Napoli cut the gap between themselves and the top three positions to a point after brushing aside a poor Inter Milan at the San Paolo.
The Partenopei went into this game off the back of only one win in their last four Serie A fixtures with Coach Maurizio Sarri and some of his players calling for the side to be more ruthless in front of goal in order to turn their good performances into winning results. Napoli made four chages to the side held by Sassuolo on Monday night, bringing in Albiol, Ghoulam, Zielinski and Diawara. Inter meanwhile kept faith with the same side that defeated Fiorentina at the San Siro on the same night. Coach Stefano Pioli was looking for a less erratic display from his side this time round in order to record three straight Serie A wins in a row. A big test was in store with both sides playing catch up and looking to cut the gap between themselves and the top three.
A minute silence was scheduled prior to kick off to pay respects to the Chapecoense players and staff as well as the other civilians who tragically lost their lives in the plane crash in Colombia on Monday. The silence broke out into a spontaneous applause around the San Paolo.
Both sides started the game at a frantic pace, pressing each other high up the pitch and we didn’t have long to wait for the first goal of the night. In the second minute Insigne went on a run through the middle laying the ball forward to Gabbiadini who passed back to Hamsik. The Captain dinked the ball into right hand side of the area for Callejon to head it back down perfectly into the path of the on rushing Zielinski who placed the ball into the bottom left hand corner. It was an incisive bit of play by Napoli.
It was poor start to the match for Inter and things got worse for them in the 5th minute when Napoli struck again. A simple ball by Zielinski was threaded into the run of Hamsik whose first touch took the ball beautifully in his stride on left hand side of the area. After taking a look up for support the Slovakian drilled the ball low and hard through Handanovic’s legs. It was superb start from Napoli who finally showed how clinical they can be in front of goal.
Inter were struggling to create anything with their direct play to Icardi being snuffed out by the pair of Albiol and Koulibaly. Following a few blocked shots, Candreva saw his marauding run end up with a screwed effort wide. Soon after, it was three on three at the other end as Napoli countered with Gabbiadini having a left footed shot parried by Handanovic. Inter were simply not coping with Napoli’s quick and incisive play.
Gabbiadini almost made it three after Insigne was given far too much space to play the ball in from the left hand side but the striker’s header fell wide of Handanovic’s far post.
The first glimpse of goal for Icardi, who went into this game on the back of eight goals in seven games, came in the twentieth minute. The Argentine showed great control inside the area from Banega’s ball, managing to turn away from Albiol in one swift movement but his shot sailed just wide of Reina’s near post. Soon after Inter were almost gifted a way back into the game after Albiol’s risky ball out from the back was intercepted by Banega and chased onto by Icardi but Reina came rushing out to block the ball away for corner.
By the half hour mark, Inter were beginning to have their say on proceedings and carved their way through the Napoli defence. Banega played the ball into Icardi in the inside right position but instead of going for goal he opted to play the ball back across the area, only to find a Napoli shirt to clear. It was a good chance for a strike at goal especially for a man in such fine form as Icardi.
A few minutes late another intelligent run from Icardi was found in a similar position. This time he did go for goal but his shot was well saved by Reina. Soon after, Napoli almost made it three. A loose ball in midfield was picked up by Hamsik who threaded ball through to Gabbiadini on left hand side of area. Having taken the ball in his stride the Italian International hit a well struck effort with his left foot that was parried well by Handanovic and cleared away by Miranda.
Napoli were stepping their pla up once again and were looking to kill the game off just before the break. Hamsik had a strike from outside the box that fell straight at Handonovice to beat the ball away. Napoli then broke so quickly following an Inter corner with a last gasp challenge from Ansaldi blocking Zielinski’s control of Insigne’s switched ball from left to right keeping Inter in the game.
Napoli simply overran Inter in this first half which would have pleased Sarri. Pioli meanwhile made a change at the start of the second with Eder coming on for Banega and it was the Nerazzurri who came out of the blocks quicker, putting pressure on Napoli and pinning them back in the opening minutes. They nearly pulled one back after the ball ping balled around the area, it fell kindly to Perisic whose shot from just outside the box was just wide of Reina’s far post.
At the other end, Ranoccia did well to thwart a second goal for Hamsik, who followed up on Callejon’s cross shot, with a block inside the six yard box out for a corner. The ball was swung in and headed out into the path of Ghoulam whose left foot shot was tipped away by Handanovic.
However, Inter’s hopes of getting back into the game were put to bed in the resulting corner in the fifty-first minute. Handanovic clawed away Ghoulam’s outswinger from his goal line but the ball was played back across the penaty area by Albiol for Insigne to side foot volley home his fourth goal in three games to make it three nil to Napoli.
It should have been four nil five minutes later! A counter from Napoli saw Hamsik running unchallenged at the Inter back line before laying the ball off to the left for Insigne. The dimunitive winger played the ball back in the box behind Gabbiadini but straight into the path of Hamsik who shot straight at the keeper when he should have been aiming for either corner, giving Handanovic the chance to parry clear.
The pace of the game began to slow with Napoli in complete control Gabbiadini continued to get into good postions without any luck in front of goal. Such was Napoli’s dominance, even Koulibaly stepped out from the back and had a woeful effort over the bar.
However the sixty-eigth minute saw a great save from Reina keep Napoli’s three goal lad in tact. Perisic cut back from the left hand byline into the centre of the area into path of Candreva. It looked like a goal all day long but his low hard effort was somehow kept out by the strong left hand of Reian.
Chances after were few and far between. however, the noise in the San Paolo went up a notch or two at the sight of summer signing Marko Rog getting ready to come on. The twenty-one year old Croatian came on for the brilliant Marek Hamsik to make his debut for the Partenopei and form a young midfield three partnership with Zielinski and Diawara.
Chances were few and far between until the last five minutes. Gabbiadini stretched at a Maggio cross but couldn’t get his effort on target. Perisic should have headed home a consolation at the death from a Palacio cross from the left but his header sailed wide.
Napoli move onto twenty-eight points level with Lazio and Atalanta in fourth, although having played a game more. Inter meanwhile stay in eigth position and with much work to do.
Napoli: Reina; Albiol, Koilibaly, Hysaj (Maggio 61), Ghoulam; Diawara, Zielinski, Hamsik (c) (Rog 76); Callejon, Insigne (Giaccherini 58), Gabbiadini
Inter: Handanovic; Ranocchia, Miranda, D’Ambrosio, Ansaldi; Brozovic, Kondogbia (Joao Mario 55); Candreva (Palacio 77), Banega (Eder 46), Perisic; Icardi (c)