Inter Milan increased their lead at the top of the table to ten points after they defeated Cagliari 3-0 at the San Siro, while second-placed AC Milan were held to a 0-0 draw at Bologna. Ahead of the Milan derby two weeks ago the Serie A title race seemed to be alive and kicking, with Milan knowing a victory would have left them three points behind and with a game in hand. But they lost that and have drawn their next two, leaving the champions to creep over the hill and out of sight.
Goals from Goran Pandev, Walter Samuel and Diego Milito earned Jose Mourinho's men the three points that give them a seemingly unassailable lead. It left Mourinho reflecting on a profitable month.
"It's an important victory because it puts us ten points clear of second place," he said. "We developed a lot of confidence in January and today we began with a confident and attacking mentality.
"Cagliari aren't an easy team to play and even when 2-0 down they didn't let up and created some problems. But we were solid and compact and Pandev had a great game."
There was an ominous feel to the game when Inter took the lead after just six minutes. Captain Javier Zanetti made a typically purposeful burst down the right flank, breaking into the box and pulling the ball back for Samuel Eto'o, playing his first game since returning from Africa Cup of Nations duty, but the Cameroon hitman's poor shot hit two defenders before falling invitingly into Pandev's path, the Macedonian slotting home at the near post.
On 20 minutes it seemed to be game, set and match as centre-back Samuel rose in the box to head home a Maicon corner for 2-0. And yet Cagliari could have gone into the break level. Alessandro Matri had a goal disallowed on 34 minutes and two minutes later Julio Cesar stunningly kept Cagliari off the scoresheet as he made a reaction save from Brazilian countryman Nene's acrobatic volley from close range.
Any hopes Cagliari had were wiped out two minutes after the restart following a brilliant goal from Inter in which Pandev fed Eto'o on the edge of the Sardinians' box, received the return pass and slipped in Milito, who took a touch and then slid the ball low into the corner.
Mancini not a factor
Milan laboured to a draw in Bologna with loan signing from Inter Mancini failing to impress on his debut. Ronaldinho came closest to breaking the deadlock as he hit the bar with a sideways bicycle kick in the second half and in injury time captain Massimo Ambrosini also hit the bar with a header.
Leonardo said he had no complaints with his team, but already he seemed to be throwing in the towel.
"I can't reproach anyone for anything today, we played with great concentration for the whole match. We had the right spirit," Leonardo said. "I think things (in the league) are very clear. Inter have been winning for a few years with a solid foundation. I can't remember another team that managed to win so much for so many years in a row."
Di Natale treble
Antonio Di Natale scored a hat-trick for hosts Udinese in a 3-1 win over Napoli. Napoli's Cristian Maggio had an eventful game, giving away a penalty, scoring and then being sent-off.
The southerners now have Palermo, who beat Parma 2-1 on Saturday, and Sampdoria, 2-1 winners at rock-bottom and doomed Siena, breathing down their necks in the race for a UEFA Champions League finish.
Lazio dropped into the relegation zone after a 1-0 defeat at home to Catania.