Third-placed Inter Milan restarted their Serie A campaign with a 2-1 home win over struggling Sampdoria on Sunday to close the gap on the leading pair, although they lived dangerously in the second half.
Romelu Lukaku and Lautaro Martinez put Inter 2-0 ahead in just over half an hour but Sampdoria, outclassed in the first period, pulled one back through Morten Thorsby early in the second and finished the match threatening an equaliser.
Belgian Lukaku celebrated his goal by taking a knee in support of the Black Lives Matter movement.
Inter, with 57 points from 26 games, are five behind Lazio and six adrift of leaders Juventus while Claudio Ranieri’s Samp are 16th with 26, one point clear of the drop zone.
The match was originally due to be played on Feb. 23 and was one of the first to be called off as the new coronavirus began to spread through Italy, with Serie A eventually being suspended on March 9.
“We could have settled it earlier by making more of our chances, but instead we conceded at the first Sampdoria chance attempt and got a little anxious. But it was still a good performance,” said Inter coach Antonio Conte.
The hosts went ahead in the 10th minute with a flowing move as Martinez flicked the ball to Lukaku who played a one-two with Christian Eriksen and drove the ball past goalkeeper Emil Audero.
Inter were in complete control, barely allowing a disappointing Samp to get out of their own half, and doubled the lead with another neatly worked goal.
Lukaku slipped the ball between two defenders to Antonio Candreva who rolled it across for Martinez to score from close range as the Argentine striker ended a run of six matches without a goal in all competitions.
But Thorsby’s goal seven minutes after the restart changed the game completely and an edgy Inter suffered frights as Nicola Murru fired over from long-range and substitute Mehdi Leris tested keeper Samir Handanovic with a free kick.
“We helped them because we were timid and fearful,” said Ranieri. “We didn’t go out of our half much and when we did, we did it badly…. At least we showed some character in the second half.”
Atalanta thump Sassuolo to continue where they left off
Free-scoring Atalanta continued where they left off before the novel coronavirus stoppage by thumping Sassuolo 4-1 in Serie A on Sunday as football returned to Bergamo, one of the Italian cities worst hit by the pandemic.
Duvan Zapata netted twice as the Serie A top scorers took their tally to 74 goals in 26 games while Sassuolo’s Mehdi Bourabia scored at both ends with a bizarre own goal and a late consolation from a free kick.
Atalanta stayed fourth with 51 points having had their coach Gian Piero Gasperini sent off for dissent in the second half.
At the height of the coronavirus outbreak, Bergamo’s hospitals were overwhelmed by infected people and, with morgues unable to keep up, convoys of army trucks carrying away the dead became a chilling symbol of the global pandemic.
“It’s a very important victory, when you start again after a long time it’s inevitable to have doubts but we overcame them by playing a great game,” said Gasperini.
He added that all of his players had remained in Bergamo throughout the crisis “with great attachment to the city and conviction that sooner or later we would restart, but psychologically it was hard and long”.
Berat Djimsiti put Atalanta ahead in the 16th minute, slinking in unnoticed to score after Mattia Caldara headed down a corner.
Zapata had an effort disallowed three minutes later when the VAR officials spotted that the ball hit Robin Gosens’ fist in the build-up.
Not to be denied, the Colombian turned the ball in from a Gosens header in the 31st minute although there was another long wait before VAR confirmed the goal.
The hosts were gifted their third when Gosens, a constant menace, pulled the ball back into the area, goalkeeper Andrea Consigli got a hand to it but it rebounded off Bourabia and into the net.
Zapata scored the fourth with a simple header from a perfectly floated Gomez cross in the 66th and Bourabia atoned for his own goal by curling in a free kick in stoppage time.