Inter Milan coach Antonio Conte hailed a game “played to perfection” as Lautaro Martinez scored a double, with Romelu Lukaku also on target in a 3-0 win over city rivals AC Milan to extend their lead at the top of Serie A on Sunday.
Inter opened up a four-point lead over their second-placed opponents as Conte’s side target a first league title since their unprecedented treble under Jose Mourinho in 2010.
“Credit to the lads, they put in an extraordinary performance, carried out to perfection,” said Conte, bidding to end his former club Juventus’s quest for a 10th consecutive league title.
Lukaku was on top form, the Belgian playing a role in Martinez’s two goals on five and 57 minutes before scoring his 17th goal in the league this season to move top of the Serie A scorers’ chart.
Milan, chasing a first Scudetto since 2011, fell to back-to-back Serie A losses for the first time this season, with their title push suffering another blow with a fourth defeat in eight league games.
“We’ve suffered a lot this year,” said Martinez.
“Two eliminations in the Italian Cup and the Champions League, this is the only goal we have left and we’re fighting for that.”
The match was played behind closed doors at the San Siro because of the coronavirus pandemic, but that did not stop thousands of fans gathering outside the stadium for the final Milan derby of the season.
It was the third derby of the season, with Milan winning the first 2-1 in the league.
Inter won a fiery Italian Cup quarter-final by the same scoreline, a game overshadowed by Zlatan Ibrahimovic and Lukaku squaring off and trading insults, with the Swede later sent off.
Supporters waited for the team buses to arrive, waving flags and singing, with smoke bombs, before the teams entered the stadium.
“The welcome the fans gave us at the stadium gave us goosebumps,” said Conte.
The former Chelsea manager warned against complacency against their next opponents, 11th-placed Genoa and lowly Parma.
“Psychologically, I dread these two games, that’s where we’ll have to show that we have passed a milestone.
“These two games will say a lot about what we can do.”
Inter were fresher having been eliminated early from European action, with Milan coming off a 2-2 Europa League midweek draw at Red Star Belgrade.
And Conte’s side came out firing with Lukaku powering down the right flank. Milan defender Simon Kjaer blocked his initial cross, but the ball returned to the Belgian for a perfect delivery for Martinez to nod home.
Ibrahimovic threated with a back-heel flick after quarter of an hour following a scramble in the box but Inter keeper Samir Handanovic kept it out.
Gianluigi Donnarumma got his hand to the ball to deny Ivan Perisic, with Handanovic demonstrating fine form with a double save from Ibrahimovic after the break.
But Martinez broke through again, finishing off an Ivan Perisic pull-back from the by-line in a move started by Lukaku and Achraf Hakimi.
Donnarumma denied Lukaku minutes later but the former Manchester United striker then burst through to score the third, becoming the first Inter player to score in four straight Serie A derbies since Benito Lorenzi in 1950.
Drawing a blank for a second consecutive league game Ibrahimovic asked to be substituted with a quarter of an hour to go complaining of calf cramps.
“A striker depends on the team’s performance, but Handanovic hasn’t saved so well for a long time,” said Milan coach Stefano Pioli.
“It was a tough week, the worst one of the season.”
Milan face a tough trip next week to Roma, with the capital side third before they play Benevento later on Sunday.
Defending champions Juventus, in fifth, 11 points behind Inter, play catch-up at home against rock bottom Crotone on Monday.