Based on this week’s evidence, “Serie A” Inter and “Champions League” Inter are clearly two very different teams. Napoli realized this at their own expense Sunday, extending their 14-year long winless streak at San Siro (the Nerazzurri chapter) by one more match. José Mourinho’s made winning by a one-goal difference a habit lately, but the Inter manager also raked in his 6th consecutive home victory in the domestic league.
As for Napoli they battled hard till the end, fighting back through the wild & unstoppable runs of Ezequiel Lavezzi, but paid a steep price for their “disappearance” during the match’s first 30 minutes. Córdoba and Muntari left their mark, leaving Inter with a 6-point advantage on direct rivals Juventus and AC Milan.
Regarding the team line-ups, there weren’t many surprises in Mourinho’s pre-announced formation. Adriano was once again relegated to the bench, Julio Cruz promoted to a starting position. On the other end, Napoli manager Edy Reja made two last-minute changes with Leandro Rinaudo and Michele Pazienza in lieu of Santacroce and Blasi, but otherwise gave full confidence to the Lavezzi-Zalayeta striking partnership.
Alas for Napoli, the way they had planned to approach this game tactically (open play towards the wings and make full use of counter-attacks) rapidly proved to be completely ineffective, especially thanks to the aggressive & well-defined approach of the Nerazzurri in the initial minutes. Maicon was constantly breaking through on the right wing (where the man-marking efforts of Daniele Mannini proved to be thoroughly insufficient) all the while Maxwell forced Maggio to limit his offensive initiatives on the opposite side. It should come as no surprise that the Nerazzurri’s first two goals by Ivan Corboba (half-volleyed effort inside the box) and Sulley Muntari (lovely backheel on a missed shot by Maicon… a carbon copy of his goal against Juventus almost) came following wing attacks. 1-0 and 2-0 Inter in less than 10 minutes.
A pretty tough blow for Napoli, whose lack of ideas in midfield (in particular Hamsik’s) was the Azzurri’s biggest handicap of the first half-hour. So much so that Julio Cesar was having a relatively quiet night, at least until a certain Ezequiel Lavezzi decided to take things into his own hands. After a splendid one-two move with Marcelo Zalayeta (backheel return pass), “El Pocho” found himself in front of the Inter keeper and beat him with a delicate chip. 2-1 with an entire second half left to play.
The visitors’ momentum continued to increase after the break, and one had to wonder whether Lavezzi & friends would have the sufficient drive to be able to find an equalizer. However, despite clearly winning the battle of ball possession, Napoli couldn’t produce anything more than a few long balls forward and odd crosses left & right. To no one unfortunately. Reja’s substitutions (Blasi, Denis, and Bogliacino on for Hamsik, Pazienza, and Maggio) did very little to change the music, and it was in fact Inter who would find the last big chance of the night, as Javier Zanetti saw his close-range effort deflected wide by Gennaro Iezzo. At the end of the day, Inter grabbed a rather well-deserved three points.
|GOALSCORERS: 16′ Cordoba (I), 25′ Muntari (I), 36′ Lavezzi (N).
| INTER (4-3-1-2): J.Cesar – Maicon, Córdoba, Samuel, Maxwell – J.Zanetti, Cambiasso, Muntari (90’ Jiménez) – Stankovic (84’ Burdisso) – Cruz (73’ Adriano), Ibrahimovic. (bench: Orlandoni, Figo, Mancini, Crespo). Coach: Mourinho.
| NAPOLI (3-5-2): Iezzo – P.Cannavaro, Rinaudo, Aronica – Maggio (79’ Denis), Pazienza (84’ Bogliacino), Gargano, Hamsik (66’ Blasi), Mannini – Zalayeta, Lavezzi. (bench: Navarro, Santacroce, Vitale, Montervino). Coach: Reja.