By Alasdair Mackenzie
ROME (Reuters) - Here are the talking points from the weekend action in Serie A.
HAT-TRICK HERO RONALDO IN RED CARD CONTROVERSY
Cristiano Ronaldo offered a strong response to recent criticism by scoring a hat-trick inside 32 minutes in a 3-1 win over Cagliari on Sunday.
The 36-year-old, who was hammered by the Italian media for his poor performance in Juve's Champions League exit to Porto last week, pointed to his ear in front of the cameras in an apparent message to his critics after netting his third.
However, an incident after his first strike sparked controversy.
Ronaldo caught goalkeeper Alessio Cragno in the face with a high boot as they both went for a cross, leaving the Cagliari player bleeding from the chin, and the Sardinian club’s president Tommaso Giulini argued the striker deserved to be sent off.
"It was dangerous play, it put the safety of the opponent at risk and therefore ought to be punished with a red card. That is what the rules state," Giulini told Sky Italia.
Former Serie A referee Luca Marelli agreed with Giulini’s assessment.
"It was a red card, it’s the classic case of serious foul play. Although Ronaldo’s intervention wasn’t intentional, it falls into that category. The VAR did badly," he told Radio 24.
INTER PULL AWAY AS TOP FOUR RACE HEATS UP
Lautaro Martinez’s late headed winner against Torino earned Inter Milan their eighth consecutive league win on Sunday, and things got even better for the Nerazzurri when their closest challengers AC Milan lost 1-0 at home to Napoli.
Inter are now nine points clear on top with 11 rounds remaining, and an unexpected collapse would now be needed for the Milanese club to miss out on their first Scudetto since 2010.
"Winning so many games in a row is fundamental," assistant coach Christian Stellini told Inter TV.
"There will be a lot of games like this where the opponent waits for us, defends and looks to give nothing away and we have to be at our best to always try and find the winning blow, like we did today."
Napoli’s win means Milan will now be glancing over their shoulder at a tight-knit chasing pack.
Six points separate Stefano Pioli’s side from AS Roma in sixth place, leaving the battle for European qualification tough to call.
VLAHOVIC REALISING HIS POTENTIAL AT FIORENTINA
Ronaldo wasn’t the only player to score a first half hat-trick in Serie A this weekend, as Fiorentina striker Dusan Vlahovic achieved the same feat a day earlier in a 4-1 win at Benevento.
The 21-year-old became the first Viola player since Kurt Hamrin in 1964 to score three goals before halftime in a Serie A match.
"Vlahovic deserves all the credit, he trains with hard work and determination and you’re seeing the results," said Fiorentina coach Cesare Prandelli.
"With the third goal it’s clear, you either have that quality or you don’t.
"From now on it’ll be more complicated for him as he must repeat this, and the expectations are going to be raised."
(Reporting by Alasdair Mackenzie; Editing by Christian Radnedge)