Napoli and Inter locked horns on Monday night at San Paolo in a highly anticipated derby match which dropped the curtain on the 14th round of Serie A.
Action-packed 90 minutes brought an openly contested affair with both teams eager to make the most of the game and grab firm hold of the leading position in the standings.
The home side controlled much of the first-half proceedings, dominating the possession with over 60% and not allowing Inter to develop their game. However, the Partenopei were made to work hard despite being a man up for the entire second half as Nagatomo was sent off for his reckless start on the touchline minutes before the break.
Despite the dominant 45 minutes, Napoli have lost the composure and pace after the interval, returning a different team from the locker-room. Inter were much better rivals throughout the remainder of the game. With no European duties this season playing their part, Inter have looked in much better shape in the second half and have created many problems to tired Napoli, hitting the frame of Reina’s goal in a couple of occasions.
In the end, Gonzalo Higuain’s brace made sure Napoli have collected the important three points, despite the in-form Adem Ljajic’s effort to pull one back on 67 minutes and the barrage fire from the unfortunate Mancini’s men in the closing stages of the game.
Here are a couple of things we learned from the highly entertaining showings:
Higuain is world-class
The 27-year-old Argentine striker has played yet another fantastic game this season. League’s top scorer this season has added a brace against Inter taking his tally to 12 goals this term.
Napoli forward made a difference in the game with his composed and strong finish singlehandedly leading his team towards the three points.
Higuain opened the scorings after only two minutes from the off, taking Handanovic by surprise with his well-placed belter. Towering striker was a real force on the pitch, proving once again he is in top shape.
The Argentina international arrived to Italy in 2013 and this is definitely his best season so far. His fantastic displays have added to the impressive Napoli this term as Higuain was allowed to express his full potential with Sarri in charge.
Strong on the ball, Higuain was breaking down Inter’s defence with his off-ball movement, working excellently with his quick teammates Lorenzo Insigne and Jose Callejon creating space in transition and holding on to the ball when his team needed time to build the attack.
Mancini’s defensive approach not good for Inter
The Italian tactician has been heavily criticized for his style of play throughout the season. He once again fielded a defence-oriented line-up, with Mauro Icardi spearheading the attack. Inter striker is a different type to Gonzalo Higuain and his qualities are not fully exhibited in Mancini’s defensive formation.
Having lost Nagatomo in the closing stages of the first half Roberto Mancini opted to substitute his only striker on the field which proved to be a mistake in the beginning of the second half.
However, Inter have demonstrated it several times this season – they play better with ten men on the pitch.
It wasn’t until the introduction of Biabiany at the hour-mark that things have started to look up for the visiting side. Adem Ljajic was allowed more freedom in the final third of the pitch and the Serbian took responsibility into his own hands to lead the team forward.
It paid off as the Serbian hit the target on 67 minutes after an intercepted play in Napoli’s penalty area. Poor intervention from Napoli defenders allowed Ljajic to make a well-placed shot past Pepe Reina.
Roberto Mancini then introduced Stevan Jovetic who was kept on the bench until the 83rd minute. The Montenegrin paired well with Ljajic in the final moments of the game and Inter were unlucky to score an equalizer against completely empathic Napoli, who were unrecognizable in the second period.
Brozovic deserves starting berth
The Croatian has been the talk of the town in recent weeks. Summer addition from DInamo Zagreb has been limited to only eight league appearances this season with Roberto Manici not investing a great deal of faith into the versatile midfielder.
The talented 23-year-old was given a chance against Frosinone in the closing stages of the game and Brozovic used his opportunity to score in the final moments of the match to make it 4-0 and to close the scorings.
Mancini awarded his player with a starting berth in the derby match against Napoli and the Croatian completely repaid for the trust.
A proper threat on the left wing, Brozovic covered a lot of space running relentlessly up and down the line to help both in defence and in attack.
Marcelo created a lot of problems taking on Allan and Husay with his skilled dribbles and great pace, but has lacked a finishing touch in a couple of occasions which can be attributed to his limited time on the pitch.
Sarri’s approach paying dividends
Napoli manager and his casual style have been a huge hit among the Partenopei’s most faithful. His team is playing brave, open football which is bringing crowd to the stands, but is also yielding some fascinating results.
His troops have this season scored the total of 26 goals playing full throttle in the attack. At the same time, Napoli are a well-organized unit allowing only nine balls to go past Reina thus far.
We once again saw entertaining Napoli with their quick pace and flying wingers tearing apart Inter’s slow backline on the flanks.
Sarri’s man marking and tight pressing are particularly impressive, along with the precise passing which build up to 87% success rate tonight against Inter. The total of 717 passes were made by Napoli players against Inter, with 623 being accurate and these numbers speak volumes of Napoli’s high-intensity style.
Napoli deserve the title
Partenopei have seen steady progress being made over the past few years with the Board investing a great deal in new signings.
Technically strong team, great in transition and attractive to watch, Napoli have so far been the most pleasant surprise of the Serie A season. Only one defeat after 14 games is a testimony to the team’s strength and unity.
The entire city of Naples is mobilized and focused on one aim – winning the Scudetto. With silverware on sight, the players are investing above their abilities to make a dream come true.
Napoli have so far beaten all of the title contenders and their direct rivals for the title. If Sarri succeeds in keeping the focus and concentration of his players, sky is the limit. It will be difficult as Partenopei are in for a challenging part of the season fighting hard on all fronts and the spring will be particulary demanding.
NAPOLI (4-3-3): Reina 6 – Hysaj 6.5, Albiol 7, Koulibaly 7, Ghoulam 6 – Allan 6.5, Jorginho 7.5, Hamsik 7 (Lopez 6) – Callejon 6.5 (Maggio 6), Higuain 8.5, Insigne 6.5 (El Kaddouri 6).
Unused subs: Chiriches, Chalobah, Strinic, Cabral, Henrique, Gabriel, Luperto, Dezi, Valdifiori.
INTER (4-3-3): Handanovic 6.5 – D’Ambrosio 6.5, Miranda 7, Murillo 6.5, Nagatomo 5 – Guarin 6 (Biabiany 6), Medel, Brozovic 7.5 – Perisic 7 (Jovetic 6), Icardi 6 (Telles 7), Ljajic 8.
Unused subs: Palacio, Carrizo, Gnoukouri, Montoya, Dodo, Melo, Manaj, Ranocchia.
REFEREE: Daniele Orsato
Other results this evening:
Sassuolo 1-1 Fiorentina