Inter 7 Atalanta 1: Hat-tricks for Icardi and Banega in stunning triumph

Stefano Pioli’s Inter were in rampant form as Mauro Icardi and Ever Banega netted hat-tricks in a 7-1 evisceration of Atalanta in Serie A.

Mauro Icardi netted a perfect nine-minute hat-trick before Ever Banega added a treble of his own as Inter demolished Atalanta 7-1 at San Siro.
Stefano Pioli’s men are up to fourth in the Serie A table having started the day behind their visitors in the standings – making the yawning gulf in class on the field all the more remarkable.
Inter captain Icardi has been a polarising figure for his club and back in his Argentine homeland but he lapped up the adoration as it rained goals in Milan, leapfrogging Edin Dzeko, Gonzalo Higuain and Dries Mertens in the race for the Capocannoniere in the process.
He opened the scoring from close range, left-footed in the 17th minute, before winning and converting a 23rd-minute penalty.
A 26th-minute header brought up 20 top-flight goals for Icardi this season and, having floated in the corner for Inter’s third, Banega then stunningly helped himself to a first-half brace.
Switzerland Under-21 midfielder Remo Freuler’s solo effort offered brief punctuation to an exercise in unrelenting pain for Gian Piero Gasperini’s team, previously so impressive this season, before ex-Atalanta man Roberto Gagliardini added a sixth and Banega arrowed in a superb free-kick.
Atalanta actually started brightly, captain Alejandro Gomez drilling wide with Inter goalkeeper Samir Handanovic rooted to the spot, before their afternoon unravelled spectacularly.
Inter were furious to see Rafael Toloi only booked for bringing down Icardi as he bore down on goal but revenge would be swiftly and brutally exacted.
From the resulting free-kick, Ivan Perisic’s shot punctured a disorganised defensive wall and fell invitingly for Icardi to sweep home.
The Argentinian latched on to Perisic’s flick-on and was sent tumbling by Etrit Berisha before picking himself up to nonchalantly beat the cautioned goalkeeper with a penalty chipped high into the net.
Icardi completed a hat-trick clocking in at nine minutes and 13 seconds when he was left free to power home Banega’s corner at the near post.

3 – #Icardi has scored the fastest hat-trick (26th minute) for a Inter player in Serie A since Lorenzi (October 1947, 18th minute). History.
— OptaPaolo (@OptaPaolo) March 12, 2017

Playmaker Banega then took his turn to cash in on the defensive mayhem, delaying his run to slam home Antonio Candreva’s cutback. When Candreva weaved through beleaguered opponents in the 34th minute, Banega repeated the trick.
Freuler offered a belated response as he cut into the Inter penalty area to net a fine individual goal – scant consolation three minutes from the end of an utterly shambolic half from his Atalanta team-mates.
Gagliardini was one of their number as recently as January but the 22-year-old, who never scored in Atalanta colours, displayed no mercy and the composure of a veteran when he collected Banega’s pass to crash into the top corner after 52 minutes.
Gomez was denied by Handanovic as Atalanta passed the minutes of their ordeal by searching for a second consolation, but Banega clipped a 67th-minute free-kick past the embattled Berisha for his hat-trick.

67: 7-1!!! This is unbelievable! @Ever10Banega strokes him a free-kick for to get himself a hat-trick too! #InterAtalanta 7-1
— F.C. Internazionale (@Inter_en) March 12, 2017

Having ended February with a dispiriting 3-1 home loss to Roma, Pioli can reflect with much satisfaction as his players bettered their bounce-back 5-1 win at Cagliari last weekend – emphatic form that means clawing back a five-point deficit to the top three should not be ruled out entirely, although third-placed Roma do face Palermo later on Sunday.
Banega and Icardi departed to standing ovations, with a trip to Torino next on their agenda, while Gasperini must encourage a team that beat Napoli only two weeks ago to regroup when they host Pescara.
Key Opta stats:

– Icardi has been directly involved in 28 Serie A goals this season (20 goals, 8 assists), the most in the current campaign.
– Carlos Bacca – for AC Milan v Torino – is the only other man to score a perfect hat-trick in Serie A this season.
– Inter scored five first-half goals for the first time since 1964 (v Sampdoria).
– Atalanta conceded five goals in the first half for the first time in their Serie A history.
– Atalanta conceded seven goals in a Serie A match for the first time since losing 7-2 to the same opponents in 1990.
– Two Inter players scored hat-tricks in the same match for the first time since 1933.
– Inter scored seven goals from eight shots on target.

VIDEO: Kovacic scores rabona in Madrid training

The Croatia international has been in fine form for Zinedine Zidane’s side in recent weeks, and he looks in great touch ahead of the weekend

Move over, Cristiano Ronaldo – we have a new king of the training ground at Real Madrid!

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Mateo Kovacic may not be the first man in Zinedine Zidane’s squad to be associated with flashy feats of footwork, but his spectacular skillset was there for all to see at Valdebebas on Friday.

The Croatia international picked out the bottom corner of the net from near the edge of the penalty area with an inch-perfect rabona strike – one that even moved hard-as-nails Pepe to reward him with a high five.

Everyone loves to see a rabona ! WAT #HalaMadrid

— Real Madrid C.F. (@realmadriden) February 24, 2017

It is a sign, perhaps, of Kovacic’s growing confidence this season under Zidane, and a few more moments like that might just be enough to see the 22-year-old handed a start in Sunday’s key La Liga trip to Villarreal.

VIDEO: Isco turns on the style in Real Madrid training

The Spain international has been showcasing his finishing skills, with a sublime dink helping him to catch the eye of manager Zinedine Zidane

Real Madrid’s stars have been readying themselves for a Sunday showdown with Villarreal by turning on the style on the training field.

Zinedine Zidane’s side will be looking to offer a positive response to a midweek defeat to Valencia and cement their standing at the top of La Liga.

That reversal does not appear to have knocked the confidence of those at Santiago Bernabeu, with creative talents looking to catch the eye of their boss.

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Isco has not always been a regular for Madrid this season, but his ability remains without question.

Zidane will have noted his efforts in training this week, with the Spain international producing a sublime dink and finish.

Mateo Kovacic has also been showcasing his finishing skills with an impudent rabona.

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Real could have been knocked off the La Liga summit by the time they take to the field on Sunday, but victory over Villarreal will ensure that they end the weekend in top spot.

I have no doubt Modric is the world's best – Srna

The former Croatia captain holds the Real Madrid midfielder in high regard and says believes the European champions would have trouble without him

Real Madrid star Luka Modric has reached his peak and is the finest midfielder in the world, according to compatriot Darijo Srna.
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Modric has won two Champions Leagues, two Club World Cups and the Copa del Rey among a host of honours since moving to the Spanish capital in 2012.

The 31-year-old was rewarded with a new contract lasting until 2020 last October and was named in the FIFPro World XI last month for his performances during 2016.

And former Croatia captain Srna, who retired from international football after Euro 2016, says the ex-Tottenham star has no equal in his position.

“Modric is beyond just a friend, he’s the best midfielder in the world right now,” he told Marca. “I have no doubts; I’m not saying that he is one of the best, I affirm that he is the best.

“Luka has grown over the years, I think he is now at his peak. Since he arrived he has been improving with the team. Real Madrid are having a great run of results, but without Luka they would have problems.”

Srna also backed Mateo Kovacic to develop into a leading player for Madrid after an inconsistent first 18 months at the Santiago Bernabeu.

“I’m sure he will do well because he’s an incredible talent,” he said. “I adore him. Although he has grown a lot as a player, he has not yet realised his potential… but he will eventually.

“He is the future of Madrid. He needs time because in just three years he has gone from Dinamo Zagreb to play at Inter and Real Madrid.”
Ivan Rakitic’s form has been the subject of criticism at Barcelona this season and his future was cast into doubt when he was dropped from the team by Luis Enrique at the end of last year.

Srna, however, insists he will prove his value to the champions.

“Rakitic has demonstrated his quality many times and scored a goal in the Champions League final!” he said. “I am sure he will work hard to get back to [his] best level. I trust Rakitic very much.”

Srna himself rejected the chance to join Barca in order to stay at Shakhtar Donetsk and he is not interested in discussing the prospect of a move.

“I do not talk about those rumours, Shakhtar is my club, my love, my life,” the 34-year-old said.

'You just can't boo him' – Kovacic defends Ronaldo after more Bernabeu jeers

The Portuguese forward and his team-mates were targeted by the Real Madrid boo-boys as the La Liga leaders ran out 3-0 winners over Real Sociedad

Mateo Kovacic praised Real Madrid’s supporters but leapt to the defence of team-mate Cristiano Ronaldo, who was subjected to boos by the Santiago Bernabeu crowd.

Despite pre-match calls for unity in the Spanish capital, Ronaldo and Co. were targeted by the Madrid boo-boys as the La Liga leaders ran out 3-0 winners over Real Sociedad on Sunday.

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Four-time Ballon d’Or winner Ronaldo shrugged off the hostile home crowd to score a goal and set up Kovacic as Madrid moved four points clear of reigning champions Barcelona and Sevilla.

“The fans were really good and were our twelfth man. We have to thank them for that,” Kovacic said.

“As for Ronaldo, he’s under a lot of pressure and that’s to be expected.

“A player who gets a goal every game is under a lot of pressure, but you just can’t boo him.”

Kovacic was lively throughout at the Bernabeu, scoring his first Liga goal of the season as he opened the scoring seven minutes prior to half-time.

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After being set up by Ronaldo, the Croatian midfielder then turned provider for the Portugal captain six minutes into the second half, before Alvaro Morata sealed the victory.

“It was a very important game and we managed to get the three points. The team did very well and we must continue on in this vein,” said Kovacic.

“Whenever you score it always makes you happy, but the most important thing is that we got the win and put three more points on the board. I got a goal and provided an assist and I’ve now go to keep going and prove that I can play for Real Madrid.”

Lucas Vazquez calf tear confirmed

Zinedine Zidane will be without the winger and Mateo Kovacic when Real Madrid host Sevilla in the Copa del Rey, with the recovery times of both players to be assessed

Real Madrid have confirmed Lucas Vazquez suffered a calf tear at the Club World Cup and have not put a timeframe on his recovery.

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Lucas played both of Madrid’s matches in Japan but was replaced nine minutes from the end of normal time in the final, which saw Zinedine Zidane’s men beat Kashima Antlers 4-2 in extra time.

The winger will now undergo treatment on his grade two calf injury ahead of Madrid’s return to competitive action against Sevilla in the Copa del Rey on January 4.
A club statement read: “Following the tests carried out on Lucas Vazquez in the Sanitas la Moraleja University Hospital, the player has been diagnosed with a grade two injury to his right soleus muscle, an injury he picked up at the Club World Cup.

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“His recovery will continue to be assessed.”

In addition, Mateo Kovacic has been diagnosed with a sprained ankle and his recovery will also be monitored.

Lucas has scored one goal in 23 appearances for Madrid this season, while Kovacic has made 18 outings with the same goal return.

Kovacic wants to stay at Real Madrid – agent

The midfielder has no intention of leaving Los Blancos and is determined to fight for a place in the first team this season, according to his representative Nikky Vuksan

Mateo Kovacic has no intention of leaving Real Madrid and is determined to fight for a place in the first team this season, according his agent Nikky Vuksan.

The Croatia international, 22, struggled to nail down a starting berth at the club last season and has therefore been linked with a move away from La Liga ahead of the 2016-17 campaign.

However, Kovacic’s representative has made it clear the midfielder does not want to quit Madrid just a year after he joined the Spanish giants from Inter.

“I have not spoken to the club, there is no need,” Vuksan told Sportske Novosti.

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“Right now he is fighting for his place in the team, as is the case with every player except Cristiano [Ronaldo], who is the only one who has a guaranteed place in the first XI.

“There are always rumours at this time of year but Kovacic is a Madrid player, his manager [Zinedine Zidane] has faith in him and he helps him and supports him.

“Every player has to prove their worth to find a place in the team and at Real Madrid it is even more difficult.”

Kovacic’s contract with Madrid runs until June 2021.

RUMOURS: Liverpool have the edge in Kovacic race

The Reds are reportedly ready to purchase the out-of-favour Real Madrid outright as they enter the chase, while the Serie A clubs also in pursuit would prefer a loan-to-buy deal

Liverpool have joined the race to sign Mateo Kovacic and could have an advantage on their rivals, according to Sky Sport Italia.
Juventus, Roma and AC Milan have all been credited with interest in the Real Madrid midfielder, but the Serie A clubs want a loan-to-buy deal whereas the Reds are willing to purchase him outright – a deal which the Champions League winners would prefer.
Kovacic only joined Madrid in August, making a €31 million (£24.3m) switch from Inter, but has struggled to make an impression at the Santiago Bernabeu and is expected to leave this summer.


Real Madrid ready to sell cut-price flop Kovacic

The 22-year-old has failed to make an impact after a €29 million move from Inter last summer and Zinedine Zidane is prepared to make a loss, with Roma signalling their interest

EXCLUSIVEReal Madrid are prepared to make a loss on Mateo Kovacic as the European champions look to offload the youngster, Goal understands.The 22-year-old arrived from Inter for a fee of €29 million less than 12 months ago, but has struggled to make an impact after two-and-a-half stellar seasons in Serie A.Kovacic was afforded just eight Liga starts after failing to impress both Rafael Benitez and Zinedine Zidane and Madrid are now prepared to accept offers of €25m for the Croatia international.Roma have made contact over a possible deal for Kovacic, as they look to replace new Juventus signing Miralem Pjanic, but a deal is far from done.There are concerns at the Bernabeu that Roma could be playing up interest in the midfielder as a ruse to lower the demands for No.1 target Alexis Witsel of Zenit.Witsel, who has just one year remaining on his contract, has gone public with his desire to leave the Russian giants with a reported €20m price tag placed on his head.RUMOURS | Real offer €120m plus Kroos for Pogba “I want to try a new experience in a different League, a new challenge,” Witsel said. “I hope to step up a level and play in a big European club.”My future could be in Italy or in England. It doesn’t matter if I go to Serie A or the Premier League, as long as it’s a big club.”

Milan were thwarted with a January bid for the Belgian, while Ronald Koeman has been linked with interest as he begins his tenure as Everton manager.