The matches against Napoli are always very heartfelt, and with the odds at stake are high as they are this time, the tension is almost unbearable. Inter currently sit at the top of the table and the Azzurri occupy the second place, so this match could decide which team will lead the Serie A at least for the next week.
We can wait to see how Inter will perform against one of the best and hottest teams of Serie A, in the meanwhile we asked some questions to our good friend Conor Dowley, editor for SB Nation blog The Siren's Song, to see what's the atmosphere like on the other side of the barricade and what are his expectations about the match.
The Offside Inter Milan: Before the start of the season, would you have expected to see these two teams at the top of the table after 13 matches? And what are Napoli's goals right now, compared to 3 months ago?
The Siren's Song: Honestly? No. Not either team, really. I thought Inter were a fairly decent team, but not first place in the league decent. Napoli I obviously like, but I thought that after last season's frustrations and all the turnover this summer, this would mostly be a season of adjustment and growth. Instead, they've been the best two teams in a highly bizarre Serie A this season. Life is weird.
As far as Napoli's goals, as of right now they're probably not much different than they were coming into the season: secure Champions League qualification, while trying to win the Europa League and Coppa Italia. Winning the Scudetto would be wonderful, and if their current form continues, that could become a realistic goal, but for right now, they're mostly just happy that their goals look more attainable thanks to their fantastic first third of the season so far.
TOIM: Napoli's defense has been incredible lately, amassing seven consecutive clean sheets. Of the many talented offensive players Inter have, who do you think will be the main threat for the Azzurri on Monday?
Frankly, I'd worry about all three of Mauro Icardi, Stevan Jovetic, and Adem Ljajic. All three have skillsets, both as individual players and in combination with one another, that have given Napoli problems both this season and in past years. Even though both Icardi and Jovetic have struggled to find consistent goalscoring form this season, all it takes is one mistake by Napoli's defense and whichever or that trio play can punish them harshly for it.
TOIM: Speaking of Napoli's attack instead, who you think will hassle Inter more? and why?
TSS: It's hard to look past Gonzalo Higuain.The current leader in goalscoring in Serie A with 10 goals in 13 matches, Pipita has been on fire over the last two months. In fact, he'll demand such attention that it will almost certainly wind up creating extra chances for other Napoli attackers, namely Lorenzo Insigne, who's been warming into another hot streak of attacking form himself. He's an incredibly opportunistic player, and this kind of match just screams "opportunity" for Insigne.
TOIM: What has been the key for this early success for Napoli both in the Serie A and the Europa League?
TSS: While a lot of credit belongs to Napoli's prolific attack, the biggest key for Napoli this season has been the revitalization of their defense. They're still basically the same unit that was so poor defensively last season, but better depth and better coaching has turned them into arguably the best defense in Italy.
TOIM: When Sarri was announced as new coach of the team, many Napoli supporters were skeptical about the choice. It's a bit early at the moment to decide whether he is (or will be) better than Benitez, but how has he changed the team in terms of mentality and play compared to the Spanish?
TSS: The team plays with much better organization than they did under Rafa, but most importantly, Sarri has his players actually playing to their strengths instead of shoehorning them into specific roles that they don't necessarily fit. Marek Hamsik isn't forced to play with his back to goal, Lorenzo Insigne and Jose Callejon aren't forced to stay wide and cross, Jorginho isn't made to be a ball-winning midfielder, the list goes on and on. It's shocking how much improvement can come from players actually being comfortable with what they're doing on the pitch.
TOIM: What are your predictions for the match? It will be a boring and low scoring match in perfect Inter style, or it will be an exciting and fast-paced one, Napoli-style?
TSS: The thing about Inter's style is that Napoli haven't been afraid to play that same way when they've needed to this season. That said, I bet Napoli learned a lot of lessons from the thrashing that Fiorentina put on Inter earlier this season and will take the game to them right from the first whistle in much the same way to keep the nerazzurri off balance.
Thanks to Conor for answering our questions. If you want to read what he wanted to know from us, you can read his piece at The Siren's Song. Don't forget to follow their Twitter account too, at least until Inter crush Napoli on Monday.