STADIO GIUSEPPE MEAZZA (Milan) – Inter were made to sweat by Udinese as they risked losing their way in the second half before going on to earn a 3-1 win that sees them cement their place in the Serie A table.
Romelu Lukaku opened the scoring from the penalty spot with his second league goal of the season but the hosts were pegged back before the break by Sandi Lovric, who forced a chaotic second half that saw Henrikh Mkhitaryan break the balance less than 20 minutes from time, before Lautaro Martinez added a third in the closing minutes.
Samir Handanovic’s return between the posts and as Inter captain was the most controversial choice of the night from Inzaghi, who also rotated some of his key players, keeping Lautaro Martinez and Skriniar on the bench.
Lukaku’s opener gave Inter false hope of an easy win
With Napoli flying 18 points clear atop of Serie A before kick off, there was a real opportunity for Inter to shift their focus to their upcoming Champions League fixture against Porto before time, but the opening stages saw the Nerazzurri try to keep away distractions with a positive approach, as they moved the ball nicely from the back to create spaces up front.
A direct ball from Nicolò Barella did the job and allowed Lukaku to cross inches from the byline, forcing a clearance from Rodrigo Becao that had Denzel Dumfries stand on the ball first before Walace’s foul.
Referee Federico Dionisi needed a VAR check to be certain of the foul and he then awarded a penalty to the hosts. With Martinez on the bench, Lukaku went from the spot and had goalkeeper Marco Silvestri to thank for moving off the goal line before saving his first, weak attempt, giving the Belgian a second chance to smash the ball into the bottom corner and put Inter ahead.
While the Bianconeri did little in the opening 45 minutes, it was enough to keep the contest open and hurt the Nerazzurri with their very first chance of the night, as the hosts lost the ball with seven of their players in the opponents’ half. A lethal counter was rounded off by Lovric, who made no mistake by sending the ball past Handanovic.
Mkhitaryan and Lautaro strike late in lively second-half
It was a discouraging blow for an Inter side that were probably hoping to sail through the second half, given the lack of threat from their rivals until that point, but the Nerazzurri looked motivated to roll up their sleeves and calmly corner Udinese after the break.
The passing of minutes gave the Bianconeri the sense that their strategy was working. Like in their previous draw at Sampdoria, Inzaghi’s men seemed to lack the offensive spark needed to break through, while the visitors’ counter-attacks started to look more and more dangerous.
Inter’s pressure increased as Hakan Calkhanoglu and Martinez were introduced, but it was Edin Dzeko who wasted the biggest chance of the game for the hosts when he was found one-on-one against the goalkeeper by Mkhitaryan but shot straight at the goalkeeper.
In the growingly chaotic final minutes, Udinese had the opportunity to equalise through Isaac Success but, despite being five against three, they threw the counter away and immediately paid for their mistake. Denzel Dumfries’ clearance inches from the goal line sparked an immediate break for Inter, with Federico Dimarco playing a cross that Mkhitaryan volleyed into the far corner.
There was time for yet another blatant mistake from the hosts, as Martinez wasted the chance to put the game to bed by sending his chip over the bar, just seconds before making amends for it with his 13th Serie A goal of the season, wrapping up a win that saw Inter restore their three-point gap over third-placed AC Milan.