Inter 0 Sassuolo 0: Spalletti's side labour at sparse San Siro
Inter rode their luck on the way to an underwhelming 0-0 home draw against Sassuolo in their first Serie A outing of 2019.
Roberto De Zerbi's men created the best of the opportunities and will count themselves unfortunate not to have snapped what is now a five-match winless streak in all competitions.
San Siro was closed to all but 11,000 local children as Inter began a two-match stadium closure following the alleged racial abuse of Napoli defender Kalidou Koulibaly last month, although there was no lack of intensity in an entertaining contest.
Matteo Politano and Kevin Prince-Boateng both went close to a winner either side of half-time but, unable to find a way past a team that conceded nine times in their final two league fixtures of last year, the Nerazzurri can have few complaints over a result that leaves them four points behind second-placed Napoli, who host Lazio on Sunday.
Inter had lost seven of their last eight Serie A meetings with Sassuolo and found themselves on the back foot during the opening 25 minutes.
Manuel Locatelli burst through midfield and fired one shot wide while Boateng and Domenico Berardi both tested Samir Handanovic.
The impressive Politano helped turn the tide by posing problems at the other end and, from Ivan Perisic's cross, forced Andrea Consigli into a sharp close-range save on the half-hour mark.
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The end-to-end action continued after the interval as Boateng rose unchallenged to meet Locatelli's left-sided cross, but his header was straight at Handanovic.
Inter's grip on a point looked tenuous until the end and they were indebted to veteran goalkeeper Handanovic and centre-back Milan Skriniar for blocking close-range efforts from Jeremie Boga and Mehdi Bourabia amid a scramble in the box late in proceedings.
What does it mean? Calm needed over Icardi contract talks
Inter officials are confident that the protracted negotiations surrounding Mauro Icardi's contract extension will soon be resolved and it certainly seems a case of the sooner the better for a variety of reasons.
In addition to warding off overseas interest, a conclusion to the ongoing discussions would surely aid Icardi in delivering more influential performances than the rather anonymous showing he served up on Saturday.
Locatelli flourishes on return to Milan
AC Milan may regret their decision to allow Locatelli to leave for Sassuolo on the strength of his showing back at San Siro. The on-loan midfielder, who is obliged to join the Neroverdi on a permanent basis at the end of the season, covered plenty of ground and was at the heart of his side's best attacking moves.
De Vrij under par
Spalletti spoke highly of Stefan de Vrij in the lead-up to this match. He may be more reserved ahead of the next one. Netherlands international De Vrij, though undoubtedly a player of high quality, often seemed lost in ill-advised attempts to shackle Sassuolo's attackers, not knowing exactly which player to mark and when.
Inter are back in action away to mid-table Torino next Sunday while Sassuolo have a day fewer to prepare for Cagliari's visit.