In the 28th round of this season’s Serie A, Inter welcomed Napoli at the Giuseppe Meazza. Trailing Juventus who have a game in hand at the top of the table by two points, Napoli needed all the points they can get, as they do in every game. Inter on the other hand are fighting to finish inside the top four, and they entered this game in fifth with two points less than Lazio in fourth and five less than Roma in third, albeit with a game in hand on both rivals.
A cautious first half
Both teams started the game with a large dose of patience, but with two slightly different approaches. As expected, Napoli were the ones playing slightly better, threading passes and looking to prove their quality through intricate build-up play. Inter were however happy to let them play and they defended reasonably well. They would initially defend from the front, often pressing deep into Napoli’s half, and whenever the visitors broke through that first wall, they fell back very quickly and reformed the lines tighter, on their own side of the pitch. Their back line played as close as possible to goalkeeper Samir Handanović, leaving very little space in behind for the pace of Dries Mertens or Lorenzo Insigne.
At the other hand, Napoli’s defence played a high line, always seeking to win the ball early and push forward. Even their attacking players exhibited some very nice counterpressing right outside Inter’s box, but the Neroazzurri defence would always be in place.
In attack, Inter mostly sought to hit quickly on a counterattack, doing whatever they can to exploit the space behind Napoli’s back line and the pace of wingers Ivan Perišić and Antonio Candreva. But Napoli players also tracked back quickly on numerous occasions, preventing Inter in causing any danger.
There weren’t any clear-cut chances, and the closest the game came to a goal was a good shot from around 20 yards that went slightly wide.
Inter start swinging
As the game restarted, the home side came out at a full swing. It was rather surprising given the flow of the first half. Not only was their approach to the game suddenly different but the fullbacks Joao Cancelo and Danilo D’Ambrosio had changed sides as well, which added to the confusion Napoli players were experiencing in that period.
The best chance Inter had all game fell for centre-back Milan Škriniar in the 48th minute. Cancelo whipped in an excellent cross to the middle of the box, where Škriniar was the best in the air. His header had Reina beaten but it ended up hitting the post.
Just after the hour mark, Ivan Perišić created an exciting moment as he had apparently beaten Napoli’s right-back Elseid Hysaj coming into the box, but the referee deemed the Croatian winger committed a foul on his marker in the process.
But even in this period when Inter looked good, Napoli threatened twice through Insigne.
As the game entered its final third, Napoli took full control and pushed their hosts all the way back. They weaved their passes, got in between Inter lines and continuously created dangerous situations.
Callejon, Mertens and Insigne all came close on more than one occasion, but the best chance of the entire game was wasted by Insigne in the 67th minute. A nice, intricate team move got him through, charging at Handanović, but he simply wanted too much and tried to lob the Inter goalkeeper at a full run from very close range. The ball flew over the bar.
Inter coach Luciano Spalletti had replaced Rafinha with Eder after 63 minutes, but when Borja Valero came on for Antonio Candreva 11 minutes from time, Inter swung the momentum in their favor and started attacking again. Both Valero and Eder showed more desire to impact the game than any player on the pitch had up to that point.
Napoli however defended well, with the entire back line alert, just like Pepe Reina behind them. And towards the end, they gave a final push to try and steal the whole prize. Piotr Zielinski had replaced a very quiet Marek Hamšik after 71 minutes, and Arkadiusz Milik came on for Mertens who played very well throughout, with four minutes remaining. In the very last throw of the dice, Maurizzio Sari sent in Marko Rog instead of Allan a minute before the 90 were up.
But neither team could break the deadlock, and the three minutes of added time brought nothing new.
The level of the quality shown in this game was slightly underwhelming, especially from Napoli who aim to become the new Italian champions. Apart from Dries Mertens, who worked hard to create something upfront and displayed real attacking flair, they lacked conviction and composure to make their performance, better overall than Inter’s, count for something.
At the other end, Milan Škriniar was the standout performer for the home team. He stopped countless attacks by Napoli and even had the best chance to score for his team.
INTER: Handanović, D’Ambrosio, Cancelo, Miranda, Škriniar, Gagliardini, Brozović, Perišić (Karamoh, 86’), Rafinha (Eder, 63’), Candreva (Valero, 79’) , Icardi.
NAPOLI: Reina, Hysaj, Mario Rui, Koulibaly, Albiol, Allan (Rog, 89’), Jorginho, Hamšik (Zielinski, 71’), Insigne, Callejon, Mertens (Milik ,87’).
Referee: Daniele Orsato
Yellow cards: Allan 17’, Gagliardini 38’, Insigne 61’, Albiol 85’.
Red cards: none.
INTER: Handanović 6, D’Ambrosio 6.5, Cancelo 7.5, Miranda 7, Škriniar 8.5, Gagliardini 6, Brozović 6.5, Perišić 6.5 (Karamoh n/a), Rafinha 5.5 (Eder 7), Candreva 6.5 (Valero 7.5) , Icardi 6.5.
NAPOLI: Reina 7, Hysaj 6.5, Mario Rui 6, Koulibaly 6.5, Albiol 6.5, Allan 6.5 (Rog n/a), Jorginho 6.5, Hamšik 5.5 (Zielinski 7), Insigne 7, Callejon 6.5, Mertens 8.5 (Milik n/a).
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