Inter fought back from a goal down to defeat 10-man Sampdoria in a 3-2 Halloween thriller and leapfrogged Napoli into second place.
The Nerazzurri were on stunning form with five straight victories and needed to keep up the momentum ahead of Saturday’s Scudetto showdown with Juventus. Samp, meanwhile, had started so strongly and crumbled spectacularly with four consecutive defeats.
Juan Jesus sat out a ban, joining the injured Wesley Sneijder, Philippe Coutinho, Dejan Stankovic, Cristian Chivu and MacDonald Mariga, but Antonio Cassano faced his former teammates. Andrea Stramaccioni changed again, scrapping the three-man defence for a 4-3-3. The Blucerchiati missed Nicola Pozzi, Nenad Krsticic, Enzo Maresca and Pedro Obiang, while Maxi Lopez was only fit for the bench, but goalkeeper Sergio Romero and defender Andrea Costa were back from suspension.
Samir Handanovic was almost stunned by a strange Berardi cross-shot that threatened to swing its way under the bar.
Diego Milito’s angled drive was comfortably smothered after a good solo run, but Inter’s defending let them down from a set piece.
The free kick seemed simple enough for Andrea Ranocchia to clear at the back post, but he headed it back into the six-yard box for Gianni Munari to bundle over the line.
Cassano mis-kicked his attempt on an Alvaro Pereira assist as Inter poured forward, but without making much of an impact in the final third. Pereira and then Fredy Guarin tested the goalkeeper at the near post.
Cassano’s curler was punched away by Romero, then a great chance went begging as Milito came sliding in to just miss the tap-in.
Inter reshuffled at the break with Esteban Cambiasso coming on, moving to a diamond midfield.
It seemed to work, as Milito ran on to Palacio’s through ball and Costa bundled into the back of him for a penalty and red card. Costa had only just returned from suspension. Milito got back up to convert with some luck, as it struck the inside of the upright and ricocheted behind Romero.
Milito nearly turned the game around completely on a Javier Zanetti assist, but cracked his shot against the base of the post. Cambiasso came sliding in at the back post, just unable to get on the end of a Palacio assist.
Then 10-man Sampdoria really shot themselves in the foot, as they were completely unbalanced on their own free kick and were caught out on the counter. Cassano ran up the field, taking the chasing defenders with him, and threaded through for a Palacio snooker shot into the far bottom corner.
Ciro Ferrara confused many when introducing Renan, then replacing him 19 minutes later for Maxi Lopez.
Cassano curled a free kick over the wall that just clipped the top of the crossbar.
Fredy Guarin did get the third for Inter with a powerful daisy-cutter at the near post, but Yuto Nagatomo was offside in the build-up. Samp boss Ferrara was sent off for dissent as he protested this decision.
Sampdoria did get one back in stoppages, as Eder dribbled through the defence and placed an angled drive across Handanovic.
Sent off: Costa 51 (S)