Mauro Icardi scored the only goal of the game as Inter responded to the challenge of Fiorentina and Juventus by reassuming top spot in Serie A with a 1-0 win at Empoli.
Inter had been deposed by Fiorentina earlier on Wednesday courtesy of their 3-1 away win over Palermo, while defending champions Juve had also leapfrogged Roberto Mancini’s men by claiming their eighth straight league victory, defeating Verona 3-0.
And for much of the encounter at the Stadio Carlo Castellani it appeared as if Empoli – fresh from setting a club record of four consecutive top-flight wins – would do neighbours Fiorentina a favour.
Indeed, Empoli had the better chances in the opening 45 minutes, but were undone in first-half stoppage time by Icardi.
The striker broke the deadlock with a simple finish that marked his eighth goal in all competitions this campaign.
Opportunities proved harder to come by in the second half and Inter did not have much difficulty in closing out a victory that keeps them a point ahead of Fiorentina in the race for the Scudetto, while Empoli stay eighth.
Both teams played with an excellent tempo in the early stages, but it was Empoli who had the first real chance, Massimo Maccarone’s low free-kick beaten away by Samir Handanovic after Jeison Murillo’s foul on the striker was adjudged to have occurred just outside the box.
Empoli continued to be the more threatening side in the first half and went close again in the 25th minute as Manuel Pucciarelli teed up Piotr Zielinski, only for the Pole to shoot narrowly wide.
Handanovic was tested again 12 minutes later by long-range effort from Marcel Buchel, but the hosts failed to take advantage of their long periods of superiority and were punished on the stroke of half-time.
Icardi turned home from point-blank range at the near post following an excellent run down the left and pull-back from Ivan Perisic.
Empoli did not appear to lose confidence despite going behind and would have levelled had Riccardo Saponara not fired straight at Handanovic after racing through on goal.
Geoffrey Kondogbia saw a left-footed strike fly just off target before Empoli had a hopeful claim for a penalty as Pucciarelli was clipped inside the area in the 71st minute.
Referee Domenico Celi waved away the appeals and that proved to be Empoli’s last moment of hope as Inter stood firm and bounced back from their 2-1 loss to Lazio before the mid-season break, albeit in unconvincing fashion.
Key Opta stats:
– Empoli have taken only one point from their last seven league games against Inter.
– Inter have a record of 12 wins and a draw in the 13 games in which they have taken the lead so far this term.
– Inter have won nine Serie A games 1-0 this season.
– Mauro Icardi has scored eight goals from the first 12 shots on target he has attempted in Serie A in 2015-16.