Inter Milan piled the pressure on title rivals AC Milan and Juventus as they stormed to a convincing 3-0 victory at Lecce. The victory moved Jose Mourinho's team further ahead of the pack, ahead of Milan's match at home to rock-bottom Reggina.
Goals from Zlatan Ibrahimovic, Luis Figo and Dejan Stankovic gave Inter only their third win in six games since the resumption of Serie A following the winter break. The match also saw teenage forward Mario Balotelli's return to first team action as he replaced Ibrahimovic with five minutes left. Balotelli had been left out of the team in January as punishment for showing a poor attitude in training.
As expected, Inter were quickly in the ascendancy, dominating the ball and pinning down Lecce deep inside their own half. On nine minutes, Serbia midfielder Stankovic should have done better with his header that went just over the crossbar, after receiving Ibrahimovic's inviting cross from the right. It was the Sweden forward who gave the visitors the lead on 12 minutes as he controlled a pass from Cambiasso on the edge of the area and then ripped a right-foot shot past Francesco Benussi in the Lecce goal.
The hosts almost hit back on 18 minutes as defender Guglielmo Stendardo met a corner with a powerful header that was heading for the bottom far corner until Brazilian goalkeeper Julio Cesar pulled off a stunning one-handed save. From the resulting corner, Senegalese midfielder Papa Waibo rose highest, but could not direct his header on target.
Inter were controlling matters without looking particularly spectacular, but 11 minutes after the restart they should have doubled their advantage. A free-kick from Figo caused havoc in the Lecce box and fell at the feet of Brazil full-back Maicon six yards out, but he missed dreadfully, skying his shot well over the bar.
Just after the hour mark, Benussi had to be alert to close down and block a shot from Stankovic as the Serie A leaders continued to press. And they didn't have to wait long before Figo settled the affair in a most unusual fashion.
Teenage left-back Davide Santon cut inside and crossed with his right foot into the centre of the box where Figo had come off the opposite wing and ghosted between Lecce's centre-backs to glance a header into the far corner. Things started turning into a rout eight minutes from time when Stankovic timed his run perfectly to head home a free-kick from Maicon.
Despite the win, Inter coach Jose Mourinho was furious by what he thought was yet another penalty decision going against his team, when Ibrahimovic was booked for diving after going down in the box.
"I got banned for using the word fear, so I won't use it again," said Mourinho, referring to the one-match touchline ban he was given for asking referee Domenico Celi if he was afraid of giving a decision to Inter in their 1-0 victory against Sampdoria last month.