MILAN – Inter's march was halted in the last league game of 2015 as Antonio Candreva scored twice to hand Lazio all three points after Mauro Icardi had temporarily brought the sides level in the second half.
Nevertheless, Roberto Mancini's men end the year at the top of Serie A and will be back in action against Empoli on 6 January.
Both teams started the game very well, but the first sign of danger came when Martin Montoya passed back to Samir Handanovic in goal, who was very nearly closed down by Alessandro Matri. Luckily for the Slovenian, Jeison Murillo was on hand to clear up the loose ball.
Inter's response came in the fourth minute, with Stevan Jovetic finding Ivan Perisic with a superb defence-splitting pass. The Croatian tried to take the ball in his stride, but his touch at full speed was a little heavy and allowed Besart Berisha to come off his line and claim.
One minute later, the visitors took the lead after a well-worked corner routine found Candreva lurking on the edge of the box. The Italian's clipped first-time strike went through a crowd of legs in the box and past Handanovic before he could take stock. The goal left the Nerazzurri rattled for the first fifteen minutes, but they regrouped at the back and limited Lazio to Felipe Anderson's individual surges up top.
Alex Telles was the home side's best performer, constantly probing and trying to free up Perisic and Jovetic from the left-wing. Unfortunately, Inter couldn't turn the Brazilian's initiative into an equaliser.
Lazio continued to threaten in the first half, with Candreva looking to catch the Nerazzurri defence off-guard on the first occasion when Telles found himself out of position. Murillo was excellently placed once again to clear the danger.
Inter were presented with an excellent chance in the 37th minute after being awarded a free-kick on the top-right corner of the Lazio box. Jovetic stood over the ball, but couldn't keep his effort below the bar.
Soon after, the Biancocelesti came close to doubling their advantage when a mistake from Felipe Melo allowed Anderson to pounce on a loose ball midway inside Inter's half. The Brazilian broke through a challenge with Murillo and played Candreva through on goal, whose shot sailed harmlessly over the bar.
After a minute's additional time, the teams went in at the break with Inter trailing 1-0.
The second half began with no changes to either side. Inter tried to immediately put the pressure on their opponents and were awarded an indirect free-kick when Stefan Radu played a backpass that Berisha handled. The ball was touched onto Telles, who struck it fiercely but couldn't find a way through the wall of Biancocelesti bodies, with the ball going out for a corner.
Mancini tried to inject some fresh ideas into his team by throwing on Marcelo Brozovic and Adem Ljajic for Jonathan Biabiany and Jovetic. It seemed to pay dividends as Inter drew level on the stroke of 60 minutes. Murillo played a ball up to Perisic who touched it on first time, putting Icardi into a one-on-one situation. The Argentine No. 9 was ice-cold as he slotted it past Lazio's keeper with his first real chance of the game.
The match was finely balanced and neither side were able to take control of possession. In the 70th minute, Lazio won a free-kick in a dangerous position on the edge of the area. Candreva struck it well with his right foot, but the wall did its job and Gary Medel cleared from the ensuing melee.
With half an hour gone in the second half, both sides worked themselves good opportunities in quick succession. First up was Ljajic, who skipped past two men but couldn't find room to get the shot away. Then the ever-dangerous Candreva looked to play in Anderson for Lazio, but his pass was a touch overhit and ended up behind.
The advantage swung back Lazio's way in the 85th minute. Felipe Melo was adjudged to have fouled Sergej Milinkovic-Savic while competing for a high ball in the area. Handanovic did fantastically to save Candreva's penalty, but could do nothing as the Biancocelesti striker slotted home the rebound.
In a manic final few minutes, both sides were reduced to ten men: first Felipe Melo for a reckless challenge on Lucas Biglia, then Milinkovic-Savic for a second bookable offence. Lazio survived injury time with no more danger and head back to the capital with three points.
INTER 1-2 LAZIO (HT: 0-1)
Scorers: Candreva 5, Icardi 60, Candreva 86.
INTER: 1 Handanovic; 14 Montoya, 25 Miranda, 24 Murillo, 12 Telles (8 Palacio, 87); 83 Melo, 17 Medel; 11 Biabiany (77 Brozovic, 57) , 10 Jovetic (22 Ljajic, 57), 44 Perisic; 9 Icardi.
Subs not used: 30 Carrizo, 5 Jesus, 6 Dodò, 7 Kondogbia, 13 Guarin, 21 Santon, 33 D'Ambrosio, 55 Nagatomo, 97 Manaj.
Coach: Roberto Mancini.
LAZIO: 99 Berisha; 29 Konko, 33 Mauricio, 2 Hoedt, 26 Radu; 21 Milinkovic-Savic, 20 Biglia, 16 Parolo; 87 Candreva (Patricio, 90+4), 17 Matri (9 Djordjevic, 74), 10 Felipe Anderson (14 Keita, 82).
Subs not used: 55 Guerrieri, 66 Matosevic, 5 Braafheid, 6 Mauri, 23 Onazi, 32 Cataldi, 44 Prce, 70 Oikonomidis.
Coach: Stefano Pioli.
Yellow cards: Biglia 49, Biabiany 55, Milinkovic-Savic 66, Candreva 90+1.
Red cards: Melo 90, Milinkovic-Savic 90+2.
Additional time: 1+5.
Referee: Paolo Silvio Mazzoleni.
Assistant referees: Elenito Giovanni Di Liberatore, Fabiano Preti.
Fourth official: Filippo Meli.
Additional assistants: Nicola Rizzoli, Marco Di Bello.