Romelu Lukaku scored his first goals from open play in Serie A since August as Inter Milan beat Empoli 3-0 in Serie A on Sunday, and the striker celebrated in trademark style by saluting and putting his finger to his mouth.
Lukaku had been sent off for that celebration in Inter’s 1-1 Coppa Italia semifinal draw against Juventus, with the referee interpreting it to be inciting fans who had racially abused the Belgium international.
The ban from that sending off was overturned on Saturday, with the president of the Italian Football Federation saying it was done as a measure to fight racism. And after opening the scoring in an important win against Empoli, Lukaku used the celebration again.
The victory came after second-half goals from Lukaku and Lautaro Martinez and snapped Inter’s five-match winless run in the league.
While the Nerazzurri have soared in the Champions League to reach the semifinals for the first time since 2010, their Serie A form had plummeted as they dropped out of the top four having been second in the league.
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Sunday’s result moved Inter provisionally up to fifth in the standings with 54 points, but their city rivals and Champions League semifinal opponents AC Milan (53 points) can leapfrog them when they take on Lecce later on Sunday.
Inter struggled to break down a resolute Empoli defence in a goalless first half as the visitors lacked precision in the final third against a well-organised wall of blue shirts.
But Inter finally made the breakthrough three minutes after the restart as Lukaku played a one-two pass with Marcelo Brozovic before firing a low shot into the bottom corner for his first league goal from open play since August.
The goal from his weaker right foot revitalised Lukaku and he doubled Inter’s lead in the 76th minute with a driving effort across goal, this time scoring with his stronger left foot into the opposite bottom corner.
Lukaku then turned provider in the dying stages of the game when he released Martinez and the striker fired home for his 15th league goal of the season as Inter sealed all three points.