Ivan Perisic scored twice as Inter saw off the challenge of Cagliari in Serie A on Sunday to keep their European hopes alive.
Inter returned to winning ways and seized on Atalanta dropping points on Sunday, as a 5-1 victory away to Cagliari fired Stefano Pioli’s side into the European qualification places in Serie A.
Two defeats in the last four league games – against heavyweights Juventus and Roma – had dampened Inter’s spirits after a run of seven consecutive Serie A wins, but an Ivan Perisic-inspired triumph in Sardinia lifted the Nerazzurri to fifth ahead of Lazio playing later in the day.
Milan’s Montella focused on Europe
Cagliari had won at San Siro earlier in the campaign, in the final weeks of Frank de Boer’s ill-fated tenure, but Inter took full control of the return fixture as Ever Banega created the opener for Perisic and fired a superb second himself.
Although the home side hit back through Marco Borriello, Perisic grabbed his second shortly after half-time to give the visitors breathing space once again.
Cagliari rarely looked like mounting a comeback, instead allowing Maurco Icardi to net away from home for the first time since September, his penalty exorcising the demons of a previous miss from 12 yards against Massimo Rastelli’s side.
Inter were then able to comfortably cruise through the remainder of the second half, Roberto Gagliardini netting his first goal for the club to add gloss to the scoreline late on, with a key clash against fourth-placed Atalanta, who were held to a 0-0 draw at home to Fiorentina earlier in the day and are now just one point ahead, to come next week.
90: The ref spares Cagliari and ends this one bang on the 90th minute, 5-1 to the Nerazzurri!!! #FORZAINTER #CagliariInter pic.twitter.com/IDECZ7Ejut
— F.C. Internazionale (@Inter_en) March 5, 2017
A magnificent Gary Medel intervention denied Cagliari an early lead as the Chile international recovered to acrobatically clear Joao Pedro’s lobbed effort inches from the goal-line.
Perisic swung a low cross in for Icardi to toe wide at the other end, before Geoffrey Kondogbia’s looping header was helped onto the crossbar by Gabriel.
After 34 minutes, Perisic then fired Pioli’s men in front.
Banega lifted a delightful left-footed pass between two defenders and into the Cagliari area, where Perisic controlled delicately with his left foot and slotted a smart finish under the goalkeeper.
And Banega added a second just five minutes later when he curled a fine free-kick inside the left-hand post from 20 yards, with Gabriel scrambling hopelessly across his line.
The hosts sought an immediate response and, although Samir Handanovic expertly clawed away Davide Di Gennaro’s free-kick, a goal would soon arrive when Borriello nodded Nicolo Barella’s cross into the net.
Handanovic held another header from Artur Ionita, but, after just two minutes of the second half, Cagliari’s hard work was undone by a third Nerazzurri goal.
Perisic was again the scorer, stepping inside onto his right foot to coolly curl beyond Gabriel’s despairing dive.
The goalkeeper was able to prevent a fourth as he dived at Icardi’s feet from Antonio Candreva’s centre, and then saved spectacularly as Danilo D’Ambrosio let fly from distance.
Miranda headed straight at Gabriel as he met Perisic’s cross unmarked, but the keeper’s brave resistance was breached as he brought Icardi down in the area.
The Inter captain converted the penalty himself, before Gabriel saved again from Kondogbia’s powerful strike and blocked a tame effort from substitute Eder.
Icardi then rattled the crossbar as the visitors kept the pressure on in the closing stages, and Gagliardini added his name to the scoresheet with a low blast two minutes from time, opening his account for Inter and netting for the first time in Serie A.