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Coppa Italia: Napoli (2) 1 - 1 (1) Inter

Inter has returned to play, but not quite in the fashion we envisioned

SSC Napoli v FC Internazionale - Coppa Italia: Semi-Final Second Leg Photo by Francesco Pecoraro/Getty Images

That was, to say the least, very disappointing. But despite the end result, Antonio Conte’s men played quite well for large parts of the Coppa Italia semi final second leg against Napoli. The 1-1 draw, however, was not enough to turn back a 0-1 loss in the 1st leg, and Inter will have to wait for another chance at silverware. We’ll get into that later, though. For now, the starting lineups.

Napoli’s Starting XI
Inter’s Starting XI

Things started perfectly for the Nerazzurri in the empty San Paolo, with Christian Eriksen scoring his first in Inter colors. An inswinging corner from the Dane snuck past a sleeping Napoli backline, through Ospina’s legs and into the back of the net. The Colombian’s error would have been much more amusing if Ospina didn’t go on to have a fantastic match afterwards, but oh well.

Ospina reacting after conceding to Eriksen
Photo by FILIPPO MONTEFORTE/AFP via Getty Images

Even with the early goal, it would take Inter a while to fully grow into the game. With each chance created it seemed as though it was tightening its grip on Napoli, especially in midfield.

The first real opportunity to find a second came in the 16th minute, when from just outside of the box, Antonio Candreva cut inside and unleashed a powerful strike that barely blasted over the bar.

Despite all of the good vibes coming from the Milanese side, it still attempted to self-destruct 22 minutes in. Alessandro Bastoni sent a bouncing back pass (never a good idea) to Handanovic’s weaker foot. The keeper dawdled on the ball before clearing it directly into the looming Dries Mertens. The ball then bounced across the empty goal but luckily an Inter player caught up to it before Napoli could capitalize. Whew!

Ten minutes later, Romelu Lukaku, who hadn’t had much of an influence until that point, headed an Ashley Young cross goalwards but Ospina quickly reacted and made a diving save.

SSC Napoli v FC Internazionale - Coppa Italia: Semi-Final Second Leg
Candreva in action
Photo by Marco Luzzani - Inter/Inter via Getty Images

Candreva, meanwhile, had another chance to put Inter ahead on aggregate in the 40th minute. By the way, this is where things start to go waywards for Inter, so be prepared. Candreva went on a driving run deep into Napoli’s box and proceeded to rifle off a shot to the near post. Ospina, though, pawed the ball out for a corner. That corner was picked up by the Napoli net minder, whose quick punt caught Inter off guard. Insigne received the ball in midfield and went all the way into Inter’s box. He drew both Inter defenders to him before laying a pass off to Dries Mertens. From near the penalty spot, the Belgian calmly slotted the ball past an onrushing Handanovic. That gave Napoli a 2-1 aggregate lead that it would never relinquish.

That goal certainly left a bad taste in my mouth, but looking at the whole half, Inter were no doubt the better side. It had 60% possession, a decent amount of which came in the final third. Inter outshot Napoli 8-4, as well, and was much more dangerous. For better or worse, though, football isn’t the type of sport that takes keenly to stats such as those. Instead, the scoreline read 1-1 at the break.

SSC Napoli v FC Internazionale - Coppa Italia: Semi-Final Second Leg Photo by Francesco Pecoraro/Getty Images

The second half was much quieter, and Inter failed to regain the type of dominance it showed in the first forty-five. Tired legs on both sides also contributed to a slowly paced match, until Conte began to bring on subs in the later stages to try to find a way through. Whether the Inter head coach waited too late to do so is a talking point, but in the end unimportant.

Two such subs, Moses and Sanchez, showed their potency in the 77th minute. A one-two combination resulted in the Chilean sending a well struck effort wide from a dangerous position.

In the 82nd minute Sanchez again was in the spotlight. This time he picked up the ball on the top of the six yard box and played a nifty backheel into the path of Eriksen. The Dane’s low drive was saved by Ospina, who again refused to be beaten. The play had an anticlimactic ending when Moses completely skied the rebound.

That was that, as Napoli calmly held on to the 1-1 scoreline to advance to the final of the Coppa Italia. Napoli will be meeting Juventus Wednesday at the Stadio Olimpico in Rome. The southern side did what it came to do, and that was defend. It will have to do that without Ospina against Juventus, though, after getting one too many yellows throughout the tournament.

SSC Napoli v FC Internazionale - Coppa Italia: Semi-Final Second Leg
Game, set, match
Photo by Francesco Pecoraro/Getty Images

For Inter, on the other hand, there is a week until it “hosts” Sampdoria next Sunday in Serie A play. Looking back at Saturday, Inter’s performance was more or less what you’d expect from a team coming off a three month break. It was always going to be easier for Napoli to avoid defeat than Inter to claim victory. That was shown by the tactical battle between the two outfits. Napoli was fine sitting back and allowing Inter very little space in the final third. Rather than being able to link up play like they usually do, Inter’s two strikers were limited to crosses for service. Lukaku was able to thrive in that environment a lot more than Lautaro.

Speaking of which, the problems that plagued the Argentine may turn out to be more deep than just getting service, and are instead along the lines of where to get service. If so, Conte may have to mentally yank Lautaro away from Catalonia, or at least find wherever he may be lurking, because he sure wasn’t on the San Paolo pitch Saturday night. On the brighter side, Eriksen has now opened his account and did so in an impressive if unintentional manner. Let’s hope this is a sign of what’s to come from the former Tottenham player.

Inter’s back, and even with this early hiccup, I’m excited to watch how the rest of the season pans out. Catch your breath now because there won’t be much time to do it once Serie A starts rolling this coming weekend! Forza Inter!