Mauro Icardi’s early brace ensured a miserable return to San Siro for Fiorentina coach Stefano Pioli as Inter ran out 3-0 winners on the opening weekend of the Serie A season.
Pioli was sacked by Inter in May after a stuttering six months in charge and any intended revenge mission was halted inside quarter of an hour by Luciano Spalletti’s rampant side.
Icardi had been a doubt for this game and hobbled away from one heavy first-half challenge but not before he had twice found the net – with a penalty and a header – in a spectacular start to the campaign.
While Inter’s captain grabbed the goals, it was Ivan Perisic – reportedly set to sign a new contract despite interest from Manchester United – who really thrilled, running the visitors ragged, laying on Icardi’s second and then himself netting the clinching third.
Inter may have enviously observed the off-season transfer business that looks to have made title contenders of city rivals AC Milan, but keeping the brilliant Croatia winger is surely key to any Nerazzurri challenge.
Even as Inter’s momentum slowed in the second half of this clash, before Perisic’s goal, Fiorentina debutant Giovanni Simeone threatened only sporadically at the other end as the visitors felt the absence of impending Milan signing Nikola Kalinic from their ranks.
16 – Mauro Icardi has scored 2+ goals in 16 of the 126 Serie A games played for Inter. Habit. #InterFiorentina
— OptaPaolo (@OptaPaolo) August 20, 2017
After 24 league goals last term, it took Icardi less than five minutes to get his first of the new campaign.
The Inter captain chested down Yuto Nagatomo’s high angled pass, but was bundled over by Davide Astori’s clumsy challenge in the area and Icardi quickly jumped to his feet to bury the subsequent spot-kick.
Matias Vecino – debuting, like Borja Valero, against his former club – could have quickly added a second but sliced wide from Perisic’s pinpoint cross.
The wait for another goal lasted only until the 15th minute, though, as Icardi doubled his tally with a towering header into the bottom-left corner from Perisic’s swirling right-wing delivery.
Only a smart low Marco Sportiello stop denied the hosts a third from Marcelo Brozovic’s drive, before Samir Handanovic saved for the first time as Simeone sent a firm header goalwards.
Referee Paolo Tagliavento deferred to the VAR shortly before half-time as Simeone went down in the area, but the decision went Inter’s way and the home side regained their stride after the restart.
Sportiello had to be alert to parry from Icardi and catch Vitor Hugo’s skewed clearance and then watched helplessly as Perisic’s strike flashed just past the top-left corner.
Fiorentina substitute Khouma Babacar responded with a sharp shot that tested Handanovic at full stretch, but Roberto Gagliardini – also introduced from the bench – should have secured the points for Inter from Icardi’s selfless pass, only to instead blaze over an open goal.
That miss briefly kept the visitors in the hunt, and Jordan Veretout struck the post with a stunning 25-yard effort, before Perisic finally added the third, stooping to nod Joao Mario’s cross past Sportiello.
Icardi almost hit a hat-trick goal in the final 10 minutes, but the Fiorentina goalkeeper – too often left to fend for himself – saved brilliantly to limit the scoring.
KEY OPTA STATS
– Inter have kept a clean sheet for the first time in 13 league games.
– Fiorentina have lost their season-opener in three of their last four Serie A campaigns (W1).
– Mauro Icardi has scored seven goals in his last three Serie A clashes with Fiorentina.
– Fiorentina are Icardi’s favourite target in the top-flight: nine goals.
– Ivan Perisic has now delivered 15 assists in Serie A, nine of which were for Icardi.
– The last time Inter scored their first league goal of the season from the penalty spot was in 2009/10 (Eto’o vs Bari).