Napoli XI: Ospina, Di Lorenzo, Rrahmani, Koulibaly, Mario Rui, Lobotka, Fabian, Politano, Zielinski, Insigne, Osimhen.
Inter XI: Handanovic; Skriniar, De Vrij, Dimarco; Dumfries, Barella, Brozovic, Calhanoglu, Perisic; Martinez, Dzeko
Score: Napoli 1 Inter 1
Scorers: Insigne (7) Dzeko (46)
After Napoli’s win against Venezia and Inter’s loss against rivals Milan, the title race was left hanging in the balance in this championship 6-pointer. Napoli were almost unchanged from their previous match with star man Oshimen leading the line, but Spaletti’s side saw the much welcome return of Kalidou Koulibaly. The imperious defender had just conquered African football winning the Cup of Nations with Senegal, and was hoping to blunt the attack of the Inter forward line.
It was Business as usual for Inter, their squad was mostly injury free, with the only notable exclusion being Bastoni in defense, with Dimarco stepping up to replace him. The attack was only going from strength to strength with the veteran Dzeko and electric Martinez aiming to make things difficult.
Napoli seemed to want to set the tone early on, after collecting the ball from the edge of the box, Di Lorenzo fired a 25 yard strike just inches past the post.
They would capitalise early on their pressing with an early penalty. After a low cross from Insigne was cleared, a VAR check showed De Vrij fouling Oshimen to the ground which was correctly called back for a spot kick from 6 yards. Insigne would step up to take and coolly smashed it into the back of the net. This took him to 116 goals for Napoli, one more than the immortal Maradona.
Zielinski would come inches away from Napoli’s second. His excellent curled shot from the edge of the box clipped off the left hand post and out.
The match had an electric feel buoyed on by a fervent stadio Maradona. Oshimen seemed hungry for more, his speed used to great effect dragging the Napoli attack up the pitch.
Napoli would have the next chance, Di Lorenzo made a snap pass to Oshimen in the box who took the ball wide and smashed it into the side netting. The following chance fell to Insigne after an awkward bounce in the box, the Neapolitan went for the spectacular volleying the ball over.
Although Inter had their fair share of possession, Napoli seemed closer to getting another rather than Inter getting level.
Inter were the reigning champions however, and the quality could be seen after Perisic beat the offside trap down the wing, crossed it to a waiting Dzeko who headed it back towards Ospina who thankfully made the save.
Inter started to come back into the match with the help of their relentless pressing, the number of errant passes by Napoli started to increase as the half went on. After winning the ball back, Martinez slipped Dumfries in on goal but he dragged his shot so wide that it went out for a throw-in.
As the half ended, Napoli could be proud of their performance, not only had they mostly contained Inter but had actually dominated at times, the only problem was the scoreline, as with all 1 goal leads, it only took a half chance to spoil things.
Which Dzeko proved almost immediately, after the Bosnian’s failed header off a Martinez cross, the ball ricocheted off Di Lorenzo back to Dzeko who smashed it on off the crossbar. And just like that, things were equal.
Napoli would try to respond quickly, intercepting an errant pass in the Inter final third, Oshimen dribbled into space, and flashed the ball near post which took an excellent save from Handanovic’s right foot to deflect out.
Inter would strike next, sending the patented long ball to Peresic who crossed the ball to fellow wingback Dumfries alone in the box, which was only just blocked by who else but Koulibaly who cleared.
The atmosphere started to crackle after a few bad fouls and strange decisions from the referee, who had decided not to call most fouls as to leave the game more open.
After a lengthy stoppage for an injury to Di Lorenzo, Napoli should have scored after an Insigne cross found its way to Elmas but a sprawling Handanovic made himself big to block the shot.
As the two teams approached the closing 10 minutes, both teams looked tired, which was understandable as the players had given their all. But time was running out for either side to snatch all three points.
The final minutes of the match, though lacking in quality, was a tense occasion. Both teams, desperate not to give up their spoils were becoming more tentative to send players forward.
The final play of the match summed up Napoli’s second half. A freekick in Inter’s half from about the 40 yard mark, Ounas decided instead of sending the ball in for a final opportunity, he square it to Lobotka who would sheepishly send the ball into Handanovic’s grateful arms.
Although they had some dominant spells, Napoli will be kicking themselves that they didn’t get more out of the game. A draw was an admirable result against the champions but with how they played in the first half, they probably should have come away with more. They keep Inter within 2 points but leave the door open for AC Milan to go top. Onto Cagliari!