Inter edges ever closer to title glory



Inter Milan defender Federico Dimarco celebrates with teammates after scoring his team's first goal during Monday's 2-0 home win over Empoli. AFP

MILAN — Inter Milan took another step toward the Serie A title on Monday with a straightforward 2-0 win over struggling Empoli which maintained its 14-point lead at the top of the league.

Federico Dimarco put Inter ahead after five minutes at the San Siro before substitute Alexis Sanchez sealed the points in front of delighted home fans with nine minutes remaining.

Monday's comfortable victory left Inter needing just 11 more points from eight matches to beat second-placed AC Milan to a 20th Italian league crown.

Inter also became the second team in Serie A history to score in the season's first 30 games when it beat Empoli 2-0 and edged closer to the title on Monday.

Only Juventus in the 2013-14 campaign scored in its first 30 games. In the big five European leagues this season, no other team has matched Inter's feat.

Inter has a huge lead on its local rival thanks in large part to academy product Dimarco, whose first-time strike from Alessandro Bastoni's neat clipped pass separated the host from its spirited opponent for most of the match.

It was Bastoni's third assist in as many league matches and the Italy defender joked: "It was the worst of the lot, Dimarco's finish made it look much better!"

"We're really happy with the win because we've just come off the international break and it's never easy winning after traveling around the world," added Bastoni.

Simone Inzaghi's side was far from the scintillating form it showed before being knocked out of the Champions League by Atletico Madrid last month.

But Inter has dropped only two points since the turn of the year and Monday's win was a good way to end what has been a difficult couple of weeks.

Francesco Acerbi was cleared late last month of racially abusing Napoli defender Juan Jesus, an ugly episode which dragged on through the international break as the Italy defender and Inter denied the accusation.

Acerbi started the game after avoiding a potential 10-match ban due to the Italian Football Federation's disciplinary tribunal deciding there wasn't enough evidence to punish him.

A fourth straight defeat without scoring a goal left Empoli back in the relegation zone on goals scored, swapping places with 17th-placed Frosinone who drew 1-1 with Genoa on Saturday.

"If that run had knocked our confidence you'd have seen it tonight with a bad performance but that didn't happen," said Empoli coach Davide Nicola.

Bologna's Euro charge

Bologna cruised past Serie A's bottom side Salernitana 3-0 to continue its charge toward a first-ever appearance in the Champions League.

Stunning first-half strikes from Riccardo Orsolini and Alexis Saelemaekers, capped by a fine stoppage-time finish by Charalampos Lykogiannis, ensured that Bologna stayed in fourth place, five points above Roma who was held to a goalless draw at Lecce.

Thiago Motta's side has won eight of its last nine matches and not only looks a good bet to reach Europe's top club competition, but also has Juventus in its sights.

Juve is just two points ahead of Bologna in third following its last-gasp defeat at Lazio on Saturday and has been dragged back into a battle for the Champions League.

Bologna currently sits in the final spot but Serie A is firmly in the running for an extra place in next year's revamped tournament, meaning fifth may well be good enough.

Both Bologna and Roma host Juve before the end of the season.

"We're doing really well at the minute, with the way that we're playing and the results we're getting," Motta told Sky Sports.

Although the seven-time Italian champion played one round in the old European Cup in 1964, the same year that it most recently won the Scudetto, it has never participated in the modern Champions League.

Last season's ninth place was the highest Bologna had finished in Serie A for over a decade and it is well on course for its best finish in years.

"Obviously we're looking at the table but that's not what matters to us, what's important is putting in the work in training and the performances on the pitch," said Saelemaekers.

Stefano Colantuono could not turn around Salernitana's fortunes in his first match in charge, his team falling to its third straight defeat as it sinks toward Serie B.

Salernitana has not won a single game since the turn of the year and is 12 points from safety.