Inter looked to get back on the winning track this week as Serie A returned after the two week long international break. There were many plotlines that underlined this match up, with the main one concerning both head coaches, Walter Mazzarri and Rafa Benitez. Both managers were eager to get a leg up on their former club while both squads have been struggling in the campionato.
The Nerazzurri have been riddled with injuries sustained to many players, including Dani Osvaldo and Danilo D'Ambrosio, while Yuto Nagatomo was a game day decision and ultimately did not even make the match day bench due to fitness problems. Mateo Kovacic, who had been substituted midweek during his match with Croatia, was able to start as his injury was not as bad as first thought.
Mazzarri has been on the hot seat over the last few rounds of league play due to Inter's poor results. A loss tonight would only further raise the temperature as rumors swirl of Mazzarri potentially getting sacked, despite the dreaded ‘vote of confidence' from Inter owner Erick Thohir.
INTER: Handanovic; Ranocchia, Vidic, Juan Jesus; Obi, Hernanes, Medel, Kovacic, Dodò; Palacio, Icardi
Substitutes: Carrizo, Berni, Andreolli, Guarin, Kuzmanovic, Mbaye, Krhin, M'Vila, Bonazzoli
NAPOLI: Rafael; Britos, Albiol, Koulibaly, Zuniga; Inler, Lopez; Callejon, Hamsik, Insigne; Higuain
Substitutes: Andujar, Colombo, Henrique, De Guzman, Jorginho, Maggio, Mertens, Mesto, Michu, Ghoulam, Zapata
Inter lined up with Samir Handanovic in goal and a defensive back three of Andrea Ranocchia, Nemanja Vidic, and Juan Jesus. The midfield consisted of Joel Obi getting a rare start on the right wing, with Hernanes, Medel, and Kovacic running the midfield while Dodo was on the left flank. Rodrigo Palacio and Mauro Icardi were the chosen strikers for the day, as Osvaldo is out injured.
The first half started with Inter holding early possession, with Hernanes shooting wide of the Napoli goal eight minutes into the game. The Brazilian looked like he was up for the match, as he was heavily involved with a number of Inter attacks going forward.
The game flowed both ways through thirty minutes, with both keepers being called into action but neither team seriously threatening each other's goals. Both Obi and Dodo were doing well on their respective flanks, as Obi had bursts going forward and winning the ball while Dodo had decent crosses going in.
Inter's first real offensive threat of the match came in the 39th minute, as Hernanes smacked the side post with a ferocious shot from just outside the penalty area. Napoli were let off the hook, as the ball went out for a corner and Inter were not able to capitalize on the opportunity.
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Look, Mazzarri's cast is gone!
Napoli started the second half with more energy than the home side, as Insigne hit the post in the 50th minute. The Nerazzurri got their heads back into the game as they started to possess and attack as they had in the first, with Palacio winning a corner and Vidic subsequently heading over his shot.
Mazzarri was the first to make a substitution, as he replaced Obi with another Inter youth product in Ibrahim Mbaye. Obi had a good match, but seemed to lack the fitness to carry him through a full 90 minutes. Benitez countered with his first move shortly thereafter, by replacing Napoli's captain, Marek Hamsik, with Jorginho.
Hernanes was nearly able to break through the Napoli backline, only for the away side to pull off some nifty defending by blocking him from a clear run at goal. The Brazilian felt he may have been slightly fouled, but the referee, Orsato, did not blow the whistle in a correct non call.
Napoli, in an effort to win, made another change as Insigne came off for Dries Mertens. They also made another substitution within ten minutes, when Ghoulam came on for Britos. Within minutes, the away side was celebrating, as Callejon capitalized on Vidic's inability to head a ball clear.
With not many options available to Mazzarri off the bench, he took off Medel in favor of the more attack minded Guarin and he was rewarded almost instantaneously. After Inter had won a corner, Dodo delivered the ball in and Icardi was able to head it down into the path of the newly entered Guarin. It had taken 80 minutes, but there were finally goals in the match. Mazzarri somehow managed to get sent off after the tying goal and Orsato marched over to tell him to leave the dugout area.
The game looked all but over when Callejon scored a brace in the last minute of regulation. Little did the away side know that La Beneamata would strike in the 91st minute, as Hernanes finally got his deserved goal to tie the game at 2-2.
The Nerazzurri seemed to have caught Napoli in a moment of weakness, as they surely thought they had won the match. Dodo had the ball on the left flank and delivered a wicked cross in. Hernanes ascended above all the rest and met the ball with such furor that his equalizing header was delicious to watch.
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... and because the celebration never gets old...
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It was a match that would have been cruel to Mazzarri and his men had they lost, as Inter were the more solid team on the night. The Nerazzurri held more possession than their visitors (57% to 43%) and were better prepared than their ex-manager's side.
While the team only received one point for their draw, it is encouraging that these players found the character to fight for the goals to bring them level. They knew they were the better team tonight, and it would have been a travesty had Napoli walked away with all three points.
Inter now switch their focus to the Europa League, as the French side St. Etienne visit the Meazza this coming Thursday, with kickoff scheduled at 21.05 local time.
1st half: N/A
2nd half: Callejon (79', 90'), Guarin (80'), Hernanes (91')
Man of the Match: Hernanes