The Partitissima of Serie A Round 9 didn’t live up to its hype, as Napoli and Inter left San Paolo Stadium without moving the score from nil-nil. Such goalless outcome broke Napoli’s fantastic winning streak after eight games, but allowed them to keep two points of advantage over the chasing Nerazzurri.
Luciano Spalletti’s troops, tonight wearing an unusual dark blue outfit, managed to keep the Neapolitan trident at bay thanks to the saves by goalkeeper Samir Handanovic. However, they showed that they could battle the capolista on an even footing, and gave goalie Juan Manuel Reina some work to do, as well. Last time they showed up in San Paolo, they were chewed out with a 0-3 defeat. This is definitely a step forward.
Juventus and Lazio can also be happy with the outcome, as tomorrow they will have a chance to get closer to the top of the league table: Should they make full score in their Sunday matches, they would see their gap versus the top spot reducing to three points only.
The big match of Round 9 in the Italian top division was a pleasant one for football lovers, and those who like seeing two well-disposed teams facing each other. Tactics prevailed over spectacle, few goal chances were seen, with a prevalence for Napoli’s light blue jerseys. However, in a Serie A season where only two games so far ended with no goals, you would have hoped for some points to be scored.
Maurizio Sarri deployed his best possible eleven, including recovered midfielders Jorginho and Allan Marques. He also risked sending in Lorenzo Insigne from the start, despite a slight injury suffered by the scugnizzo during last Champions League match. Luciano Spalletti could also line up the best his squad can offer – placing Borja Valero to support lone striker Mauro Icardi from behind, and Ivan Perisic and Antonio Candreva on the wing sides.
Samir Handanovic was the first one to earn applause in the first half: His double save stopped a shot by José Callejon first, and then parried back Dries Mertens’ attempt to tap in with a lightning fast reaction. The Nerazzurri didn’t show up around “Pepe” Reina’s area until the 40’, when a shot by Spaniard Borja Valero tested his fellow countryman’s reflexes: Reina deflected his shot over the crossbar.
The clearest chance for Inter came a few minutes after the break, when Matias Vecino galloped on the right flank and, after a one-two exchange with Icardi, dribbled even Reina to cross the ball into Napoli’s goal – but Raul Albiol was stationed on the goal line, and cleared it with a header.
70 minutes into the game, Spalletti sent in Portuguese midfielder Joao Mario, just back after an injury. Sarri replied with three substitutions in ten minutes, leaving room to Piotr Zielinski, Marko Rog and Adam Ounas. The Polish midfielder was the most dangerous one, delivering a long range shot that called Handanovic to action again. Napoli kept pushing until the end, while the Nerazzurri coach seemed happy with settling for a tie, as his two additional changes didn’t modify his lineup: Joao Cancelo substituted Candreva, whereas Eder took the place of a torpid Icardi.
Handanovic saved the day another time around at 90’, when center back Joao Miranda risked an own goal in an attempt to control Dries Mertens. The Slovenian goalkeeper deflected to maintain his sheet clean, before referee Luca Banti called it quits after three extra minutes.
NAPOLI (4-3-3): Reina; Hysaj, Albiol, Koulibaly, Ghoulam; Allan (75′ Rog), Jorginho, Hamsik (73′ Zielinski); Callejon, Mertens, Insigne (80′ Ounas). (Rafael, Sepe, Mario Rui, Maggio, Giaccherini, Maksimovic, Chiriches, Diawara). Coach: Sarri
INTER (4-2-3-1): Handanovic; D’Ambrosio, Skriniar, Miranda, Nagatomo; Gagliardini, Vecino; Candreva (83′ Cancelo), Borja Valero (71′ Joao Mario), Perisic; Icardi (87′ Eder). (Padelli, Berni, Ranocchia, Karamoh, Santon, Eder, Dalbert, Pinamonti). Coach: Spalletti
REFEREE: Mr. Banti from Livorno
NOTES: Attendance: 55000; Yellow Cards: Miranda (I), Koulibaly (N); Extra Time: 0′ 1st Half, 3′ 2nd Half