Keita Balde Diao scored late in the game to give Inter a 1-0 win away to struggling Empoli in the absence of their travelling fans following racist abuse aimed at Kalidou Koulibaly last time out.
On top of a two-match home ban for Inter fans, Empoli refused to sell tickets to away supporters following the abuse of Napoli’s Koulibaly, but Luciano Spalletti’s men did not let it impact them and went on to claim the points.
Neither side offered much of an attacking threat in a generally dull first half, with creative ingenuity sorely lacking, particularly from the away side.
Keita had an effort chalked off early in the second half, and, although that hardly ushered in a period of great drama, the talented winger did make the difference with the decisive goal 18 minutes from time, moving Inter to within two points of second-placed Napoli, who host Bologna later on Saturday.
After a tepid start, the first chance presented itself in the 29th minute and Inter survived, as Miha Zajc headed Manuel Pasqual’s cross over from close range.
Inter responded by going straight up the other end and testing Ivan Provedel – Matteo Politano cutting in from the right and seeing his stinging drive palmed away.
The second period started much more brightly, with Samir Handanovic crucially saving at Francesco Caputo’s feet and Keita having a goal disallowed for offside all within the opening two minutes.
Keita was not to be denied later in the half, however, as he met Sime Vrsaljko’s pass with a scuffed effort on the edge of the box and it found its way into the bottom-left corner.
Mauro Icardi should have got Inter a second a few minutes from time when he shot straight at Provedel from 10 yards, but the miss did not matter as Empoli were unable to prevent a fourth successive league defeat.
— Inter (@Inter_en) December 29, 2018
What does it mean? Keita shows his talent
Keita has been in and out of the team since returning to Italy, but he showed just why he is so highly rated here. His direct running was a threat, while he persisted even when things were not necessarily coming off. A mature display.
Keita takes responsibility
Through much of the match, Keita looked like the only Inter player capable of really threatening the Empoli defence. Luck did not appear to be on his side, until his late – somewhat fortunate – finish made the difference.
A fruitless outing for Icardi
Empoli were solid defensively for the majority of the game and that meant Icardi found it difficult to have an impact. The Argentina international did not have a single shot, which cannot have happened often for the striker.
Key Opta Facts
– Empoli have lost their last four Serie A games for the first time since April 2017.
– Keita has been directly involved in five of Inter’s last nine Serie A goals (four goals, one assist).
– Inter have won five of their last six Serie A away games against Empoli (D1), in addition they have managed six clean sheets in this run.
After their two-week break, Inter return to action at home to Benevento in the Coppa Italia on January 13. Empoli are no longer in the cup, so they are not playing again until the following week, as they travel to Cagliari in Serie A.
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