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Spalletti lauds Chelsea target Nainggolan as Roma battle on


Milan (AFP) – Roma coach Luciano Spalletti has given Chelsea fans the lowdown on “warrior-like” midfielder Radja Nainggolan as speculation of a summer move to the Premier League giants mounts in Italy.

Roma midfielder Nainggolan is said to be among the players at the top of Antonio Conte’s shopping list as the incumbent Italy coach prepares to take over at Stamford Bridge following Euro 2016.

Unconfirmed reports even claimed Nainggolan and Conte held a secret meeting at a luxury hotel this week, less than a month after Roma sporting director Walter Sabatini was pictured outside Chelsea’s HQ in London.

In what could be his third and final season with Roma, Nainggolan has been crucial for the Giallorossi’s bid to snatch the league’s second automatic Champions League qualifying spot from Napoli.

Ahead of Sunday’s visit of Chievo and before Napoli face Torino later in the day, Roma are only two points in arrears.

Spalletti, who has seen Nainggolan flourish after he was moved into a more attacking midfield role in recent months, has only praise to offer the Belgian.

“Nainggolan is like a warrior when he plays, he wins back possession from the opposition before they get a chance to settle on the ball, he loves doing that,” Spalletti told Roma Radio on Thursday.

“He’s in his element, he goes for every ball and turns things over when pressing up high. He definitely creates problems. He has to get back to cover, though, to give us extra numbers in midfield.”

– Toni bows out –

With a fifth consecutive title in the bag for Juventus, the champions’ feat is expected to be eclipsed at already-relegated Verona on Sunday when fans will pay tribute to veteran striker Luca Toni, who will play the final game of his long career.

Toni, a World Cup winner in 2006, has scored a total of 156 Serie A goals for eight different clubs throughout a storied career that also saw him star for Bayern Munich and become the Bundesliga’s top scorer in the 2007/08 season.

As Verona prepare for the drop, he said: “After so many years of playing football, 22 in the professional ranks, I think the time has arrived for me to say goodbye.

“We’ve had a terrible year and for me, mentally, I think I’ve come to the end.”

Juventus, looking to extend their unbeaten run to 27 games, sit 12 points ahead of Napoli, whose only concern now is securing direct Champions League qualification.

A win in Sunday’s early game would see Roma, runners-up in the past two seasons under former coach Rudi Garcia, heap the pressure on Maurizio Sarri’s men before their meeting with a fired-up Torino.

Beating the ‘Granata’ at the Stadio Olimpico is never a straightforward affair and in their final home game of the season Giampiero Ventura’s men have reason to feel inspired.

On Wednesday, 13,000 fans accompanied the squad to the top of Superga, the hill overlooking the city where the ‘Grande Torino’ side of the post-war years perished in a plane crash on May 4, 1949.

Meanwhile, Inter Milan can secure fourth spot and a place in the Europa League with a win at home to Empoli, although coach Roberto Mancini has demanded vast improvements after last week’s 2-0 defeat at Lazio, where his strikers misfired.

“We got the final ball wrong too many times because we just didn’t have that killer instinct in the danger zone,” Mancini lamented last week.

Struggling rivals AC Milan, meanwhile, travel to Bologna looking to end their nightmare start under new coach Cristian Brocchi, who has collected just five points from a possible 12.

Already a point behind Sassuolo in the battle for Europa League qualification, defeat on Saturday would likely leave the seven-time European champions needing to beat Juve in the Cup final to secure entry to the second-tier competition.

Fixtures (times GMT)

Saturday

Inter v Empoli (1600), Bologna v AC Milan (1845)

Sunday

Roma v Chievo (1030), Atalanta v Udinese, Carpi v Lazio, Fiorentina v Palermo, Frosinone v Sassuolo, Sampdoria v Genoa (all 1300), Verona v Juventus, Torino v Napoli (both 1845)

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