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Inter Milan escape Juventus to stay top

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Juventus’ forward Paulo Dybala (L) and midfielder Blaise Matuidi (C) fight for the ball with Inter Milan’s midfielder Matias Vecino on December 9, 2017 © AFP / MARCO BERTORELLO

MILAN, Italy, Dec 10Unbeaten Inter Milan maintained their lead at the top of Serie A after a hard-fought goalless draw at arch-rivals Juventus on Saturday.

Luciano Spalletti’s Inter leave Turin two points ahead of second-placed Napoli, who are level on 38 points with Juventus and have the chance to reclaim top spot at home to Fiorentina on Sunday.

Inter can be considered fortunate to escape the Allianz Stadium with a point after watching the dominant hosts create a series of chances, most of which were created by lively right-winger Juan Cuadrado and wasted by Mario Mandzukic.

Inter started the game well but created nothing of note, and as the match wore on the away side sank further back into their own half, unable to keep the ball and in the end lucky to escape with a point.

“Leaving Turin with a point and a clean sheet is positive,” said Spalletti. “The first 30 minutes were very good up until the final third.

“I thought we had the potential to do more, but we gave the ball away because we weren’t determined enough in the second half. We almost seemed to rest on our laurels and be content with just keeping possession.”

Despite Inter’s early domination of the ball, Mandzukic could have given Juve the lead as early as the eighth minute when a Cuadrado cross wormed its way through a crowd of defenders, but the Croat shot straight at Inter keeper Samir Handanovic from close range.

Unfortunate Mandzukic went closer than anyone did to scoring just before the end of a tight first half, meeting another cross from his Colombian teammate only to to see his powerful header thwack the crossbar.

The second half continued as the first ended, but Juve couldn’t capitalise on a wobbling Inter team that was struggling to get out of its own half, with the excellent Handanovic on hand to repel the hosts when they didn’t fluff chances on their own.

Mandzukic — Juve’s freshest player after missing the 2-0 win at Olympiakos that secured their placed in the last 16 of the Champions League — had the best opportunity to win the match with just eight minutes left.

– ‘Two dropped points’ –

He was found alone in the area with space to shoot, but he slipped before he could pull the trigger and Inter escaped with a precious point.

“Inter are top of the table, are a quality team and worked really hard. We were great in the second half and were only lacking a goal,” said Juve coach Massimiliano Allegri.

“It’s a shame we didn’t win, but considering how much we can improve, I am happy with the performance, as Inter are competitive to fight for the title to the end.”

But midfielder Miralem Pjanic conceded the draw felt like a missed opportunity for Juve as they chase a seventh straight league crown.

“The disappointment of the team in the locker room was evident, as we were the stronger side on the field and didn’t take our chances,” Pjanic said.

“It’s a pity, as we were superior on the night and could’ve done more to win…I see this as two dropped points, as Inter never really had scoring opportunities.”

Sixth-placed Sampdoria missed the chance to close in on the Champions League places earlier after throwing away a two-goal half-time lead created by Fabio Quagliarella to draw 2-2 at Cagliari, who stay 13th on 17 points thanks to goals in four minutes from Diego Farias and Leonardo Pavoletti.

Marco Giampaolo’s Samp are seven points behind Roma in fourth, who travel to Chievo in Sunday’s early match.

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