Rolling into Naples on an 11 match winning streak, Antonio Conte and Inter Milan will visit the Stadio Diego Armando Maradona with an eye on tightening their grip on the Scudetto. They will face a Napoli side who are in a dogfight for a top four position in order to return to the Champions League after being absent from the competition this season. With both teams chasing important objectives, the stage is set for a hard-fought match.
Napoli come into the match on a run of pretty decent form. Wins over Milan and Roma as well as Crotone and Sampdoria have only been tempered by a loss to Juventus in a makeup match from an early season postponement. Summer signing Victor Osimhen has begun to shake off a few lengthy injury and COVID absences that have marred his season, scoring in recent wins over Crotone and Sampdoria. Usual suspects Dries Mertens and Lorenzo Insigne have also been fit and firing for Gennaro Gattuso’s side as they try to chase down a top four spot. Interestingly enough, Napoli will also be debuting an interesting fourth kit designed by Marcelo Burlon County of Milan.
Marcelo Burlon County of Milan for SSC Napoli— Official SSC Napoli (@en_sscnapoli) April 16, 2021
Gattuso may be on the verge of a summer departure from the Napoli managerial job, but he is still pushing for a top four spot. The Europa League departure at the hands of Spanish side Granada is a mark on the season, but it ensures that the squad can focus on a Champions League return. Napoli currently sit just outside of the top four, one point off of fourth placed Atalanta and two points from Juventus in third. There is still time for them to make their way into the top four, but they will need to win every match they can between now and the end of the season. This means Inter will be encountering a highly motivated team. However, the absences of David Ospina in the Napoli goal through injury and winger Hirving Lozano through suspension will be big absences for the hosts.
If there is any team in the league that can weather the storm from a team desperately pushing for the top four, it is this Inter side. Unbeaten in the second half of the season and having yet to trail in a match, Inter have learned how to withstand attacks with resolute defending. The goals have not been as plentiful as many expect recently, but getting the job done at this point in the season is what matters, as Conte and the players have repeated to their critics. The pragmatic approach in recent weeks has edged Inter closer to the Serie A title, and that is all the club will be worried about at the moment as the number of remining points in the league continues to dwindle.
Conte will have his full usual starting lineup for the first time in recent weeks. The suspensions of Marcelo Brozovic, Nicolo Barella, and Alessandro Bastoni along with the injury to Ivan Perisic and form-related absence of Achraf Hakimi have all forced Inter’s manager to shake things up. With everyone back and Perisic possibly being given a start, though Matteo Darmian’s impressive performances recently may keep the Croatian out of the starting lineup for another week, Inter will be confident in their starters to get back to their high levels of quality.
1-1 (A) 13/6/2020 (Coppa Italia)
2-0 (H) 28/7/2020
1-0 (H) 16/12/2020
Predicted Starting XIs
Prediction: Napoli 1-2 Inter
Inter’s quality and confidence at the moment are the cream of the Serie A crop. The Inter defense will be resolute, maybe conceding a goal if they get pinned in their own third for too long. Napoli are an adept pressing and attacking team and will try to play to those strengths. However, Lukaku and Lautaro seem to particularly enjoy matching up against Napoli, with at least one of them scoring in each of the last three league matchups. Hakimi returning to form is also a promising prospect in this match. Inter’s strengths on the counter may just edge out Napoli’s attacking play, but this match could really go either way or even be a stalemate. The two teams are that talented and motivated at the moment. It will be an interesting watch, no matter the outcome.