Inter Milan had the dreaded task of facing high-flying Napoli away on Saturday. The 0-0 draw was a tactical battle from the get-to, and although neither team found the back of the net, both demonstrated why they’re in the top two places of the Serie A table at this point of the season. Here are five takeaways from the match:
A point well earned
It was no secret that Inter entered Saturday’s match as the underdogs. While the Nerazzurri had only dropped two points on the season, Napoli have been perfect. Prior to Saturday, the Naples-based title contenders were averaging 3.25 goals per game, and were tied with Inter (and AS Roma) for the league’s best defensive record. With all due respect to Spalletti’s side and to Juventus, Napoli have clearly been the best team in Italy this season.
With that in mind, it was an absolutely fantastic result for Inter to go to the San Paolo — a stadium where the club have gotten just three of the last available 36 points — keep a clean sheet, and earn a draw against a side of Napoli’s collective and individual quality.
For the duration of the match, Inter remained focused, organized, and determined. Napoli created a few great chances (more Handanovic’s heroics below), but they were no where near as threatening as they usually are, and credit for that has to go to Luciano Spalletti and Inter.
Prior to the match, I didn’t see Inter as a true title-challenger. While I still don’t believe a Scudetto is on the cards this season, I can’t deny how impressive Inter’s list of results have been so far. The Nerazzurri are looking like a strong and cohesive team again, and that’s so much better than what’s been the case the past few seasons. Bravo to Spalletti and the players!
The perfect long-ball never came
Tactically, Spalletti had a great game plan to prevent Maurizio Sarri’s side from scoring. While defense was always going to be the priority on Saturday, Inter’s attack never really clicked into full gear. This is partially a result of an interesting tactical decision from Inter’s manager.
Samir Handanovic, at no point in the match, kicked the ball long to start an Inter attack. Instead, Spalletti had his players play the ball short in their own half and absorb pressure from Napoli.
His reasoning was clear; although it would force Miranda and Milan Skriniar to play the ball in tight spaces, the deep build-up passing would also force Napoli further up the pitch, leaving the home side susceptible to a cutting long-pass that could’ve sent Mauro Icardi or an Inter winger through.
Unfortunately, that perfect long-ball never came. If it had, Inter may very well have scored, but the players lacked that particular quality on Saturday. It will be interesting to see if Spalletti uses that tactic again during a big match.
Samir Handanovic was immense
Entering the match, on thing was clear: Napoli were always going to create chances on Saturday. Thankfully, Inter had one of the best keepers in the world in-between their sticks.
Simply put, Samir Handanovic made at least four saves that were undeniably crucial in Inter earning the draw. The Solvenian’s double save against Jose Callejon and Dries Mertens in the first half was outstanding. Handa’s point-blank robbery against Mertens in the second half denied Napoli’s final chance of the match, and sealed Inter’s point.
While Inter’s entire defense needs to be applauded, it was Handanovic who made the biggest impact in preventing Europe’s top scorers from finding the back of the net.
He ran his socks off, but Candreva’s crossing was once again poor
First off all, let’s give credit to Antonio Candreva. The Italian winger ran his socks off for Inter on Saturday. With Gagliardini and Vecino focused on defending for the vast majority of the match, Candreva was tasked with dropping off deeper to support Borja Valero in the build-up play when Inter had the ball. He tirelessly ran up and down the right flank for the entire 83 minutes he was on the pitch.
While Candreva was impressive in that aspect, his crossing most certainly was not.
From my point of view, Inter’s best chance of the match came in the 76th minute, when Candreva had a brilliant opportunity to pick out a breaking Perisic, who had beat the Napoli defenders, in the box. Unfortunately, Candreva played the ball behind Perisic, and the chance was wasted. This was just one example in what was a multitude of poor crosses from Candreva on Saturday — and let’s not even discuss the Italian’s corner delivery.
Candreva’s overall performance against Napoli was positive, but where his crossing was a difference-maker against AC Milan in the derby, Candreva’s crosses let Inter down at the San Paolo.
Death, taxes, and Yuto Nagatomo
After seeing Luciano Spalletti’s preferences so far this season, the players he chose to deploy in Inter’s backline against Napoli were by no means a surprise. While Yuto Nagatomo starting yet another big match was expected, it didn’t make that decision any less nerve-racking, especially when the Japanese fullback would be tasked with neutralizing Jose Callejon — an incredibly quick and talented winger.
To his credit, Nagatomo wasn’t poor on Saturday, but seeing him once again in the Starting XI is worrying when you consider that the club splashed €20 million on Dalbert this summer — a player who was supposed to be the answer at left-back. This marks the third consecutive match that the Brazilian did not feature for Inter, even as a substitute.
Again, Dalbert not playing in this match was expected, but you have to wonder if his non-appearance sheds any light into Spalletti’s level of trust in the player. I know it’s a risk to select the young Brazilian fullback in a big match, but if Dalbert is to be the long-term solution at that position, you would have to test him at some point against top opposition, right?
Spalletti’s continued selection of Nagatomo is concerning for those who wish to see Dalbert thrive at Inter. But at the end of the day, the Italian manager knows what’s best for his side, and the results are there. We need to remain calm and trust Spalletti. Saturday’s away draw against Napoli is the latest proof that there’s no reason not to.
Do you have any additional takeaways from the 0-0 draw? Share in the comments below.