Cagliari put in a very impressive performance, but could not compete with the clinical finishing of Mauro Icardi, as Inter left Sardinia with a 3-1 result.
The Nerazzurri temporarily go top awaiting Napoli’s result tomorrow, but the Sardinians were fired up after the arrival of Coach Diego Lopez with nine points from the previous four games. Marco Sau missed out, but that was the only absentee for the two teams, who fielded unchanged XIs.
Inter have now won their last five Serie A visits to Sardinia and lost here only once since 1993, a 2-1 result in May 2009.
It was a bright start from the hosts, as Samir Handanovic parried a Joao Pedro flick, then Luca Ceppitelli turned a free header wide from a corner after five minutes.
Joao Miranda was booked for a handling offence and will be suspended against Chievo. A deep Paolo Faragò cross found Leonardo Pavoletti unmarked at the back post, but he cushioned the volley a little too much, allowing Handanovic to claw it off the line from point-blank range.
Inter were under such pressure that before the 20-minute mark, Luciano Spalletti instructed his men to move from 4-2-3-1 to 3-5-1-1.
Cagliari were dominating, but the Nerazzurri opened the scoring against the run of play. Antonio Candreva crossed from the right with his left foot, Ivan Perisic knocked it back at the far post for Icardi to tap in. That was his 14th goal of the season, but also ensured he found the net in all four of Inter’s trips to Sardinia.
Icardi nearly made it 2-0, but he was off balance sprinting to reach the Matias Vecino cross from the right and couldn’t steer it on target.
A Davide Santon solo effort also flashed wide, as Cagliari lost confidence following that goal. After the restart, Nicolò Barella’s half-volley was deflected just wide and again the hosts started pumping crosses into the box.
Matias Vecino limped off to make way for Marcelo Brozovic and the substitute doubled Inter’s lead against the run of play. Candreva ran on to a Milan Skriniar pass and pulled it back for the Croatia international to fire in first time from just inside the penalty area.
Icardi went on a run past three Cagliari defenders until he was eventually tripped by Luca Ceppitelli.
Cagliari eventually got the goal they deserved with Pavoletti, who kept his volley low and true on a Paolo Faragò cross from the right, cushioning it with the inside of his right boot.
It was a tense finale and Diego Farias scuffed his finish straight at Handanovic, while Roberto Gagliardini was booked and will also be suspended against Chievo.
However, Inter restored their two-goal cushion with Icardi. It was a chaotic move, a Faragò goal-line clearance looping straight into the air and Rafael flapped it away from Perisic, into the path of the captain for his 15th Serie A goal of the season. The referee viewed the incident again using VAR and awarded the goal after appeals for a Perisic push on Rafael.