Inter confirmed that their Serie A title defence was alive and well with Saturday’s straight-forward 2-0 win over Verona which took them to within a point of leaders AC Milan.
First-half goals from Nicolo Barella and Edin Dzeko in front of around 60,000 fans at a sun-dappled San Siro made sure that the champions built on their morale-boosting win at Juventus last weekend by moving into second place.
Inter are level on 66 points with Napoli, who host Fiorentina on Sunday, but ahead of Luciano Spalletti’s side in the table thanks to their superior head-to-head record.
Milan meanwhile are at Torino in Sunday’s late match with their two main title rivals breathing down their necks and seven rounds of fixtures to be completed in an enthralling race for the Scudetto.
“This win has given us some continuity after Turin and although there is still some way to go I saw some good signs out there,” said Inter coach Simone Inzaghi to DAZN.
“We told ourselves that we needed to win otherwise Turin would have been worth nothing and we did it against a team who are very difficult to play against… They’ve made it difficult for a lot of teams.”
The only worry for Inzaghi was a thigh problem for Stefan de Vrij which forced the Netherlands defender off at half-time on his return from a month out with a calf injury, although the coach said it shouldn’t be anything serious.
Verona have never won at the San Siro against either Inter or Milan and were suffocated in a first half which reminded Inter fans why their team were strong favourites for the title right up until early February, when they were four points clear having played one game fewer than their rivals.
They still have that game in hand, at Bologna later this month, and will have been further boosted by the way they beat one of the league’s most troublesome teams.
Juve bounce back
Italy midfielder Barella gave the hosts a deserved lead in the 22nd minute, nipping in at the back post to poke home a beautifully clipped cross from Ivan Perisic.
Eight minutes later Croatia winger Perisic then laid on Dzeko’s 13th Serie A goal for Inter by flicking Federico Dimarco’s corner for the Bosnian to tap home from from practically on the goal line.
Goalkeeper Samir Handanovic then made sure that Inter went in at the break two ahead by charging out to stop Giovanni Simeone from scoring his 17th league goal of the season.
From there the home side shut up shop and left the stage for Napoli and Milan to have their say in another eventful weekend.
Four points behind Inter in fourth are Juve who came back from a goal down to win 2-1 at relegation-threatened Cagliari thanks to Matthijs de Ligt and Dusan Vlahovic.
Dutchman De Ligt levelled the scores on the stroke of half-time in Sardinia after Joao Pedro had given the hosts a shock 10th minute lead and a previous Juve equaliser was ruled out for an odd handball.
Luca Pellegrini’s 23rd minute shot clipped off Adrien Rabiot’s left elbow while the Frenchman’s back was turned and flew past Cagliari goalkeeper Alessio Cragno only for the VAR officials to disallow the goal.
Giorgio Chiellini then had his close-range finish rightly chalked off for offside just after the restart before Vlahovic got the better of the impressive Cragno with 15 minutes remaining.
The Serbia forward toed in his 22nd league goal of the campaign to move top of the Serie A scoring charts.
Juve are now eight points ahead of fifth-placed Roma and in place to take advantage of a any slips from Milan or Napoli.