A first-half brace from Felipe Anderson was enough to secure third place for Lazio in Serie A prior to the festive break on Sunday in a hard-fought 2-2 draw away to Inter.
Inter only claimed their maiden win under Roberto Mancini, their first in six games, last week but had the worst possible start at the San Siro where Anderson hit the first of his goals after just two minutes.
Anderson, who broke his Serie A duck last week, beat Samir Handanovic with a fine angled strike after collecting Stefan Radu’s assist in the box.
The Brazilian almost had his brace moments later when he sprung the offside trap to fire over but made amends minutes before halftime after collecting on the halfway line and carrying the ball all the way before beating Handanovic at the keeper’s near post.
Inter emerged doubly determined after the break and after Mateo Kovacic and Mauro Icardi tested Federico Marchetti in the Lazio goal it was the former who reduced arrears in spectacular fashion.
Kovacic was just outside the box when a headed clearance fell kindly for the Croatian, who struck on the volley to see his shot sting the palms of a flailing Marchetti before hitting the back of the net.
Mancini replaced Colombian Fredy Guarin with Federico Bonazzoli and two minutes later the highly-rated Inter youth player had a hand in Inter’s 80th minute leveller.
Bonazzoli’s free kick found the head of DaniloD’Ambrosio in the box and after the ball rolled into the path of Rodrigo Palacio the Argentinian blasted past Marchetti from close range.
The draw left Inter in 11th place at 18 points adrift of leaders and champions Juventus, four behind city rivals Milan and six behind Lazio in the third and final Champions League qualifying spot.
But Mancini warned he will expect improvements when Inter resume after the festive break.
“We can’t become a team like Barcelona or Bayern in the space of a month. We’re having a few difficulties but we need to get over them,” said Mancini.
“Let’s hope we can improve over our coming games.”
Lazio coach Stefano Pioli admitted Kovacic’s goal had changed the prospects for his side.
“Teams like Inter have a certain kind of quality and Kovacic’s goal set them up well for the rest of the game,” said Pioli, who admitted third place was a firm objective.
“It’s early yet but we’re doing very well. Now we have a chance to recharge our batteries for January which will be crucial for us. But the lads have shown they are up to the job.”
The draw was one of six in the final weekend of the year, which left Juventus top of the pile with a three-point lead on Roma, who lead Lazio by nine points.
Earlier, Italy striker Manol Gabbiadini confirmed he could quit Sampdoria in the January transfer window after heading a late equaliser to secure a share of the spoils in a 2-2 home draw with Udinese.
Gabbiadini has been linked with a move to Napoli and the highly-rated 23-year-old told Sky Sport after the game: “I don’t know if this will be my last goal in a Sampdoria shirt, I always honour the shirt that I’m wearing.”
Sampdoria are 12 points behind Juventus, who will face Napoli in the Italian Super Cup final in Doha on Monday with a chance for a double Christmas celebration after Roma were held to a scoreless draw at home to Milan on Saturday.
Alberto Paloschi struck late to secure the points as Chievo beat Verona 1-0 in the city derby to give them some breathing space in the battle for relegation.
Torino had defender KamilGlik to thank for a brace of goals in a precious 2-1 home win over Genoa which secured just their fourth win of the campaign.
Argentinian striker German Denis, meanwhile, struck a brace including a late leveller as Atalanta fought back to claim a point from a 3-3 draw with visitors Palermo.
Fiorentina were sent on their way towards a seventh win of the campaign after Juan Manuel Vargas struck on the stroke of halftime, only for Lorenzo Tonelli to level just before the hour to secure a point for visiting Empoli.