Inter 4-2 Sassuolo: Lukaku scores double as Nerazzurri tighten top-four grip
Inter's great week continued as Romelu Lukaku scored a brilliant double in a 4-2 win over Sassuolo at San Siro on Saturday.
With one foot in the Champions League final after Wednesday's 2-0 first-leg victory over city rivals Milan, Inter took advantage of the Rossoneri losing at Spezia to put even more space between the two sides in Serie A.
Lukaku put the hosts ahead when he arrowed in from distance before Ruan put through his own net, while Lautaro Martinez scored via a deflection as the Nerazzurri earned a seventh straight win in all competitions.
Matheus Henrique and Davide Frattesi pulled goals back for the mid-table visitors, but Lukaku smashed in a fourth for Simone Inzaghi's men late on as they move up to third and crucially five points above Milan in fifth, putting them in the driver's seat to seal Champions League qualification with three games to play.
A VAR review came to Inter's rescue early on, ruling Armand Lauriente offside after his cross was poked home at the back post by Domenico Berardi.
The hosts had a goal of their own ruled out minutes later, Andrea Consigli unable to keep out Joaquin Correa's effort only for the offside flag to curtail the celebrations.
Henrique and Frattesi spurned golden opportunities to put the visitors ahead, and they were made to pay for those misses as Lukaku's long-range drive flew into the top corner four minutes before half-time.
Martinez came on at the break as Inter pressed to double their lead, and they would do exactly that when Ruan sliced Raoul Bellanova's cross-shot into his own net.
The hosts received another huge slice of luck to make it 3-0 before the hour mark, Martinez seeing his effort hit the beleaguered Ruan and completely wrong-foot Consigli before nestling in.
Sassuolo narrowed the deficit through late headers by Henrique and Frattesi but Lukaku would seal the win when he coolly fired past Consigli from Marcelo Brozovic's pass to make the points safe.
What does it mean? Inter hit form at right time
A five-match winless league run between March and April put Inter's top-four chances in serious doubt, but this five-match streak of top-flight victories means only a remarkable collapse would see them drop out of the Champions League places now.
The Nerazzurri were perhaps a little lucky to come away with all three points here, accumulating just 1.32 xG (expected goals) to Sassuolo's 2.38, with the visitors having more shots and attempts on target, but Inter ruthlessly made the visitors pay for their profligacy.
Lukaku scores birthday brace
This has been far from Lukaku's best season of his career, but his upturn in form since the World Cup continued with a sensational long-range strike on his 30th birthday to set Inter on their way to victory.
The Belgium international lashed home a second late on to cap a solid display, scoring with both his shots on target and winning all three of his aerial duels as Sassuolo struggled to keep him quiet.
A night to forget for Ruan
It was a night to forget for Ruan, who was outmuscled by Lukaku for the opener.
Sassuolo were still very much in the game until a three-minute period in the second half that saw Ruan divert into his goal twice.
The first went down as an own goal as he wildly sliced past his own goalkeeper and he will be somewhat grateful the second was awarded to Martinez as the Inter forward's shot deflected off the defender and in.
Key Opta facts
- Since the beginning of April, Inter have collected the most points in Serie A (16) and in the same period, the Nerazzurri have scored more than any other opponent in the competition (19 goals).
- Against no other team has Romelu Lukaku scored more goals than Sassuolo in Serie A (also six against Genoa).
- Inter have won five consecutive matches in a single Serie A season for the first time since November 2021-January 2022 (eight in that case).
- Inter have won their last seven games across all competitions. The last time the Nerazzurri collected more victories in a row in a single season was between February and April 2021 (nine in that case).
- Sassuolo have conceded at least two goals in five consecutive away matches in Serie A for the first time in club history.
- Inter have benefitted from the most own goals in Serie A this season (three).
Inter will look to finish the job on Tuesday in their second leg against Milan and seal their place in the Champions League final, while Sassuolo's next game is a Serie A home clash with Monza on Friday.