Inter Drop Points in Naples but Gets One Week Closer to Scudetto

It was all square at the Diego Armando Maradona Stadium on Sunday night in the last game of Serie A Round 31. Napoli tried to scare Inter as they took the lead in the first half thanks to a little mishap involving Samir Handanovic and Stefan De Vrij, but a reborn Chrstian Eriksen settled the matter for the Nerazzurri as he drew level to set the score at 1-1.  

Inter dropped some points in Serie A for the first time since January but ultimately got one week closer to grabbing the much-awaited Scudetto. Antonio Conte and his band have been playing in cruise control mode since a few weeks. Losing to Napoli could have only minimally undermined their chances of grabbing the title. Thus, coming home with one point is an outcome the Beneamata can be happy with.

Napoli, on the other hand, were hoping for more. A win over Inter would have made them reach Juventus in the fourth place of the table. The Champions League ticket is still two points away but at least Gennaro Gattuso can be happy with the attitude shown by his side.  

Gattuso couldn’t count on his preferred goalkeeper David Ospina so Azzurro Alex Meret got another chance from the start. Other than that, the Calabria-born managed confirmed his usual setup from the past few weeks. There were no major surprises in the Inter lineup either, with Christian Eriksen and Matteo Darmian having by now won a regular spot in the starting XI.

Everything was set for a good show at the Diego Armando Maradona as the two clubs cooperated to stage the ugliest combination of football outfits ever seen on a pitch. Call us old-fashioned, but Inter’s by-now famous picnic-blanket second jersey paired with Napoli’s creative variation of their already dreadful pitch black kit is something we would have gladly avoided to see.

In the initial stages of the game, both sides seemed willing to live up to the low standards set up by their outfits. The match turned into a ball-possession fest (with Napoli mainly in control) that didn’t result in anything meaningful to report for at least 25 minutes – except for an intriguing preview of a potential heavyweight battle between Kalidou Koulibaly and Romelu Lukaku.

Luckily for the show, the match eventually caught fire as a Marcelo Brozovic razor-sharp shot was cleverly deflected by Lukaku from point blank range. However, the crossbar denied Inter the chance to draw first blood.

But scoring opportunities were still a rare occurrence and it was a single episode to make the scorecard change as Inter were betrayed by some of his best men. Samir Handanovic messed up with a seemingly-harmless cross from Lorenzo Insigne and pushed the ball into the back of his own net while colliding with Stefan De Vrij. It was recorded as an own goal from the Slovenian goalkeeper.

On 38 minutes, Inter played again the card of the deflection from point-blank range, but Lautaro Martinez’s flick from a Christian Eriksen set piece, followed by Lukaku’s touch once again crashed into the bar.

The Nerazzurri continued to press and, just before the break, Lautaro Martinez released Niccolò Barella in the box, forcing Alex Meret to exit and courageously defuse the threat as he dived head first towards the midfielder’s legs. That was how the first half ended. 

Over the first 45 minutes, Christian Eriksen had appeared the most tonic from the Nerazzurri lines and Antonio Conte ultimately had to thank him for rebalancing the game early into the second period.  

The Dane removed the safety lock from his left foot and conjured a deadly shot from the edge of the box for which Alex Meret had no answer, pouncing on the ball after Kostas Manolas had seemingly neutralized a Matteo Darmian cross from the left-hand side.   

Napoli were still well alive and, on 62 minutes, Fabian Ruiz reached a split second too late the ball whipped in the box by Matteo Politano and headed to the far post by Giovanni Di Lorenzo. The Napoli midfielder was unmarked and only had to push it home but the timing was not on his side.

The match then entered into a tactical phase where the two coaches tried to shake things up with some changes. Antonio Conte was the first to make a move, replacing Darmian with Ivan Perisic on the left wing-back position. Gennaro Gattuso put an end to yet another forgettable performance from Victor Osimhen substituting the Nigerian giant with Dries Mertens.

On 79 minutes, a Matteo Politano effort, with the short-sized winger penetrating deep into the Nerazzurri‘s area before firing the ball towards Handanovic, should have had a better outcome but this time the crossbar came to Inter’s rescue.

Those were the last sparks in the game, which got more nervous and fragmented towards the end as substitutions started to break the match momentum. There was a bit of drama as referee Daniele Doveri initially awarded a penalty to Napoli for a Stefan De Vrij tackle on Piotr Zielinski. He changed his mind, however, after the VAR showed him that the Dutchman’s defensive clearance had been flawless.

Napoli risked ruining everything right before the final whistle as Alexis Sanchez released Achraf Hakimi into the box but a phenomenal slide tackle from Kostas Manolas denied the Moroccan and kept the score unchanged. It was the fairest outcome.



April 18, 2021 – Serie A 2020-21 Round 31

SCORERS: 36′ Handanovic (I, o.g.), 55′ Eriksen (I)

NAPOLI (4-2-3-1): Meret; Di Lorenzo, Manolas, Koulibaly, Mario Rui; Fabian Ruiz (91′ Bakayoko), Demme (91′ Hysaj); Zielinski (87′ Elmas), Politano, Insigne; Osimhen (73′ Mertens) (Contini, Idasiak, Maksimovic, Rrahmani, Zedadka, Lobotka, Petagna, Cioffi) Coach: Gattuso
INTER (3-5-2): Handanovic; Skriniar, De Vrij, Bastoni; Hakimi, Barella, Brozovic, Eriksen (74′ Gagliardini), Darmian (69′ Perisic); Lukaku, Lautaro Martinez (75′ Sanchez) (Radu, Padelli, D’Ambrosio, Ranocchia, Young, Sensi, Vecino, Pinamonti) Coach: Conte

REFEREE: Mr. Doveri from Rome
NOTES: Yellow Cards: Koulibaly, Demme, Politano, Mertens, Manolas (N), Darmian, Hakimi (I); Extra Time: 1st Half 0′, 2nd Half 4′