Inter Milan starting Xi:
Handanovic; Skriniar, Ranocchia, Bastoni; Darmian, Barella, Brozovic, Calhanoglu, Perisic;Correra, Martinez
Napoli starting xi:
Ospina; Di Lorenzo, Rrahmani, Koulibaly, Rui; Anguissa, Ruiz; Lozano, Zielinski, Insigne; Osimhen
Score: Inter 3, Napoli 2
Score sheet: Zielinski (17) Calhanoglu (23) Perisic (45) Martinez (61) Mertens (78)
With Milans’ shock defeat to Fiorentina, Napoli had their first clear cut opportunity to break away from their 1st place neighbours. But in order to do so, they had to go up against 3rd place Inter who were looking to gain ground of their own. The away side had lost both Politano and Ounas to covid and injury. But they did see the welcome return of Captain Kalidou Koulibaly. The home team would be missing starting CB De Vrij to a hamstring injury, and Dzeko in attack but otherwise would be up to full strength.
The atmosphere was tense in the Guissepe Meazza stadium, a bustling crowd egging on the homeside.
But in the opening 5 minutes, it was Napoli who had the first attempt. Ruiz attempted the cross/shot but Handanovic dealt with it. Inter responded with a cross of their own, Martinez heading just past the Napoli goal.
Oshimen, full of ambition and running, was too enthusiastic in trying to nick the ball back and earned the first yellow of the match after fouling Skriniar.
Napoli would make the breakthrough in the 17th minute with a quick break. Zielinski started the move winning the ball back from Barella, passing to a driving Insigne who took it down to the edge of the box, toeing the ball right to a well positioned Zielinski who ended the move with a thumping strike into the top right corner.
Inter almost immediately responded with a perfect freekick into the box which Skriniar glanced goalward but didn’t get enough contact to score.
23 minutes into the match, A barella strike clearly struck the arm of Koulibaly and a Var check proved it. Inter would have a penalty to equalize, which Calhanoglu calmly slotted away to make it even.
Inter had the momentum after that, pressing heavily in the Napoli half. The Partenopei needed to stabilize if they wanted to stay in the match.
It took a good block from the Inter defense to get a stop on Oshimens snap shot on goal. Inter once again, responded like for like with Correra managing to stop the ball, turn and glance the ball across Ospina’s net, once again just going wide.
Lozano was the focal point for Napoli’s counter attack, using his pace to beat the ageing Perisic to the ball on the right side. It was his direct play which created an excellent cross for Oshimen who couldn’t place it on target.
Barella would take an excellent opportunity after Napoli gave the ball away in their own final third with Ospina parrying wide. Their pressure would be rewarded from a set piece of all things, Peresic managed to flick the ball on from the front post past the goal line, despite Ospina’s best efforts to keep it out,
At the end of the first half, Napoli had all the work to do, trailing a goal down.
The drama restarted almost immediately with a clever pass from Insigne to Oshimen who fell over after contact in the box from Bastoni, but the referee saw nothing from it.
Inter would continue their dominance from the first half with a snapshot from Martinez which took a clever stop from Ospina to keep out.
Lozano would continue to threaten, finding open space to run into. His drilled shot had beaten Handanovic but Skriniar was there to clear.
The Slovakian defender would clash with Oshimen again, but unfortunately after both fighting for a header, they collided heads in the box sending both on the floor. The stretcher came out for Oshimen but thankfully the Nigerian was able to walk off, but with visible damage Petagna replaced him.
Martinez and Correra finally combined to score a fine counter attacking goal. Correra took the ball from his own box down to Napoli’s finding a waiting Martinez who fired a laser into the left hand corner of the goal.
The goal seemed to take the wind out of Napoli’s sails. The team seemed a step slower then the Nerazzuri and seemed uninspired in attack.
Spalletti decided to take the tiring Insigne and Lozano off, hoping for some inspiration from record goalscorer Mertens and the industrious Elmas. Which turned out to be an Inspired decision as the Belgian received the ball 25 yards from the goal and thundered the ball in from long range. His love affair with Napoli was not over yet and the team from the south were back in the game.
The second head to head collision of the match would be between Dzeko and a sweeping Ospina. Both would be bandaged and allowed to continue the match.
A Rrhamani toe was all that stood between Dzeko putting the ball into the back of the net after a neat pull back. The game was very much end to end.
Napoli would come inches away from scoring, A fullback to fullback cross from Di Lorenzo found a diving Rui whos low shot was deflected over by a sprawling Handanovic after the ball excruciatingly hung just above the bar.
As time ran out, Anguissa managed to somehow wriggle himself into space and looped the ball to the far post for a waiting Mertens who volleyed the ball over the bar. It was the chance that Napoli were looking for and sadly the last proper action of the game.
Napoli were finally defeated in Serie A this season, as Inter close the gap on the leaders with 4 points.