Inter Milan traveled to the San Paolo to take on Napoli today. With both sides suffering 0-1 losses in the previous round, Mancini and Benitez were looking for a positive result both to bounce back in the league, but also to prepare them for their Europa League ties on Thursday.
Looking at the lineup in comparison to the Fiorentina match, D'Ambrosio returned to the lineup in place of Campagnaro (thankfully), Ranocchia took over for Vidic in defense, Shaqiri took creative duties from Kovacic, and Mancini realized how useless Podolski has been and dropped him for Palacio (even though Podolski can't even play on Thursday).
The match started at a frantic pace. Actually, the match started with Juan Jesus picking up a yellow in the first minute for taking down Higuain (which I believe leaves him suspended for the next Serie A match). From there the first half was a back and forth, frantic and mistake-filled 45 minutes. The team gave the ball away a number of times in their own half, presenting Napoli with a number of chances. Luckily, they were not able to capitalize on these turnovers in the first half. To make things worse, the speed of Higuain playing off the shoulders of Rano and JJ plus Callejon/Hamsik's runs were giving the center-backs problems on the break. Mertens was booked for diving in the box, and Higuain missed a glorious open goal shot following a cross.
Things were not all bad in the first half though. Guarin had a cheeky shot from our own half trying to catch Andujar off his line that went just a little high (reminded me of Stankovic). Also, Ranocchia had a phenomenal first half. Him and Handanovic kept the scores level at the break.
The second half started like the first had ended, with Inter players not keeping the ball well and turning it over constantly. Eventually they paid for this in the 51st minute. Henrique whipped in a perfect cross and Hamsik headed the ball in. Things got worse in the 63rd minute. A JJ turnover led to Higuain getting the ball and releasing a screamer from outside the box that left Handanovic with no chance.
At this point Inter were 2-0 down and given the way they had been playing (keeping posession but not doing anything in the final third) there looked like little hope for a response. Then Mancini sent on Hernanes for an ineffective Brozovic right after the second goal and suddenly the team turned on. They started pressing forward more and in the 72nd minute, Napoli failed to clear the ball from their box and in the resulting scramble, Palacio pulled one back for the Nerazzurri.
Inter continued to push forward and suprisingly, Napoli sat back seemingly content to try to hold their lead. Mancini's men continued to push but it looked like Napoli would be able to take the 3 points. Puscas was even sent on in place of JJ in order to spur the team forward. Then in the 87th minute Palacio was pulled down in the box by Henrique (who recieved his second yellow). Icardi, who had been invisible so far in the match stepped up. With Inter fans' hearts in their chests he...was Icardi. Not only did he score, he scored with a cheeky 'Panenka' chip-shot.
The rest of the match was Inter pushing for the winner with Napoli occasionally trying to score on the counter but in the end the match finished 2-2.
Things to Note:
- So Brozovic followed up his ineffecrtive performance against Fiorentina with another less than spectacular game today. He lacked his usual drive and energy that had made him so important in his first few matches for Mancini. The Croatian needs to returen to his previous form if the team is going to start bossing the midfield like it used to.
- Ranocchia returned to the side today and he had a great performance, making a number of interceptions and perfectly timed challenges on Higuain and the other Napoli attackers. This kind of performance was necessary because today JJ decided to take Ranocchia's place on the struggle bus. All kiding aside this was good for Rano to try to reclaim his place both in the starting 11 over Vidic and to reassert his position as captian. I'm not saying Ranocchia played like Lucio/Samuel combined, he just had a very good game by his usual standards.
- Oh Icardi. The man had seemingly done nothing all match and then steps up and scores in the cockiest of fashions. And why shouldn't he be able to do that? He has returned to the top of the scoring charts along with Tevez at 15 goals, and he has scored 7 league goals in 2015, the most of any player. You might not notice him for most of the match but when he is given that chance, expect him to take it.
- Speaking of valuable players, Handanovic made a number of key saves in the match, including stopping a Higuain chip on a Napoli counter. The Slovenian goalkeeper kept Inter in this match, and if he leaves the club better bring in another world class keeper to replace him.