MILAN: Matteo Darmian scored the only goal as Serie A leaders Inter Milan held off lowly Cagliari 1-0 to stretch their winning streak to 11 games as they close in on a first league title in over a decade.
Champions Juventus consolidated third place with a 3-1 win over Genoa as Napoli moved fourth and back into the Champions League spots with a 2-0 win at Sampdoria.
Inter are 11 points clear of second-placed AC Milan who won 3-1 at Parma on Saturday, as a first title since 2010 beckons for Antonio Conte’s side with eight game left to play.
Moroccan Achraf Hakimi came off the bench and minutes later set up Italy defender Darmian to grab the winner in the San Siro to inflict a fourth consecutive defeat on Cagliari.
“We are starting to see the finish line, but we’re not there yet and can’t afford to make calculations,” Conte said.
“It’s not easy to be under constant pressure but we’re getting used to it.
“We just need to continue pedalling to the max as we approach our goal.”
Inter had been pegged back against 18th-placed Cagliari whose goalkeeper Guglielmo Vicario, replacing COVID-19 hit Alessio Cragno, kept his team in the game.
Vicario denied Christian Eriksen in both halves, while Inter loanee Radja Nainggolan also missed a chance to open the scoring for the visitors against his parent club.
Romelu Lukaku set up Alexis Sanchez who thought he had broken the deadlock after quarter of an hour, but the goal was ruled out for offside.
Stefan de Vrij rattled the crossbar before Conte made a double substitution bringing on Hakimi for Ashley Young after 69 minutes, with Lautaro Martinez replacing Sanchez.
It paid off and minutes later Hakimi combined with Lukaku to tee up Parma loanee Darmian to push Inter closer to a 19th Serie A crown after finishing runners-up last season.
“On a psychological level we gave an important signal today,” said former Manchester United defender Darmian.
“Conte transmits the passion and the desire to win, you can see this on the pitch.
“Everyone feels they have a role to play.”
Juve’s nine-year reign looks set to end as they are 12 points adrift of Inter, but despite the pressures Andrea Pirlo’s side kept their push for Champions League football on track against Genoa.
“My idea of football is to dominate the game, but this season we haven’t always managed to put it into action,” said Pirlo.
“Every day you feel under scrutiny, me in particular because I’m in my first coaching experience.
“So far I give myself an estimate of six out of 10 because I could do more.”
Juan Cuadrado pulled the ball back to an unmarked Dejan Kulusevski to curl in the opener after four minutes.
Juve doubled their lead after 22 minutes when Federico Chiesa forced a Mattia Perin save with a Cristiano Ronaldo follow-up coming off the post before Alvaro Morata sent in the rebound.
Gianluca Scamacca headed in to pull a goal back for Genoa four minutes off the break, with Marko Pjaca missing two quick-fire chances to equalise for the visitors six minutes later.
Substitute Weston McKennie sealed the win after 70 minutes for a valuable three points before next weekend’s trip to Champions League rivals Atalanta.
Napoli returned to winning ways after their midweek defeat to Juventus with goals from Fabian Ruiz 10 minutes before the break and Victor Osimhen three minutes from time.
Gennaro Gattuso’s side climbed one point ahead of Atalanta who travel to Fiorentina later on Sunday.
Sixth-placed Lazio beat Hellas Verona 1-0 thanks to a Sergej Milinkovic-Savic header in injury time.