Quick-fire Lukaku helps Inter pull seven points clear
Romelu Lukaku scored after 33 seconds and then set up a second as Inter Milan beat Genoa 3-0 to extend their lead at the top of the Serie A table on Sunday.
Inter are seven points ahead of second-placed city rivals AC Milan who are at Roma later Sunday, and 10 clear of champions Juventus, who were held 1-1 at Hellas Verona on Saturday and have played a game fewer.
Lukaku scored with the first chance at the San Siro, then laid on Matteo Darmian for Inter’s second in the 69th minute. Alexis Sanchez came off the bench to add a third with 13 minutes to go.
“We’re first in the standings and it’s a good feeling,” said Lukaku as Inter try to deny Juventus a 10th consecutive league title after finishing runners-up last season.
Antonio Conte’s side followed on from last weekend’s 3-0 derby win over Milan, notching up a fifth win in a row as they push for a first league title since 2010.
“We’re happy because the work is paying off. It had already paid off last year, but the team is maturing a lot,” said Conte.
“We know that there are 14 games left. Let’s keep our antennas up until the end if we want to do something good.”
Lukaku led the way, completing a give-and-go with Lautaro Martinez after good work from Nicolo Barella to fire in from an angle for his 18th Serie A goal of the season, one shy of leading scorer Cristiano Ronaldo.
Inter missed a string of chances to pull further ahead against their 13th-ranked rivals with Barella and Darmian both rattling the crossbar and Mattia Perin denying a pair of goal-bound efforts from Lukaku.
But the giant Belgian setup defender Darmian, who took the place of suspended Achraf Hakimi, for his first league goal for Inter, with Sanchez scoring minutes after coming off the bench getting his head to a rebound after Perin had denied Lukaku.
The 27-year-old has scored six goals in the last five games.
“I’m in a good moment of my career but the important thing is that Inter wins,” added the former Manchester United player.
“These matches are opportunities for us to give signals to others, but the championship is long.
“We must not give up, last year we lost in these matches, this year we’re growing.”
Mid-table Genoa ended their seven-game unbeaten run under new coach Davide Ballardini before next weekend’s local derby with Sampdoria.
– Atalanta bounce back –
Atalanta shook off their Champions League defeat to Real Madrid midweek with a 2-0 win at Sampdoria to move up to fourth, equal on 46 points with third-placed Juventus.
Ruslan Malinovskiy broke through five minutes before the break with Robin Gosens adding a second with 20 minutes to go in Genoa.
Duvan Zapata picked up an injury against Real and was ruled out along with Hans Hateboer, with coach Gian Piero Gasperini sitting out a touchline ban.
Atalanta could thank goalkeeper Marco Sportiello and defender Jose Palomino for keeping their slate clear early before taking hold of the game.
The breakthrough came when Luis Muriel set up Ukrainian midfielder Malinovskyi to blast into the top corner for his second league goal this season.
Matteo Pessina and Josip Ilicic came off the bench before the hour with Atalanta thereafter dominating.
Joakim Maehle set up Gosens for the second with goalkeeper Emil Audero denying Pessina the visitors a third.
In the relegation battle, Cagliari snapped their 16-match winless run in coach Leonardo Semplici’s first match in charge with a 2-0 success over rock-bottom Crotone.
Leonardo Pavoletti got the first after 56 minutes with Joao Pedro adding a second from the penalty spot four minutes later to give the 18th-placed Sardinians their first win since November 7.