Inter’s strong start to the match was rewarded with the opener in the 11th minute. Antonio Candreva put a bit too much on a cross but Cristiano Biraghi picked up the pieces at the edge of the box. He laid the ball back to the penalty spot where Danilo D’Ambrosio sent a first time attempt curving into the bottom corner of the goal.
Napoli, though, began to emerge as the half progressed. The Partenopei saw quite a few sizable opportunities miss the back of the net, starting with a Matteo Politano effort in the 31st minute, From close range, the Inter loanee sent a drive towards the corner of the target, but Samir Handanović reacted quickly and made a diving stop.
Five minutes later Lorenzo Insigne found himself in behind with a wide open goal to aim at. The 29-year-old pulled a low shot just wide, perhaps thanks to a slight deflection off of Candreva.
Inter almost doubled its lead at the death of the half, but Alex Meret pawed away a powerful Marcelo Brozović shot from distance that almost snuck in to the side netting.
A familiar pattern played out in the first half, with Inter starting on the front foot, taking the lead, and then falling back into its half and letting the opponent come forward. Napoli had twice the number of shots as Inter (8 to 4), while the heat map showed the Partenopei much higher up the pitch than its Milanese counterparts.
Even so, the scoreline still read Inter one, Napoli zero.
The second half was quite sluggish, and neither team looked very sharp as the back-to-back-to-back matches have started to leave their mark. Substitutions did brighten things up, though. In the 64th minute an Elif Elmas shot trickled inches wide of the post, while Biraghi sent a shot well waywards of the target from a tight angle, which prompted a lengthy death state from the wide open Lautaro. Fortunately, the poor decision from the wingback did not prove costly.
In the 74th minute Lautaro picked up the ball in midfield and went on a penetrating run deep into Napoli’s half. Then, from 25 yards out the Argentine let loose an excellent strike to double Inter’s lead. Meret could have done better with the bouncing shot, but that was quite the goal from the 22-year-old.
Inter held strong for its third straight shutout, a result that complements the previous meeting against Napoli, a 3-1 win in Naples, quite well.
Similar to the Genoa match, Inter wasn’t at its best and yet still earned the victory. Inter was second-best in the first half and only found itself in the lead thanks to poor Napoli finishing and solid goalkeeping. The second half was another story. When you’re as tired as both teams clearly were, it’s much easier to hold onto the lead than chase it. Furthermore, Inter’s backline was a sealed wall. Out of Napoli’s 15 shots, almost 50% came from outside the box and a mere two were on target. That didn’t stop the Partenopei from amassing an expected goals of 1.17 compared to Inter’s .59. Handanović had his best game in recent months, though, so the shutout was fully deserved.
There was plenty more to the game, however. As you can see from the touch map, there’s a bit of a gap in Napoli’s half. The midfield trio of Barella-Brozović-Valero put in a hefty workload in the middle, but none of that carried over into the final third. Christian Eriksen can perhaps provide more threat going forward, but that is definitely a position of need this transfer window.
Inter, unfortunately, wasn’t able to put any space between it and Atalanta after La Dea’s 2-1 victory over Parma. That sets up this Saturday’s clash against Papu Gomez and company to be the decider for second place unless Lazio win out. As a heads up, Inter will be donning its new away kit for that one, so be prepared...