Mauro Icardi had the video assistant referee to thank for allowing his 26th Serie A goal of the season to stand in Inter’s 2-1 victory over Chievo.
The 25-year-old Argentine, who is hot on the heels of Lazio’s Ciro Immobile in the hunt for this season’s Capocannoniere, thought his 50th-minute strike had been ruled out for offside but referee Paolo Valeri consulted replays before confirming its legitimacy, setting Inter on course for a crucial win.
Luciano Spalletti’s men had been disappointing prior to that moment and were grateful to goalkeeper Samir Handanovic for keeping them in the game at the Marcantonio Bentegodi, where Chievo battled hard for points they desperately need to stave off the threat of relegation.
But after Icardi’s goal was allowed to stand, Inter turned on the style and Ivan Perisic’s 61st-minute strike was a reminder of how lethal the Nerazzurri can be when they are in confident mood.
The result keeps Inter one point behind fourth-placed Lazio in the race for Champions League qualification with four games left to play, while Chievo – who grabbed a late consolation through substitute Mariusz Stepinski – sit 16th, two points clear of the bottom three.
The game burst into life after 12 minutes when Manuel Pucciarelli crashed a powerful, bouncing drive onto the post from 25 yards before Inter immediately countered and put Perisic clean through on goal but he lobbed both goalkeeper and crossbar with his shot.
Emanuele Giaccherini’s rising shot from just inside the penalty area would have crept under the bar if Handanovic had not pulled off an acrobatic save, palming the ball over at full stretch.
Inter’s Yann Karamoh dragged a shot just wide from the edge of the box before Perisic broke down the left and squared towards Icardi, who would surely have broken the deadlock had Ivan Radovanovic not slid in to turn the ball over the crossbar.
Handanovic was called into action twice more before half-time, first when Fabrizio Cacciatore controlled the ball with his chest and unleashed a left-footed shot from inside the penalty area that forced the Slovenian goalkeeper into a difficult low save, and again when he parried away Pucciarelli’s angled effort.
The breakthrough arrived in controversial fashion, Icardi rolling the ball into the net after Stefano Sorrentino saved twice from Marcelo Brozovic only to see an offside flag had been raised.
Referee Valeri consulted the video assistant and judged that, although Icardi was offside when Brozovic took his first shot, he was not interfering with play and recovered his position before giving Inter the lead.
There was no doubt over Inter’s second, which came from Karamoh’s break down the right flank and an unselfish bit of play from Rafinha, who presented Perisic with a straightforward finish from close range and the Croatian made no mistake, slamming the ball into the bottom-left corner.
Inter slowed the pace of the game in the final 20 minutes and when Chievo threatened to pull one back through Nicola Rigoni, cool-headed defender Milan Skriniar was there to block his shot.
Stepinski pounced on a late lapse in concentration to pull one back for Chievo in the 90th minute and Nenad Tomovic was painfully close to levelling it up in the last action of the game, but Spalletti’s men clung on to head home with a precious three points.
Key Opta stats:
– Prior to Mauro Icardi this season, the last Inter player to score 26+ goals in a single Serie A season was Angelillo in 1958-59.
– Ivan Perisic has scored 11 goals in the current Serie A season, equaling his record of goals in a single season in top-five European leagues (11 – 2016-17).
– Icardi (eight) and Perisic (four) have scored 12 of Inter’s last 14 goals in Serie A.