Matteo Darmian was the unlikely hero as Inter made it 11 league wins on the spin with a 1-0 triumph over Cagliari, in the process restoring their 11-point lead at the top of Serie A.
Antonio Conte’s table-topping side turned in a sluggish performance in the early kick-off on Sunday, though eventually scored the only goal of the game with 13 minutes remaining.
Darmian arrived at the back post to convert Achraf Hakimi’s low cross from Inter’s right flank, the former Manchester United defender’s finish finally breaking Cagliari’s stubborn resistance.
Milan had closed the gap to the leaders on Saturday thanks to a 3-1 triumph at Parma, despite a red card for Zlatan Ibrahimovic after 60 minutes.
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— Inter (@Inter_en) April 11, 2021
Inter appeared in danger of failing to win in the league for the first time since January 23 against opponents who arrived at San Siro having lost three on the spin, a run of results that had increased the prospects of Cagliari dropping into the second tier.
However, Leonardo Semplici’s strugglers frustrated their hosts for the majority of proceedings, aided by an excellent performance from Guglielmo Vicario.
The visitors’ goalkeeper twice kept out long-range attempts from Christian Eriksen, as well as denying Darmian in the first half.
Stefano Sensi also saw a strike kept out by Vicario, who had some help from the crossbar when Stefan de Vrij’s powerful header from Eriksen’s delivery left him rooted to the spot.
Conte sent on Lautaro Martinez in the 70th minute, though it was fellow substitute Hakimi who made the more telling contribution in a cameo appearance, delivering the ball into the path of Darmian to slide in and finish.
Cagliari tried to find a response and Joao Pedro went close with a header from a Gabriele Zappa cross in a frenetic finish – but Inter held firm, moving them a step closer to a first league title in 11 years.
What does it mean? Leaders break league record
Inter continue to show no signs of slowing down in their Scudetto pursuit; they have not been beaten in the league since a 2-1 reverse at Sampdoria back on January 6, while they have conceded just four goals in their current winning run.
They made history with their latest success too, becoming the first team to win 11 on the spin to start the second half of a Serie A season.
Cagliari go so close
Defeat was tough on Vicario in particular, having made six saves to keep Inter at bay. Still, the problem for Cagliari lies at the other end of the pitch, where they have scored just 10 goals in 16 games since the start of 2021.
Lukaku finds it tough going
Romelu Lukaku had the fewest touches of any Inter player to feature for the entire game (38) and won just 42.9 per cent of his duels. His form has been pivotal throughout the campaign, but this was an outing where the Belgium international struggled to have an impact on proceedings.
Key Opta Facts
– Inter are the first side to have won each of the first 11 Serie A games played in the second half of a season, overtaking the record of Milan in 1989-90 (10).
– Inter have won 12 consecutive home games in Serie A for the fourth time in their history (previously in 1950, 1971 and 2011).
– Matteo Darmian has been involved in four Serie A goals this season (two goals, two assists), his most in a single season in the top five European leagues.
– Achraf Hakimi provided his first Serie A assist in a home match since last September against Fiorentina.
Inter face a tricky trip to Napoli in the next round of top-flight fixtures, while Cagliari host fellow strugglers Parma in a pivotal fixture for both teams as they battle to avoid relegation.
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