Napoli-Inter was the radiography of two football sides living diametrically opposed moments, with the final outcome taking a perfect snapshot of the situation. The Nerazzurri won 3-1, easily moving past the struggling Partenopei, lead by a sumptuous Romelu Lukaku who is turning Serie A into his personal game reserve.
The Belgian hitman put together a killer brace to wrap his 14th and 15th seasonal goals, before Lautaro Martinez would set the score for Antonio Conte’s side, frustrating Lorenzo Insigne’s temporary gap-reducer finish. Inter thus managed to keep the pace of Juventus, after the Bianconeri’s chest-beating 4-0 victory over Cagliari earlier in the afternoon had surely given them a good scare.
Coach Conte also recovered two key elements from his roster – Azzurri midfielders Stefano Sensi and Nicoló Barella – who both started from the bench but were eventually thrown in the mix to regain some condition as they come back from two serious injuries. The only negative note for Bell’Antonio was that Barella couldn’t find anything better to do that scoring a yellow card five minutes after his return, which will force him to miss another game – next Saturday’s perilous test against Atalanta. An exploit replicated by defender Milian Skriniar as well, who will be thus watching the game against the “other” Nerazzurri from the stands of the San Siro.
On the Neapolitan side, Gennaro Gattuso has little to be happy about, as his Napoli collected their 6th league loss and added to their well-known limits also some unexpected suicidal tendencies on the part of their defensive pack. Two out of three of Inter’s goal sparked from some macroscopic defensive blunders which probably punished the Partenopei more than they actually deserved. Kalidou Koulibaly’s absence made the gaps in defense even more evident – without forgetting that the Senegalese has been having a pretty underwhelming season himself.
Gattuso’s consolation was a vehement reaction by his squad after Lukaku’s second goal, which led Napoli to reduce the gap in the space of five minutes. Insigne’s finish however turned out to be just a flash in the pan, as the Nerazzurri comfortably controlled the game in the second half to collect their 14th win out of 18 Serie A games played so far.
Romelu Lukaku set the pace of the match in the 3rd minute already, when a missed offside call on the part of the refereeing trio put him ahead of Alex Meret, whom he dribbled to go for the finish. Giovanni Di Lorenzo managed to clear the ball almost on the goal line, before referee Daniele Doveri finally called the offside.
Lukaku however had better fortune 10 minutes later, when a pass by Mario Rui in his defensive third was missed by Di Lorenzo. The Italian selection’s terzino – lined up as central defender tonight by Gattuso – slid to let the ball reach the former Manchester United finalizer. Lukaku’s progression in the opponent half was impressive, but three Napoli defenders let him do whatever he wanted: You get him, no YOU get him, and Lukaku was left free to advance across the whole Neapolitans’ half before whipping the ball past Alex Meret for Inter’s 0-1.
Napoli’s goalkeeper looked quite alert in a couple of subsequent challenges, but in the 33rd minute he made a total mess of Lukaku’s long-range shot, as he fumbled the ball in the back of his own net to gift-wrap Inter’s second goal. Good killer instinct on the Belgian’s part, but the young Nazionale goalkeeper has much to be forgiven for – together with teammate Giovanni Di Lorenzo, who failed to stop Lukaku and prevent him from shooting.
Napoli seemed to be on their knees, but that’s when they unexpectedly found new forces. A wonderful exchange between Arkadiusz Milik and Lorenzo Insigne projected Lorenzo Il Magnifico in front of Samir Handanovic. The Slovenian goalie was however luckier than his Napoli counterpart, as he also risked pushing the ball into his own net but somehow managed to recover and block it.
That was the best moment for the Partenopei, which for a few minutes seemed capable of steering the match back in a more favorable direction. Piotr Zielinsk crossed the ball in, Inter defenders failed to catch the opposition attackers in offside, and José Callejon was free to pass it to Arkadiusz Milik – who put it past Handanovic like only top strikers can do.
The home side ship ultimately sank in the 61st minute however when Kostas Manolas, in an attempt to clear a cross from the right by Matias Vecino, delivered the ball right on Lautaro Martinez’s foot. From point-blank range, El Toro simply couldn’t miss the finish.
After the Toro, came the Torello (Torello being Italian for that game where a player stands in the middle of a circle made by his teammates, who pass each other the ball trying to prevent him from touching it…) with Inter maintaining ball possession and controlling the remaining part of the match, only scared by a free-kick by Insigne which hit Samir Handanovic’s crossbar.
The Nerazzurri wrapped their first win at the San Paolo Stadium in 22 years, offering an overwhelming showmanship of superiority. The battle for supremacy with Juventus can continue.
January 6, 2020 – Serie A 2019-2020 Round 18
SCORERS: 14′ Lukaku (I), 33′ Lukaku (I), 39′ Milik (N), 62′ Lautaro Martinez (I)
|NAPOLI (4-3-3): Meret; Hysaj (81′ Lozano), Manolas, Di Lorenzo, Mario Rui; Allan, Fabian Ruiz (84′ Llorente), Zielinski; Callejon, Milik, Insigne (Ospina, Karnezis, Elmas, Luperto, Younes, Tonelli, Gaetano, Leandro) Coach: Gattuso|
|INTER (3-5-2): Handanovic; Skriniar, De Vrij, Bastoni; Candreva, Gagliardini (56′ Barella), Brozovic, Vecino (73′ Sensi), Biraghi; Lautaro Martinez, Lukaku (88′ Borja Valero) (Padelli, Berni, Godin, Sanchez, Ranocchia, Politano, Lazaro, Dimarco, Esposito) Coach: Conte|
REFEREE: Mr. Doveri from Roma
NOTES: Yellow Cards: Candreva, Barella, Conte, Esposito, Sensi, Skriniar (I); Extra Time: 1st Half 1′, 2nd Half 4′