Inter trailed on-form Napoli by a point but are now two clear of Maurizio Sarri’s fellow title hopefuls ahead of their trip to Bologna on Sunday, when third-placed Fiorentina host Udinese. Roberto Mancini’s men dominated a dramatic encounter at the San Siro, where Ljajic made the difference and Danilo D’Ambrosio was sent off late for the hosts, who had lost Felipe Melo at half-time after a nasty clash of heads with fellow midfielder Gary Medel.
Mancini continued to leave Argentinian Mauro Icardi on the bench, with Rodrigo Palacio stepping up into the sole striker’s role. But it was Ljajic who shone, the Serbian coming agonisingly close on more than one occasion in a busy opening half. First, the Serbian’s angled drive flew just past Mattia Perin’s near post after he danced past his marker to the left of goal.
A clash of heads between Medel and Melo left the former nursing a nasty graze and would later end Melo’s involvement at half-time. But Inter kept their heads and only great reflexes from Perin stopped a Ljajic volley from nine yards after a great delivery from Alex Telles. In added-on time, Ljajic drilled inches wide of the near post when he ran on to Palacio’s cutback.
Marcelo Brozovic replaced Melo for the second half and eight minutes in Genoa had their first real chance, with Samir Handanovic forced down low to block Diogo Figueiras’s skidding shot. But Inter were soon back in command and after Palacio was set free down the left the Argentinian delivered a fine cutback for Stevan Jovetic the forward agonisingly flashed over.
Ljajic broke the deadlock in stunning fashion on 59 minutes when he whipped a free-kick from the left touchline over the heads of everyone, including Perin, to see it bounce up into the net. The goal was reminiscent of the Miralem Pjanic strike that gave fellow title hopefuls Roma the lead away to Torino before Maxi Lopez pulled one back for the hosts at the death to leave Roma fourth, now five points adrift.
Another clash, this time involving Medel and Nicolas Burdisso left the Genoa player receiving treatment for back pain and apparent breathing problems. Jovetic used the stoppage prompted by that incident to signal a change and the Montenegrin was soon replaced by Ivan Perisic, with former Inter striker Goran Pandev replacing Figueiras for Genoa.
Perisic immediately added some pace but his delivery for Palacio yards from goal was wasted. Pandev’s arrival, meanwhile, brought promise but D’Ambrosio was quick to block the Macedonian and after Handanovic got down low to stop Tino Costa’s drilled effort, Jeison Murillo came in to stop Pandev.
Ljajic was in his stride while in possession and with a deft backheel on the left touchline he set up Perisic for a cross that brought a desperate clearing header from Cristian Ansaldi as Jonathan Biabiany lurked in front of goal. Genoa were given late hope when D’Ambrosio, who was booked earlier, saw red with a second caution for sliding in and grazing the leg of Diego Perotti. But the visitors failed to capitalise and Inter held on to become the first team to claim a tenth league win this season.