Europe in sight as Inter cruise to victory at Cagliari

Inter Milan players celebrate Roberto Gagliardini's goal Source: Getty Images

Inter Milan returned to winning ways and seized on Atalanta dropping points, as a 5-1 victory away to Cagliari fired Stefano Pioli's side into the European qualification places in Serie A.

Two defeats in the last four league games - against heavyweights Juventus and Roma - had dampened Inter's spirits after a run of seven consecutive Serie A wins, but an Ivan Perisic-inspired triumph in Sardinia lifted the Nerazzurri to fifth ahead of Lazio playing later in the day.

Cagliari had won at San Siro earlier in the campaign, in the final weeks of Frank de Boer's ill-fated tenure, but Inter took full control of the return fixture as Ever Banega created the opener for Perisic and fired a superb second himself.

Although the home side hit back through Marco Borriello, Perisic grabbed his second shortly after half-time to give the visitors breathing space once again.

Cagliari rarely looked like mounting a comeback, instead allowing Mauro Icardi to net away from home for the first time since September, his penalty exorcising the demons of a previous miss from 12 yards against Massimo Rastelli's side.

Inter were then able to comfortably cruise through the remainder of the second half, Roberto Gagliardini netting his first goal for the club to add gloss to the scoreline late on, with a key clash against fourth-placed Atalanta, who were held to a 0-0 draw at home to Fiorentina earlier in the day and are now just one point ahead, to come next.

Australia defender Trent Sainsbury watched on from the Inter Milan bench as a magnificent Gary Medel intervention denied Cagliari an early lead as the Chile international recovered to acrobatically clear Joao Pedro's lobbed effort inches from the goal line.

Perisic swung a low cross in for Icardi to toe wide at the other end, before Geoffrey Kondogbia's looping header was helped onto the crossbar by Gabriel.

After 34 minutes, Perisic then fired Pioli's men in front.

Banega lifted a delightful left-footed pass between two defenders and into the Cagliari area, where Perisic controlled delicately with his left foot and slotted a smart finish under the goalkeeper.

And Banega added a second just five minutes later when he curled a fine free-kick inside the left-hand post from 20 yards, with Gabriel scrambling hopelessly across his line.

The hosts sought an immediate response and, although Samir Handanovic expertly clawed away Davide Di Gennaro's free-kick, a goal would soon arrive when Borriello nodded Nicolo Barella's cross into the net.

Handanovic held another header from Artur Ionita, but, after just two minutes of the second half, Cagliari's hard work was undone by a third Nerazzurri goal.

Perisic was again the scorer, stepping inside onto his right foot to coolly curl beyond Gabriel's despairing dive.

The goalkeeper was able to prevent a fourth as he dived at Icardi's feet from Antonio Candreva's centre, and then saved spectacularly as Danilo D'Ambrosio let fly from distance.

Miranda headed straight at Gabriel as he met Perisic's cross unmarked, but the keeper's brave resistance was breached as he brought Icardi down in the area.

The Inter captain converted the penalty himself, before Gabriel saved again from Kondogbia's powerful strike and blocked a tame effort from substitute Eder.

Icardi then rattled the crossbar as the visitors kept the pressure on in the closing stages, and Gagliardini added his name to the scoresheet with a low blast two minutes from time, opening his account for Inter and netting for the first time in Serie A.

Key Opta stats:
- Ivan Perisic has scored his second brace in Serie A, the first came in January against Udinese.
- Perisic has scored nine league goals this season: his highest tally in a single campaign since 2013-2014 (10 goals for Wolfsburg).
- Ever Banega's previous Serie A goal came in December 2016 (versus Lazio) - in that match he also scored and delivered an assist.
- Inter have won 10 of their last 12 Serie A games (L2).
- Cagliari have won only one of their last seven league matches (D2 L4).
- Cagliari have conceded at least five goals four times Serie A this season, more than any other team.
- The last time Inter had scored five goals or more in a Serie A game away from home was in September 2013 (vs Sassuolo).
- Marco Borriello has scored five goals in his last five league appearances at home.
- Borriello's goal was only the second header Inter have conceded this season, fewer than any other Serie A side.

Source Omnisport