Leaders Inter keep Juve at bay, Bologna in top four at Christmas

Inter Milan’s Armenian midfielder #22 Henrikh Mkhitaryan runs with the ball followed by Lecce’s Albanian midfielder #20 Ylber Ramadani during the Italian Serie A football match between Inter Milan and Lecce at the ìSan Siro Stadiumî in Milan on December 23, 2023. AFP

Inter Milan maintained their four-point lead at the top of Serie A with Saturday’s 2-0 win over Lecce, while rising star Lewis Ferguson ensured Bologna will be a top-four club over Christmas.

Yann Bissek’s first goal in Italy just before half-time at the San Siro and a late finish from Nicolo Barella were enough for Inter to bounce back from cup defeat to Bologna midweek and keep closest challengers Juventus at bay.

“We came into the game off the back of a result which made us unhappy because we played well in the cup,” said Inzaghi.

“It was important to win and that wasn’t guaranteed after Wednesday’s game, so I’m really happy.”

The 23-year-old Bissek has had a bumpy start to life at Inter but his header from Hakan Calhanoglu’s pinpoint free-kick capped a fine performance at centre-back and sent Inter on the way to a fourth straight league win.

Inter are hunting a 20th league title and look in good shape to do that after beating 12th-placed Lecce without injured star striker Lautaro Martinez.

Marko Arnautovic’s underwhelming display up front highlighted how much Inter’s attack relies on 17-goal Martinez, and their unusual impotency allowed Lecce to stay in the game until Barella doubled the hosts’ lead in the 78th minute.

Arnautovic was surrounded by teammates following that strike as it was his deft flick that sent Barella clean through to net his second of the season and end the match as a contest.

“They know I am in a difficult spell,” said Arnautovic, who also missed a couple of decent opportunities.

“I am close to getting back to my best. They can see it, they talk to me every day, but it’s not been easy.”

Vlahovic on target

Dusan Vlahovic headed home the decisive goal in Juve’s 2-1 win at Frosinone with nine minutes remaining after Jaime Baez had equalised for the hosts following Kenan Yildiz’s opener early in his first Juve start.

Serbia striker Vlahovic, who has had a tricky season, is on six league goals and was unlucky to end the match without a brace when his precision 89th-minute strike was ruled out for offside.

“A striker is obviously not happy when they don’t score, or not consistently, but I work hard every day to give something to the team,” Vlahovic told DAZN.

Teen starlet Yildiz became Juve’s youngest ever foreign Serie A goalscorer with his stunning near-post finish, which came after he weaved his way past three defenders.

German-born Yildiz, 18, a reported target for Arsenal and Liverpool, came in for injured Federico Chiesa and said he now has to take his teammates out to dinner to celebrate.

“For me, this is too great. Thanks to everyone. To the fans, they are crazy. Look at them!” he said.

Ferguson strikes

Scotland’s Ferguson thumped home the winning header with four minutes remaining at the Stadio Dall’Ara as Bologna continued their remarkable season with a 1-0 win over Atalanta.

Thiago Motta’s fourth-placed side are one point ahead of Fiorentina after a hard-fought win, their sixth in a row at home in Serie A.

Ferguson’s bullet header was the fourth goal of what has been an impressive second season in Italy for the 24-year-old.

And key man Ferguson, who also has Euro 2024 to look forward to next summer, is bullish about Bologna’s chances of Champions League qualification.

“Of course it’s possible. It’s possible for anyone. But just now we’re in a good moment, we’re getting the right results,” he added.

“We work so hard… everyone is together at the club, and we’re all pushing in the same direction. There’s a real belief.”

Champions Napoli can pull to within one point of Bologna with a win at Roma in Sunday’s late match, which will kick off hours after Victor Osimhen signed a long-awaited contract extension until 2026.

Verona moved out of the relegation zone with a 2-0 victory over Cagliari which snapped a 14-match winless streak.

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