Inter announced the exit of another key figure behind their Scudetto success as influential technical chief Gabriele Oriali was "relieved of his duties".

Oriali, who has been working in the same role with Euro 2020 champions Italy, departs Inter three months after head coach Antonio Conte walked away from the Serie A winners.

Former Italy midfielder Oriali, 68, who was a World Cup winner in 1982, returned for a second spell on the Inter backroom staff when Conte was appointed two years ago.

At the time, Inter said Oriali was "back where he belongs", yet the two parties will now go their separate ways.

There have been reports in Italy that Oriali may follow Conte to his next job and serve again on his staff.

Conte was linked with Tottenham soon after his Inter exit, which came just weeks after the Nerazzurri won the Scudetto for the first time in 11 years, but he has yet to take up a new appointment.

Inter said in a statement on Friday: "FC Internazionale Milano can confirm that as of today Gabriele Oriali has been relieved of his duties as first team technical manager. The club would like to thank him for his work and wishes him all the best for his future endeavours."

The brevity of that announcement offered no explanation for Oriali's departure, yet with a new coach coming in, in Simone Inzaghi, it was perhaps inevitable that changes behind the scenes would follow.

Inter vice-president Javier Zanetti, who was a player at the club when Oriali previously served from 1999 to 2010, separately issued a glowing tribute, striking a different tone to Inter's statement.

 

On Instagram, Zanetti described Oriali as "one of us" and said: "Inter fans do not forget those who leave a mark in the history of this club, just as I cannot forget the days, the work, the moments shared with Lele [Oriali] and Antonio Conte in a long, tiring ride, full of obstacles but extraordinarily successful.

"All this with one goal every day: the good of Inter, ahead of anything else. Do not forget the days at work with Antonio Conte for a group that will remain in the history of Inter with an indelible championship.

"The story of Lele Oriali tells it: with great regret we lose a winner, a real man and above all a great Inter fan. A huge hug to Lele and a huge 'good luck' for the next challenges, the new goals. Inter is and will always be your home."

Simone Inzaghi did not expect to be without Romelu Lukaku heading into his first season as Inter head coach.

Lukaku, who scored 24 Serie A goals last season to help Inter win their first league title since 2010, was sold to Chelsea last week for a reported £97.5million (€115m).

Inter needed to sell players as they deal with financial difficulties compounded by the coronavirus pandemic, and they had already sold full-back Achraf Hakimi to Paris Saint-Germain.

Meanwhile, Lukaku's former strike partner Lautaro Martinez has been linked with a move to London as well, with Tottenham reportedly agreeing a fee for the Argentina forward, though that move seems likely to depend on Harry Kane's future.

In the wake of Lukaku's departure, Inter have bolstered their squad with the arrival of experienced striker Edin Dzeko, from Roma, and Netherlands right-back Denzel Dumfries, who has arrived from PSV. The Nerazzurri had previously signed Hakan Calhanoglu on a free transfer from rivals Milan.

Inter start their title defence against Genoa on Saturday and, ahead of his first league game in charge, former Lazio coach Inzaghi revealed the club did all they could to keep Lukaku, who is poised to make his second Chelsea debut on Sunday against Arsenal.

"It was an unexpected and unplanned departure," Inzaghi told a news conference on Friday, also confirming Inter are in the market for another forward.

"It is normal that I, [chief executive Giuseppe] Marotta and [sporting director Piero] Ausilio tried to convince him.

"In the week I trained him, I understood why he is so decisive and loved. When he decided, he came to tell me honestly that Chelsea was his dream. We talked to him but the choice was made by the boy. With Dzeko and another signing, we will cover his departure."

 

Asked about Inter's ambitions for 2021-22, Inzaghi said: "I think that Inter's goals are certainly ambitious.

"I don't like making proclamations, but what will make the difference will be the motivations of the boys: during the retreat they showed me that they have a lot of them, I'm confident.

"We will do everything to ensure that things go the right way. It will obviously be a season with difficulties, but the goal in all of us is the match against Genoa.

"There is an excellent relationship with the club, a team level is still missing something but so far I am happy with the players who have arrived.

"We know that there have been some sales, such as that of Hakimi, that of Lukaku and the problem of [Christian] Eriksen. Dzeko would have been my request regardless of Lukaku's situation. Dumfries will need to settle down."

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.

Barely a month has passed since Giorgio Chiellini lifted the European Championship trophy at Wembley, and it would seem logical to expect Serie A to begin amid high fanfare.

This may prove to be the case, as the opening weekend of the season arrives, but a major talent drain from the Italian league since last term cannot be ignored.

Romelu Lukaku, Cristian Romero and Gianluigi Donnarumma have all moved on, swapping Inter, Atalanta and Milan respectively for Chelsea, Tottenham and Paris Saint-Germain.

To put those losses into greater context, of the 2020-21 Serie A end-of-season award winners, that is the MVP, the top defender and the leading goalkeeper all exiting the league.

Sweeping changes on the coaching benches also add to uncertainty as the new campaign begins, with a much-changed Inter hoping to successfully defend their title.


JUVE ON A SCUDETTO MISSION

After the folly of handing dugout rookie Andrea Pirlo the reins before last season, Juventus look to be on firmer ground this time with Massimiliano Allegri back as head coach.

They have brought in Manuel Locatelli from Sassuolo, primed to play a Pirlo-like role on the pitch, and it seems Cristiano Ronaldo will hang around for the final year of his contract.

Rumours continue to encircle the five-time Ballon d'Or winner, but Allegri can likely count on his reliable flow of goals, just as he did for the 2018-19 season – Ronaldo's debut campaign in Turin and the end of the line for Allegri in his first stint as coach.

A six-time Scudetto winner, Allegri will look to get the best out of wingers Dejan Kulusevski and Federico Chiesa as they enter their second seasons with the Bianconeri, while it remains to be seen how Paulo Dybala performs as he enters the final year of his deal.

Plagued by injury last season, Dybala started just 14 Serie A games, but results were often perkier when he played. Of those 14 games, Juventus won 10, drew three and lost one, with a points-per-game average of 2.4 when he played from the off, compared to 1.9 when he was absent or a substitute. The win percentage of 71.4 per cent when Dybala was in the starting XI (compared to 54.2 per cent when he was not) is in the ball park that Allegri will be eyeing.

 


INZAGHI STEPS INTO CONTE SHOES

Social media tells us Antonio Conte has been thoroughly enjoying his summer, topping up his tan and seemingly showing no regret over his Inter exit, which came in May, just weeks after he guided the Nerazzurri to title glory.

Conte reportedly left amid concern the club planned to raise funds with sales that have duly come to fruition. The loss of striker Lukaku feels like a body blow, given his influence, and persistent rumours suggest Lautaro Martinez could also move on. Achraf Hakimi is another big loss, but, as with Lukaku, a big fee was banked as the right-back proved a one-season wonder in Italy.

In have come coach Simone Inzaghi, who impressed at Lazio, while Edin Dzeko will be a straight swap for Lukaku in the forward line, albeit unlikely to carry quite the same threat. Former PSV star Denzel Dumfries can replace Hakimi in the attacking right full-back role, and Inter will hope his Euro 2020 form transfers to Serie A duty.

It is hard to see Inter repeating last season's success, and the comedown could be painful. They exceeded their expected goals total last season, scoring 84 goals against an xG of 75.3, and Inzaghi will look for more of the same.

They possess plenty of quality still, but they have likely lost Christian Eriksen for the long term too after his cardiac arrest on Denmark duty at Euro 2020. His survival was everything in June, and now his recovery is all-important. The knock-on effect is that Inter have lost a player who became important over the second half of the season.

So much has changed since that title was secured. Landing Hakan Calhanoglu on a free from Milan looks like great business, but consolidation with a top-four finish may be their limit in the new campaign. That, and being sure to secure city bragging rights again.

 


MOURINHO'S BACK AMID MERRY-GO-ROUND

Never mind Inzaghi and Allegri at Inter and Juve, now is the time to get used to the sound of Maurizio Sarri's Lazio, Vincenzo Italiano's Fiorentina, Luciano Spalletti's Napoli ... and Jose Mourinho's Roma. Milan rather feel like the odd ones out, keeping faith with Stefano Pioli.

A whirlwind of change has swept through Serie A, and it will be worth watching to see quite what impact Mourinho can have on a side who finished 16 points short of the Champions League places last term.

His 'Special One' reputation was enhanced the last time he coached in Italy, guiding Inter to a treble of Serie A, Coppa Italia and Champions League in the 2009-10 campaign.

Spells at Real Madrid, Manchester United, Chelsea and Tottenham have followed, but Mourinho's cachet has diminished over the past decade.

Tammy Abraham has followed him in swapping London for Rome, with the Chelsea striker arriving, along with Eldor Shomurodov from Genoa, to pep up an attack depleted by the loss of Dzeko. Rui Patricio has joined fellow Portuguese Mourinho, and the goalkeeper's arrival from Wolves could prove a fine signing.

Roma won just five Serie A away games last term, and have only had fewer once in a season beginning in the 20th century (4 in 2002-03), while their shot conversion rate of 41.35 per cent can be improved upon, given they topped 50 per cent twice in the 2010s.

Most important for Mourinho, perhaps, will be to build on Roma's poor duel success rate (48.97 per cent) and cutting out the errors leading to goals (10 in 2020-21 in Serie A).

The duel figures are important and were the worst Roma had managed in at least 15 years, while the error count will be simply intolerable to the new boss. Only Bologna committed so many costly errors (also 10). Mourinho has his work cut out.

It has been another off-season of change in Italy, but Serie A returns this week and another intriguing campaign awaits.

Inter were champions last term, ending Juventus' run of nine straight Scudetti, but they have not been able to keep their title-winning side together.

Romelu Lukaku is gone, as is coach Antonio Conte, while Massimiliano Allegri has returned to Juve to tee up another tilt.

So, what does that all mean for the coming season? Stats Perform attempts to find out.

The Stats Perform League Prediction Model, created by Stats Perform AI using Opta data, has analysed the division ahead of the new season to assign percentages to potential outcomes for each club.

The model estimates the probability of each match outcome (win, draw or loss) based on teams' attacking and defensive qualities, which considers four years' worth of results, with weighting based on recency and the quality of opposition. The season is then simulated 10,000 times to calculate the likelihood of each outcome.

Read on to see who can realistically compete with Inter and who should be looking over their shoulders...

THREE FIGHTING FOR TITLE

Inter might have lost some key men, but the model is backing a team that finished second and then first to lead the way again.

The Nerazzurri are given the best chance of taking the title (45.1 per cent), while they certainly should make the top four even without Lukaku and Conte, rated as a 94.2 per cent likelihood.

Unsurprisingly, Juve are the closest challengers to Inter's crown, with a 21.5 per cent shot.

It is not set to be a two-horse race, though, as Atalanta are the third and final team to be given a substantial chance at 19.6 per cent.

In fact, Atalanta's lowest probable finish of ninth is higher than Juve's 10th, with another exciting season expected for La Dea.

 

TOP FOUR SETTLED?

There is strength in depth in Serie A this season, but the model has identified a clear frontrunner for the fourth Champions League place.

Napoli, with a 9.4 per cent title chance, have a 68.6 per cent likelihood of making the top four, putting them well clear of the rest despite finishing fifth in 2020-21.

That means disappointment for big names like Milan, Lazio and Jose Mourinho's Roma.

Milan do have a 44.0 per cent shot at Champions League qualification, but that is a modest opportunity given they were second last term and led the league for half the season. A Scudetto triumph is rated at 3.6 per cent.

Lazio, under Maurizio Sarri, have a 14.9 per cent hope of a top-four place, while Mourinho clearly has work to do as rivals Roma are only given an 8.2 per cent likelihood.

Besides those sides, only Sassuolo – 1.1 per cent for the Champions League, 2.6 for the Europa League and 8.2 per cent for the Europa Conference League – are realistically also in the European picture.

STRAIGHT BACK DOWN AGAIN

The model does not make for pretty reading for the three promoted sides, who are all expected to spend only a single season in the top flight before returning to Serie B.

For Salernitana and Venezia, a particularly brutal campaign could be in store. They are highly likely to go down, rated at 95.9 per cent and 94.8 per cent respectively.

Empoli are given a slightly improved chance but are still expected to be relegated, at 79.3 per cent.

Torino's awful season, finishing 17th in 2020-21, should not be repeated, with merely a 4.3 per cent likelihood of demotion.

That still makes them sixth favourites for the drop, also behind Spezia (6.0 per cent) and Hellas Verona (5.4 per cent).

Erling Haaland is one of the most in-demand players in Europe.

Clubs from across the continent are queuing up to sign the Borussia Dortmund forward.

Real Madrid, however, are firmly placed to make a move for the Norwegian.

 

TOP STORY – MADRID STILL EYEING HAALAND

Real Madrid believe a deal to sign Borussia Dortmund star Erling Haaland could be done next year, according to the front page of Friday's Marca.

Kylian Mbappe – out of contract in 2022 – has dominated headlines as Madrid target the Paris Saint-Germain forward.

But Madrid have not forgotten about Haaland, who is also reportedly wanted by Manchester United, Manchester City, Barcelona and Bayern Munich.

 

ROUND-UP

- The Athletic says Bernardo Silva has turned down a move to Tottenham as part of a potential deal that would help send Harry Kane to City. Atletico Madrid and Barca have also been linked with City's Silva.

Pedri could sign a new four-year deal with Barca by September, reports Sport. The 18-year-old has been a revelation at Camp Nou.

- Fabrizio Romano claims Milan are nearing a deal to sign Tiemoue Bakayoko from Chelsea. Bakayoko spent the 2018-19 season on loan at Milan. Di Marzio, meanwhile, says Milan are interested in bringing Monaco's Pietro Pellegri to San Siro on loan.

- Staying in Milan and Tuttosport reports the Rossoneri are interested in Sassuolo and Italy star Domenico Berardi. Leicester City are also reportedly among his admirers.

- Rennes sensation Eduardo Camavinga is dreaming of a move to PSG, according to Le Parisien. United have also been linked with the France midfielder.

Fiorentina president Rocco Commisso called on Dusan Vlahovic to sign a new contract before entertaining the prospect of selling the in-demand star next year amid links with Manchester City, Atletico Madrid and Tottenham.

Vlahovic enjoyed a breakout season in 2020-21, scoring 21 Serie A goals, and his exploits have sparked reported interest from Premier League champions City and LaLiga holders Atletico.

Tottenham, Arsenal and Serie A champions Inter have also been linked with the 21-year-old Serbia international, who is contracted to Fiorentina until 2023 and valued around €70-80million (£59-68m).

Commisso remains unwilling to part with the forward sensation, at least not until the end of the 2021-22 campaign as he urged Vlahovic to re-sign in Florencia.

"I have never put Vlahovic on the market and I offered him the biggest contract in the history of Fiorentina,” Commisso told TGR RAI Toscana.

"So he should sign the renewal and then we'll see what happens next year."

Vlahovic scored seven goals in 35 minutes during a pre-season fixture, while he netted twice in Fiorentina's 4-0 Coppa Italia rout of Cosenza last week.

"Vlahovic has never been put up for sale by Fiorentina, even if everything is happening around him with agents and the clubs that want to do deals in the final stages of the transfer session," Commisso added.

"It's therefore true that there is news 'about' Vlahovic, but the right offer has never arrived. And even if it did arrive, I don't think he will leave this season."

"Look, we're talking about a lot of money here, the biggest salary package ever offered by Fiorentina," he continued.

"I am happy for him, but he needs to extend this contract, then if the lad wants to go elsewhere, we can talk about it next year. But not now.

"He has to understand and recognise that it was Rocco, his family and Fiorentina who brought him to where he is now."

Vlahovic and Fiorentina open their Serie A campaign against Jose Mourinho's Roma on Sunday.

Borussia Monchengladbach are reluctant on selling Inter target Marcus Thuram, but sporting director Max Eberl fears they may have to do so with a "heavy heart".

Thuram has reportedly emerged as one of Inter's main candidates to partner new signing Edin Dzeko, following the departure of talisman Romelu Lukaku to Chelsea.

Atalanta striker Duvan Zapata was initially the man new head coach Simone Inzaghi was chasing, though his focus has changed to the France international after being priced out of a deal for the Colombian.

Eberl is concerned that, with no Champions League football on offer this term, the Bundesliga side may lose the 24-year-old to the Italian champions.

"I can't exclude anything until the transfer window shuts, so it's all speculation so far," Eberl told reporters in Germany.

"The fact is we would be extremely reluctant to lose Marcus, so we'd do it with a heavy heart."

Since Thuram arrived from Guingamp in 2019, only five players have played more than his 80 outings for Gladbach.

In the same period, only Alassane Plea (32), Florian Neuhaus (21) and Lars Stindl (21) have created more 'big' chances, defined by Opta, than Thuram's 20, while no player has recorded as many as his 78 shots on target.

Thuram has netted 25 goals – a feat only bettered by Stindl's 29 – and provided 13 assists, meaning he is joint-second with Plea for direct goal involvements, again behind Stindl (45).

 

While the forward has returned impressively in front of goal, he is known as more of a winger at Borussia-Park. He leads the charts for attempted dribbles by a long way with 266, completing just over half of those – Breel Embolo in second with 199.

Eberl said: "Marcus can score even more goals than he did last season.

"He has incredible potential, power and dynamism, so Thuram can do much more. Doing it at Gladbach is certainly a good move for him."

Reported Tottenham target Nikola Milenkovic has committed his future to Fiorentina by signing a contract extension until 2023.

The Serbia international had been widely linked to Spurs, Wolves and West Ham, with just a year left on his previous deal.

However, with Cristian Romero arriving to bolster Nuno Espirito Santo's squad and the other two Premier League clubs wary of finances, talks broke down and Milenkovic has signed a one-year extension.

Head coach Vincenzo Italiano will be delighted to have secured the defender's services for another term, given it seems fellow centre-back German Pezzella is on the brink of moving to Real Betis.

Milenkovic joined from Partizan in 2017 and has racked up 133 appearances across all competition for Fiorentina, scoring 11 goals during his four-year spell in Italy.

The 23-year-old has played the most minutes of any Viola player since his debut in December 2017 – his 11,696 way ahead of second-place Pezzella's 10,381.

In the same time period, no Fiorentina player has made more headed clearances (276), successful tackles (131) or won more duels (651) than Milenkovic, who ranks only 33 behind Pezzella in first place for interceptions with 190.

By comparison, among Serie A defenders, only Federico Fazio (377) and Berat Djimsiti (353) have succeeded in more aerial battles than Milenkovic (349) since his arrival in Italy.

Fiorentina have managed to tie down their star defensive asset and their chairman Rocco Commisso also outlined his desire to keep Spurs, Manchester City and Atletico Madrid target Dusan Vlahovic for at least one more season.

"I didn't put Vlahovic up for sale, on the contrary, we made him an important renewal proposal," Commisso told TGR Rai Toscana on Thursday.

"There are teams interested in him but I have not set prices. I want him to stay one more year.

"For the player – we remember – in the last hours the strong interest of Manchester City has also arrived, willing to offer over 70 million euros for him. The pressing of Atletico Madrid, on the other hand, seems weaker after the contacts last week."

Italiano is expected to name Milenkovic and Vlahovic, who netted twice in a 4-0 Coppa Italia first-round win over Cosenza last Friday, in his starting line-up for their Serie A opener away at Roma on Sunday.

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.

Simon Kjaer insisted he is "not a hero" for his quick-thinking actions to save Christian Eriksen, who collapsed after suffering a cardiac arrest in Denmark's Euro 2020 opener.

In concerning scenes in Copenhagen against Finland in June, Eriksen received CPR on the pitch with his team-mates forming a protective screen around him.

The Denmark midfielder has subsequently been fitted with a pacemaker and encouragingly returned to Inter's training ground in August – Eriksen's health being "the only thing that matters" to Kjaer.

Kjaer was one of the first to the scene and prevented Eriksen from swallowing his own tongue as he placed his team-mate into the recovery position.

The centre-back was hailed as a saviour but he told Corriere della Sera: "I'm not a hero, I just did what I had to do, without thinking, like anyone else would.

"Then what happened, happened. I was ready to remain lucid, like all my team-mates. It was a team effort, obviously we would have done the same if he had been an opponent.

"Instinct guided me, and I did what I had to, automatically. It was the first time this happened to me, I hope it’s the last, too.

"That’s all. The only thing that matters is that Christian is fine now. That's the only important thing. I did it without thinking."

It remains unclear if Eriksen will be able to play in Italy again due to the national restrictions on people playing with ICDs – a device connected to the heart to regulate abnormal rhythms.

However, Eriksen could feature in other European countries, as seen by the example of Daley Blind, who still features for Ajax despite an ICD fitting in 2019.

Kjaer's focus remains firmly on Serie A with Milan and, after Stefano Pioli credited the Denmark international as a leader, the Rossoneri fans want the defender to take the armband.

"We already have a captain and his name is [Alessandro] Romagnoli," the 32-year-old responded to questions over the captaincy.

"There is great harmony and sportiness between us. I don't care about the armband. I do my best always and in any case.

"There is harmony, unity [at Milan]. But above all there is a desire to work. Because without work, there is no improvement.

"A team like Milan has the duty to aim for the maximum. This is the only way to grow. I've never won a championship and I'd like to do it with Milan. [It] would be a dream."

Paris Saint-Germain's new goalkeeper Gianluigi Donnarumma believes he needed to move away from Milan to grow as a player.

Donnarumma left Milan upon the expiration of his contract at the end of June, subsequently joining Ligue 1 giants PSG on a free transfer.

The 22-year-old – who made his Milan debut at the age of 16 in 2015 – is one of five star recruits PSG have made this transfer window, with Sergio Ramos, Achraf Hakimi, Georginio Wijnaldium and, of course, Lionel Messi also arriving at the Parc des Princes to bolster an already remarkable squad.

After making 30 Serie A appearances in 2015-16, Donnarumma missed just five league games for Milan over the past five campaigns, establishing himself as one of the world's best goalkeepers.

He only helped his reputation at Euro 2020, playing a starring role as Italy won the competition – indeed, Donnarumma made two saves in the penalty shoot-out victory over England in the final on July 11.

While he awaits his PSG debut having only just resumed training following an extended break, Donnarumma revealed his reasons for leaving Milan.

"I spent eight years at Milan, it was my home, I experienced wonderful moments there," he told Corriere dello Sport.

"Milan still excites me today, I have great respect for the people who work there and for the fans. But life is made up of choices, we had different ambitions.

"I will always be a fan of Milan. Eight years are not forgotten, but I needed to change to grow, to improve and become the strongest. I felt the need for new spaces, for a new reality."

Donnarumma also insisted the decision to leave the Rossoneri was his alone, with agent Mino Raiola having little influence.

"There are decisions that have a maturity. I have always made my career choices alone, my family has always left me free and supported me," Donnarumma continued.

"Mino did the same. He respects the wishes of his clients 100 per cent, then of course he does everything to satisfy their requests. I left Milan and I had no contact with other teams, I swear, but I was sure that with a good Euros, someone would show up."

With three of their new additions, along with star names such as Marco Verratti, Neymar, Angel Di Maria and Marquinhos, yet to feature, PSG have nevertheless made a winning start to their first full Ligue 1 campaign under Mauricio Pochettino, though they did lose the Trophee des Champions to Lille, who won the top flight last term.

Donnarumma, though, knows PSG's true goal comes in the form of European glory.

"Last season, the team did not win Ligue 1 but the real objective is different – the Champions League," he said.

Donnarumma's switch to Paris does raise some questions, as PSG already had a superb goalkeeper in the form of Keylor Navas.

Both played 45 games in all competitions for their clubs last term, though Navas conceded 36 goals, 14 fewer than Donnarumma's tally of 50.

Donnarumma did face more shots (561 compared to 503), yet Navas' save percentage was still noticeably better – the former Real Madrid shot-stopper keeping out 79.55 per cent of the attempts he faced, in contrast to a rate of 68.55 from his new team-mate.

Navas saved three penalties, with Donnarumma making one save from a spot-kick, while the Italy international also made two errors leading to goals – his Costa Rican counterpart, on the other hand, made none.

In terms of distribution, the players are similar, with Donnarumma tallying up more passes (1,310) though with a slightly lower accuracy (79.08 per cent compared to Navas' 80.23 from 1,123 attempts).

On the subject of competing with such a high-quality goalkeeper for the number one shirt, Donnarumma said: "It's an additional motivation, something that fascinates me."

Juventus will pay Sassuolo nothing for new signing Manuel Locatelli until 2023.

The Serie A giants confirmed on Tuesday they had secured Italy midfielder Locatelli's services on a five-year deal, with a €25million fee cited.

However, the full details of the agreement show Juve effectively have Locatelli on a free for the next two years.

After that time, and if certain "sporting objectives are met", Juve will be obligated to pay the €25m over the following three years to retain his registration.

A further €12.5m will be payable if additional conditions are met.

Locatelli scored twice against Switzerland and made five appearances in Italy's Euro 2020 triumph.

Juve vice president Pavel Nedved revealed at the start of this month that the Turin giants had made what they considered to be an "appropriate offer" for Locatelli and they have now got their man.

Locatelli had the second-best goals-per-90-minute ratio of any Italy player (0.66) in Euro 2020 after Matteo Pessina (0.95).

This should have been a season for Inter fans to enjoy, on the back of a title triumph and with European football returning to some semblance of normality.

Instead, they have lost coach Antonio Conte, top scorer Romelu Lukaku and standout wing-back Achraf Hakimi. Talk of a Tottenham move for Lautaro Martinez – seemingly linked to Harry Kane's future – has not been ruled out entirely.

It leaves the reigning Serie A champions picking up the pieces, with the club's dire financial situation dampening hopes of a successful title defence.

Although there have also been new arrivals, Simone Inzaghi and a 35-year-old Edin Dzeko clearly are not in the same class as Conte and Lukaku.

Inter will be slightly different this season and it is highly likely they will be slightly worse for it.

Downgrade to Dzeko

In Lukaku, Inter have sold a player in his prime coming off his best campaign to date. In Dzeko, the Nerazzurri have brought in a veteran whose Serie A career just plunged to new depths.

Lukaku netted 24 times en route to Inter's Scudetto, while Dzeko's final year with Roma brought only seven league goals.

The Bosnia-Herzegovina international did play a mere 1,825 minutes, but it was his poor form while on the pitch that saw him limited to 20 starts despite featuring in 31 matchday squads.

Dzeko's shot conversion rate of 10 per cent was higher than in two of his seasons in the capital and only margainally lower than 2017-18's 10.5 per cent when he scored 16 times. The decreasing frequency of his attempts was an issue, managing just 3.5 shots per 90 minutes, a trough to contrast to the 2016-17 peak of 5.3.

Inter's new forward fell some way short of his expected goals (xG) total of 13.3 – a failing only partially explained by the expertise of opposition goalkeepers, who prevented 3.6 Dzeko goals according to expected goals on target (xGOT) data, which analyses the quality of the shot rather than the quality of the chance.

Lukaku, on the other hand, outstripped his xG figure of 23.8, even if his attempts were only worth 22.9 xGOT.

It is not only as a scorer that Dzeko slips below Lukaku's standards either. Chelsea's latest record buy was a creative force last term, providing 11 assists. Dzeko had three.

 

Indeed, Lukaku crafted a team-high 52 chances – or 9.4 per cent of Inter's 552 shots across the campaign – while Dzeko laid on 29 (5.3 per cent of Roma's attempts). Dzeko was more involved in build-up play than Lukaku, averaging 49.7 open play sequences per 90 to his predecessor's 44.4, but he could not match Lukaku in terms of passing accuracy (68.8 per cent), passing accuracy in the opposition half (64.8) or passing accuracy in the final third (58.5).

Unsurprisingly, the former Giallorossi favourite also cannot play at the same pace as Lukaku. Dzeko was involved in only six fast breaks to Lukaku's league-leading 17, although he did score twice from such situations. Roma were second in the league in this regard – behind Inter.

But even if the Nerazzurri do slow slightly with Dzeko in the side, his work in moving the ball up the field is still comparable to Lukaku's. He had more carries (7.9) and progressive carries (4.5) than Lukaku last term, while operating in the same ballpark for carry distance (92.6 metres), attempted dribbles (2.9) and completed dribbles (1.3) – all numbers per 90.

The percentage of his touches Dzeko took in the opposition box (17.3) tallied closely (18.3 per cent for Lukaku), too, with the previously prolific attacker's game peculiarly now suited to work away from goal.

An aerial force

As part of his link-up play, Dzeko offers a clear focal point. His 60.4 per cent success rate in aerial duels ranked fourth among Serie A forwards with 100 or more such tussles. Lukaku won only 42.9 per cent in a category led by Zlatan Ibrahimovic (65.7 per cent). Dzeko's 52 flick-ons also put him fourth.

But Dzeko's heading ability does also give Inter a greater threat inside the penalty area. The striker was joint-third for headed attempts (20, excluding blocks), with his 1.0 per 90 double Lukaku's 0.5. As with his feet, Dzeko was wasteful in this regard, scoring only one header while new Inter colleague Martinez nodded in four goals, but a greater sample size shows the danger he can pose. Since his 2015 Serie A debut, Dzeko leads the way for headed attempts (203, excluding blocks) and his 16 goals – making up 18.8 per cent of his total of 85 – are tied for third.

Dzeko therefore looks a good fit in an Inter side who last season topped the charts in succeeding with 24.6 per cent of their open play crosses, leading to a joint-high 92 headed shots and 14 headed goals.

Whether that crossing quality is still at the club is another matter.

Inter's wings clipped

Only nine defenders in Serie A last term attempted 100 crosses, but Hakimi, marauding up the right, was one of them. Within that select group, his crossing accuracy of 23.9 per cent ranked third – just ahead of Leonardo Spinazzola, another exciting wing-back and Dzeko's former Roma team-mate (23.5 per cent).

Hakimi's departure for Paris Saint-Germain robs Inter of that quality and the 36 chances he created. There is pressure on Denzel Dumfries, a €12.5million recruit, to fill that void. He created 41 chances in the Eredivisie last season, yet only five of his 50 crosses were successful.

That ability to deliver from wide positions is merely one of Hakimi's array of attributes, too, with the €60m man carrying the ball 22.7 metres further per 90 than Dumfries while also contributing a goal or assist every 178.1 minutes, compared to the Netherlands international's 308.5 minutes.

 

Inter should at least have increased creativity from midfield, where free signing Hakan Calhanoglu offers an upgrade on the recuperating Christian Eriksen. Calhanoglu, playing for rivals Milan, had league highs in chances created (98) and chances created from set-pieces (50) in 2020-21. Milan led Serie A in goals from set-pieces (16, excluding penalties), but Inter ranked joint-fourth (16) and will surely now improve.

Trying to run it back

If mixed results are anticipated from direct replacements for Lukaku, Hakimi and Eriksen, those moves at least indicate some unlikely joined-up thinking in spite of the chaotic nature of this off-season. Inzaghi's appointment also suggests Inter plan to change little from last season, even with the numerous notable departures.

Like Conte and Inter, Inzaghi's Lazio consistently lined up with a 3-5-2 formation in 2020-21, with their approaches also not dissimilar.

Lazio's press was a little more aggressive, allowing 11.6 passes per defensive action to Inter's 12.8 and also engaging in more pressed sequences (543) despite having slightly more possession (52.9 per cent) than Inter (52.0 per cent). Lazio also scored eight goals from high turnovers.

However, between the replacement of a speedy Lukaku with a slower Dzeko and Inter's pre-existing preference for build-up attacks (119) over direct attacks (80), Inzaghi's playing style might have to be a little more patient this term, even if the new number nine's physical presence will give them an outlet.

These are minor tweaks, though, that should mean Inzaghi can adapt to Inter or Inter to Inzaghi.

Defending champions have rarely had it so tough when preparing for a new campaign, but Inter have done all they can to ensure a new-look side can continue to find success.

Kylian Mbappe's future continues to dominate headlines.

The Paris Saint-Germain forward is out of contract at the end of 2021-22 and no closer to re-signing in the French capital.

Real Madrid are reportedly holding onto hope of securing his services before the end of the transfer window.

 

TOP STORY – MADRID STILL DREAMING OF MBAPPE

Real Madrid have not given up on signing Paris Saint-Germain's Kylian Mbappe, according to the front page of Thursday's Diario AS.

Mbappe is into the final year of his PSG contract and while he has been tipped to make the move to Madrid, he has reportedly told friends he will remain in Paris.

However, LaLiga powerhouses Madrid – also linked with Borussia Dortmund forward Erling Haaland – believe it is a strategy to secure a friendly exit from PSG.

 

ROUND-UP

Manchester United are interested in Monaco defensive midfielder Aurelien Tchouameni, say reporters Sacha Tavolieri and Jonathan Shrager. United have also been linked with Rennes sensation Eduardo Camavinga, who is reportedly wanted by PSG and Madrid.

- RB Leipzig star Marcel Sabitzer is interested in a move to Bundesliga rivals Bayern Munich, claims Bild.

- Goal and widespread reports say Arsenal are close to signing Martin Odegaard from Madrid. Odegaard spent six months on loan at Arsenal last season.

Duvan Zapata is Inter's priority signing, according to Calciomercato. Despite signing Edin Dzeko and Denzel Dumfries after Romelu Lukaku's, the Serie A champions are eyeing the Atlanta forward. Borussia Monchengladbach's Marcus Thuram, Joaquin Correa of Lazio, Torino forward Andrea Belotti and Wolfsburg's Wout Weghorst are other options.

- Italian journalist Sara Meini reports Manchester City are stepping up their pursuit of Fiorentina forward Dusan Vlahovic amid their struggle to prise Harry Kane from Tottenham. Atletico Madrid and Spurs have also been linked with Vlahovic.

Juventus are nearing a deal to re-sign Miralem Pjanic from Barcelona, according to Mundo Deportivo. Juve, according to Di Marzio, are also listening to offers for Weston McKennie.

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