Inter avenged their Coppa Italia semi-final defeat by completing the league double over Napoli with a 2-0 victory at San Siro on Tuesday night.
An intriguing tactical battle was entertaining from the outset. Inter started in typically bright fashion as they took the lead through Danilo D’Ambrosio, but Napoli were able to seize control after the first cooling break.
Matteo Politano was denied smartly by Samir Handanovic against his former employers before Lorenzo Insigne dragged his effort wide with the goal gaping. The hosts responded well to a spell of Partenopei pressure though, and they went close to doubling their lead when Alex Meret denied Marcelo Brozovic.
After continued Napoli superiority to start the second-half, Cristiano Biraghi had a great chance to put the game beyond the visitors, but the wing-back sliced his effort horribly wide.
However, a moment of brilliance from substitute Lautaro Martinez swiftly spared Biraghi’s blushes. The Argentine brought down Nicolo Barella’s pass smartly before bursting past Diego Demme to unleash a rocket from distance which squeezed under the despairing glove of Meret.
The Nerazzurri were then able to see the game out maturely from then on, with their 2-0 victory sending them back up to second in the Serie A table.
Key Talking Point
So often this season have we seen Conte’s Inter surrender leads in contests they’ve dominated, but the tables turned on Tuesday night.
They were fortunate to find themselves 1-0 up at the break and after a period of sustained pressure from the visitors to start the second period, it seemed inevitable that Napoli would snatch an equaliser.
But the Nerazzurri didn’t fold on this occasion and they started to wise up to Napoli’s chance creation methods as the game wore on. The back three defended heroically throughout, while Marcelo Brozovic enjoyed his best performance since the restart as part of the double pivot.
This was the kind of display that would’ve thrilled Conte and one that stands them in good stead heading into next season. It’s all about the grinta!
Starting XI: Handanovic (7); D’Ambrosio (7), De Vrij (8), Bastoni (8); Candreva (5), Barella (5), Brozovic (7), Biraghi (5); Valero (6); Alexis (6), Lukaku (8*).
Subs: Lautaro (7), Godin (6), Young (6), Moses (N/A), Eriksen (N/A)
Inter’s star man this term showed up once more on Tuesday night with yet another selfless, but mightily effective striker performance.
Matched-up with Kalidou Koulibaly – widely touted as one of the finest defenders in Europe – there’s no doubting the Belgian came out on top. His ability to shrug off the brutish Senegal international was so impressive, and it allowed his side some much needed respite at times.
The combination and hold-up play to set-up the Brozovic chance just before the break was majestic, but the highlight of a brilliant display was his outside of the foot pass from deep inside his own half which set Barella on his way in behind the Napoli defence.
It was a showing which didn’t produce a goal or an assist, but one which ultimately set his side on their way to victory.
Key Talking Point
Gattuso’s side have had great success against high-pressing, aggressive sides with their use of press-baiting – a concept which involves committing numerous players to the build-up phase in a bid to draw the opposition higher up the pitch and exploit the space which opens up between the lines as a result of an incoherent press – but they had minimal success via this method against the Nerazzurri.
Inter’s press throughout was brilliantly drilled. They cut out passing lanes expertly and closed the space between the lines superbly. Despite this, the visitors created chances frequently – which would’ve pleased Gattuso.
With their primary route of space creation nullified, Napoli were able to progress up the field efficiently – often through the up, back and through concept – maintain possession in the final third and sustain attacks relentlessly for large swathes.
Their inverted wingers were a constant threat, with the overlapping runs provided by full-backs and midfielders creating a new dynamic to the Napoli attack. While he’ll rue his side’s inability to finish, there was plenty of positives to take from this performance.
Starting XI: Meret (5); Hysaj (6), Maksimovic (6), Koulibaly (6), Rui (5); Demme (6), Elmas (6), Zielinski (7); Politano (7), Milik (5), Insigne (8*).
Subs: Allan (6), Ghoulam (5), Lozano (5), Malcuit (5), Callejon (N/A)
The performance of Lorenzo Insigne on Tuesday night certainly stands Napoli in good stead for their clash with Barcelona next month.
Deployed on his favoured left flank, the diminutive Italian was a pleasure to watch. He was able to burst away from opponents with such grace when the visitors looked to counter, while his ability to cut inside and create was on full display. The Napoli skipper should’ve had a pair of assists in the first half as he supplied Arkadiusz Milik and Politano with superb pick outs from the left.
While his stellar showing didn’t return a goal, Insigne was undoubtedly Napoli’s star man.
Inter travel to Atalanta on the final day of the Serie A season in a battle for second place while Napoli visit Lazio with their Europa League status for next term already confirmed.
Then, both sides will have to think about Europe. Napoli travel to Barcelona for the second leg of their round of 16 tie in the Champions League while the Nerazzurri take on Getafe in their Europa League last 16 clash.