Martinez strikes again as Inter reclaim top spot from Juve

Fiorentina’s Italian defender #65 Fabiano Parisi (L) fights for the ball with Inter Milan’s Argentine forward #10 Lautaro Martinez during the Italian Serie A football match between Fiorentina and Inter Milan at the Artemio Franchi Stadium, in Florence on January 28, 2024. AFP

Lautaro Martinez fired Inter Milan back to the top of Serie A with the only goal in Sunday’s dramatic 1-0 win at Fiorentina, as depleted Napoli played out an uneventful goalless draw at Lazio.

Argentina forward Martinez glanced home the decisive goal in the 14th minute of an action-packed contest in Florence in which Nicolas Gonzalez wasted a late penalty for the hosts, who had Inter on the back foot for much of the game.

However it was a clash which ended with Inter one point ahead of Juventus, who were held by Empoli on Saturday, with a game in hand ahead of the two title rivals meeting at the San Siro next weekend.

“I can’t say anything to these guys because we’ve won 17 matches from 21, scored 50 times and let in only 10. I can only applaud them,” said Inter coach Simone Inzaghi to DAZN.

“Next week will be a match between two teams who play very high quality football… Juve are a team that you really need to face in your best form.”

Martinez is now on 22 goals in all competitions for the season, the Inter captain’s league tally of 19 in 21 matches putting him way ahead in the division’s scoring charts.

Inter fans will have breathed a huge sigh of relief at the final whistle as the win was largely down to Fiorentina’s poor attacking, with bad decisions going forward the order of the day for Vincenzo Italiano’s side.

The Tuscan outfit missed the chance to take fourth and the final Champions League spot off Atalanta and stay fifth, two points off the money-spinning top-four positions.

Fiorentina thought they were set to snatch a point when Yann Sommer was penalised for punching M’Bala Nzola while trying to clear a speculative ball into the box.

But star attacker Gonzalez, who returned from the bench after six weeks on the sidelines, rolled a dreadful spot-kick at Sommer, their third missed penalty of the season.

“I’m disappointed that in matches like these we never seem to find that piece of play which can change the course of the match, or at least see that we not lose,” said Italiano to DAZN.

“And we’ve got a sort of penalty curse which is starting to irritate me. It’s not good enough.”

Napoli’s bore draw

Walter Mazzarri’s Napoli stay ninth, 22 points behind Inter after not having a single shot on target in a dismal encounter at the Stadio Olimpico in Rome.

Napoli were missing star striker Victor Osimhen to the Africa Cup of Nations while both Khvicha Kvaratskhelia and Giovanni Simeone were suspended, leaving them short in attack.

It was the first time since 2012 that Napoli didn’t work the goalkeeper in a league match, according to Opta, but despite their troubles the southern outfit are still only four points off the Champions League positions.

“I’m very satisfied with the performance because we were facing a very strong team… we had a lot of absences and there were players who hadn’t played for ages who responded on the pitch,” insisted Mazzarri to DAZN.

“Today was the confirmation that I have real men with me, who play together as a team.”

Lazio were playing with the entire northern end of the stadium closed after fans racially abused Roma striker Romelu Lukaku earlier this month.

Maurizio Sarri’s team stay sixth after barely creating anything themselves in the absence of suspended Italy attackers Ciro Immobile and Mattia Zaccagni.

Their only true moment of excitement came almost straight after half-time when Valentin Castellanos’ beautiful overhead kick finish was ruled out for offside.

Earlier Verona moved out of the relegation zone after their 1-1 home draw with Frosinone, a point enough to move Marco Baroni’s side up to 16th.

They are outside the bottom three thanks to their superior goal difference over Udinese and Cagliari, who sit just inside the drop zone after Friday’s 2-1 home defeat to Torino.

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