As the Nerazzurri looked to host Napoli in the 35th round of fixtures, revenge was on the mind of both managers. Both Mazzarri and Benitez would face their former clubs. While Mazzarri's departure from Napoli was somewhat amicable, Benitez's firing from Inter was anything but. The face-off would bring intrigue and vengeance to the always dramatic football scenery of the Nerazzurri but Interisti worldwide hoped that the sweet taste of victory would be theirs.
To add to the already melodramatic narratives that had almost written themselves, Inter were still on the hunt for European competition. With every point counting and with a smattering of fixtures left on the calendar, a win was imperative if the Nerazzurri were hoping to play in Europe next season.
Big questions loomed ahead of the match with the implications potentially affecting the transfer market, coaching staff, and players. With a lot at stake, which former manager would best his opponent? Would Mazzarri or Benitez glean revenge upon their former club? The stage was set and now it was up to the players to determine the outcome of a potentially cracking game.
Below was the Curva Nord's choreography prior to the match.
[Please note: They chose not to display it earlier this season during the first city derby out of a show of support for Milan's Curva Sud. The Curva Sud had sustained a league ban at the time and this was the last opportunity for Inter's Curva Nord to display their banners prior to next week's derby as the Curva Nord only have one tier for fan support].
Official Lineups from the Inter site:
Inter (3-5-2): Handanovic; Campagnaro, Ranocchia, Andreolli; D'Ambrosio (Zanetti, 68), Hernanes (Guarin, 74), Cambiasso, Kovacic, Nagatomo; Palacio, Icardi (Kuzmanovic, 81).
Substitutes not used: Castellazzi, Carrizo, Taider, Botta, Milito.
Coach: Walter Mazzarri.
[Note: Samuel and Rolando are out due to yellow card accumulation and Juan Jesus is out for the season due to knee ligament damage. Please click here for the injury update.]
Napoli (4-2-3-1): Reina; Henrique, Albiol, Britos, Ghoulam; Jorginho, Inler; Callejon, Mertens (Hamsik, 70), Insigne; Higuain (Pandev, 81).
Substitutes not used: Colombo, Doblas, Reveiller, Mesto, Zuniga, Dzemaili, Radosevic, Behrami, Zapata.
Coach: Rafael Benitez.
Officials: Rizzoli, Nicoletti, Marrazzo, Ghiandai, Rocchi, Tommasi
(Please click here for the Live Match Thread and comments).
Inter lined up in the same 3-5-2 formation as last week with Handanovic in goal; Campagnaro, Ranocchia, and Andreolli in a three man defense; the five man midfield consisted of D'Ambrosio, Hernanes, Cambiasso, Kovacic, and Nagatomo; and Palacio and Icardi in attack.
Both Inter and Napoli came out attacking from the gates as both sides had multiple chances to open up the score line, all that was missing was the final touch. The action on the field was fast and furious with a high level of intensity on display by both teams.
Inter had goal scoring opportunities in the 3' and 10' (Hernanes); 11' and 23' (Kovacic); and 18' (Palacio) minutes of the match.
Napoli also had their offensive opportunities in the 1', 14', and 22' (Callejon); 9' and 12' (Higuain); 20' (Insigne); and 24' (Inler) minutes of the first half.
Britos received a yellow card in the 26th minute as he fouled Palacio outside of the penalty box. Some controversy surrounding the call revolved around the Argentine's breakaway opportunity as the Napoli defender only received a yellow card despite denying the clear goal scoring opportunity.
Palacio and Icardi had a number of opportunities for goal but unfortunately for the Nerazzurri, the first half drew to a close with a 0-0 score line despite multiple goal scoring chances.
While Inter dominated possession and goal scoring opportunities in the first half, that was far from the case in the second half.
Napoli came out strong with a spattering of offensive chances that had the Inter defense playing deep into their own third of the pitch. The Nerazzurri also ventured offensively but the away side seemed to gather steam as the match progressed.
Mazzarri made his first substitution in the 23rd minute of the second half as D'Ambrosio sustained a calf injury. The crowd roared with adulation as Inter captain, Zanetti, came in to bolster the defense.
In the 29th minute, Hernanes was off and Guarin on as the Colombian hoped to score as he did in the previous week.
The culmination of the Napoli attack came in the 37th minute of the second half as Inler struck a missile towards goal only to see it deflect off the post much to the relief of Interisti worldwide. A proverbial sigh of relief could be felt as La Beneamata fortunately kept the score sheet at 0-0 with only a few minutes left in the match.
Andreolli demonstrated some sublime defending with a well timed tackle stopping Higuain which left the Argentine injured. He was substituted in the 41st minute with former Inter man, Pandev.
Despite a strong first half performance the Nerazzurri's second half was spent trying to subdue a mounting Napoli attack which was ultimately neutralized thanks to some solid team defending. Inter ended the match with only 44% ball possession, 8 shots on target, and 6 off target. Napoli with only 1 shot on target had most of the possession (56%) and 13 shots off target. With European competition on the line and the visitors' attack growing more confident as the game wore on, the home side was fortunate to stave off a hungry Napoli offense and walk away with a draw and important point.
Samuel and Rolando were suspended due to yellow card accumulation but Ranocchia and Andreolli stepped up brilliantly in defense to subdue the Napoli attack. Additionally, Kovacic once again played brilliantly alongside Cambiasso and Hernanes, as the young creative midfielder continued to wow the crowd with his through balls while also coming back to help defend. Lastly, Palacio was tremendous in today's match. Although he did not score, he was threatening on offense and also helped to apply defensive pressure.
Kovacic's midfield, creative brilliance:
Kovacic brilliant vision http://t.co/3YWoKlIJhM— Interista (@InterPrimavera) April 26, 2014
Icardi had multiple opportunities as well and was close to scoring on numerous occasions. There is no doubt that the young Argentine striker is talented and hopefully along with his poaching skills he will develop the ability to play with the ball at his feet in open play.
Inter remain in 5th place in league standings with 57 points and are four points behind 4th placed Fiorentina, six points ahead of 6th placed Parma (who play Cagliari away tomorrow) and 7th placed Milan.
With only three matches left in the 2013-2014 season (Milan-away, Lazio-home, and Chievo-away), next week's Derby della Madonnina has more than just city bragging rights at stake as both Milanese clubs are fighting for European competition next season.
Ranocchia with "phenomenal" teammate Kovacic:
Buona partita!!! E adesso Derby!!! Questo ragazzo qui è un fenomeno!!! AMALA!! @Inter— Andrea Ranocchia (@23_Frog) April 26, 2014
Inter 0-0 Napoli:
First half: N/A
Second half: N/A