Inter took another significant stride towards a first Serie A title since 2009-10 after a hard-fought 1-0 win over Hellas Verona at San Siro on Sunday. 

The result means Antonio Conte's side are 13 points clear at the league summit, although that could be scaled back to 10 if Milan overcome Lazio on Monday. 

Inter struggled for long periods against Verona, but sealed a 13th consecutive Serie A home win for just the second time in their history 14 minutes from full-time courtesy of substitute Matteo Darmian. 

The wing-back powered forward, collected Achraf Hakimi's pass and slotted past Marco Silvestri from 10 yards to help his side return to winning ways after two draws in the top flight.

Inter started sluggishly and could have fallen behind shortly after the midway point of the first half.

Samir Handanovic got down well to keep out Daniel Bessa's initial effort before Federico Dimarco dragged his follow-up strike narrowly wide with the goal at his mercy.

The hosts rarely looked like scoring during a tepid opening 45 minutes and went in at the break having had just a solitary shot on target.

Lautaro Martinez was denied by Silvestri shortly after the hour as Inter continued to struggle following the restart.

Hakimi went agonisingly close to breaking the deadlock after 69 minutes but his superb 25-yard free-kick crashed against Silvestri's left-hand post.

With Martinez and Romelu Lukaku misfiring, it was left to Darmian to snatch three points, the former Manchester United man showing superb composure to slot home his third league goal of the season in the 76th minute.

Inter great Walter Zenga dismissed criticism of Antonio Conte and his side as they close in on the Scudetto, while insisting mentality is the key to the Nerazzurri making the leap from Serie A to European success.

Not since their treble-winning season under Jose Mourinho in 2009-10 have Inter claimed the Scudetto, rivals Juventus dominating domestic Italian football with nine consecutive Serie A titles.

But Inter – led by head coach Conte and spearheaded by Romelu Lukaku – are on the cusp of glory this season, with the Nerazzurri 10 points clear atop the table after 32 rounds.

Only Atalanta (73) have scored more goals than Inter (71) this season, while Conte's men have the joint-meanest defence in the league alongside Juve, having conceded 29 goals with six rounds remaining.

However, Conte and Inter have still been criticised for their performances in 2020-21.

Regarded as one of the greatest goalkeepers of all time, Zenga – who amassed 473 appearances for Inter, winning two UEFA Cup titles, the Serie A trophy and Supercoppa Italiana during his time at San Siro – was asked about the criticism and he told Stats Perform News: "Now listen, you don't have to make a confusion about this point because the only person that knows everything is the coach because the coach has the players every day, takes training, decide the tactics, decides everything because he knows the quality of the player. 

"All the other people me and you included, we cannot talk about if they play good or not because first of all, we never watched one training, secondly we don't see from the stadium, we watch on TV and it's totally different. We make a confusion between playing well, tactics and everything. But then we forget one point, the only real things important in football are the end of the game, the table, what the result is, rankings and if you play in the Europa League, Champions League or whatever. These are the only important things. Then if we want to talk about one club like Inter who are first in the standings, they won 11 games in a row, they are almost close to winning the championship. 

"So, if it means that they play poor football, I would like to be a coach that plays poor football and wins the league! How many times do you read an interview about some coaches that say we play very, very well but we missed a chance, we are still in the middle of the rankings. We are in trouble, but we play well, we play well. With Crotone, two years ago in the first division we played very well but we got relegated to the second division. Probably if we play worst, and we just pray for a draw in some games probably we would still be in the first division but we are looking for our philosophy to play, play, play. But any coach, any game that they have, the philosophy for themselves depends on the quality of the player, depends on the quality of the mentality of the player."

Lukaku has been instrumental for Inter, scoring 21 league goals this term – only Juve's Cristiano Ronaldo (25) has managed more.

The Belgium international has barely missed a beat since Inter splashed out a club-record €80million to prise him from Manchester United in 2019, the Italian giants quickly moving on from former captain Mauro Icardi – who was deemed surplus to requirements by Conte.

Lukaku – linked with a return to Chelsea, as well as Clasico rivals Real Madrid and Barcelona – has netted 44 times in 67 league appearances for Inter, while he boasts an overall total of 61 goals in 90 matches since arriving in Milan.

"Icardi, he had a great balance between games and goals. He was a killer in the box. It's not easy to replace a player with this goal average," said Hall of Famer Zenga, who last coached Cagliari in 2020.

"Lukaku, Conte wanted him with his whole soul and heart. When one player arrives and he knows that the coach believes in him 100 per cent, he gives 200 per cent for him and himself not to disappoint the coach. 

"What I appreciated about Lukaku that I know him personally, he is a quiet man and a gentleman. He follows only one way, to close the mouth to everybody, work and work hard, not for himself, for the team. And this is the difference between one big player and one normal player. Talent is not enough.

"Now he is the top striker in Italy in my opinion. I think that now, there is not one club around the world that doesn't want him."

For all of Inter's success this season, their Champions League campaign left a sour taste.

Inter – Europa League finalists in 2019-20 – looked on track to the Champions League last 16 in a group featuring Madrid, Borussia Monchengladbach and Shakhtar Donetsk. Instead the 2009-10 winners finished bottom.

Conte's Inter also failed to make it out of the group last season, taking a backseat to Barcelona and Borussia Dortmund in the Champions League.

As Inter dream of a 19th Serie A trophy, are they capable of mounting a European challenge next term or do they require reinforcements in the transfer market?

"In Europe you play different. In the Champions League you play totally different, in the Champions League it looks like no tactics, only who is stronger," said the 60-year-old Zenga, who emerged from Inter's youth team in 1978 before leaving the club permanently in 1994.

"We are thinking about tactics all the time [in Italy] and this is our mentality. If you see the game of the Italian league, it is a very strong game, if you think that is boring, in the stands it is not boring because if you are involved, you have to take an aspirin after the game because it's so strong. If you see the Spanish league, it looks like they play slow, but when you play against the Spanish teams, [sometimes] you don't touch the ball because you don't know where they are. 

"In Germany or in France, it is less interesting the season, then when you play against them in in Champions League, you have to make a big effort because you're thinking, 'Oh in Germany there are only two teams, Bayern and Borussia Dortmund, it is not competitive championship' and then when you play against them, you see it is so strong.

"So it's a question about the mentality and everything. To win in Europe in my opinion, you have to play to win. And probably you find either the clubs like Paris Saint-Germain and Manchester City, like this team that if you read the line-up specially at the top… the talent and the quality, class is the difference in Europe. I don't know what is in the mind of Conte or of the management of Inter, but in Europe, I think that you need the world-class players."

Zenga added: "Don't forget, you can buy either three-four great players, then the most important thing is that all good players they must play good together. I buy the best central defender, I buy the best striker and I put together and the quality together doesn't work. If we follow this idea, Inter of the [Massimo] Moratti era with [Christian] Vieri and Ronaldo up front, they should be winning every single day."

Antonio Conte believes "sport must be meritocratic" but called on UEFA to reflect after the European Super League project Inter signed up to crumbled.

Inter were among the 12 teams from Serie A, the Premier League and LaLiga to on Sunday back the formation of a breakaway tournament.

However, following widespread criticism, the plans fell apart on Tuesday as clubs opted to pull out in the wake of significant backlash from supporters, politicians and the media.

The Nerazzurri announced prior to their Serie A meeting with Spezia on Wednesday they would no longer be taking part in the Super League.

Conte is confident the club have made the right decision, but he urged UEFA to understand why the teams wanted to step away from the Champions League.

"As a sporting man, I think we mustn't ever forget tradition. This is history and it should be respected," Conte told Sky Sport Italia.

"We mustn't forget the passion for sport, and sport must be meritocratic. We work to win and to earn something. Meritocracy must always be first and foremost.

"Having said that, everything that happened shows it's only right that UEFA reflect too. They organise tournaments, take all the revenue and reserve only a minimal part of that for the teams who are actually taking part in these tournaments.

"The players are squeezed like lemons with this packed fixture list and get very little for it. The organisations need to consider better remuneration. Clubs invest in coaches and players, so they deserve some of the revenue they help to generate.

"If you get 10 from rights and keep seven of it for yourself, giving out just three to everybody else, that's not really fair. I think the split needs to be reconsidered."

UEFA announced on Monday that a new format for the Champions League would come into effect in 2024, with the competition expanding to accommodate 36 teams.

Instead of being split into groups, qualifying clubs will be part of a single league and play a minimum of 10 games rather than six.

Asked for his opinion of the new set-up, Conte replied: "I haven't really reflected on the format. It doesn't matter how many teams are in there, the important thing is that there is meritocracy, otherwise sport loses its meaning.

"Meritocracy is the most important thing, but also the organisations including those who run the international fixtures need to consider spreading out the resources a little better."

Inter were held to a 1-1 draw at Spezia but extended their lead at the top of Serie A to 10 points due to Milan's 2-1 home defeat to Sassuolo earlier in the day.

"Pressure is inevitable, and let's not forget that many players are challenging for something important for the first time. They are doing very well and I think we could easily have deserved the win," said Conte.

"I was happy with the intensity of the performance, though we could've had more quality in the final third, which is why we're talking about a draw rather than a win.

"There are fewer rounds left. We can see the finish line and the pressure is taking its toll.

"We used up a lot of energy and have another physical game coming up against [Hellas] Verona [on Sunday]."

Antonio Conte says there is still plenty of room for improvement from Christian Eriksen but hailed the midfielder's renewed "intensity" after he sealed a point for Inter on Sunday. 

Eriksen looked poised to leave Inter during the mid-season break after the club's CEO Giuseppe Marotta revealed he had been placed on the transfer list.

The former Tottenham man has forced his way back into Conte's plans, though, and secured a 1-1 draw for his side against Napoli after Samir Handanovic's first-half own goal. 

His fine strike was his 24th from outside the area in the top five European leagues since he joined Spurs in 2013-14, with only Barcelona's Lionel Messi (59) scoring more in that period.

The result ended the Nerazzurri's 11-game winning streak in Serie A, though they remain firm favourites to win a first league title since the 2009-10 season thanks to a nine-point advantage over second-placed Milan, who beat Genoa earlier in the day, with seven games left. 

Conte still wants to see more from Eriksen, but is pleased with the improvements he has made to his game in recent months. 

"Things changed when I had more time to work with him, and also I needed him to realise there is attacking and defending in football," the Inter boss told Sky Sport Italia. 

"He took a while to adapt to a very tactical style of football that we have in Italy.

"We tried in every way to get him settled and tried various roles. I know he can do much, much better. 

"He is becoming more aggressive and showing more intensity, which certainly benefited the whole team."

The result means Inter have earned the most points (75) in the top five European leagues this season, overtaking Premier League pacesetters Manchester City (74). 

Conte was delighted with his side's ability to bounce back from Handanovic's calamitous own goal and believes it was the kind of game they might have lost last season.  

"This was a game we may well have lost in other situations, albeit undeservedly, and we'd have struggled psychologically," he explained. 

"Instead, we saw a team that knows what it's doing, that never loses sight of the right way forward, even if something unlucky happens, such as the own goal.

"These are games that we would've struggled in during the past; that we would've lost or at least let our heads drop. Instead, this side never loses its way.

"Don't forget Napoli were at full strength and I considered them one of the favourites for the Scudetto going into the season.

"We dropped two points compared to Milan this weekend, but a draw away to Napoli is not to be snubbed."

Inter are in Serie A action again on Wednesday when they travel to Spezia. 

Kalidou Koulibaly is one of the top three defenders in the world, according to Antonio Conte, who wanted to sign him during his time at Chelsea.

Conte was keen to take Napoli centre-back Koulibaly to Stamford Bridge during his two seasons at the helm in west London, with a reported €58million offer turned down in 2016.

The 29-year-old has remained a key part of the set-up at Stadio Diego Armando Maradona and will hope to lead Napoli to a positive result against Serie A leaders Inter on Sunday.

Since making his Serie A debut in 2014-15, Koulibaly ranks first among defenders in the competition for clean sheets (76), tackles won (315), recoveries (1,526), successful passes (12,852) and successful passes in the opposition half (5,291).

He will need to call on all that experience when he goes up against Inter striker Romelu Lukaku, whose haul of 21 league goals this season is only bettered by Cristiano Ronaldo.

Asked about Koulibaly, Conte told a news conference: "He is one of the best two or three defenders in the world and I wanted to bring him to Chelsea.

"He's actually improved since then. Lukaku has improved a great deal too. It'll be an interesting duel, but both sides will have to work as teams to create goalscoring opportunities."

Inter are on track for a first Scudetto since 2010, heading into this weekend 11 points clear of second-placed Milan with eight games remaining.

The Nerazzurri have been criticised for a defensive, counter-attacking style despite their healthy advantage, but Conte believes he is the target of the negativity rather than his team.

"I realised that it's all about me. That's the basic problem. I don't mind that, as long as they don't touch Inter," said Conte.

"There are still many points up for grabs and we'll go to Napoli for the victory. We cannot start calculating or holding back because my experience tells me it's counter-productive.

"We mustn't fall into the trap of taking the Scudetto for granted because it hasn't been decided yet. We know the sacrifices we've made to reach this position, but must be humble to realise there are still some steps to go before we can make that dream come true."

Antonio Conte said his exuberant celebration was a "reward" for the team after Matteo Darmian's winner for Inter in the Serie A leaders' 1-0 victory over Cagliari.

Darmian converted Achraf Hakimi's cross to the far post 13 minutes from time as Inter took another step towards the Scudetto, maintaining their 11-point lead at the top.

Conte reacted to the goal by running down the sideline and leaping into a celebratory huddle with his players before then planting a kiss on creator Hakimi.

Milan put some pressure on by defeating Parma on Saturday, and Conte believes Inter's triumphant response was worth double with just eight games left in the season.

"I'm always stressed but the celebration was a reward for the lads, as was the kiss to [Achraf] Hakimi," Conte told DAZN.

"I don't consider myself to be an older brother but I often kiss them on the forehead, they know the affection I have for them and that I'm ready to throw myself into the fire for them. Hakimi deserved it, as did Darmian.

"I keep repeating the same thing. The matches are becoming fewer and the victories start to be worth six points.

"Milan won yesterday in Parma and it was important for us to maintain the distance at the top, but by now we are used to this type of situation.

"For many it is the first time they are playing under this pressure and having to win because others are picking up points, but I am very satisfied with the progress of these guys.

"We have grown so much in the space of under two seasons from every point of view, and show this every Sunday.

"I say the 'countdown' to the title in quotations, because we play to win and always push forward. We are not a team that makes calculations and I do not want us to, because I like winning too much and I want the players to feel this too.

"The objective is in sight but we are not there yet, we have won three big games in eight days but at the same time we know it's not enough because there are eight more matches."

Antonio Conte says the time has come for Inter to "shut up and pedal" as they approach the Scudetto winning line.

The Nerazzurri head coach has seen his team carry an 11-point cushion over second-placed Milan into the 30th round of Serie A games, and momentum is firmly in their favour.

On Sunday, Inter will have home advantage against Cagliari, and Conte is keen to ensure his side do not see this as a time to slow down and check what others are doing, suggesting that is a recipe for failure.

He described joining Inter as "the most difficult decision" on Saturday and said he has "a lot to lose", but the former Juventus boss is closing in on unseating his former club as champions of Italy after nine dominant years.

Appointed in May 2019, Conte has sculpted a team that stand on the brink of a major achievement.

But he said in a pre-game news conference: "The Scudetto? I look at the present as ever, trying to do something exceptional and extraordinary in Italy since only one team has been a protagonist in the last nine years.

"We have given back credibility to Inter both in Italy and in Europe. Now we have to take the last step, which is the most important, but we haven't done anything yet.

"We know the disappointments we could face. We have not won anything, we are working.

"We have to shut up and pedal. We don't make proclamations; I'm not used to making them. The season is not over, we must avoid slip-ups that could favour the chasing teams."

Inter have been increasingly formidable this season, and they should have the wherewithal to see off relegation-threatened Cagliari.

Cagliari have dropped 19 points from winning positions this season, with only Parma (21 points) and Torino (25) more vulnerable when ahead in games. Inter have dropped just six points, the third-best record in the league (behind Atalanta's four and Milan's two).

From the opposite perspective, Inter came into the weekend having picked up a league-high 14 points from losing positions.

The leaders are on a run of 11 successive home wins in the league, while they have only failed to score in one of their past 37 Serie A meetings against Cagliari - a 2-0 away defeat in April 2013.

Cagliari's most recent Serie A clean sheet away at Inter came all the way back in March 1992, and the Nerazzurri have netted 47 goals in the 22 league matches played in Milan between the teams since (2.1 goals per game on average).

Inter showed just how much they have grown this season with their 2-1 win over Sassuolo on Wednesday, according to head coach Antonio Conte.

The Nerazzurri moved 11 points clear at the top of Serie A with the victory, sealed through goals from Romelu Lukaku and Lautaro Martinez in each half – their only two on-target attempts of the contest.

Hamed Junior Traore deservedly pulled one back for Sassuolo with a late strike, but the league leaders held on to become the second side in Serie A history – after Milan in 1989-90 – to win their first 10 games in the second half of a campaign.

Inter recorded their lowest possession rate (30 per cent) in a Serie A match since Opta records began in 2004-05 and were outdone on shots by Sassuolo 15 to seven.

But Conte was happy with the manner of the victory, insisting that points are more important than the performance, as Inter learned the hard way when exiting the Champions League in the group stage.

"I congratulate Sassuolo as they came here to play their game and this performance shows how much we've grown," he told Sky Sport Italia. "With this attitude, we'd still be in the Champions League.

"Sassuolo make possession their main strength, so we chose to close the gaps in the centre more than anything else. We knew that we'd have to cede possession.

"Aesthetics are fine, but the Scudetto is too important. We played beautiful football in the Champions League and all anyone said was that we were eliminated, so we have to focus on the results now.

"We are trying to press high, without running too many risks, so we can make the most of players like Lukaku, Lautaro and [Achraf] Hakimi who can hurt teams when running into space."

Lukaku's 10th-minute opener came from his only attempt and he added to that with the assist for Martinez's goal midway through the second half.

The Belgium international has now scored in five successive outings for club and country, with this his first headed goal in Serie A since July 2020.

"You can see the work Romelu has done and I don't forget when people said he was overrated. I immediately said that with his potential, he could do extraordinary things here," Conte said.

"The great thing about our strikers is that they are all willing to do the dirty work, too. Christian Eriksen has also grown. We knew it would be difficult for him to adapt to a very tactical league like Serie A. He can do much more, but we are counting on him.

"It's a pity we conceded that late goal, but we are more balanced and mature as a team now. If you want to win league titles, solidity is important."

Despite boasting a healthy lead over closest challengers Milan, and a 12-point advantage on champions Juventus, Conte does not feel there is much difference between the clubs in terms of quality.

"I'm amazed by that," he said of the points gap. "To regain so many points over the past two seasons against the team that has dominated for the past nine years was difficult even in the best of dreams.

"But it doesn't mean we are better than Juventus. They have a strong team and they demonstrated that by beating Napoli."

Inter have won 11 home league games in a row and host relegation-threatened Cagliari on Sunday, but Conte is not ready to celebrate a first Scudetto for Inter since 2009-10 just yet.

"There are still many games to go and each victory is worth six points," he said. "By winning we have put on more pressure and can see the satisfaction in everyone's eyes.

"We want to do something wonderful for a club that hasn't won for 10 years. It's be wonderful if we were the ones to remove from the pedestal those who won for nine years non-stop.

"But there will be tension from here on – it'll feel like the ball weighs more at our feet, perhaps more than for those teams who no longer have the same objectives."

Antonio Conte has seen evidence of "massive progress" in Lautaro Martinez's game both with and without the ball during his time as Inter coach.

Conte arrived at San Siro in 2019, a year after striker Martinez was signed from Racing Club.

The Argentina international's debut campaign had brought just nine goals and two assists in 35 games in all competitions, but those figures quickly improved under Conte.

Martinez tallied 21 goals and five assists in 49 outings last season and has scored 16 times and created six more for team-mates in 38 appearances in the 2020-21 campaign.

His minutes-per-goal rate has improved across his three seasons in Italy, this season finding the back of the net every 162.2 minutes.

Martinez is also creating more chances, 1.4 per 90 minutes, resulting in the increase in assists, but his work in defending from the front has been similarly impressive.

The 23-year-old has won possession in the final third 32 times this term (1.1 per 90) and posted 31 interceptions (also 1.1 per 90), comfortably more than in his previous two seasons combined.

Among Serie A forwards to score 15 or more goals in all competitions this season, Martinez leads the way in both categories as well as in recoveries per 90 (3.1).

Conte was asked about his number 10 ahead of Inter's game with Sassuolo on Wednesday, and said: "He has improved in all areas, on the ball and off the ball.

"He has improved when it comes to holding up possession and attacking the space.

"Like the other players, he has made massive progress. He needs to stay on this track. Taking his age into account, he has a very bright future ahead. It's in his hands."

Of those with 15 goals or more, Martinez's strike partner Romelu Lukaku ranked last for interceptions (0.1) and recoveries (1.6).

But Lukaku trails only Cristiano Ronaldo (31) in the scoring charts with 26 strikes in all competitions, and Conte is confident all of his players are contributing to the cause as Inter - eight points clear with Wednesday's game in hand - close on a first Scudetto since 2009-10.

"I think for every side putting the team first is the most important factor," the coach said. "Alone, you cannot win matches.

"It's the team that gets the best out of the individual. The players have understood the message. They are all pulling in the same direction."

Antonio Conte said Inter are ready to claim silverware this season after moving further clear atop the Serie A summit.

Romelu Lukaku scored the only goal of the game as high-flying Inter edged Bologna 1-0 on Saturday to open up an eight-point lead.

Inter, who last won the Scudetto in 2010, have claimed nine consecutive league victories for the first time since 2007 to be clear of city rivals Milan with a match in hand.

Conte's Inter came close to hoisting a trophy aloft last season, beaten by Sevilla in the Europa League final, but the former Italy boss feels the Nerazzurri are better equipped for glory in 2020-21.

"Inevitably, as we get closer to the finish line, every victory weighs more and more," Conte told Sky Sport Italia.

"Winning in Bologna against a team that plays good football and presses you hard, that was certainly a big step forward. Bologna did very well, they have an excellent coach in Sinisa Mihajlovic and it wasn't easy.

"This was also a very long day for us, as we were in the hotel watching Milan's game at lunch, then I watched Sassuolo against Roma. Juventus played just before us, so I didn't see that one.

"It wasn't easy playing after everyone else, especially after international duty, but the lads kept their focus and the right spirit. It was not to be taken for granted.

"I told the lads, this is a victory that we must follow up with Sassuolo on Wednesday."

Inter are in the box seat with 10 matches remaining, but Conte added: "It cannot be a Scudetto celebration, because we have to earn that on the pitch and it needs to be mathematically certain. There are 10 games to go for us, nine for some others, and 27-30 points up for grabs.

"We know full well that Serie A is very difficult and every match is a battle to get the victory. The closer to we get to the finish line, the clearer we can see the prize at the end.

"Everyone is looking at that direction and we see it from a different angle to the others right now, but we still have it all to do. We've achieved nothing yet."

"I was called to Inter in order to change the narrative of the last few years," said Conte, who was appointed in 2019, having previously led Juventus to three consecutive titles. "The objective was in three years to either win or at least build something credible and make the Inter fans proud.

"Inevitably, a few things have changed since the start of this journey, but we must continue to focus only on our work. As I said, we must concentrate only on what we have the power to change. What happens off the field is of interest, obviously, but we cannot affect that."

Conte continued: "It would be marvellous to end a season that has not been easy for anyone by crowning it with a trophy. We went close last season with the Europa League Final, but this time I'm convinced we are more ready."

Inter are the third team in Serie A history to win each of the first nine games in the second half of the season, after Milan in 1989-90 (10) and Juventus in 2017-18 (nine). 

Leaders Inter extended their advantage at the Serie A summit to eight points on Saturday, Romelu Lukaku scoring the only goal in a hard-fought 1-0 triumph away at Bologna. 

With second-placed Milan only able to draw at home to Sampdoria upon the resumption of the season following the international break, Antonio Conte's side were gifted the chance to tighten their grip on top spot.

They duly seized on the opportunity with a ninth successive league win, producing a solid display on the road to move a step closer to a first league title since the 2009-10 season.

Both teams had strong penalty claims prior to Lukaku's goal in the 31st minute, the striker on hand to tap in the rebound having seen his initial header kept out by a combination of goalkeeper and crossbar.

Federico Ravaglia reacted superbly to parry the attempt up into the air, only to see it loop onto the bar and then drop kindly for Lukaku to prod across the line for his 20th league goal of the season.

Andrea Ranocchia and Lautaro Martinez went close to adding to the advantage prior to the interval, while the latter hit the foot of Ravaglia's left-hand post with a curling effort from just outside the penalty area in the early stages of the second half.

Bologna made sure Inter never felt too comfortable so long as the lead remained at one, though too often the hosts failed to work Samir Handanovic when well positioned to do so.

The Inter captain had been fortunate to see an attempt from Jerdy Schouten go over the top after slipping from his grasp in the opening half, but he was only called on to make two saves throughout the contest.

While the visitors were wasteful themselves at times, managing to get just three of their 14 attempts on target, Lukaku could hardly have missed when presented with the opportunity from which he secured three more vital points for his side.

What does it mean? Inter on course to go the distance

Inter have impressively moved clear of the pack in the title race, aided by their rivals slipping off the pace. As well as Milan dropping points, reigning champions Juventus also faltered when returning to domestic duties, drawing 2-2 in an eventful Turin derby.

This current winning streak is the best for the Nerazzurri since setting a new competition record with 17 in a row in 2007. They still did not finish top at the end of that season, but all the signs this term suggest it is a matter of when, rather than if, Conte's squad are crowned champions.

Lukaku in illustrious company

With the closest of close-range finishes, Lukaku reached 20 league goals for Inter for a second successive season since his arrival from Manchester United.

The Belgium international is just the seventh player to hit that number in back-to-back campaigns for the club, joining a list that includes the legendary Giuseppe Meazza, as well as more recent Inter strikers in Christian Vieri and Mauro Icardi.

Hosts lack style to go with substance

Bologna were looking to win three on the spin in the league for a third time under Sinisa Mihajlovic, yet lacked a cutting edge when it mattered as they failed to score in a home game for only the second time in Serie A this term.

Key Opta Facts

- Inter are the third team in Serie A history to win each of the first nine games in the second half of the season, after Milan in 1989-90 (10) and Juventus in 2017-18 (9). 

- Inter have won five games in a row on the road in Serie A for the first time since November 2019, when they won their first seven away league games under Conte. 

- Inter have won 72 games against Bologna in Serie A, against no side they have won more matches in the competition. 

- Bologna failed to score in a home game for the second time in Serie A this term, also doing so against Napoli last November. 

What's next? 

Inter play their game in hand in midweek, hosting Sassuolo at San Siro on Wednesday. As for Bologna, they are not back in action again until next Sunday, Mihajlovic's side travelling to Roma.

Antonio Conte has told his players to do their talking on the pitch by holding off Milan and winning a first Scudetto in 11 years.

Inter edged out Torino 2-1 late on in their most recent match and boast a six-point lead on Milan with a game in hand on their closest challengers.

That made it eight Serie A victories in a row for the Nerazzurri and they will be looking to make it nine on the spin for the first time since 2017 when they travel to Bologna.

Milan boss Stefano Pioli and midfielder Ismael Bennacer have both warned Inter that the title race is not yet over, but Conte does not want to engage in mind games.

Asked at his pre-match news conference on Friday what mistakes have to be avoided, Conte said: "Speaking inappropriately. We need to shut up and pedal.

"The best advice I can give the players is to pick up from where we left off, even if it is never easy after returning from international breaks. There aren't many more games to go."

Inter have twice finished as runners-up since last winning the Scudetto in 2009-10, including last season in Conte's first at the San Siro helm.

Conte won three Serie A titles during his time as Juventus boss and wants his squad to embrace the pressure that comes with leading the way late in the season.

"Inter is a team that, throughout the course of its history, is used to always managing pressure in the right way," he said.

"Many of them are in this situation for the first time, but we can only think about ourselves and do our best until the season finishes."

Inter's sole focus is on Serie A over the remainder of the season, with the trip to Stadio Renato Dall'Ara the first of 11 remaining fixtures.

Bologna have won their last two league matches to move up to 11th and are seeking three wins in succession for the first time since February 2020.

The Rossoblu have lost 11 and drawn three of their last 14 home league meetings with Inter, but Conte is anticipating a difficult match against Sinisa Mihajlovic's side.

"It's always important to start well when you return to action, but we have to pay a lot of attention against an excellent Bologna side," Conte added.

"They are led by a very good coach who likes attacking football. We need to prepare for the match in the best possible way if we are going to win."

Inter's clash with Sassuolo prior to the international break was postponed after four of their players tested positive for coronavirus.

Samir Handanovic, Matias Vecino and Stefan de Vrij have all since returned to training, however, while Danilo D'Ambrosio is due back soon.

Providing a fitness update, Conte said: "Samir has been back for a while now and has had time to work. Matias has had three days of training and is in a good condition.

"Stefan only returned yesterday and will inevitably not be fully fit, and Danilo will be back as soon as possible. We need to get them all back in top condition."

Inter strengthened their position at the Serie A summit as Lautaro Martinez's late header secured a slender 2-1 win over Torino on Sunday.

The Nerazzurri never looked like scoring during a dismal first half, but they forged ahead in the 62nd minute when Romelu Lukaku slotted home from the penalty spot.

Antonio Sanabria pulled the hosts level eight minutes later, yet Inter celebrated an eighth consecutive top-flight win courtesy of Martinez's 14th league goal of the season five minutes from full-time.

The result moved Antonio Conte's side nine points clear at the top of Serie A, although Milan had the chance to restore a six-point gap by overcoming Napoli later on Sunday.

Inter coach Antonio Conte is refusing to get carried away about his side's Serie A title prospects despite Monday's 1-0 win over contenders Atalanta restoring their six-point buffer.

Milan Skriniar scored the lone goal of the game from a 54th-minute corner as Inter responded after their closest competitors Milan and Juventus both won earlier in the weekend.

Fifth-placed Atalanta, the second top scorers in Serie A behind Inter this season, posed a major threat but the Nerazzurri did enough to claim their seventh consecutive league win, prompting calls they have one hand on the Scudetto already with 12 games to play.

"If I look in my pocket, I find €40," Conte laughed, when asked post-game if he felt he has a piece of the Scudetto in his pocket. "I went to get petrol and I have €40 left.

"Having said that, we must continue. There are still two games before the break against Torino, entangled in the bottom half of the standings, and the other is against Sassuolo, who create big problems for everyone.

"We have to continue not thinking about what it was. Tomorrow, the lads will rest, we recharge our batteries and get ready."

The ex-Chelsea manager added: "We went back being six points clear. We played later and knew that our direct rivals had won in Verona, Juve had won against Lazio and they had come closer, and it’s inevitable that pressure will increase from now until the end.

"There was a lot in it but we hope to carry on improving from now until the end, it's also important to mention that Atalanta is a tough team that takes points from all of the big sides."

Antonio Conte is focused only on this season with Inter, rather than his long-term future at the club, as the Serie A leaders prepare to host Atalanta.  

Inter's 2-1 triumph at Parma on Thursday – sealed thanks to a brace from Alexis Sanchez – made it four league wins on the spin, though Conte acknowledges there is still a long way to go yet in their bid for a first Scudetto since 2010.  

The former Juventus and Chelsea boss is in his second year in charge of the Nerazzurri, his current deal running until the end of the 2021-22 campaign.  

It remains to be seen if he will sign an extension to extend his tenure beyond then, though his primary concern right now is staying clear of the chasing pack in the title race.  

"The fact is I have another year to run on the contract. At this moment, all of us – me, the coaches, the players – must focus on the present," Conte said.

"We cannot be distracted by other factors, we must be concentrated because we can influence the present, from here to the end of the season.  

"What will happen externally, I do not know. We have no influence over that. We can influence the present and our job.  

"I know that people want to talk about other factors, but we must stay concentrated. We need continuity and consistency. We want to show that Inter are back to the levels it deserves. 

"We cannot get carried away and think about the future – we must stay focused and think about the here and now. Our objective is playing matters and doing well for the club." 

Conte will come up against one of his former clubs on Monday, though Atalanta are a far different proposition now to when he was in charge in 2009-10.

Gian Piero Gasperini's side are once again fighting for a top-four finish, their total of 49 points a club-record tally after 25 games in a top-flight campaign.

Inter have triumphed only once in their last six matches against Atalanta in Serie A, with Conte full of praise for his opposite number ahead of the game at San Siro.

"We are facing a team that creates big problems for everyone, in the Champions League and in the league, where they have won several times against the big names," Conte said. 

"Atalanta have consolidated, aware of their means and have strong players, both the starters and those who enter during the match – I think of [Luis] Muriel, who has taken over many times and has solved complicated games. 

"Gasperini is doing an extraordinary job, the group is following his ideas and I'm happy for him and for Atalanta, who I coached for a while."

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