Inter managed to keep the pressure on Serie A pacesetters Milan with a sixth successive league win in their 2-1 victory over Spezia on Sunday.
Antonio Conte's men were by no means impressive at San Siro as they initially struggled to break down the away side, but in the end goals from Achraf Hakimi and Romelu Lukaku were enough to keep them a point behind city rivals Milan.
Inter had scored 30 goals in their first 12 Serie A matches of the season for only the ninth time in their history, but there was no sign of such potency during a drab first half that saw the Nerazzurri fail to exert any real control over their promoted visitors.
They briefly clicked into gear early in the second period and that brought Hakimi's opener before Lukaku doubled the lead from the spot with 20 minutes to go, rendering Roberto Piccoli's late strike a mere consolation.
Inter's start was relatively bright, as Ashley Young saw a threatening left-wing cross tipped just wide by Ian Provedel and Lautaro Martinez headed Marcelo Brozovic's free-kick over soon after in the 12th minute.
But otherwise Spezia coped admirably with the hosts' frontline and spent long periods dictating the tempo, even shading Inter in the possession stakes at the halfway point.
Spezia were carved open in the 51st minute, however.
Young's long ball was knocked down by Lukaku to Martinez, who in turn fed Hakimi with a throughball and the wing-back found the bottom-right corner with a precise finish from a tight angle just inside the box.
Inter effectively wrapped up the win when M'Bala Nzola blocked a cross with his arm and, following a VAR review, Lukaku coolly converted the kick.
Piccoli pulled one back for Spezia deep into stoppage time, reaching a deflected cross ahead of Matteo Darmian to prod home, though it came too late to have any real influence on the match.
What does it mean? Inter grind out the win to stay in striking distance of Rossoneri
Spezia had done well away from home this term before Sunday, as they were bidding to become only the seventh team to win at least three of their first seven games on the road in Serie A since 1929-30, so this had the potential to go wrong for Inter.
The first half lent further credence to such a possibility, with the home side having great difficulty in taking control.
In the end Inter got the job done, a fine goal and a penalty the difference – it keeps them close to Milan, so Conte will not be too disappointed with the display.
Hakimi effective at both ends
It was a match of few standout performers in truth, but Hakimi did well going forward and at the back. His goal was an obvious highlight, but besides that fine finish he was also involved in a match-high 12 duels (winning seven of them) and made five tackles, another figure beaten by no one else.
Nzola's difficult day at the office
Nzola had come in for praise ahead of this meeting after scoring six times from just eight shots on target in Serie A beforehand, making him the youngest in the division to have more than five to his name. But he struggled to impose himself against Inter's back three, managing just one shot, and ultimately his handball cost Spezia a point.
Key Opta Facts
- Inter have won four Serie A home games in a row for the first time under Antonio Conte.
- Achraf Hakimi is the youngest defender to score at least four goals in the top five European leagues in 2020-21.
- This was the ninth penalty taken by Romelu Lukaku in Serie A and his ninth goal. It is 11 out of 11 considering all competitions since he signed for the Nerazzurri.
- Lautaro Martinez has three league assists this season, equalling his tally for last season (three assists in 35 appearances).
Inter go to Hellas Verona on Wednesday in their final match before the Christmas break, while Spezia host Genoa the same day.