Serie A leaders Inter traveled to Siena tonight looking for their eighth consecutive league victory. Coach Jose Mourinho had playmaker Luis Jimenez available again after a long injury lay-off, and he played behind Zlatan Ibrahimovic and Mario Balotelli in attack. Siena coach Marco Giampaolo also played with a 4-3-1-2 formation, with Houssine Kharja behind Abdel Ghezzal and Mario Frick up front.
Following a low-key start from both sides, the first chance fell to the hosts in the 13th minute, when Kharja sent in a cross that Julio clumsily punched away, letting it drop to Frick, who somehow failed to hit the target from close range.
In the 23rd minute, Frick made himself dangerous with a nice run towards the goal, but Ivan Cordoba managed to chase him down and clear the ball away in time.
Inter took the lead out of nothing in the 34th minute, when Balotelli took a corner kick towards the near post and Maicon sneaked in to poke the ball home from close range.
The Nerazzurri started to play slightly better after taking the lead, and in the 39th minute Ibrahimovic controlled a long pass by captain Javier Zanetti and fired a powerful shot that was blocked by defender Gonçalo Brandao and then grabbed by goalkeeper Gianluca Curci.
Just before the break, the hosts equalised a match they did not deserve to be losing. Cristiano Del Grosso sent in a precise cross from the left that found Kharja, who beat Maxwell to the ball and headed it home from close range.
The two teams went back into the dressing room on a 1-1 score after a half of football that saw very few chances for either side.
The second half started with no changes in either side. The start was a lot more lively than the first half, as Inter quickly created a couple of chances.
In the 48th minute, Maxwell sent in a great long ball inside the area for Ibrahimovic, who couldn’t quite find the right timing to shoot and eventually the ball bounced into Curci’s hands.
Two minutes later, Zanetti played a delicate chip into the area that found Sulley Muntari, whose hard close range shot was decisively blocked at the last second by defender Paul Codrea.
The Ghanaian midfielder came close again for Inter in the 58th minute, when on a pass by Ibrahimovic, he fired a dangerous low long range shot that Curci managed to tip away for a corner.
The Swedish striker then gave the home side a scare himself on the hour mark with a sudden shot from way outside the area that struck the crossbar with Curci beaten. If it had gone in, it would have been a contender for goal of the season.
The match slowed down somewhat after that, as Siena tried to take control of the match while Inter struggled to make themselves dangerous. However, the home side had a hard time breaking down the Inter defence.
In the 77th minute however, there was a huge chance for the Bianconeri as Simone Vergassola sent in a low cross that was met by Massimo Maccarone, and only some great defending by Cordoba prevented a goal for the home side.
Against the run of play, it was the Nerazzurri who went back in front in the 84th minute, when Maicon received the ball from Maxwell inside the area, and chipped the ball over Curci, but replays showed there might have been an offside position earlier on in the move.
The home side, who were definitely unlucky tonight, responded immediately two minutes later, when Julio Cesar again looked shaky as he spilled a cross by Vergassola, the ball then fall to Ghezzal, whose close range shot was brilliantly blocked by the always alert Cordoba.
In injury time, Inter were pinned back into their area as the home side desperately looked for an equalizer, but the Nerazzurri’s defence held firm to claim a hard-fought 2-1 victory, which guarantees they will maintain a six-point lead on top of Serie A going into the Christmas break.
Siena (4-3-1-2): Curci; Zuniga (89' Calaió), Brandao, Portanova, Del Grosso; Vergassola, Codrea, Galloppa; Kharja; Ghezzal, Frick (75’ Maccarone). Coach: Giampaolo.
Inter (4-3-1-2): Julio Cesar; Maicon, Cordoba, Samuel, Maxwell; Zanetti, Cambiasso, Muntari (72’ Quaresma); Jimenez (54’ Figo); Ibrahimovic, Balotelli (54’ Crespo). Coach: Mourinho.
Goals: 34', 84' Maicon (I), 44' Kharja (S)
Booked: Vergassola, Codrea, Kharja (S); Samuel, Balotelli (I)
--Danilo Pochini, Goal.com