|Jose Mourinho loves it when a plan comes together [AFP]
Inter Milan climbed back to the top of the Italian Serie A with a 3-1 home win over Atalanta after Jose Mourinho's gamble with their title hopes paid off.
The coach, with an eye on Wednesday's European Champions League semi-final second leg in Barcelona, rested most of his first-choice defence and midfield despite Inter no longer being favourites for the scudetto having let a nine-point lead slip.
The ploy worked, with Inter going two points clear pending Roma's home match with Sampdoria on Sunday.
However, the risk could easily have backfired with just three games left this term.
"It's an important win, we'll see what it means," Kenyan midfielder McDonald Mariga told Sky TV.
"It's a great team with great players so it's hard to get a game here (but) I'm happy," added Mariga after netting his first goal since leaving Parma in January.
Third-bottom Atalanta, who have sparked to life in recent weeks in a late dash to avoid relegation, took the lead on five minutes when striker Simone Tiribocchi slammed the ball in after beating the home team's lax offside trap.
Inter reserve defender Marco Materazzi, 36, was badly exposed and minutes later the unmarked Tiribocchi headed just wide.
Mourinho screamed on the touchline and his side finally found some fluidity midway through the first half, Argentina striker Diego Milito producing a perfect lob to make it 1-1.
Milito, now on 20 Serie A goals this season, may also have been rested had Mario Balotelli been allowed to play.
The combustible 19-year-old argued with fans and threw his shirt away after Tuesday's 3-1 first-leg win over Barca but was included in the squad against Atalanta after an apology.
However, club president Massimo Moratti decided late on Friday that Balotelli should not feature for the good of team harmony as media speculation mounts the player will leave.
In the end his absence did not matter with Mariga prodding the ball in on 35 minutes before Cristian Chivu lashed the third goal in the second half.
Inter forward Goran Pandev and right back Maicon were not risked because of muscle tightness and a broken tooth respectively while playmaker Wesley Sneijder went off at halft ime with a leg problem.
The seriousness of their injuries was unclear.
Rampant Roma will retake the lead with a win against Sampdoria, who boast mercurial former Roma forward Antonio Cassano and look coach Claudio Ranieri's toughest test in the title run-in.
AC Milan, a distant third, were playing fifth-placed Palermo later on Saturday.