Icardi, Banega hit hat-tricks as Inter pummel Atalanta
Argentinians Mauro Icardi and Ever Banega struck a hat-trick apiece as Champions League-chasing Inter Milan demolished high-flying Atalanta with a defiant 7-1 romp on Sunday.
Atalanta travelled to the San Siro confident of causing an upset having beaten Inter, Napoli and Roma at home in a season that is turning out to be their best to date.
But Gian Piero Gasperini’s men, who have got used to being welcomed back to Bergamo by hundreds of ecstatic fans whenever they play away, are set for a scolding after a dismal display that saw Atalanta drop two places to sixth.
Gasperini said: “We got a lot of things wrong today, but in the kind of season that we’re having, we can allow ourselves the odd slip-up.
“We’re still targeting the Europa League.”
Icardi completed his hat-trick in nine first-half minutes – including one from the spot when he was tripped in the area – to fire the Nerazzurri to a 3-0 lead by the 26th minute, with Banega netting twice and Remo Freuler hitting a 42nd-minute consolation as Inter took a 5-1 half-time lead.
The hosts twisted the knife seven minutes after the restart when ex-Atalanta midfielder Roberto Gagliardini slammed the ball past stricken goalkeeper Etrit Berisha and into the top corner, before Argentina midfielder Banega completed his hat-trick with a deflected free-kick on 68 minutes.
Inter moved up to fourth to sit five points behind Roma, who occupy the third and final Champions League qualifying place, although the capital club will pull eight points clear of Inter with a win away to struggling Palermo later Sunday.
Roma’s city rivals Lazio, one point behind Inter in fifth, will leapfrog Inter if they account for Torino at home on Monday.
Inter’s fans showed their appreciation of coach Stefano Pioli by belting out a dedicated song just after the half hour.
Although it gave him goosebumps, Pioli said nothing has been achieved yet.
“I got quite emotional, it made me really happy,” said Pioli. “I’m happy for everyone at the club, but now we have to face Torino (away).
“We’ve got 10 games left, which is a lot. We have to keep our heads down and work hard. Today we had the perfect approach, let’s keep it that way.”
Champions Juventus took another step towards a record sixth consecutive Serie A title with a controversial 2-1 win over AC Milan on Friday, when Argentinian starlet Paulo Dybala hit a controversial, last-gasp penalty for the hosts.
Massimiliano Allegri’s men are now 10 points ahead of Napoli, who saw Lorenzo Insigne hit a brace, one from the spot, and Belgian forward Dries Mertens add another from the penalty spot in a 3-0 home win over struggling Crotone.
Days after crashing out of the Champions League following a 6-2 aggregate loss to Real Madrid, Napoli captain Marek Hamsik said the pressure is now on Roma.
“This win has put them under a little bit of pressure, we’ll see what happens,” said the Slovak.
“Now, we have to turn our attention to our trip to Empoli, who are never easy to play at home.”
Elsewhere, Croatia striker Nikola Kalinic saved Fiorentina’s blushes when he struck in the dying seconds to secure a 1-0 home win over Cagliari.
Chievo got back to winning ways following a 3-1 reverse at AC Milan two weeks ago with a 4-0 romp over Empoli in Verona where Roberto Inglese, Sergio Pellissier, Valter Birsa and Bostjan Cesar were all on target.
Chievo remain in midtable, with Empoli edging dangerously towards the relegation zone. They are only seven points ahead of third-from-bottom Palermo, although the Sicilians will start as underdogs against Roma later Sunday.
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