ROME (Reuters) – No Lukaku, no problem.
Inter Milan have begun their Serie A title defence in free-scoring form, despite selling their top scorer from last season.
While Juventus struggle in the absence of Cristiano Ronaldo, the Italian champions have had no such trouble, netting 18 goals in five league games before Saturday’s clash with Atalanta.
New Inter coach Simone Inzaghi was handed a complicated situation when he replaced Antonio Conte in the close season.
Striker Romelu Lukaku and influential wing-back Achraf Hakimi were sold to Chelsea and Paris St-Germain respectively, while Christian Eriksen suffered a cardiac arrest playing for Denmark at Euro 2020 with his future in the game unclear.
That left many tipping Juve to reclaim the title, but after five games, Inzaghi’s side are eight points clear at the top.
Inter have earned four wins and a draw in style while 13th-placed Juve have struck five goals in four league games since Ronaldo joined Manchester United at the end of August.
Only Bayern Munich, with 20 goals, boasted a better scoring record than Inter in Europe’s top five leagues after five rounds of matches.
The variety of Inter’s goals has also stood out. The champions have spread the load between 11 players and eight strikes have been supplied by close-season signings Edin Dzeko, Joaquin Correa, Hakan Calhanoglu and Federico Dimarco.
“I’m lucky enough to be at a club that lost three important pieces in Lukaku, Hakimi and Eriksen and did not lose heart,” Inzaghi said.
“We worked hard and brought in important and functional players. We have had four wins and a draw and now all the talk is about Inter, unlike in the summer.”
Inter next face Atalanta at San Siro in their first clash with one of last season’s top four.
The Bergamo club have long been known as the most entertaining team in Serie A, but they have started the season looking uncharacteristically blunt in front of goal.
Gian Piero Gasperini’s side have scored six times in the league so far and miss the clinical Luis Muriel who is injured.
“I think some of our problems have been ones of sharpness, because we keep making simple errors, like passes and lay-offs,” Gasperini said.
On Sunday, the Rome Derby promises to provide fireworks as AS Roma’s Jose Mourinho and Lazio coach Maurizio Sarri lock horns for the first time with their new clubs.
Roma began the season in superb form, winning six games in all competitions before a defeat by Hellas Verona at the weekend, while Lazio are on a three-game streak without a victory in all competitions.
Both sides can return to winning ways on Thursday though when Roma host Udinese and Lazio travel to Torino.
Elsewhere this weekend, unbeaten AC Milan, level on 13 points with Inter, travel to Spezia on Saturday, while Juve host Sampdoria on Sunday when third-placed Napoli, a point off the pace ahead of their visit to Samp on Thursday, host Cagliari.
(Reporting by Alasdair Mackenzie; Editing by Ken Ferris)