Mauro Icardi netted a perfect nine-minute hat-trick before Ever Banega added a treble of his own as Inter demolished Atalanta 7-1 at San Siro.
Stefano Pioli’s men are up to fourth in the Serie A table having started the day behind their visitors in the standings – making the yawning gulf in class on the field all the more remarkable.
Inter captain Icardi has been a polarising figure for his club and back in his Argentine homeland but he lapped up the adoration as it rained goals in Milan, leapfrogging Edin Dzeko, Gonzalo Higuain and Dries Mertens in the race for the Capocannoniere in the process.
He opened the scoring from close range, left-footed in the 17th minute, before winning and converting a 23rd-minute penalty.
A 26th-minute header brought up 20 top-flight goals for Icardi this season and, having floated in the corner for Inter’s third, Banega then stunningly helped himself to a first-half brace.
Switzerland Under-21 midfielder Remo Freuler’s solo effort offered brief punctuation to an exercise in unrelenting pain for Gian Piero Gasperini’s team, previously so impressive this season, before ex-Atalanta man Roberto Gagliardini added a sixth and Banega arrowed in a superb free-kick.
Atalanta actually started brightly, captain Alejandro Gomez drilling wide with Inter goalkeeper Samir Handanovic rooted to the spot, before their afternoon unravelled spectacularly.
Inter were furious to see Rafael Toloi only booked for bringing down Icardi as he bore down on goal but revenge would be swiftly and brutally exacted.
From the resulting free-kick, Ivan Perisic’s shot punctured a disorganised defensive wall and fell invitingly for Icardi to sweep home.
The Argentinian latched on to Perisic’s flick-on and was sent tumbling by Etrit Berisha before picking himself up to nonchalantly beat the cautioned goalkeeper with a penalty chipped high into the net.
Icardi completed a hat-trick clocking in at nine minutes and 13 seconds when he was left free to power home Banega’s corner at the near post.
3 – #Icardi has scored the fastest hat-trick (26th minute) for a Inter player in Serie A since Lorenzi (October 1947, 18th minute). History.
— OptaPaolo (@OptaPaolo) March 12, 2017
Playmaker Banega then took his turn to cash in on the defensive mayhem, delaying his run to slam home Antonio Candreva’s cutback. When Candreva weaved through beleaguered opponents in the 34th minute, Banega repeated the trick.
Freuler offered a belated response as he cut into the Inter penalty area to net a fine individual goal – scant consolation three minutes from the end of an utterly shambolic half from his Atalanta team-mates.
Gagliardini was one of their number as recently as January but the 22-year-old, who never scored in Atalanta colours, displayed no mercy and the composure of a veteran when he collected Banega’s pass to crash into the top corner after 52 minutes.
Gomez was denied by Handanovic as Atalanta passed the minutes of their ordeal by searching for a second consolation, but Banega clipped a 67th-minute free-kick past the embattled Berisha for his hat-trick.
— F.C. Internazionale (@Inter_en) March 12, 2017
Having ended February with a dispiriting 3-1 home loss to Roma, Pioli can reflect with much satisfaction as his players bettered their bounce-back 5-1 win at Cagliari last weekend – emphatic form that means clawing back a five-point deficit to the top three should not be ruled out entirely, although third-placed Roma do face Palermo later on Sunday.
Banega and Icardi departed to standing ovations, with a trip to Torino next on their agenda, while Gasperini must encourage a team that beat Napoli only two weeks ago to regroup when they host Pescara.
Key Opta stats:
– Icardi has been directly involved in 28 Serie A goals this season (20 goals, 8 assists), the most in the current campaign.
– Carlos Bacca – for AC Milan v Torino – is the only other man to score a perfect hat-trick in Serie A this season.
– Inter scored five first-half goals for the first time since 1964 (v Sampdoria).
– Atalanta conceded five goals in the first half for the first time in their Serie A history.
– Atalanta conceded seven goals in a Serie A match for the first time since losing 7-2 to the same opponents in 1990.
– Two Inter players scored hat-tricks in the same match for the first time since 1933.
– Inter scored seven goals from eight shots on target.
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