Inter Milan move six points clear at the top of Serie A with a hard-fought 2-1 win over strugglers Parma.
Alexis Sanchez scored twice to give Inter a considerable advantage in the title race as the Milan club bolstered their hopes of winning Serie A for the first time since 2010.
Parma’s wait for their first win since November 30 continues as Hernani's volley late on proved to be only a consolation.
Inter confirm interest in Bellerin and Telles
Parma began brightly after the bizarre kick-off fireworks. The hosts saw a strong penalty appeal turned down when Dennis Man, on his first start for the Serie A strugglers, went down in the box under a challenge from Nicolo Barella. The Parma striker attempted a shot while the Inter man tried to make a last-ditch clearance. Ultimately, VAR decided to allow play to continue.
In a game Inter were expected to dominate from the first second, it was their goalkeeper Samir Handanovic who was called into action in the 15th minute, making a smart reflex save to repel a free header from Jasmin Kurtic.
As the visitors finally began to ramp up the pressure following their insipid start, Romelu Lukaku missed the best Inter chance of the half in the 38th minute. The Belgium international was slipped through by Marcelo Brozovic, but his low strike on his weaker right foot was expertly parried behind by Luigi Sepe.
Inter responded well after the break and broke the deadlock in the 55th minute through Sanchez, whose close-range shot was parried by Sepe’s outstretched arm, but it still sneaked just over the line.
Momentum was with Inter. Two minutes later and Ivan Perisic, who had a disappointing evening, elected to blast a close-range shot over the bar instead of squaring to a furious Lukaku.
But Inter's talisman would soon turn provider. On the counter-attack, Lukaku laid the ball off to Sanchez to slot in his second of the night.
Parma pulled a goal back through Hernani, who confidently volleyed home a chipped Giuseppe Pezzella cross from close range with less than 20 minutes to play, but Inter held on for a vital victory.
TALKING POINT - Inter were tested
The result may have looked routine, but Parma did push the Serie A leaders to the limit with Hernani's goal deep into the second half causing the visitors plenty of problems.
Parma did not look a team on only 15 points and made the Inter defence work hard.
Nevertheless, Inter's gritty resolve in getting the job done could prove to be what gets them over the line in this enthralling Serie A title race.
MAN OF THE MATCH - Alexis Sanchez
Inter did not make a great deal of clear-cut chances, which made Sanchez's clinical finishes stand out even more.
The former Manchester United forward was on the same wavelength as Lukaku with the Belgian grabbing both assists.
Parma: Sepe (6), Bani (6), Osorio (6), Valenti (6), Gagliolo (6), Hernani (7), Brugman (5), Kurtic (5), Kucka (6), Karamoh (7), Man (6)
Subs: Mihaila (5), Pezzella (6), Busi (5), Inglese (5), Pelle (N/A)
Inter Milan: Handanovic (7), Hakimi (8), Skriniar (6), De Vrij (6), Bastoni (6), Barella (6), Brozovic (6), Eriksen (6), Perisic (5), Sanchez (9), Lukaku (7)
Subs: Vidal (6), Lautaro (N/A), Darmian (N/A)
6' - NO PENALTY! Man goes down in the box under a challenge from Barella with the Parma striker trying to shoot and the Inter man trying to make a last-ditch clearance. VAR has decided we will keep on playing.
15' - WHAT A SAVE! A free header from Kurtic, who drives late into the box, is parried away by Handanovic! What a stop! The Slovenian midfielder will feel he should have buried that.
38' - BIG SAVE! Brozovic slips through Lukaku... he shoots first-time inside the box off his weaker right foot but Sepe does well to get his body behind it!
54' - GOAL! Alexis has broken the deadlock! Lukaku is intercepted by Brugman but the ball goes straight into the path of Alexis whose close-range shot is tamely parried by Sepe. Barriolo may have cleared it off the line... but it just crossed over! Inter lead!
61' - GOAL!! Alexis scores and it's a classic Inter goal! Parma start putting some nice moves together, but the league leaders nick the ball in midfield and Lukaku streaks forward before laying off for Sanchez to slot the ball into the bottom corner! That was ruthless!
71' - GOAL! Hernani scores for Parma! A chipped ball to the far post from Pezzella finds the Brazilian and he confidently volleys it into the net from close range! It's a lifeline for Parma!
‘Superman Returns’ - Buffon’s move back to boyhood club Parma confirmed
Buffon to play on until 45 at Parma - reports