What better way to drop the curtain on Sunday’s busy Serie A schedule than a mouth-watering contest between Napoli and Inter. Stadio Diego Armando Maradona sets the stage for Walter Mazzarri’s endeavor to get Partenopei back to winning ways and address personal matters with Nerazzurri.
After unceremoniously terminating his first stint at Napoli a decade ago, Mazzarri took charge of Inter. Little did the 62-year-old manager know he’d last only a few months at Giuseppe Meazza. Following an abysmal start to his coaching career in Lombardy, the club relieved him of his duties.
Out to settle the score, Mazzarri bids to not only exact his revenge on Inter but make amends for another underwhelming European night. Napoli fans must have had a sense of deja vu on Wednesday as Giovanni Simeone scored to put Partenopei in front at the Santiago Bernabeu, only for Real Madrid to turn things around and win 4-2.
Another defeat at the hands of their former manager, Carlo Ancelotti, left Napoli with everything to play for in the final group-stage round against Sporting Braga. Unlike their hosts, Inter were on the inflicting end of a stunning Champions League comeback. Simone Inzaghi’s team hauled back a 3-0 halftime deficit to hold Benfica to an enthralling 3-3 draw in Portugal.
Inter had locked down their place in the Champions League knockouts before their trip to the Iberian Peninsula. But their determination to avoid defeat in Wednesday’s dead-rubber can only inspire more confidence within their ranks ahead of this blockbuster fixture.
Mazzarri’s second touchline debut went according to plan as goals from Khvicha Kvaratskhelia and Elif Elmas fired Napoli to a massive 2-1 victory against Atalanta last weekend. A gusty win in Bergamo helped the reigning champions maintain a three-point lead on fifth-placed Roma at the start of this matchday and reduce the gap on Inter to eight.
Stadio Diego Armando Maradona was a fortress last season, but it’s now up to Mazzarri to rebuild it after Rudi Garcia dismantled it brick by brick. Coming into this encounter, Napoli are winless in their last five home outings across all competitions (D2, L3), most recently succumbing to a disastrous 1-0 defeat to relegation-battling Empoli.
Player to Watch: Victor Osimhen
Back to the fold after a lengthy spell on the sidelines, Osimhen is back in contention for a starting lineup after cameo appearances against Atalanta and Madrid. Last season’s Capocannoniere-award winner is always hungry for goals.
After six consecutive wins between the last two international breaks, Inter have drawn back-to-back matches. Before eking out an outstanding result at the Estadio da Luz, Inzaghi’s side shared the spoils with arch-rivals Juventus in last weekend’s 1-1 stalemate in Turin, protecting a two-point lead at the table’s summit.
However, Juventus’ dramatic 2-1 win at Monza on Friday puts Inter in a must-win position if they’re to reclaim their place at the top. If it’s only that easy! Naples has never been a happy hunting ground for Nerazzurri, as evidenced by their embarrassing run of just one win from their last 17 visits to the town (D6, L10).
Player to Watch: Lautaro Martinez
Martinez seems destined to dethrone Osimhen as the Serie A top-scorer after going to the top of the ladder with 13 goals. The Argentine has been in scintillating form on the road, with nine of his last ten goals across all competitions coming away from home.
Ex-Inter defender Juan Jesus will probably be Mazzarri’s first choice at left-back, considering Mathias Olivera and Mario Rui are still out injured. The same goes for Jesper Lindstrom, who has experienced a dismal start to his Napoli career.
On the other hand, Inter are still without star defensive duo Alessandro Bastoni and Benjamin Pavard. But Marko Arnautovic and Juan Cuadrado are back to full fitness following extensive spells in the treatment room, providing Inzaghi with additional options in attack.
Napoli vs Inter Potential Lineups
Napoli (4-3-3): Meret; Di Lorenzo, Rrahmani, Natan, Jesus; Anguissa, Lobotka, Elmas; Politano, Osimhen, Kvaratskhelia.
Inter (3-5-2): Sommer; Darmian, De Vrij, Acerbi; Dumfries, Barella, Calhanoglu, Mkhitaryan, Dimarco; Thuram, Martinez.
Napoli vs Inter Prediction
You’d assume Inter are in a pole position to take advantage of Napoli’s form crisis and defy their dreadful record in southern Italy. However, these high-profile fixtures often make players go to great lengths to claim bragging rights.
Inspired by a traditionally intimidating atmosphere at the Maradona, Napoli can upset their title-bidding rivals. But we won’t go that far. Instead, we expect these two to settle for a point each.
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