STADIO GIUSEPPE MEAZZA (Milan) – Inter are once again leaders in the race for a Champions League spot in Serie A as their 2-0 victory over Lecce took them to second, also reducing the gap from leaders Napoli to 15 points.
Henrikh Mkhitaryan performed the most complicated task of the night by finding the breakthrough against a compact Giallorossi rearguard seconds before the half-hour mark and the rest was plain sailing for the hosts. They added a second through Lautaro Martinez after the break and needed to do little to stop an opponent who lost their initial spark too soon.
With the fight for a Champions League spot becoming increasingly competitive with every passing matchday, the home meeting against a tricky Lecce was one of paramount importance for Inter, who had the chance to restore a three-point gap over AC Milan and leapfrog Lazio.
Mkhitaryan’s opener overcomes Lecce’s resistance
Lecce’s organisation and wise occupation of spaces forced several mistakes in the opening stages, as the Nerazzurri struggled to find a free man and barely had the time to take one touch on the ball before being pressed by their opponents.
Even weakened by Federico Baschirotto’s absence, the Giallorossi’s rearguard gave further proof of their solidity and cleared every danger coming from the flanks with impressive composure.
It was no coincidence then that Inter’s only real opportunities of the first half came when they could outnumber the visitors by bringing more players forward through quick combinations – the first of them saw Denzel Dumfries throwing a potentially lethal counter away as he delayed the timing of the final pass, but the outcome was different when the hosts attacked down the opposite wing.
It all started with brilliant anticipation from Robin Gosens, who benefitted from two consecutive flicks from Calhanoglu and Lautaro Martinez to cut open Lecce’s defence and whip in a cross that Nicolò Barella controlled with composure, before laying the ball off to Mkhitaryan who effortlessly slotted it home.
Lautaro Martinez seals Inter’s comfortable win
Less than 10 minutes into the second half, Dumfries took the chance to make up for his sloppy opening 45 minutes as a distracted visitors’ defence allowed him to put in a precise cross that Martinez turned home in his usual fashion, through a stunning first-time attempt that went in at the near post.
Trailing by two goals, much of Lecce’s initial liveliness and excitement seemed to fade, in tune with the voice of their supporters, whose chants became rarer and rarer. On the other side, a relieved and confident Inter started to move the ball around with ease and push for a third, the best possible way to keep the visitors away from their box.
In the end, it was not even needed as Simone Inzaghi took the chance to give the likes of Roberto Gagliardini and Danilo D’Ambrosio more playing time, while Romelu Lukaku and Marcelo Brozovic also came on to give Martinez and Mkhitaryan some rest with a view to a tight game schedule, including the Champions League’s second-leg against Porto in less than 10 days.