Previous post-international break fixtures have been tough to call for Inter, with the last instances of returns from World Cup qualifiers ending in a 2-2 draw with Sampdoria and a sloppy 3-1 defeat to Lazio. However, despite the recent trends, and the brilliant start to the season by league leaders Napoli, Inter came away with a largely convincing 3-2 win over Luciano Spaletti’s side, but not without raising the blood pressure of every Interista in the closing stages.
International injuries reared their ugly head again for Simone Inzaghi’s plans in this match. The always reliable Stefan de Vrij picked up a muscular injury with the Netherlands and Alexis Sanchez picked up his customary injury with Chile. Alessandro Bastoni and Edin Dzeko were questions going into the match as well, still carrying knocks from the Milan Derby two weeks ago. Andrea Ranocchia took the place of de Vrij while Joaquin Correa partnered with Lautaro Martinez up top. Sanchez did not even make the bench.
Meanwhile, Spaletti had only Adam Ounas and Diego Demme missing for his return to Milan, 910 days after his final 2-1 victory over Empoli on the final matchday in 2019. While Napoli’s formation was logged as a 4-3-3 in the Serie A official report, it resembled much more a 4-2-3-1, the usual formation utilized by Spaletti. Victor Osimhen looked poised to match up against the much older and slower Ranocchia in what many speculated would be the most crucial individual battle in the match.
INTER (3-5-2): Handanovic; Skriniar, Ranocchia, Bastoni; Darmian, Barella, Brozovic, Calhanoglu, Perisic; Lautaro, Correa.
NAPOLI (4-3-3): Ospina; Di Lorenzo, Rrahmani, Koulibaly, Mario Rui; Anguissa, Fabian Ruiz, Zielinski; Lozano, Osimhen, Insigne.
Like most big matches in Serie A, both teams started off the match cautiously, not wanting to concede the first mistake. The only chances in the first 15 minutes came by the way of half chances from Lautaro and Matteo Darmian. The slow start was forced up a gear just moments after Darmian shot wide of David Ospina’s goal when Piotr Zielinski won the ball off of Nicolo Barella in the midfield, laying it off to Lorenzo Insigne who gave the ball back to an open Zielinski after Osimhen managed to drag multiple defenders the other way, With plenty of space to shoot, the Polish midfielder did just that. His effort flew by the outstretched hand of Samir Handanovic and into the top corner from distance, giving Napoli a 1-0 lead on 16 minutes.
The lead lasted only six minutes for the visitors by way of a penalty drawn off of a shot from Barella that hit the hand of Kalidou Koulibaly in the Napoli penalty box. The shot came by way of a clever first time ball played by Darmian from a Bastoni cross. The wingback looked like he was going to square up a shot as the cross fell to him, but he instead played a volley back towards Barella, who took a first time half volley all in a passage of play that was too quick for Koulibaly to get his arm out of the way. Hakan Calhanoglu smoothly converted the ensuing penalty, sending Ospina the wrong way in convincing fashion and furthering the Turkish midfielder’s case for being Inter’s primary penalty taker.
Both teams spent the next 20 minutes exchanging half chances in an end to end affair. Osimhen had a shot blocked and a header fly wide of the Inter goal while Lautaro sent a shot wide and Barella forced a decent save from Ospina.
From the Ospina save on Barella, Calhanoglu whipped in a dangerous corner that found Ivan Perisic at a tight angle way out in front of the near post. Almost as if he was flicking it onto another attacker, the header from Perisic snuck over the goal line before Ospina could get a hand to it. Goal line technology instantly gave the goal and put Inter up 2-1 in the last real action before the half.
Goal line technology confirms that Ivan Perisic gives Inter the lead pic.twitter.com/UrKGjYdzGh— CBS Sports Golazo ⚽️ (@CBSSportsGolazo) November 21, 2021
Coming out with the same intensity that they ended the first half with, Inter forced a save out of Ospina within two minutes of the second half whistle through a close range shot from Lautaro.
Less than 10 minutes into the half, Osimhen was forced off with an injury after clashing heads with Milan Skriniar and coming out the worse of the two. He was replaced by the hulking presence of Andrea Petagna, who could not offer the same agility or pace as the Nigerian.
Inter got their third through Lautaro on the hour mark. Correa picked up the ball and made a silky run from the edge of one penalty box to the other before laying the ball off to his compatriot who slotted his shot from the edge of the box beyond Ospina for an impressive counterattacking goal, a move we have not seen very often from Inter so far this season.
Inter hit Napoli on the counter and Lautaro Martínez makes it 3 pic.twitter.com/CwHW0SpfRa— CBS Sports Golazo ⚽️ (@CBSSportsGolazo) November 21, 2021
Perisic went for the dagger a few minutes later, but had his shot saved by Ospina. With a 3-1 lead, Inzaghi began to try to shut up shop. Dzeko and Arturo Vidal replaced Correa and Calhanoglu after the third goal while Dimarco and Gagliardini came on for Barella and Lautaro with 15 minutes remaining in the match.
The job was not over with yet, and Napoli refused to go quietly. With 12 minutes left in the match, Dzeko lost the ball just in front of his defense. Substitute Dries Mertens picked up the loose ball turned, and fired a long range dipping effort that eluded the glove of Handanovic, raising the heart rate of everyone in attendance for the final phases of the match at 3-2.
Because of goals and injuries, a heart-palpitating eight minutes were added for extra time by referee Paolo Valeri. The extra time period began with the most bizarre save of Handanovic’s career. A stooping Mario Rui header from close range was met low by the Inter captain, who somehow managed to pop the ball up onto the crossbar where it rolled harmlessly onto the roof of the net after seemingly defying gravity for a moment. Even now, no one can be quite sure how the Slovenian managed to make a save in that fashion.
Napoli kept the pressure on for nearly the entirety of the eight added minutes. In similar fashion to the Mario Rui chance, Zambo Anguissa sent a cross to the back post that fell to Mertens, but his volley flew well over the Inter net with just 90 seconds remaining. After the miss, Inter were able to see out the match, allowing every Interista watching to finally breathe.
Handanovic - 6: Not much he could do with the Mertens goal, but could have done way better on the Zielinski goal. Showed his age on that one. Did make a spectacular save on Mario Rui, but hard to tell how much he knew about it.
Bastoni - 6.5: Building on recent performances, he is finally rounding into form. Defending well and delivering dangerous balls into the box as he did for the penalty. Good to have him at full force again.
Ranocchia - 7: After 11 years, he finally looks like the player Inter chose to bring in over Leonardo Bonucci. He is proving his worth at the center of the back three, a role Antonio Conte molded him into over the past couple of seasons.
Skriniar - 7: With Ranocchia lacking the pace to deal with Osimhen, the task fell to him. Contained him well until the Nigerian went off injured. His run of good form continues.
Perisic - 7.5: Much of his over half a decade at Inter has ben marred by inconsistency, but there does not seem to be much inconsistency to his game as a wingback these days. Scored a great goal and made the entire left flank his.
Calhanoglu - 8 (MOTM): Inter’s dead ball magician was at it again. A goal and an assist. It looks like Inter have found their penalty taker. He is also improving in his new role as a mezzala, which is nothing but positive for the player and the team as a whole.
Brozovic - 7: After being marked out of long stretches of recent matches, he found enough space to operate consistently against the manager that really made him what he is now. Great performance. Need that contract to come soon.
Barella - 6: Looked tired almost all match. Still put a shift in to the best of his abilities. Lost the ball for the first goal, but did not make many other mistakes despite looking like he was in need of some more rest.
Darmian - 7: A tactically and technically brilliant performance on the right flank. His movement and decision making created multiple chances, including the penalty, and his defensive work continues to be a sure thing.
Lautaro - 7: Things have not come to him very easy this past month and a half, but he has always worked hard. He was finally rewarded with a goal today to break his drought. His record against Napoli continues to be impressive.
Correa - 6.5: Got very close to completing those 1-2 passes with Lautaro, but really shined on the run for the Lautaro goal. His sample size is still small because of fitness issues, but he is currently averaging a goal or assist every 63 minutes in Serie A so far. Just need him to find some consistency in performances and fitness over the long haul.
Vidal - 5.5: Came on for Calhanoglu and did little more than buzz around the pitch throwing in tackles wherever he could. It looked dangerous, but did help Inter a bit when they were trying to break Napoli’s rhythm late.
Dzeko - 5.5: Came on for Correa despite looking like he still has not gotten back to full fitness. Lost the ball on the Mertens goal but did waste time smartly like the veteran he is.
Dimarco - 5.5: A late sub to try to sure up the defense, but could not get in the way of the dangerous crosses Napoli put in while hunting for an equalizer.
Gagliardini - 5.5: Sometimes he comes in and really shuts up the midfield. Other times, he does not. This was one of those times he did not. Part of the very nervy ending.
Satriano - N/A: A rare appearance for the youngster, who is suspended for the primavera currently. His inclusion wasted some time but did not do much more.
Inzaghi - 7: Got the approach spot on from the start, but did make some changes that got everyone nervous. Luckily, the team pulled it out and spared the manager from some serious questioning from fans and the media alike. Beating the previously unbeaten league leaders in such fashion is the first real feather in his cap as Inter manager.
Inter have a chance to put another feather in Inzaghi’s Inter managerial cap on Wednesday when they face Shakhtar Donetsk for the fifth time since summer 2020. A win would send Inter to the knockout rounds of the Champions League for the first time since 2012.