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Empoli 0-1 Inter Milan: Business as usual

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Mauro Icardi's goal gave Inter another 1-0 win to open 2016 and keep their place at the top of the table.

Gabriele Maltinti/Getty Images

In the first match of the new year Inter traveled to take on an in-form Empoli team. The home side had won 4 Serie A matches in a row for the first time in their history and wanted to keep the good time rolling in 2016. Inter were coming off the loss against Lazio and had not won their first match of a new year since 2012. Regardless, they knew that Fiorentina's win had knocked them off the top of the league and only matching that result would restore them to that position.

Mancini opted to return to a 433 formation. Handanovic was in goal with a back four comprised of D'Ambrosio, Miranda, Murillo, and Nagatomo. The midfield was made of Brozovic, Medel, and Kondogbia while the attack saw a combination of Perisic, Icardi, and Ljajic.

Empoli started the stronger of the two sides, using a combination of smart positioning and pressing to isolate the forwards and leave the midfield with little time to make anything happen. As a result Empoli were the ones with a majority of the possession and Inter had to do a lot of defending in the first half. Towards the later periods of the half the Nerazzurri began to get more of a foothold in the match as Kondogbia and Perisic began to gain a little more confidence to run at the Empoli players and make something happen for their side. Just when it looked like the half would end scoreless Perisic drove down the left and played in a low cross for Icardi to put into the back of the net.

The home side came out in the second half pressing for an equalizer, but their desire to commit more men forward allowed Inter to break on the counter much easier without having to worry about the pressing they had faced in the first half. There were not a lot of chances on either side, though Handanovic had to be alert to preserve the scoreline. Empoli had a decent penalty shout in the 71st minute but the referee waived their protests away and Inter were able to hold on for the three points.

This was not a victory anybody will want to watch again. The team did not pass or create chances particularly well. They were ruthless when the chance arose (Icardi now has 5 goals in his last 5 matches) and able to defend well however. There are games that a team competing for the title should win and this was one of them. It was an ugly victory but a victory nonetheless and come the end of the season nobody will care how the points were earned. Next up is Sassuolo on January 10.