A Lautaro Martinez brace put Cagliari to the sword and helped Inter Milan take their Serie A title defence to the final day of the season.

AC Milan laid down the gauntlet for the Serie A title race with an impressive 2-0 win over Atalanta on Sunday. Defending champions Inter Milan were nonplussed and responded in kind by winning 3-1 away to Cagliari.

The win keeps Inter within a point of Milan heading into the final day of the season. Inter will welcome Sampdoria to the Giuseppe Meazza, while Milan will travel to Sassuolo. I Neroverdi can be staunch opponents on their day and could be a potential banana skin for Milan. As long as Inter do their part, the race will be very much alive.

Matteo Darmian has been given the nod over Denzel Dumfries in recent weeks, and the Italian veteran put Inter ahead in the 25th minute with a header from Ivan Perisic’s pinpoint cross. It calmed nerves and swung the momentum in the Nerazzuri’s favour.

Lautaro Martinez doubled Inter’s lead in the 51st minute as he latched onto Nicolo Barella’s pass and beat Giorgio Altare for pace. Cagliari, to their credit, did not lose their bearings and hit back immediately courtesy of Charalampos Lykogiannis.

Inter kept pushing for a third goal, and it duly came in the 84th minute after some fine work by Roberto Gagliardini left the Cagliari defence open. Martinez displayed the bottle to beat Alessio Cragno and secure all three points for his side.

The Serie A title will remain in Milan for another year, with the wins for both clubs taking the chase to the final day. But whether it will belong to the blue half or the red remains to be seen. For now, The Hard Tackle looks at how the Inter players fared on the night.

Samir Handanovic: 6/10

The veteran goalkeeper made an excellent save from Charalampos Lykogiannis early in the first half, keeping the score level. He had precious little to do otherwise and could have done better to prevent Cagliari’s goal in the second half.

Alessandro Bastoni: 6.5/10

The young Italian made his first start for Inter since returning from injury and gave an excellent account of himself. Bastoni does not appear to be at his best yet, but his positioning was top notch and it gave Ivan Perisic the freedom to push higher up the field.

Stefan de Vrij: 6/10

The veteran defender put in a solid performance in the Coppa Italia final last week and continued from where he left off. De Vrij was not particularly troubled by the Cagliari attack and dealt with whatever little was aimed in his direction with minimum fuss.

Milan Skriniar: 6/10

Skriniar had Joao Pedro shacked and in his pocket all night. The Cagliari attacker found no joy against the Inter Milan star who also pushed high up the pitch when needed.

Ivan Perisic: 7.5/10

The Croat has hit a purple patch of form and it does not appear to be slowing anytime soon. With Bastoni covering him, Perisic was free to push forward and did so to great effect. He almost gave Inter a dream start with a thunderous strike at goal in the third minute.

Perisic provided the assist for Darmian’s opener before flashing an excellent chance wide in the second half. It is fair to say that the 33-year-old is giving it his all in what could be his final games for the club.

Hakan Calhanoglu: 6/10

The Turkish international made an excellent start to the game and was everywhere in midfield. His set-piece delivery was also on point and caused disarray in the Cagliari ranks. Calhanoglu can consider himself unlucky to not grab an assist after Milan Skriniar’s goal was chalked off.

Marcelo Brozovic: 6/10

The Croatian midfielder looked tired, but, to his credit, he held his own. He got better as the game went on and controlled the proceedings in the middle of the pitch. It is fair to surmise that as long as Brozovic is having a good day, so do Inter.

Nicolo Barella: 5.5/10

The Italian was electric against Juventus in the cup final, and the effects of a long and hard season appear to be catching up with him. He looked drained on the night and never quite got into dangerous positions. However, Barella did provide the assist for Lautaro Martinez’s first goal, handing Inter a two-goal cushion.

Matteo Darmian: 7/10

The veteran was solid in defence and beat Charalampos Lykogiannis in the air to head home Inter’s opener. Darmian has proven to be a clutch performer at the business end of the season and was among the standout players for Inter Milan on the night.

Lautaro Martinez: 7.5/10

The Argentine scored a well-taken brace on the night and is now among a select list of Inter Milan stars who have scored 20 or more Serie A goals in a single season before the age of 25. Martinez started slowly but came into his element once the first half-hour had passed. He could have scored more had he been more clinical.

Edin Dzeko: 4/10

The Bosnian is woefully out of form and energy levels. Dzeko never got going on the night and was largely ineffective up front. Simone Inzaghi will be well advised to bench his tiring star for the final game of the season.

SUBSTITUTES

Roberto Gagliardini: 6.5/10

Gagliardini was brought on for the tiring Barella in the 58th minute and instantly added energy to the Inter Milan midfield. He did very well to draw the Cagliari defenders to himself and then pass to an unmarked Martinez, who slotted in the Nerazzuri’s third goal of the night.

Denzel Dumfries: 6/10

The Dutchman continued from where Darmian left off and was solid overall. He can count himself unlucky not to have found the back of the net.

Danilo D’Ambrosio: 6/10

He replaced Bastoni with 20 minutes to go and kept things simple at the back. D’Ambrosio was cool under pressure despite Cagliari defending from the front in the second half.

Joaquin Correa: 5/10

Correa struggled to make much of an impact on the night and looked tired. He could do with a proper pre-season ahead of the 2022/23 campaign.

Alexis Sanchez: N/A

The Chilean came on for Martinez late on and did not stop running in his cameo. Sanchez is an improvement over Dzeko and should be in contention to start against Sampdoria.

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