Inter drew level on points with local rivals Milan after a Christian Vieri hat-trick gave them a 3-0 win over Empoli, while their arch-rivals went down 1-0 to ten man Udinese.

Elsewhere, Lazio’s 17-match unbeaten run ended on Sunday with a surprise 1-0 defeat at home to struggling Reggina.

Italian champions Juventus are just a point behind the Milan pair after beating Piacenza 2-0. Juve, mourning the death of their former president Gianni Agnelli, move above Lazio into third place after first-half goals from Alessandro Del Piero and Pavel Nedved secured a comfortable home win. Piacenza had defender Alessandro Rinaldi sent off for a second bookable offence.

Juventus are now just a point behind the Milan duo who are tied on 39 points, Lazio are fourth on 36 points, while three points adrift lie Chievo, who slumped to their second successive Serie A defeat, losing 1-0 at Perugia.

Milan coach Carlo Ancelotti asked supporters to keep faith with his side.

“It was an off day,’ he said. ‘We have to admit we played a bad match with the same calm that we said our (midweek 5-2 Italian Cup) win over Chievo was a great performance.

“Everybody was below the usual standard,” added Ancelotti.

“It’s never happened before that all the players have come up short.”

“Udinese is an excellent team. They gave us some problems the first time we met them this season too,” Ancelotti said.

“They’re fast, dynamic, fit and have some good players. Having said that, we were never really in the match. We let them play the way they wanted.”

For Inter, the debut of veteran Argentinian striker Gabriel Batistuta was overshadowed by an impressive performance by Christian Vieri. The Italian international striker scored a second-half hat-trick to move Hector Cuper’s side level with Milan in what is looking like a tthree-horse race for the Scudetto.