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Icardi Brace Sends Inter Four Points Clear

Mauro-Icardi-InterMauro Icardi signalled his return to action with a first brace of the season as Inter Milan beat Udinese 4-0 to go four points clear of Fiorentina ahead of key title clashes on Sunday.

Udinese’s last defeat at their refurbished Friuli stadium came nearly three months ago, in a 3-2 reverse to Inter’s city rivals AC Milan. But Roberto Mancini’s visitors turned on the style to register their biggest win this season and maintain their bid for a first scudetto since their treble-winning campaign in 2010.

Fiorentina remain second but are now four points adrift ahead of a difficult trip to champions Juventus on Sunday when Napoli, in third at five points adrift, welcome Roma. Roma are in fourth place but now eight points adrift with a one-point lead on Juve. Mancini cooled the scudetto talk but admitted his side, which has conceded a league low of nine goals, have made the connection that could be the key to their title push.

“We’re only 16 games into the season, there’s time,” Mancini told Sky Sport. “And a lot of teams will be fighting for the title. Our aim is (to qualify for) the Champions League. The players are starting to play well together and even when we’ve been beaten they’ve always tried to make amends. I think there’s a real connection between the players and this is important. Your game gets better and you score goals but it’s crucial to have players who want to work for one another.”

Icardi sat on the bench for last week’s win at home to Genoa and had been left out of the squad altogether two weeks ago when Inter suffered a 2-1 defeat at Napoli. But he took just 23 minutes to break the deadlock after a lightning start by the visitors that saw Stevan Jovetic come close to a seventh minute opener only to see Orestis Karnezis somehow get his leg to his low drive.

Before then, Udinese spurned several chances in a lively opening. Veteran striker Antonio Di Natale, rumoured to be playing his last home game for the club as he ponders retirement, fired over Samir Handanovic’s crossbar on 12 minutes. Handanovic parried Cyril Thereau’s angled drive, while a Di Natale free-kick inched wide of the upright.

But the hosts paid for a series of defensive blunders, one of which gave Icardi time to pick his spot before beating Karnezis at the keeper’s far post on 23 minutes. Jovetic doubled Inter’s lead minutes later when he pounced on a disastrous back pass attempt by Maurizio Domizzi to chip the helpless Karnezis. Thereau fired over on 35 minutes as the unmarked Di Natale screamed for service and then had the ball in the net just four minutes after the restart only for his deflected shot from distance to be ruled offside.

Udinese battled throughout the second half but Inter were unstoppable. Adem Ljajic hit just wide on the hour when Icardi headed Ivan Perisic’s cross into the Serbian’s path, while at the other end Manuel Iturra was just off target after Handanovic had got low to push Widmer’s weighted delivery into his path.

A Francesco Lodi blunder saw Icardi pounce to beat Karnezis for his brace six minutes from time with a superb strike. Ljajic made way for Marcelo Brozovic on 87 minutes and the Croatian seized the day when he cut inside to beat Karnezis with a powerful dipping drive at his far post.

“It’s hard to comment on the game,” said Udinese coach Stefano Colantuono. “I’m sorry for the fans…. but we have to stop making these errors and start being a bit more clinical in front of goal.”

Earlier in the day, Serie A officials had to postpone the Sassuolo v Torino fixture due to heavy fog at the Mapeil stadium. Fears the match could be called off grew towards the end of the afternoon as visibility at the venue was drastically reduced.

As both teams waited in the tunnel, match officials and the coaches of both clubs carried out inspections. But after a 26-minute minute delay, the decision was made to postpone.

Before that, Luca Rossettini rose unchallenged to head a last-gasp winner as Bologna continued their Serie A fightback with a precious 1-0 win at Genoa on Saturday. Saturday’s early game at the Luigi Ferraris stadium looked to be heading for a scoreless draw after the visitors failed to capitalise on Diego Perrotti’s 37th minute sending-off. But a late corner gave Bologna a final chance to make amends and Genoa’s defence helped in the task by leaving Rossettini unmarked on the edge of the six-yard box to send his angled header past a rooted Mattia Perin.

Palermo defeated Frosinone 4-1 at the Stadio Renzo Barbera with four different goalscorers in Edoardo Goldaniga, Franco Vazquez, Aleksandar Trajkovski and Alberto Gilardino.