It was supposed to be a battle for Europe. In the end it was over by the 26th minute and Inter Milan romped to a 7-1 victory over Atalanta in Serie A on Sunday.
Mauro Icardi and Ever Banega both scored hat tricks as Inter moved above Atalanta and into fourth place, a point above Lazio, which hosts Torino on Monday.
Inter remains six points below the Champions League spots.
“We are all doing very well, I’m continuing to do my work,” Icardi said. “I’m happy with my assists, with the help I’m giving the team, with my work with the team. At the end what matters is that the team wins, not only my goals.
“Since (coach Stefano) Pioli arrived there’s been a great change in everyone, in our mentality, in the way in which we work.”
Icardi netted his hat trick in nine first-half minutes to take his tally to 20 for the season. He is now second in the goalscoring charts, two behind Torino forward Andrea Belotti.
The Inter captain was again ignored by Edgardo Bauza this week when the Argentina coach named his squad for upcoming World Cup qualifiers.
“I don’t have his number, but I’m working with my team, then if the call from the national team comes it will be a reward for my work,” said Icardi, who has made just one seven-minute appearance for his country, back in 2013.
Icardi opened the scoring in the 17th when Ever Banega’s free kick ricocheted off the wall and into his path to fire home.
Icardi had won that free kick and he earned a penalty minutes later when he was felled by Atalanta goalkeeper Etrit Berisha. He coolly chipped the spot kick into the net.
The 24-year-old completed his hat trick in the 26th, heading in Banega’s cross.
Atalanta was shell-shocked and it swiftly got worse as Banega scored twice – both from Antonio Candreva’s crosses – shortly after the half-hour.
The visitors got one back three minutes before the break when Remo Freuler was allowed to dribble unchallenged toward the area and he placed his effort into the far bottom corner.
Roberto Gagliardini, who moved from Atalanta in January, got in on the act seven minutes after the break, smashing Banega’s cross under the crossbar.
Banega completed his hat trick in the 67th with a free kick.
“It’s a huge lesson,” Atalanta coach Gian Piero Gasperini said. “We will see in the upcoming weeks if we manage to get back to how we were doing before today.
“At San Siro we learned a lesson which forces us to give our maximum in the next few weeks: there are 10 matches left and we will give our all. We are competing with the big teams and that is not usual for us, but we are in this position and we will fight for it until the end.”
PALERMO 0, ROMA 3
Roma bounced back from three straight defeats in all competitions with a comfortable win at Palermo.
Second-placed Roma is eight points behind Juventus, which beat AC Milan 2-1 on Friday.
“It’s an important win because we didn’t have a good week,” goalscorer Edin Dzeko said. “It was important to win today and it is more so that we didn’t concede a goal.
“Now we’ll go into Thursday’s test with optimism, it’s an important turning point for our season.”
Roma next faces Lyon at home in the Europa League, looking to overturn a 4-2 deficit.
Roma had to survive an early scare as Wojciech Szczesny allowed Ilija Nestorovski’s effort to squirm under his body but it was ruled out for offside.
Stephan El Shaarawy fired Roma in front in the 22nd, timing his run to perfection to volley in Clement Grenier’s cross.
Substitute Dzeko all but sealed the match in the 75th when he chested down Radja Nainggolan’s pass and sent it into the back of the net.
Bruno Peres rounded off the scoring in stoppage time.
NAPOLI 3, CROTONE 0
There was no Champions League hangover for Napoli as it maintained its push to get into next year’s competition.
Napoli, which was eliminated by Real Madrid midweek, stays third, two points behind Roma.
After surviving a couple of early scares, Napoli broke the deadlock in the 32nd when Mario Sampirisi pushed over Lorenzo Insigne and he dusted himself off to slot the resulting penalty into the bottom left corner.
Crotone went close to equalizing at the start of the second half but Napoli doubled its lead in the 66th with another penalty _ converted by Dries Mertens, who had just come off the bench, after Marek Hamsik was tripped by Noe Dussenne.
Insigne doubled his tally four minutes later, controlling Jorginho’s ball over the top and slotting it past Alex Cordaz.
Nikola Kalinic’s stoppage-time goal secured Fiorentina a vital 1-0 win over Cagliari and kept its hopes of qualifying for the Europa League alive.
Fiorentina remained eighth, five points behind AC Milan, which lost 2-1 at Juventus on Friday.
Elsewhere, Chievo Verona beat Empoli 4-0, Udinese won 3-1 at Pescara.
Bologna won 1-0 at Sassuolo with a goal by Mattia Destro after an attack created by Federico Di Francesco, the son of Sassuolo coach Eusebio Di Francesco.