Inter sealed fourth spot in Serie A as they eased to a 2-1 victory over Empoli in their final home game of the season at San Siro.
Roberto Mancini’s side came into Saturday’s clash knowing that a victory would be enough to extend the gap between themselves and Fiorentina to seven points with two games remaining.
First-half efforts from Mauro Icardi and Ivan Perisic – either side of Manuel Pucciarelli’s equaliser – handed Inter the advantage heading into the interval and they saw out the victory following a tepid second period.
An early lead was no more than Inter deserved after a fast start to proceedings, and they duly got the breakthrough when their captain Icardi thumped home from the edge of the area.
Empoli had claimed just three wins in 2016 heading into this game, but they hauled themselves level when Pucciarelli converted from close-range, only for Perisic to restore Inter’s advantage three minutes later.
Marco Giampaolo’s side did have the better of proceedings in the second half, though they failed to truly trouble Samir Handanovic as the hosts eased to a straightforward success.
With their hopes of Champions League qualification ended by the defeat to Lazio last week, Inter were intent on securing fourth at the expense of Fiorentina.
Inter started brightly and, after Danilo D’Ambrosio had gone close with a driven cross-cum-shot, they found themselves ahead 12 minutes in – Icardi firing in with a fantastic first-time finish after he had been picked out by Perisic.
Mancini’s side were very nearly the architects of their own downfall shortly before the half-hour mark, as a mistake from Felipe Melo allowed Riccardo Saponara to steal in and set up Pucciarelli, but the Empoli forward could not apply the finish.
However, Pucciarelli atoned for his miss 10 minutes later, slotting in coolly to level proceedings after latching onto Massimo Maccarone’s cross.
Parity was short-lived, though, with Inter quickly regaining the advantage when Stevan Jovetic’s strike was parried back into the path of Perisic, who tucked home into an empty net.
Inter continued to press after the restart, and almost had a third when Yuto Nagatomo’s drilled cross took a wicked deflection off Mario Rui but, fortunately for the Empoli defender, Alberto Pelagotti reacted swiftly to make the save.
Empoli did show promise going forward, however, and were unfortunate not to be level once more when Marcel Buchel’s long-range effort inched just over the crossbar.
Icardi’s afternoon was brought to a premature end soon after, with the Inter skipper having to make way for Jonathan Biabiany after he picked up a nasty knock in a collision in Empoli’s penalty area.
Inter sat back as the game wore on, unwilling to commit too many players forward so as not to allow the visitors the opportunity to counter.
They were almost undone when Andrea Costa connected with a corner deep into stoppage time, but he could only stab narrowly wide as Mancini’s side held firm to claim the points.
Key Opta stats:
– Empoli scored their first away goal in 416 minutes.
– Mauro Icardi has had a hand in six of the last nine Inter goals: four goals, two assists.
– Five of Ivan Perisic’s six assists have been for an Icardi goal.
– Icardi has scored on average a goal every 50 touches: only Higuain has a better ratio (one every 43) among players with six goals or more in this season’s Serie A.
– Samir Handanovic is the goalkeeper to have received the most yellow cards in this Serie A season (five).