Empoli 0-3 Inter Milan: Lukaku double ends winless Serie A run
Romelu Lukaku scored twice and assisted another as Inter Milan snapped a five-game winless run in Serie A with a 3-0 victory against lowly Empoli at Stadio Carlo Castellani on Sunday.
Inter booked their place in the Champions League semi-finals in midweek, but their poor domestic form — coupled with Juventus' points reprieve — had seen them drop to sixth.
Simone Inzaghi's heavily rotated side took time to get going against Empoli, but Lukaku gave them a 48th-minute lead with his first league goal from open play since August.
Lukaku fired in another in the 76th minute and then teed up substitute Lautaro Martinez late on to seal the points that lift Inter up to fifth — temporarily at least — and within two points of fourth-placed Roma, who face Atalanta on Monday.
Samir Handanovic was one of those recalled between Inter's two cup ties and was equal to efforts from Nicolo Cambiaghi and Tommaso Baldanzi in the opening 20 minutes.
Roberto Gagliardini fired over from range as Inter struggled to create anything of note in a low-key first half but Inter got their breakthrough three minutes into the second period.
Through his first sight of goal, Lukaku guided a precise shot away from Samuele Perisan into the bottom-left corner for just his fourth league strike of the campaign.
Empoli, now with just one win in 12 league games, offered little in response and fell further behind when Lukaku worked a yard of space and fired an angled shot past Perisan.
Lukaku was not finished there as he carried the ball forward and played in Martinez to convert from one-on-one and complete the routine victory.
What does it mean? Inter back on track
Inter were at risk of going more than five games without a league win for the first time since February 2018 but Lukaku's double ensured that was not the case.
The Champions League and Coppa Italia may have taken priority for cup specialist Inzaghi, but this first Serie A victory since March 5 lifts Inter right back into top-four contention.
Empoli have now failed to score in eight successive home league games against Inter and remain six points above the relegation zone.
Rom the difference
Lukaku has been cleared to play in Inter's Coppa Italia semi-final second leg against Juve after his red card was rescinded, and his goals here will be a huge confidence booster.
The Belgium striker's clinical finishes with each foot were his first from open play in Serie A since netting against Lecce on August 12, some 253 days ago.
Martinez makes his mark
Martinez's goal, coming 20 minutes after being introduced from the bench, was his 15th of the season in the league.
It marks the third season running the Argentina international has hit that mark, his strike ending a run of 19 shots without finding the net in the top flight.
Key Opta Facts:
Since February, Lukaku has scored 39 per cent of Inter's goals in all competitions (7/18) – among Serie A players, only Victor Osimhen (11) and Arthur Cabral (10) have found the net more than him in the period.
Lukaku scored a brace in Serie A for the first time in more than two years. His last one before today was on February 14, 2021 against Lazio.
Inter won with at least three goals difference in Serie A for the first time since last November (6-1 v Bologna).
Inzaghi's side claimed an away clean sheet in Serie A after conceding at least one goal in their previous eight away games in the competition.
Inter have defeated Empoli in their last five away Serie A ties – no other team has a longer run of away wins against Empoli in the competition (Juventus also five).
Inter host Juve on Wednesday with their Coppa Italia semi-final poised at 1-1 from the first leg. Lowly Empoli travel to Sassuolo in a week's time on their return to league action.