By Peter Hall
(Reuters) - Serie A witnessed more unexpected results over the weekend which ensured this season's title race continued to be one of the most exciting in a decade, with Inter Milan the latest team to put themselves in pole position to end Juventus' domination.
With Inter and AC Milan suffering a sharp decline after their last league title successes in 2010 and 2011 respectively, Juve have claimed the previous nine Serie A crowns in a row.
This season, however, the Scudetto race has an altogether different look. After Juventus endured a difficult start to life under new coach Andrea Pirlo, both Milan clubs have surged back into the top two places, with the champions trailing in fourth.
Inter's 3-1 home win over Lazio on Sunday saw them overtake rivals Milan to go top after a match week for the first time since the opening day of the campaign ahead of what should be a mouth-watering Milan derby at San Siro on Sunday.
It represents a huge moment for Antonio Conte's Inter side.
They had not been top after 22 games of a season since their treble-winning campaign in 2010-11 under Jose Mourinho.
"We have worked hard for this," Inter striker Lautaro Martinez told Sky Sport Italia after the Lazio win.
"It is the first time we are ahead of everyone and this must be a starting point to never leave the first place."
The result that opened the door for Inter was a shock, with Milan slipping to a 2-0 loss at Spezia on Saturday, with Stefano Pioli's side completely outplayed by the Serie A new boys.
Ahead of Saturday's trip to Napoli, Juventus appeared to have turned the corner. The champions had won six and drawn one of their seven games in all competitions since a 2-0 defeat at Inter on Jan. 17, conceding one goal in that run.
But a limp attacking display saw them lose ground after a 1-0 defeat by Gennaro Gattuso's determined Napoli side.
New champions could well be in the offing. Milan were crowned "winter champions" in late January, the title given to the team on top after 19 rounds of the 38-game season.
The mid-season crown is taken seriously in Italy, mostly due to historic precedent. Only twice since the league reverted to 20 teams in 2004 have the winter champions failed to finish on top -- Napoli in 2015-16 and 2017-18.
Conte and his exciting Inter team may have something to say about that precedent continuing this season.
(Reporting by Peter Hall; Editing by Ken Ferris)