Romelu Lukaku shot Inter Milan to a 3-0 win over struggling Empoli on Sunday with his first Serie A goals from open play since the opening day of what has been a difficult return season in Italy.
Belgium striker Lukaku netted two fine low finishes in the second half at the Stadio Castellani to help Inter to their first win in Italy’s top flight since early March and move them above AC Milan into fifth, two points from the last Champions League place currently held by Roma.
He struck his first from the edge of the area two minutes after the break following a quick exchange of passes with Marcelo Brozovic and doubled Inter’s lead in the 76th minute by bursting past Ardian Ismajli and rifling home an angled drive.
The 29-year-old, who also laid on Lautaro Martinez’s late goal, took his league tally since returning to Inter on loan from Chelsea to just five with Sunday’s brace.
Lukaku has struggled with injuries for large chunks of the campaign, which started back in mid-August with a goal less than two minutes into Inter’s opening fixture at Lecce.
“This season has been a very complicated one,” Lukaku told Sky Sport.
“We’re doing good work with the trainers… it’s the first time that I’ve had such a serious injury, but now I feel more confident with those type of movements.”
Inter beat Empoli with a changed line-up from the one which secured a Milan derby Champions League semi-final on Wednesday.
They are also in a battle with their local rivals for qualification to next year’s edition of Europe’s top club competition.
‘A step forward’
Simone Inzaghi’s side — who have lost 11 times in Serie A this season — began the day in sixth after Juventus were given back on Thursday the 15 points deducted from them in January for illicit transfer activity.
However Juve, who host runaway league leaders Napoli later on Sunday with a chance to go second following Lazio’s home defeat by Torino on Saturday, have to await a new ruling from the Italian Football Federation’s (FIGC) appeals court to see if they will be handed a new points penalty.
Inter will host Juve in the second leg of their Italian Cup semi-final on Wednesday, a match which Lukaku will be allowed to play after his suspension for being sent off in the first leg was revoked.
On Saturday the FIGC removed the ban — which had been initially upheld on appeal — as Lukaku had been dismissed following goal celebrations in front of Juve fans who had racially abused him while he took the late penalty which levelled the tie at 1-1.
“I want to thank the president of the FIGC for giving me the opportunity to play that match,” added Lukaku.
“That pardon is a step forward for Italian football, all I want to do now is rest and prepare for that match.”
Empoli beat Inter at the San Siro earlier this season but offered very little in Tuscany, and Paolo Zanetti’s side are now only six points above the relegation zone after one win in their last 11 matches.