Leaders Inter extended their advantage at the Serie A summit to eight points on Saturday, Romelu Lukaku scoring the only goal in a hard-fought 1-0 triumph away at Bologna.
With second-placed Milan only able to draw at home to Sampdoria upon the resumption of the season following the international break, Antonio Conte’s side were gifted the chance to tighten their grip on top spot.
They duly seized on the opportunity with a ninth successive league win, producing a solid display on the road to move a step closer to a first league title since the 2009-10 season.
Both teams had strong penalty claims prior to Lukaku’s goal in the 31st minute, the striker on hand to tap in the rebound having seen his initial header kept out by a combination of goalkeeper and crossbar.
Federico Ravaglia reacted superbly to parry the attempt up into the air, only to see it loop onto the bar and then drop kindly for Lukaku to prod across the line for his 20th league goal of the season.
Andrea Ranocchia and Lautaro Martinez went close to adding to the advantage prior to the interval, while the latter hit the foot of Ravaglia’s left-hand post with a curling effort from just outside the penalty area in the early stages of the second half.
Bologna made sure Inter never felt too comfortable so long as the lead remained at one, though too often the hosts failed to work Samir Handanovic when well positioned to do so.
The Inter captain had been fortunate to see an attempt from Jerdy Schouten go over the top after slipping from his grasp in the opening half, but he was only called on to make two saves throughout the contest.
While the visitors were wasteful themselves at times, managing to get just three of their 14 attempts on target, Lukaku could hardly have missed when presented with the opportunity from which he secured three more vital points for his side.
What does it mean? Inter on course to go the distance
Inter have impressively moved clear of the pack in the title race, aided by their rivals slipping off the pace. As well as Milan dropping points, reigning champions Juventus also faltered when returning to domestic duties, drawing 2-2 in an eventful Turin derby.
This current winning streak is the best for the Nerazzurri since setting a new competition record with 17 in a row in 2007. They still did not finish top at the end of that season, but all the signs this term suggest it is a matter of when, rather than if, Conte’s squad are crowned champions.
Lukaku in illustrious company
With the closest of close-range finishes, Lukaku reached 20 league goals for Inter for a second successive season since his arrival from Manchester United.
The Belgium international is just the seventh player to hit that number in back-to-back campaigns for the club, joining a list that includes the legendary Giuseppe Meazza, as well as more recent Inter strikers in Christian Vieri and Mauro Icardi.
Hosts lack style to go with substance
Bologna were looking to win three on the spin in the league for a third time under Sinisa Mihajlovic, yet lacked a cutting edge when it mattered as they failed to score in a home game for only the second time in Serie A this term.
Key Opta Facts
– Inter are the third team in Serie A history to win each of the first nine games in the second half of the season, after Milan in 1989-90 (10) and Juventus in 2017-18 (9).
– Inter have won five games in a row on the road in Serie A for the first time since November 2019, when they won their first seven away league games under Conte.
– Inter have won 72 games against Bologna in Serie A, against no side they have won more matches in the competition.
– Bologna failed to score in a home game for the second time in Serie A this term, also doing so against Napoli last November.
Inter play their game in hand in midweek, hosting Sassuolo at San Siro on Wednesday. As for Bologna, they are not back in action again until next Sunday, Mihajlovic’s side travelling to Roma.
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