about goalkeeper Alex Meret’s shocking howler than Lukaku’s obvious quality. Lukaku took what appeared to be nothing more than a speculative shot from near the corner of the box, only for Meret to watch it go through his hands and bounce over the goal line.

[ MORE: AC Milan blanked by Sampdoria on Zlatan’s return ]

Napoli pulled a goal back through Arkadiusz Milik six minutes later, but it was the first time — and turned out to be one of a very few times — in which Napoli created a threatening scoring chance.

Lautaro Martinez restored Inter’s two-goal lead with an opportune strike following a defensive error in the 62nd minute, and that was the final blow to Napoli’s hopes of an upset on the day.

With 20 of 38 games still to be played, including a head-to-head matchup on March 1, Inter appear to be legitimate title contenders — perhaps the first in Juve’s near-decade of dominance — who will take the title race to the very end of the season. Napoli, meanwhile, sit 8th in the league table, 11 points off the Champions League places, after entering the season as one of three presumed title contenders.

Serie A roundup: Lukaku registers brace, Inter defeat Genoa (video)

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Inter Milan’s 4-0 victory over Genoa highlights Saturday’s Serie A action.

 [ MORE: Serie A scores, schedule ]

Inter 4-0 Genoa

Romelu Lukaku scored two goals and registered an assist as Inter Milan smothered struggling Genoa to go level with Juventus at the top of the Serie A table.

Antonio Conte‘s side go into winter break with a ten-game unbeaten streak powering them.

What was a stellar night for Lukaku ended up being one of the best days in teenage forward Sebastiano Esposito’s young life.

With an opportunity to record a hat trick after Inter were awarded a penalty, the Belgian forward handed he responsibility to the 17-year-old. Esposito converted the second-half penalty, becoming the second youngest player to score for the Italian giant.

Following the match, the youngster rushed to hug his mother while in tears.

“It’s been a fantastic week, I can’t lie, I didn’t sleep a lot thinking about how this game would go,” Esposito said. “I’d like to thank the team, the coach, the club and Romelu, especially for the goal … He told me to be sure of myself when I stepped up to strike the ball and to score.

“They’re all great people before they’re professionals. I found myself in sync with Romelu right away, he’s a fantastic person who’s always looking to help me, he reassured me a lot by saying that everything would go alright and I’m so happy to have scored.”

 

Joining the senior team over the summer, Esposito made his Champions League debut in October.

“He was practically a child when he arrived at the training camp this summer, but he’s grown massively in the last few months and I had said that at some unexpected point I’d be counting on him in times of need,” Inter coach Antonio Conte said.

“He had a big chance today and he certainly made the most of it. He’s got a great future ahead of him, both his family and myself will help him, and if he continues like this then he’ll only improve.”

Esposito will have plenty of time to soak it in as Inter’s two-week break is officially underway.

Elsewhere

Udinese 2-1 Cagliari

Torino 1-2 SPAL

Italian newspaper condemned for ‘Black Friday’ headline featuring Lukaku, Smalling

Photo credit: Corriere dello Sport
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Italian newspaper Corriere dello Sport has been widely condemned after printing the headline “Black Friday” on top of photos of Inter Milan forward Romelu Lukaku and Roma defender Chris Smalling, former Manchester United teammates set to face one another in Serie A action on Friday.

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The sub-headline went on to read: “Lukaku and Smalling, former teammates at Manchester United and today idols at Inter and Roma, this is the battle within the battle tomorrow with the scudetto and a Champions League place at stake.”

Both clubs were quick to put out statements condemning the newspaper’s coverage.

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Per the Guardian, an excerpt of the article which appeared to attempt to highlight Serie A’s problem with racism, saying, “We are all trying to tackle the issue of racism in Italian football,” before making a racially insensitive statement of its own:

“In the faces of those idiots who boo, tomorrow everyone must instead go ‘oooh’ like children. It will be a Black Friday, but this is not an end-of-season sale.” It went on to describe Lukaku and Smalling as “two giants of color.”

This comes less than a week after Serie A’s 20 clubs put out a joint statement “acknowledging a serious problem with racism” in the Italian game, while providing little or no concrete plan for action to rid the game of the very racism they acknowledged.

Lukaku has scored 10 goals in 14 league games since joining Inter this summer and Smalling has become a mainstay for Roma in recent months, scoring twice and leading the defense to a much improved record of goals conceded and five victories in six games.

UPDATE #2: Roma has banned Corriere dello Sport from “our training facilities for the rest of the year and our players will not carry out any media activities with the newspaper during this period.”

UPDATE: Lukaku and Smalling have each commented on the headline…