Maurizio Sarri has agreed a two-year extension with Lazio to keep him at the club until June 2025.

Lazio became the 21st club to be managed by Sarri when the Italian was appointed last June on a deal that was set to expire in 2023.

The 63-year-old subsequently guided the Biancocelesti to fifth in Serie A this season, six points behind fourth-placed Juventus, to secure Europa League football next term.

Sarri, the oldest manager to win Serie A after triumphing with Juventus in the 2019-20 season, has notable experience in the Europa League, having lifted the trophy with Chelsea in 2019.

Lazio have committed to invest in the Sarri project after announcing the coach has signed a new contract with the Serie A club, keeping him in charge for the next three seasons.

Sarri will hope to keep reported Manchester United target Sergej Milinkovic-Savic in the Eternal City as he looks to challenge domestically and in Europe with Lazio next term.

After excelling in the Champions League for Benfica, Uruguay striker Darwin Nunez has attracted interest from Newcastle United.

Darwin, who turns 23 in June, has scored 24 goals in 24 Primeira Liga games, as well as six goals in 10 Champions League appearances. No Benfica player has ever scored more goals in a single Champions League campaign.

While some of the world's biggest clubs – including Paris Saint-Germain and Manchester United – are hoping to sign the breakout star, they will have to contend with an aggressive offer to bring him to St James' Park.

 

TOP STORY – NEWCASTLE MAKE £50M BID FOR DARWIN

Newcastle have been linked with all kinds of big-name signings for the upcoming transfer window, but Footmercato is reporting that they have made a £50million bid for Darwin in an effort to fend off the challenge of rival clubs.

At such a young age, he could be the kind of marquee signing the new Newcastle board can build their future side around as they also chase more experienced players, such as Christian Eriksen from Brentford on a free transfer.

The Footmercato report also mentions that if Darwin is to leave, Benfica plan to replace him with Petar Musa, who is on loan at Boavista from Slavia Prague.

 

ROUND-UP

– 90min is reporting Lazio coach Maurizio Sarri is very interested in reuniting with Jorginho, as he is unlikely to be offered a new contract at Chelsea beyond 2023.

– Erik ten Hag would like to bring Monaco midfielder Aurelien Tchouameni to Manchester United when he takes over as manager, according to ESPN.

Arsenal, Leeds United and Newcastle are set to compete for the signature of Hoffenheim's Florian Grillitsch when his contract expires after this season, per the Daily Mail.

– The Sun is reporting Kalvin Phillips will reject Manchester United's advances and sign a new deal with Leeds.

Burnley are targeting Sam Allardyce to take over as manager after the sacking of Sean Dyche, per The Sun.

Jose Mourinho has challenged Tammy Abraham to build on his performance in the Rome derby after the former Chelsea striker netted twice in a 3-0 win.

Abraham opened the scoring for Roma in the first minute of Sunday's clash with Lazio. That was the fastest goal ever recorded in a Serie A Rome derby.

It also made Abraham only the second English player to score in the match, after Paul Gascoigne, who did so for Lazio back in 1992.

Abraham doubled his tally with a volley in the 22nd minute to take his tally to 15 league goals for the season, with Lorenzo Pellegrini adding a third for Mourinho's team before half-time.

Since the start of 2022, only Robert Lewandowski (12) has netted more goals in the big five European leagues than Abraham (nine), but despite the 24-year-old's sparkling form, Mourinho remains typically hard to please.

"Great performance," Mourinho told DAZN. "Today was really special because it seemed that everything we had planned was put on the field, Lazio in the second half tried to play with pride but we never lost control.

"No doubt, the boys deserved the victory.

"When you say Abraham is fantastic I disagree, he can do even more. I demand a lot of him because I know his potential, I'm not talking about goals but he must play every game with this attitude."

 

With Roma in such control before the break, their supporters in the Curva Sud began chanting "ole" at every pass, though Mourinho was visibly frustrated by this.

There was a curious moment just before half-time when Mourinho was furious with the Roma ultras in the Curva Sud, demanding they stop making mocking ‘ole’ chants at every pass.

"I don't like 'ole' things, I don't like how they are interpreted by the players on the pitch. You always need respect for your opponent," Mourinho explained.

Roma's win lifted them to fifth in Serie A, putting them in prime position to secure a Europa League place. Lazio, meanwhile, are two points behind in seventh.

Maurizio Sarri was furious with his side's reaction to conceding after 56 seconds.

"The goal immediately cut our legs and we didn't have the strength to react," he told DAZN. "We immediately lowered our heads and I'm sorry we lost a derby like this, I know how much the fans care.

"We got nervous right away, making mistakes. We immediately lost our minds, we weren't lucid because there would have been time to straighten it."

Is Maurizio Sarri getting the most out of Lazio? To help answer that, we arguably have to look to his coaching predecessor - Simone Inzaghi.

After five seasons of trying under Inzaghi's stewardship, the Biancocelesti finally qualified for the Champions League. There were seasons where they came agonisingly close too - particularly in 2017-18, where Inter beat them at the Stadio Olimpico on the final day of the Serie A season, to claim fourth place and the final spot in Europe's premier competition.

When they finally did qualify, last season’s 6-2 defeat on aggregate to Bayern Munich in the last-16 – and Inzaghi’s ensuing departure for Inter – was microcosmic of an overall sense the 45-year-old extracted the maximum out of the players he had at his disposal, within his system.

With Sunday's Rome derby in mind, despite the fact Lazio are currently fifth and again perceivably in the running for that last Champions League place, that's the arguable framework for how we must interpret Sarri's first season in the Italian capital.

It's not only pertinent to ask whether the 63-year-old is extracting the maximum out of this Lazio squad within his own system. Ultimately, are the players Sarri has at his disposal even compatible to that system?

One of the stronger case studies in this discussion is Luis Alberto. The Spaniard is arguably not only one of Serie A's most transformative midfielders, but in European football.

Since joining Lazio in 2016, within the framework of Inzaghi’s 3-5-2, the 29-year-old blossomed into an elite ball progressor and shot creator from a statistical standpoint. He holds five of the 10 highest ratings for passes into the penalty area per 90 minutes in Lazio's history - since Stats Perform's first recordings of the data in 2005-06.

 

Just as important as Luis Alberto's ability to create with the ball is his ability to act as a positional reference point, in order to create for others without it. His ability to drive and distribute is underpinned by an intelligent and assertive positional sense, which also compliments the likes of Ciro Immobile and Sergej Milinkovic-Savic - and the latter’s particular penchant for late entry into the penalty area.

Yet along with cramping him of the half-space to move into when Lazio are in possession, Sarri's 4-3-3 setup asks more of the Spaniard defensively - exacerbating his notoriously suspect ground coverage. The more energetic Toma Basic's August transfer from Bordeaux and initial scope under the new coach, in Luis Alberto's place, was conspicuous in this respect.

This all matters because under Sarri, only Napoli have kept the ball more than them in Serie A this season. Lazio rank 12th in Europe's top-five leagues combined for touches per 90, but 60th for shots in the penalty area per 90. It would take a sizeable increase in shot quality upon previous years to make that disparity more sustainable, weighing up qualitative and quantitative aspects. That increase hasn't eventuated.

Lazio's ability to function in possession ultimately relies on Luis Alberto's skillset, and one statistic stands out - even this season, the team has averaged 9.27 shots in open play per 90 minutes with him on the pitch, and 5.97 without. In addition, his impact on Immobile is profound.

 

 

Immobile's xG per open play shot (0.14 on/0.2 off) actually increases when Luis Alberto is off the pitch, but his quantity of open-play shots also goes down (3.15 on/2.27 off). Meanwhile, playing in Sarri's 4-3-3 requires more from him as a collaborative player with his back to goal, a relatively weak area of his play that contributed to respective struggles at Sevilla, Borussia Dortmund and the Italian national team.

In Inzaghi's 3-5-2, Immobile wasn't cramped for space and could still receive the ball between the lines, but in positions where he's able to face goal and go at defenders with momentum. This season, the 32-year-old striker has completed (0.6) and attempted (1.38) fewer dribbles than in any of his six seasons at Lazio.

On top of that, despite this season being his second highest so far for touches per 90 (42.67), Immobile is also creating less chances in open play per 90 (0.78) than in any of his six seasons at the Olimpico. Six penalties for the season brings his higher xG but lower xA per 90 into context, exposing a question of net gain.

 

 

This all provides the backdrop for Lazio's sizeable xG overperformance this season. It is ultimately propelling their contention for a Champions League place and obscuring just how volatile they have been defensively – exposing Francesco Acerbi's ability to play in a four-man defence as opposed to a three-man defence.

So far this season in Serie A, Lazio have scored the second-highest amount of goals with 58 and rank eighth for xG with 42.1, but aside from Hellas Verona (14.3), are a distant first (15.9) in differential between the two statistical categories.

With this all in context, the reality that Sarri will remain faithful to this 4-3-3 will arguably be to the detriment of Lazio's most important players under Inzaghi. Whether they stay or go, as long as Sarri stays, will determine how dramatic the eventual regression to the mean will be.

Roma head coach Jose Mourinho has sparked the build-up for Sunday's Derby della Capitale remarking Lazio were "smoking cigarettes" while his side progressed in the Conference League on Thursday.

The Giallorossi edged past Dutch outfit Vitesse after Tammy Abraham's 90th-minute goal earned a 1-1 draw and 2-1 aggregate victory at the Stadio Olimpico.

Mourinho said Roma would quickly switch their attention to Sunday's derby with his side in seventh, one point behind Maurizio Sarri's Lazio in fifth in Serie A.

"Obviously, I am not happy that we played today with many players who will also have to be there on Sunday while tonight Lazio are home smoking cigarettes with Sarri, but it’s because Vitesse are really good," Mourinho told reporters after the game.

Mourinho fielded a strong Roma outfit against Vitesse and given the situation of the tie, with Maximilian Wittek's 62nd-minute goal levelling it on aggregate, he was unable to rest any key players with a quick turnaround for Sunday's derby.

"Now Sarri is at home smoking his cigarette while I go home trying to think how we can recover from this for Sunday," Mourinho said.

He added: "We never came into this to control the result or aim for a draw to get us through. We worked with one objective, preparing to go for victory.

"It was a bad performance on a technical level, it might seem tactical, but it was technical. We defended well and showed character, but we also pushed hard at the end with El Shaarawy as a third striker, not a wing-back.

"I don’t want to say we 100 per cent deserved to go through, but over the two legs did a little more."

Roma head coach Jose Mourinho has sparked the build-up for Sunday's Derby della Capitale remarking Lazio are off "smoking cigarettes" while his side progressed in the Conference League on Thursday.

The Giallorossi edged past Dutch outfit Vitesse after Tammy Abraham's 90th-minute goal earned a 1-1 draw and 2-1 aggregate victory.

Mourinho said Roma would quickly switch their attention to Sunday's derby with his side in seventh, one point behind Maurizio Sarri's Lazio in fifth.

"Obviously, I am not happy that we played today with many players who will also have to be there on Sunday while tonight Lazio are home smoking cigarettes with Sarri, but it’s because Vitesse are really good," Mourinho told reporters after the game.

Mourinho fielded a strong Roma outfit against Vitesse and given the situation of the tie, with Maximilian Wittek's 62nd-minute goal levelling it on aggregate, he was unable to rest any key players with a quick turnaround for Sunday's derby.

"Now Sarri is at home smoking his cigarette while I go home trying to think how we can recover from this for Sunday," Mourinho said.

He added: "We never came into this to control the result or aim for a draw to get us through. We worked with one objective, preparing to go for victory.

"It was a bad performance on a technical level, it might seem tactical, but it was technical. We defended well and showed character, but we also pushed hard at the end with El Shaarawy as a third striker, not a wing-back.

"I don’t want to say we 100 per cent deserved to go through, but over the two legs did a little more."

Champions League holders Chelsea get their knockout campaign started on Tuesday as the defence of their crown enters an altogether more challenging stage.

Thomas Tuchel's men may feel they have dodged a bullet or two by getting this draw, with their next opponents Lille struggling to match the highs of their Ligue 1 title victory from last season in 2021-22.

Tuesday's other encounter sees Juventus travel to Villarreal, with Massimiliano Allegri looking to improve on the knockout exploits of Maurizio Sarri and Andrea Pirlo before him.

Here, Stats Perform delves into the Opta data to pick out the key statistical narratives and subplots ahead of Tuesday's games.

Chelsea v Lille

Much of the attention at Stamford Bridge will be on Romelu Lukaku, whether the Belgian plays or not.

The big-money signing's struggles this season have been well-publicised, but he hit a new low on Saturday as he touched the ball just seven times in the win over Crystal Palace – that is the fewest by any player to feature for 90 minutes in a single Premier League game since at least 2003-04.

On the other side of the contest is a striker aiming to emulate Lionel Messi. Jonathan David may not have scored a Ligue 1 goal since December but the talented Canadian impressed in the second half of the group stage.

He scored one goal in each of his last three appearances in the competitions, meaning if he scores on Tuesday he will be the second-youngest (22 years, 39 days) non-European to score in four successive Champions League games after Messi (21y, 155d in November 2008).

That is not to say Lille are a high-scoring side. Many will be wondering who let Les Dogues out of Group G, given their haul of seven makes them the lowest-scoring group winners since Leicester City and Atletico Madrid (seven each) in 2016-17. In fact, no team from that section scored more than eight.

The omens are, perhaps unsurprisingly, overwhelmingly in Chelsea's favour here. Only Manchester City (15) and Bayern Munich (14) have won more Champions League games than the holders since the start of last season, while Lille are appearing at this stage for just the second time ever.

Further to that, Tuchel boasts a fine record in Champions League knockout ties, having progressed from/won (including finals) eight of his previous 11 (73 per cent), a success rate bettered by only three managers (minimum 10 knockout ties): Vicente del Bosque (80 per cent - 8/10), Jupp Heynckes (86 per cent - 12/14) and Zinedine Zidane (88 per cent - 14/16).

Villarreal v Juventus

Sarri and then Pirlo were both tasked with establishing a new era at Juventus, but when Allegri returned after a two-year break in pre-season, he picked up the pieces of a side that had regressed significantly.

There remain plenty who feel Allegri never should have been re-hired, but this tie at least gives him an opportunity to point to a degree of progress – at least in the context of the Champions League.

After all, neither Sarri nor Pirlo got beyond the last 16. Allegri, on the other hand, was only eliminated at this stage once in five seasons, and that was to Pep Guardiola's excellent Bayern side.

His counterpart on Tuesday, Unai Emery, has something of a point to prove as well, but his has more to do with his own personal record.

While something of a specialist at Europa League level, having won the competition four times including last season, he has won only one of six knockout games in the Champions League.

Much of Emery's hope will be pinned on Arnaut Danjuma.

The Dutchman – who recently returned from two months out and scored a hat-trick at the weekend – had a hand in five goals in the group stage, which is already a joint-club record for the club in the competition.

By no means are the Yellow Submarine a one-man team, however. Young winger Yeremi Pino caught the eye in the group and is plotting to become only the fourth Spanish teenager to score in the knockout stages of the Champions League after Bojan, Cesc Fabregas and Raul.

Lazio head coach Maurizio Sarri is keen to avoid a return to Serie A matches being played behind closed doors, insisting it cannot only be football that is locked down amid rising COVID-19 cases in Italy.

Like much of Europe, Italy is now in the midst of another wave of coronavirus infections.

Games in some regions of Germany have been played behind closed doors since late last year, while Scotland has also introduced similar measures to limit social interaction.

So far, matches in Europe's other major leagues apart from the Bundesliga have been able to be played in front of crowds.

Italy's spike in confirmed COVID-19 cases has reached unprecedented levels in the country, with 219,430 new cases confirmed on Friday, surpassing records set on both Wednesday and Thursday, according to the World Health Organisation (WHO).

Italian prime minister Mario Draghi has reportedly expressed his concerns to Italian Football Federation (FIGC) president Gabriele Gravina, with the government worried about a lack of adhering to safety and social distancing measures within stadiums.

According to widespread reports in Italy, Serie A chiefs will be meeting this weekend to discuss their options, with Corriere dello Sport reporting that the issue will then be discussed in Wednesday's meeting between the FIGC and the government.

Sarri, however, believes it would be unfair to play matches behind closed doors once again, suggesting that if the situation in the country is so serious, then the entire nation must be once again placed into lockdown, not just football.

"COVID affects everyone's life, not just sport. If this pandemic is dangerous there should be a total lockdown, otherwise it will be downgraded to a flu and people will stay at home with a fever," he told a news conference ahead of Sunday's meeting with Inter, who had their game against Bologna postponed at the last minute on Thursday due to a decision by local health authorities.

"I just hope that we don't end up with a closed stadium – it makes people who are as passionate as I am lose the desire to go on the pitch."

Sarri's side are eighth in Serie A following Thursday's 3-3 draw with his former club Empoli. 

Lazio's meeting with Inter represents the second time they have gone up against their ex-coach Simone Inzaghi this season, with Sarri's team having come out on top 3-1 in October.

Simone Inzaghi was left anguished after his first Serie A defeat as Inter boss came at his former club Lazio, admitting: "We lost our heads."

A 3-1 setback came after a flurry of second-half goals from the home side in Rome, with the defending champions knocked out of their stride late on by a moment of controversy.

With Inter's Federico Dimarco down, apparently injured, Lazio played on and got the 81st-minute goal that put them 2-1 ahead, Felipe Anderson netting from close range after Ciro Immobile's strike was parried by Samir Handanovic.

Inter were furious and both sides had two players booked as bickering on the pitch threatened to spill over. Sergej Milinkovic-Savic sealed the points in stoppage time with a fine header, ending Inter's seven-game unbeaten start to the league campaign.

Inzaghi's new team took the lead against his former charges when Ivan Perisic converted an early penalty, but Lazio had a spot-kick in the 64th minute after Patric's header from a corner was handled by Alessandro Bastoni. Immobile tucked away that chance and the comeback gathered momentum from there.

The result rankled with Inzaghi, who said afterwards: "That was our best recent performance, but when a team like ours is a goal up, we have to manage the game better in terms of our final ball and double our lead."

Quoted on the official Inter website, he added: "Unfortunately, they scored their equaliser from a corner that we shouldn't have conceded. From that point on, the game changed and Lazio got back into the contest.

"The second goal was a bit strange and we lost our heads, which is something we can't allow to happen. It's disappointing. It's a setback that we didn't need in terms of our league position, but we'll take the performance and move on."

Inter sit third in the Serie A standings, behind Napoli and Milan, and their next league clash sees them face Juventus on Sunday of next weekend.

"When you face sides like Lazio, you can't give them a chance to get back into the match," Inzaghi said. "We managed the contest particularly well for an hour, but we then let our opponents back into the game and paid the consequences."

Lazio head coach Maurizio Sarri said Inter should have put the ball out of play themselves when they had an opportunity after Dimarco went to ground.

Sarri was also dismayed to see Luiz Felipe, who had an excellent game in central defence, red-carded after the final whistle.

Luiz Felipe, in celebration mode, jumped on his former Lazio team-mate Joaquin Correa, who left for Inter in August. Correa did not see the funny side and Luiz Felipe was in tears after being dismissed.

"Luiz Felipe told me he was saying goodbye to Correa, they played together for a long time. They didn't want to fight," said Sarri. "It's a big misunderstanding."

Simone Inzaghi is unsure what type of reception he will receive when Inter travel to Lazio this weekend but is excited to return to his former home.

The 45-year-old replaced Scudetto-winning boss Antonio Conte at San Siro in June, a week after bringing an end to his five-year spell in charge of Lazio.

In the three points for a win era, nobody has managed more Serie A games for Lazio than Inzaghi (197), while only Sven-Goran Eriksson has a better points-per-game return (1.9 compared to 1.82) among those to have managed at least 50 matches.

Inzaghi had previously spent 11 years with the Biancocelesti in his playing days and six years working as coach of the youth team.

After winning the Coppa Italia in 2019 and guiding Lazio back into the Champions League last term, when they reached the last 16, Inzaghi's unexpected departure to take over at Inter did not go down well with some fans of the Rome club.

According to reports from Italy, the relationship between Inzaghi and Lazio president Claudio Lotito has still not been repaired, but the Inter boss is looking forward to walking out at the Stadio Olimpico.

"It's not a match like the others. For me it's a return to my home of 22 years," Inzaghi said at Friday's pre-match news conference.

"It will be a great thrill to see the lads who have always given everything for me and the people behind the scenes who were always special.

"In addition, I'll get to see the Lazio fans, who have been very important for me. We have celebrated and suffered together in these years, reaching great targets that haven't been achieved for a long time.

"I know there will be boos and applause, but it's part of the job. I will accept them. They know that I have always given everything."

 

Asked about his relationship with Lotito, five months on from exiting Lazio, Inzaghi replied: "A lot has been said and heard, but I think he and [sporting director Igli] Tare have been very important for my coaching career.

"Thanks to them I coached Lazio. I will never stop thanking them, knowing that we integrated well and achieved great results."

Inzaghi was succeeded at Stadio Olimpico by Maurizio Sarri, who has won three, drawn two and lost two of his first seven Serie A games in charge.

Lazio are unbeaten in their last 16 home matches in the Italian top flight, winning 14 of those in what is their longest such run since 2002.

And Inzaghi has been impressed by Sarri's work since taking on the job in the Italian capital.

"I think Lazio have played some excellent games," Inzaghi said. "They are a very well-built team. A new coach has arrived and he's very good at organising the teams.

"They are playing excellent games, but they lost the last one and therefore they will be angry and will want to play well."

Inzaghi confirmed that Chile pair Alexis Sanchez and Arturo Vidal will not be involved due to returning late from international duty, while Argentina's Lautaro Martinez will be monitored ahead of Saturday's game.

After two weeks off, Lazio face a gruelling run of matches that will also see them face Marseille in the Europa League before league games with Hellas Verona, Fiorentina and Atalanta in the next fortnight.

Sarri is not happy with the congested fixture list and suggested money now takes priority over player welfare.

"We trained for two weeks in reduced ranks, it's difficult to evaluate," Sarri said at a news conference.

"This is the current state of football; maybe it doesn't belong to me anymore. Every month we play seven games in 19 days and then we are 11 days without players.

"In practice they train more in the national team than with the club. We are not looking at football as a sport but a show where you try to squeeze out money everywhere. Maybe I’m too old for all this."

Stefano Pioli says Zlatan Ibrahimovic has a "fire within him" after he marked his return from injury on Sunday with a goal in Milan's 2-0 win over Lazio.

Ibrahimovic – making his return to action following a knee injury sustained in May – was introduced as a substitute in the 60th minute and wasted little time making an impact, tapping in just seven minutes later to double his side's advantage.

They had earlier gone ahead thanks to Rafael Leao's second goal of the season, while Franck Kessie saw a penalty crash back off the crossbar in first-half stoppage time.

The result means Milan have won their first three Serie A fixtures in consecutive seasons for the first time in the Italian top flight.

Ibrahimovic will turn 40 next month, but Rossoneri boss Pioli insists his age will be no barrier to him enjoying another successful season at San Siro.

"Zlatan hadn't played for four months, so I'm glad he scored a goal and will get stronger in the next games," he told DAZN.

"He has this fire within him. The way he battles in training as well as games, all aiming to be the best. You don't feel the years when you do that."

 

Leao has already scored a third of his Serie A tally from last season, with his strike against Lazio coming from a joint game-high three shots.

While Pioli is expecting big things from the Portuguese forward, he urged him to sharpen up on his finishing.

"Rafa was already a strength for this team last season, but he's still 22 years old. It's only his third campaign in Italy, the second working with me," he added.

"He needs to become more efficient in the finish, because he almost always gets past his defender and just has to finish off more of those chances."

There was drama at the full-time whistle when Lazio boss Maurizio Sarri was shown a red card for an altercation with Alexis Saelemaekers.

Sarri played down the incident but was clearly unhappy with the Belgium international's behaviour.  

"It was nothing in particular," Sarri said.

"The young lad made a gesture that you shouldn't do to older people and Ibrahimovic then calmed everything down. These things happen on the pitch."

The 2021-22 Serie A campaign commences on Saturday following a busy close season that saw more than half of the 20 teams change head coach.

Antonio Conte departed Inter after guiding the club to their first Scudetto in more than a decade, with Simone Inzaghi being plucked from Lazio, who in turn turned to Maurizio Sarri.

Sarri's former club Juventus decided to end the Andrea Pirlo experiment after just a year and opted for a familiar face in six-time title winner Massimiliano Allegri as his replacement.

Luciano Spalletti is back in Serie A with Napoli, meanwhile, and Jose Mourinho has returned to Italy with Roma some 11 years on from his hugely successful stint with Inter.

There will be just as much focus on the dugouts as the field when the new season gets up and running this weekend, then, and some coaches are facing a tougher challenge than others.

Stats Perform looks at what the managerial changes could mean for some of Serie A's biggest clubs.


Inter 

In: Simone Inzaghi

Out: Antonio Conte

Conte will go down in Inter folklore as the man who ended the club's 11-year wait to return to the top of Italian football.

In an ideal world, one in which the Nerazzurri were not in a position whereby they had to sell star players to balance the books, Conte would still be in charge at San Siro.

As it is, though, Inzaghi will be at the helm this coming season and is in a rather unenviable position of having to pick up where Conte left off, minus the goals of Romelu Lukaku.

Inzaghi has his own vision but does not differ too much from Conte in terms of tactics, both coaches favouring a 3-5-2 formation of sorts throughout their careers.

Moving the ball forward quickly will be the aim, with Milan (90) the only side in Serie A last term to register more direct attacks than Inzaghi's former side Lazio (89). By comparison, Inter were third on that list with 80.

While the structure will remain largely the same, losing Lukaku and influential wing-back Achraf Hakimi – albeit with Edin Dzeko and Denzel Dumfries arriving – means Inzaghi will need to get more out of others if Inter are to retain their crown.

 

Lazio

In: Maurizio Sarri

Out: Simone Inzaghi

The man tasked with replacing Inzaghi at Lazio is Sarri, who endured mixed fortunes during his most recent two stints in Serie A with Napoli and Juventus.

Having come so close to ending Juve's stranglehold on the title in 2017-18 while at Napoli, the 62-year-old won the Europa League in his solitary season at Chelsea and was then given just 14 months at the Allianz Stadium.

His stint in Turin came to an early end despite leading Juve to top spot, his style of play – coined 'Sarriball' – deemed too distant from what Juventus typically expect from a head coach (more on that later!).

At the Stadio Olimpico, Sarri will have more freedom to put his spin on things as he looks to build or improve upon last season's sixth-placed finish. A back four, rather than the three-man defence Inzaghi favoured, can be expected.

Sarri teams are known for their verticality, meaning they like to move the ball forwards. Lazio, as already touched upon, are a good fit in that regard.

They ranked lowest in the top eight last season for build-up attacks (83), which is defined as the number of open play sequences that contain 10 or more passes and either ends in a shot or has at least one touch in the opposition box.

The big question, though, is whether Sarri has the personnel to turn Lazio into top-four regulars in the same way he did at Napoli. With Immobile taking on the Gonzalo Higuain role up top, it might just be a possibility.

Juventus

In: Massimiliano Allegri

Out: Andrea Pirlo

While a lot of clubs mentioned are entering the unknown with their managerial appointments, Juve know exactly what they are getting in Allegri.

The 54-year-old guided Juve to five straight Serie A titles and two Champions League finals between 2014 and 2019, having also previously lifted the Scudetto at Milan.

Only one coach in the Bianconeri's history, Giovanni Trapattoni, has overseen more league games than Allegri's 190, while Juve's two highest-scoring seasons dating back as far as 1930 have both come under the stewardship of the returning favourite.

This Juve side has changed since Allegri's first stint, though, and it may take him time to make this team his own again following the aforementioned reigns of Sarri and Pirlo.

Whereas Sarri and Pirlo were a little complex with their tactics and what they expected from players, Allegri will take a different approach. That is not to say Juve will not be able to chop and change things under Allegri, as they did in his previous spell.

One aspect that will surely differ from last season is the number of goals Juve score. They found the net an underwhelming 56 times from open play last season from an expected goals return (xG) of 54.3.

By comparison, champions Inter scored 65 open play goals from a near identical xG as Juve of 54.6. With the prolific Cristiano Ronaldo set to stay at the club for at least one more season, there is hope of reclaiming the title this time around.

 

Roma

In: Jose Mourinho

Out: Paulo Fonseca

The highest-profile of the incoming coaches in Serie A this season, Mourinho arrives with his 'Special One' status still intact in Italy thanks to his success at Inter a little over a decade ago.

Mourinho won as many league titles in two seasons at San Siro (two) as he has in the 11 years since (one), while also lifting the second of his Champions League crowns, the Coppa Italia and Supercoppa Italiana during that trophy-laden stay.

The Portuguese won 62 per cent of his matches at Inter but that win rate has steadily declined and he won just 51.2 per cent of his games with Tottenham, leaving the club in April after just 17 months in charge.

Mourinho's sides were so often hard to beat, but Spurs lost 13 times in 2020-21 under him, making it his worst ever season in that regard and he did not even see it all the way through.

But could his career take a turn in the right direction in Rome? Mourinho's tactics have remained largely consistent throughout his career, no matter the club or country he is coaching in.

The back three largely favoured by Paulo Fonseca will become a back four and there will be particular emphasis on Bryan Cristante, a typical Mourinho player in many ways, to shield the defence and get the ball forward.

The addition of Tammy Abraham from Chelsea is clearly a Mourinho signing, helping the fill the void left by Edin Dzeko, but Mou's pragmatic approach is surely a concern for a Roma side that looked better offensively than defensively last season. 

Finding the correct balance will be key, and that ultimately depends on whether Roma have hired the pre-2015 Mourinho or post.

Napoli

In: Luciano Spalletti

Out: Gennaro Gattuso

With spells at seven different Italian clubs under his belt, including two years at Inter, Spalletti certainly does not lack of experience. After two years out of the game, however, the 62-year-old has to quickly prove he is not yesterday's man.

Spalletti made clear when he took over from Gennaro Gattuso that he will look to operate with a 4-3-3, though on the basis of pre-season it may well be a more familiar 4-2-3-1 come the opening day.

He inherits a talented squad that includes the likes of Piotr Zielinski, Victor Osimhen, Dries Mertens, Hirving Lozano and Lorenzo Insigne – for now – in attack.

Napoli had no problems scoring goals last time out, with no team managing more shots from open play than their 493 and only Atalanta (77) and Inter (65) scoring more from non-set-piece situations than their 64.

Pressing is a big part of Spalletti's game and that makes Napoli a good fit as they ranked joint-second in Serie A last season for goals scored from high turnovers (nine), behind only Atalanta (10).

There are already a few rumblings of discontent behind the scenes with regards to transfer activity, but a kind fixture list ensures that Spalletti can hit the ground running in his quest to guide Napoli back into the Champions League.

Lazio have completed the signing of Pedro from arch-rivals Roma.

The former Spain winger will remain in the Eternal City in a new era for Lazio under Maurizio Sarri.

Lazio did not state whether they had paid a fee for Pedro or the length of contract he has signed.

The 34-year-old was not part of Jose Mourinho's plans and has now been reunited with Sarri, who he played under at Chelsea.

Pedro has been given the number nine shirt after passing a medical on Thursday.

The former Barcelona wideman made 27 appearances for Roma in Serie A last season, scoring five goals and providing two assists.

Pedro created 29 chances and had a dribble success rate of 64.44.

Lazio travel to Empoli for their first game of the 2021-22 Serie A season on Saturday.

Xherdan Shaqiri has revealed he is ready to leave Liverpool and hinted he would enjoy playing under Maurizio Sarri at Lazio, praising the Italian coach's attacking style of play.

The Switzerland international joined the Reds in 2018 but has remained on the fringes of the first team throughout his time at Anfield.

And after enjoying Euro 2020 success, in which he became Switzerland's outright top scorer at major tournaments, Shaqiri has suggested his time under Jurgen Klopp may be coming to an end.

"Fortunately, football has helped me achieve many of my dreams," Shaqiri told Italian newspaper Corriere dello Sport. "I was lucky enough to play with great teams and to win many titles.

"Who knows, maybe I could get something even with the Swiss national team. My contract [with] Liverpool expires in 2022, in 2018 I signed a four-year deal.

"The important thing at this moment in my career is to be able to play regularly, but that hasn’t always been the case in the last three seasons.

"This is why I told Liverpool that I feel ready for a new challenge. They accepted my wish and will seriously consider the offers that will come. They will not stop me."

Opportunities have been limited for Shaqiri at Liverpool as he has made just 45 top-flight appearances across a three-year spell, during which he has scored seven goals for the 2019-20 Premier League champions.

But the 29-year-old, whose 10 chances created at Euro 2020 were three more than Ricardo Rodriguez for the Swiss, proved his quality as he was one of Vladimir Petkovic's standout performers at the tournament.

While Shaqiri explained there had been no direct contact from clubs yet, he made clear his desire to keep playing regularly and praised the development of Italian football.

"I'm only 29 years old, I have played in some of the best leagues in Europe, and I would like to continue being a part of them," Shaqiri said. "I’m not yet thinking about the end of my career, it’s a future I imagine far away. We will see what destiny has in store for me.

"I think it’s not just my opinion that football in Italy has developed substantially in recent years. The win at the European Championship is there to prove it, a well-deserved result.

"Just take a look at how many Premier League players have moved to Serie A."

The former Bayern Munich winger, who has been directly involved in 51 goals in 96 appearances for his country, has limited experience in Serie A, too, given he spent six months with reigning champions Inter in 2015.

Asked whether a move to Italy and, more specifically, Lazio was an option, Shaqiri spoke glowingly of Sarri's qualities and complimented sporting director Igli Tare.

"Igli Tare has been doing an excellent job at Lazio for years," Shaqiri commented. "If it's true that he has great respect for me, then I’m honoured.

"I have been following Lazio for a long time, they are a top team. In general, due to my characteristics, I like to play more attacking football and Sarri practices it. It would be intriguing."

Maurizio Sarri says he found Cristiano Ronaldo difficult to manage and winning Serie A was "taken for granted" when he guided Juventus to the title.

Ronaldo vented his fury at Sarri when he was substituted during a game against Milan in November 2019.

Sarri stated that the Portugal captain had lacked sharpness during his tenure in Turin, but denied talk of a rift between the pair.

The new Lazio head coach, who was sacked by Juve last August after only one season in charge, revealed managing the five-time Ballon d'Or winner was a challenge despite his tally of 31 goals in 33 Serie A games.

He told Sportitalia: "The management of Ronaldo is not easy, he is a multinational that has personal interests to match those of the team. It is certainly a difficult situation to manage.

"Honestly, I think I am better at being a coach and not a manager, which I don't like, it bores me and I enjoy it more on the pitch.

"It's a difficult management, there are many positive aspects because at the end of the year Ronaldo brings important results.

"It is clear that he represents something that can go beyond the club and the team, with so many followers it is clear that it goes beyond normality.

"It is the product of our club, in recent years I hear a lot about individuals and little about teams, which are the ones that go on the pitch. And the value of the team is not the sum of the value of individuals."

 

Sarri masterminded Juve's ninth successive Serie A triumph in the 2019-20 campaign, but the Bianconeri's dominance was ended when they finished fourth as Inter won the title last season.

Former Napoli and Chelsea boss Sarri feels he may have been in charge at the wrong time given expectations appeared to have changed.

"It was taken for granted. On the outside, but I have to say also on the inside. We won a Scudetto without celebrating it, everyone dined on their own," he added.

"Probably the right year would have been this, after a fourth place and I saw that they celebrated, the ideal conditions are probably there."

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