MILAN: A spectacular double from Belgium midfielder Radja Nainggolan kept the Serie A title race ticking over after Roma stunned Inter Milan 3-1 at the San Siro on Sunday.
Inter welcomed Luciano Spalletti’s visitors confident of avenging their 2-1 defeat in the capital having suffered only one defeat, away to Juventus, in their past 10 league outings.
But in what is club captain Francesco Totti’s 25th and final season in Serie A, a rampant Roma had other ideas.
Nainggolan had the Giallorossi 1-0 up on 12 minutes with a ferocious strike and doubled their advantage with an even more impressive offering shortly after the restart.
Although Mauro Icardi marked his return from a two-game ban by reducing arrears on 81 minutes, Diego Perotti restored the visitors’ two-goal advantage from the spot on 85 minutes.
Roma remain second and, after Juventus stretched their lead to 10 points with a 2-0 win over Empoli, restored the gap on the Turin giants to seven points.
Nainggolan was easily Roma’s best player on the night, but said: “All I do is what I’m told to, and I’m enjoying myself.
“I’ve been given a little bit more freedom on the pitch so I’m trying to help the team as much as I can.”
The win was all the more important after Napoli’s title bid was dented by a 2-0 defeat at home to Atalanta on Saturday which left Maurizio Sarri’s men in third place, but now 12 points off the pace.
Roma coach Luciano Spalletti was unequivocal. Although he hailed a “great game between two top sides”, he added: “If we’d passed the ball around for 10 seconds more on some occasions, we would have destroyed them.”
Inter coach Stefano Pioli lamented: “We had chances, but they were more clinical than us. They have a lot of qualities.”
Napoli’s defeat should have inspired Inter to keep on challenging for a top three finish and a return to the Champions League for the first time since 2012, but events conspired to upset their plans in the early stages.
Icardi was dispossessed by Federico Fazio as he teed up a shot in the opening minutes and soon after Ivan Perisic was cautioned for flicking the ball up and heading it back to his goalkeeper Samir Handanovic.
Handanovic was forced down low moments later to stop a Mohamed Salah drive from Dzeko’s cheeky chip, but was left clutching at thin air on 12 minutes.
Nainggolan collected Dzeko’s pass on the left and stole a march on Roberto Gagliardini before unleashing a ferocious drive that landed in Handanovic’s far top corner.
Joao Mario’s first-time effort deflected over from eight yards moments later, but in defence Inter were in disarray.
Dzeko had time to switch feet before pouncing on Kevin Strootman’s pass to force Handanovic to parry down low.
Inter had penalty claims waved away when Icardi fell under a challenge from Fazio, although Roma captain Daniele De Rossi was rightly shown a yellow card on 40 minutes for a reckless challenge on Gagliardini.
At the other end, Roma keeper Wojciech Szczesny came to Roma’s rescue twice, parrying a Marcelo Brozovic first-timer before bundling the ball clear from the resulting corner.
Inter had Szczesny under pressure from the restart but the Pole parried Antonio Candreva’s drive from the right. Perisic, unmarked in the area, then fired a deflected drive over after Bruno Peres slid in to challenge late.
A frustrated Pioli had replaced Brozovic with Italy striker Eder 10 minutes after the restart, but Nainggolan doubled Roma’s lead in spectacular fashion moments later.
When an Inter attack broke down, the Belgian launched the counter before the halfway line and powered up the middle before beating Handanovic with a fierce strike from 25 yards.
Inter hit back when Roma defender Antonio Rudiger left Icardi with space to slide in and direct Perisic’s cross past Szczesny on 81 minutes.
But when Gary Medel tried to stop Dzeko with a reckless challenge in the area minutes later, the referee pointed to the spot and Perotti stepped up to beat Handanovic with the easiest of roll-ins.