Inter Milan survived a late scare and depleted resources to win 3-2 at Udinese and maintain their four-point lead at the top of Serie A on Sunday.
AC Milan beat Atalanta 3-1 at home thanks to a brace from Brazilian Pato to remain second but third-placed AS Roma dropped two points in a 2-2 draw at Napoli, despite having led 2-0.
Inter travelled to the north east with coach Jose Mourinho and four players suspended, forcing the Portuguese to play two midfielders in defence.
If ever Inter were going to be stopped this season, this match appeared to be their most likely banana skin.
Centre-backs Walter Samuel and Ivan Cordoba were suspended and left-back Davide Santon injured while another defender, Marco Materazzi, was only fit enough for the bench.
It meant midfielders Javier Zanetti and Thiago Motta had to play in a re-shuffled back four while the midfield had an unfamiliar look with Kenya’s McDonald Mariga making his first start for the club as Esteban Cambiasso and Muntari Sulley were both injured.
And just 72 seconds in it seemed as if Inter were going to pay for their troubles as Udinese crafted an excellent goal with Serie A top scorer Antonio Di Natale’s clever little pass putting in Simone Pepe behind the make-shift defence to shoot past goalkeeper Julio Cesar — although it was regular right-back Maicon who was at fault in failing to track Pepe’s run.
If anyone thought Inter would be rocking, they would be sadly disappointed as on six minutes the champions were level when Mario Balotelli took a pass from Maicon and hit the bouncing ball from 22 yards as he slipped only to catch it sweetly, leaving Samir Handanovic unsighted in the Udinese goal.
Inter’s second was simply stunning as Maicon fed Diego Milito wide on the right and he played it inside to Goran Pandev who flicked the ball over the defence for Maicon to continue his charge into the area and lash home a fierce volley from eight yards into the top corner, giving Handanovic no chance.
On the stroke of half-time Inter left no doubt as to their dominance as Wesley Sneijder played the ball out to Balotelli on the left and his brilliant in-swinging cross found Milito running across the defence to glance home a header from seven yards.
Udinese pulled a goal back on 52 minutes through Di Natale from the spot but although they pushed hard they couldn’t find the equaliser.
They came closest with the last kick of the game but Swiss international Gokhan Inler’s deflected effort hit Julio Cesar’s bar.
Milan had a largely comfortable afternoon thanks to Pato’s two first half strikes.
On the half hour Ronaldinho’s back heel freed captain Massimo Ambrosini down the left and he crossed for Pato whose volley bounced over goalkeeper Andrea Consigli’s mis-timed dive.
Ronaldinho turned provider again as his delectable in swinging cross found Pato on the edge of the six yard box and as the young forward took the ball around Consigli, Thomas Manfredini slid in to tackle him only to clear the ball off the Brazilian’s knee and in.
Atalanta pulled a goal back from Valdes early in the second period but then Marco Borriello clinched the victory when he followed in Ronaldinho’s saved penalty.
Roma went 2-0 up in Naples through a Julio Baptista penalty and a crisp Mirko Vucinc strike.
But their hosts hit back through a German Denis volley and then a Marek Hamsik penalty, awarded for a very dubious handball against Philippe Mexes, leaving Roma seven points behind Inter.
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