Udine (Italy), February 3: Inter returned to winning ways in Serie A as Romelu Lukaku scored twice in the second half to secure a 2-0 triumph away at lowly Udinese.
Antonio Conte's side had drawn their three previous league outings and, with leaders Juventus defeating Fiorentina 3-0 earlier on Sunday (February 2), appeared in danger of losing further ground in the title race.
However, after a scoreless first half, Lukaku's brace moved Inter back above Lazio and into second place, three points behind the reigning champions.
January additions Christian Eriksen and Victor Moses were handed their full debuts by Conte while teenager Sebastiano Esposito filled in up front for the suspended Lautaro Martinez.
Yet the fresh faces failed to inspire, and it was Udinese who were the more threatening side in the first half. Seko Fofana fired into the side netting and Jens Stryger Larsen saw an on-target strike blocked by Ashley Young.
Lukaku had been on the periphery of proceedings before converting his first attempt of the game, his low, left-footed effort in the 64th minute going through the legs of Bram Nuytinck to beat Juan Musso.
The Belgian's second arrived from the penalty spot seven minutes later, Musso having been spectacularly up-ending Alexis Sanchez as the substitute attempted to skip beyond the advancing goalkeeper.
Kevin Lasagna twice dragged efforts wide in the closing stages as Udinese drew a blank, the hosts managing just one shot on target as they allowed Inter goalkeeper Daniele Padelli a comfortable outing while standing in for the injured Samir Handanovic.
What does it mean? Inter remain road warriors
A campaign that started with six straight victories in Serie A was appearing to run out of steam after Inter picked up a combined three points from games against Atalanta, Lecce and Cagliari during January.
However, they have built their title challenge on an excellent road record - this was a ninth triumph in 11 outings away from San Siro. Conte also deserves credit for changing proceedings with the introductions of Sanchez and Marcelo Brozovic early in the second half.
Lukaku leads the way again
As former club Manchester United struggle for goals, leading to the surprise signing of Odion Ighalo on deadline day, Lukaku continues to impress in Italy. He has now scored 16 times in Serie A, a tally only bettered by Ciro Immobile and Cristiano Ronaldo this season.
Teenage dreams turn sour
Esposito was handed the chance to deputise for Martinez, picked ahead of Sanchez. However, the 17-year-old failed to impress during his 59 minutes on the field, including scuffing a glorious opportunity straight at Musso shortly before he was replaced.
11 - Romelu #Lukaku is the first player in the three points per win era to score 11+ goals in his first ever 11 appearances away from home in Serie A. Conqueror.#UdineseInter #SerieA pic.twitter.com/uGqIpThaJU— OptaPaolo (@OptaPaolo) February 2, 2020
Key Opta facts
- Inter have recorded 29 points in 11 away games in Serie A this season, equalling the club record set back in 2006-07.
- Romelu Lukaku has scored the most away goals in the top five European Leagues this season (12).
- In the four seasons since 1994-95 that Inter have gained at least 51 points from their first 22 games, they then gone on to win the title (including 2005-06).
- Udinese suffered their first defeat in home game under Luca Gotti (W2 D2).
- Christian Eriksen had 51 touches in 58 minutes on his full debut for Inter in Serie A.
Inter have the small matter of a Milan derby in a week. As for Udinese, they travel to Brescia on Sunday (February 9).