Mauro Icardi scored twice on his return to the Inter team as Roberto Mancini’s side swept Udinese aside 4-0 to cement top spot in Serie A.
Inter captain Icardi was left out of last weekend’s 1-0 victory against Genoa but was recalled by Mancini at the Friuli and repaid that faith by firing in from 10 yards midway through the first half after Bruno Fernandes gave away possession in a dangerous area.
Stevan Jovetic doubled the lead just eight minutes later to put Inter firmly in control, lobbing Udinese goalkeeper Orestis Karnezis after robbing defender Maurizio Domizzi.
Having conceded only two goals in their last eight games, Inter were never likely to let their lead slip although Antonio Di Natale, on a rare start for Udinese, tested Samir Handanovic regularly.
Udinese have now only beaten Inter twice in their last 13 attempts at home after Icardi added a third with a powerful finish and Marcelo Brozovic bent in a superb strike late on.
Inter’s nearest challengers at the top of Serie A are all in action on Sunday, with Napoli hosting Roma and Fiorentina travelling to Juventus.
Defensive solidity rather than prolific attacking has guided Inter to the top of Serie A but they looked at it from the off, and Jovetic threatened in the opening stages, but his low shot was straight at Karnezis, who saved with his legs.
Cyril Thereau tested Handanovic on 14 minutes, before Di Natale thumped a free-kick just wide from 20 yards.
But the Serie A leaders took the lead against the run of play on 22 minutes. Icardi skipped away after a loose pass from Fernandes and the skipper shot across Karnezis into the bottom corner for his fifth goal of the season.
Veteran Di Natale was at the heart of his team’s best play and he forced another good save from Handanovic as Udinese responded well to falling behind, but lax play was to cost them again on the half-hour.
Domizzi dallied on the ball and Jovetic picked the defender’s pocket, before racing clear and lifting a delightful chip over the onrushing Karnezis.
Handanovic was beaten four minutes after the break when Francesco Lodi’s 25-yard shot deflected in off Thereau, but the striker was offside.
Domizzi was having a nightmare and he nearly scored an own goal after Icardi caused havoc in the box, the defender’s needless intervention sending the ball dribbling just wide before Adem Ljajic prodded wide.
Icardi was on target again with just seven minutes to go, beating Karnezis with a smashing finish to seal a triumphant return to the Inter team.
And Brozovic added gloss to the scoreline with a brilliant curling strike from 20 yards to wrap up a complete performance for Mancini’s side.
Key Opta stats:
– Icardi has scored four goals in his last three Serie A clashes against Udinese.
– Jovetic has netted six goals in seven Serie A appearances versus Udinese, his favourite opponents in the top flight.
– Prior to today, Inter had not scored 2+ goals in the first half of a Serie A game this season.
– Inter have kept a clean sheet in 11 league games this term – a joint-record across the Top 5 European Leagues alongside.
– The Nerazzurri have won six of the last seven league matches, losing the other one (vs Napoli), the only game in which they have conceded goals over this period.
– Inter have scored seven goals in the last 15 minutes of play so far – a league-high this term.
– The last time Udinese lost at home with 4+ goals difference came on 19th of September 2010 against Juventus (0-4).
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