Keita Balde Diao got the only goal of the game, as Inter march forward at the Stadio Castellani, inflicting Empoli’s fourth straight defeat.
The Nerazzurri were fresh from a controversial Boxing Day victory over Napoli, overshadowed by racist abuse from their fans and the death of another supporter when run over by a minivan during clashes outside San Siro. Radja Nainggolan was frozen out of that game for disciplinary reasons, but was back on the bench, though Marcelo Brozovic was suspended and Ivan Perisic rested. Empoli were on a run of three straight defeats, plus Giovanni Di Lorenzo and Rade Krunic sat out bans, with Domenico Maietta’s muscular issue.
Inter had won nine of their last 10 Serie A meetings with Empoli, drawing the other, since a 1-0 defeat here in April 2006.
Empoli lost Antonino La Gumina to injury early doors and his replacement Miha Zajc went close to an opener, his header from a corner flashing off target.
Moments later, Matteo Politano forced a save out of Ivan Provedel with his powerful left-foot strike, Joao Mario offside on the rebound.
The hosts were very unlucky, also forced to replace Manuel Pasqual with a muscular issue. Straight after the restart, Samir Handanovic had to rush off his line to prevent Zajc pouncing on a defensive error.
Keita Balde Diao had the ball in the net, but only after the offside flag had been raised.
Handanovic was alert on a Ciccio Caputo lob and Lautaro Martinez was immediately booked off the bench for trying to score with his fist.
Inter did at last break through on 72 minutes with Keita Balde Diao, whose scuffed volley on a Sime Vrsaljko cross bobbled through a sea of legs to squirm into the far bottom corner.
Empoli’s luck got no better, as they lost substitute Luca Antonelli to injury too. Provedel kept them in it with saves on Keita and Icardi, but Zajc wriggled away from defenders for a shot deflected just wide at the other end.
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