It was the second time in three league matches that Inter had benefitted from a controversial penalty to earn a victory.
Ighli Vannucchi was penalized in the first half when a Julio Cruz shot inside the area crashed off the defender’s head.
The ball may or may not have then glanced off his hand but television replays proved inconclusive. If it did, Vannucchi certainly had no intention and no way to avoid it.
Sweden forward Zlatan Ibrahimovic then smashed home the resulting spot-kick, just as he had done two weeks ago when Parma’s Fernando Couto was sanctioned, and also sent-off, in an almost identical incident.
What made things worse for the visitors was that Empoli later missed a penalty through Luca Saudati and went home empty-handed.
Inter held on impressively with 10 men, the third time in four matches they have had a player dismissed – in this case France captain Patrick Vieira, who was making his first start since October due to injury – in the first half.
“I’m happy about the victory, we worked hard for it,” said Mancini. “It became a dangerous situation given that we were a man down for a long time.
“We’re making life hard for ourselves because it’s the third time in a short space of time that we’ve been reduced to 10 men.”
Mancini said he thought neither penalty should have been given.
“Neither our one nor the penalty awarded to Empoli should have been given,” he added.
“These things change the course of the match, for good or for bad. (They) are penalties that shouldn’t be given because I don’t think that Vannucchi intentionally touched the ball with his hand.
“In this situation a player is trying to protect himself, not handle the ball.”
Inter centre-back Marco Materazzi admitted that he was rightly adjudged to have brought down Saudati for the Empoli spot-kick.
“For me it was a penalty. I raised my leg, my opponent did well to get the ball. When he fell to the floor I thought how naive I was.
“I straight away put my hands on my head. Now they tell me that looking at the television replays there is doubt.
“It could be given or not given, but when it happened I was convinced it was the right decision to give it.”
That will inevitably cue more cries from the Italian press that Inter are being favoured by referees.
The same thing happened after the Parma match two weeks ago, in which Inter came back to win 3-2 after trailing 2-1 late on before the penalty award.
Inter felt they were harshly treated in the press, which analyzed a host of poor penalty decisions that have gone their way this season – while ignoring any others that might have gone against them.
It triggered a two-week press boycott from the champions, who spoke only to the official Inter TV channel and Inter website during this period.
The victory, coupled with Roma’s miserable 3-0 defeat at Siena, pushed Inter’s lead at the top of the table out to eight points.