After coping with several suspensions over the past couple of matches, Antonio Conte finally had the luxury to name a first-choice lineup. Nicolo Barella took back his role from Stefano Sensi and Achraf Hakimi came in for Matteo Darmian, who then benched Ashley Young on the left wing. Gennaro Gatusso had a more difficult time picking a starting eleven, eventually giving Victor Osimhen the start up front over Dries Mertens while ex-Inter player Matteo Politano came in for the suspended Hirving Lozano in Napoli’s usual 4-2-3-1 shape.
Action started slowly at the Stadio Diego Armando and it took until 16 minutes had passed for the first shot to arrive. It was Napoli which provided it, as the Partenopei kept Inter pinned back and was able to squash any potential counters before they could develop throughout the early stages. Inter began to finds its footing as the half progressed and put Alex Meret’s goal under pressure. Darmian found himself unmarked on a counter, but rather than take the shot with the entire target at his feet, he unsuccessfully attempted a cross. The Nerazzurri would find the final touch in the 29th minute, when a low blast from Marcelo Brozovic was deflected goalwards by Romelu Lukaku’s outstretched boot, only to ping off the crossbar.
That proved to be a costly unlucky bounce as Napoli drew first blood in the 36th minute. Inter failed to clear its lines and Lorenzo Insigne picked up the loose ball. The hosts’ capitano went on a driving run towards the endline before sending a cross back across the goalmouth. Samir Handanovic dove off his line to claim the cross but instead dropped it off an unsuspecting Stefan de Vrij. While the Inter duo were busy falling over each other, the ball trickled into the back of the net and officially was marked down as a Handanovic own goal. Inter had gone since Lorenzo Pellegrini’s goal for Roma on January 10th since last trailing.
The Nerazzurri almost found a leveler immediately when Lukaku’s flick-on of a Christian Eriksen freekick once again was thwarted by the woodwork. But by the time the interval rolled around, it was Napoli which led 1-0. The Partenopei had 56% possession and outshot Inter 7-5, though the Nerazzurri had the better chances by far. In fact, outside of the goal Napoli tested Handanovic only once. Furthermore, Inter’s expected goal’s tally was 0.85xg to Napoli’s 0.34xg. One moment of misfortune, however, meant it was Gattuso’s side that held the advantage.
Inter came out of the break on the front foot and was soon rewarded with Christian Eriksen’s first league goal of the season in the 55th minute.
The tempo slowed after the Dane’s goal and neither side could take control of the proceedings. Napoli was more inclined to push for a winner in the late stages of the game, and come inches form one in the 80th minute. The familiar face of Politano dribbled through the Inter box before finding space to let loose a rocket of a shot, but this time it was Inter that was saved by the crossbar. The hosts were then awarded a penalty kick minutes later, but after checking the VAR monitor the referee realized that Stefan de Vrij’s tackle of Piotr Zielinski was clearly a clean one and the 29-year-old got all ball. The side from Naples continued to look for a second but Inter’s defense did enough to keep the scoreline at one a piece.
Neither Inter nor Napoli could grab the game by its neck and instead each largely canceled the other out. The Partenopei had a slight edge in possession (57% to 43%) and shots (12 with 1 on target to Inter’s 10 with 2 on target) but the Nerazzurri boasted 1.02xg versus Napoli’s 0.58xg. In short, not much came between the sides from Naples and Milan. And while a draw is clearly a fair result, seeing Inter’s 11 - yes, eleven! - game winning streak come to a close is a blow. Still, Inter remain in pole position for the Scudetto, needing four more wins to secure the title. And while the gap from Milan is down to nine points, Inter is now 11 clear of Atalanta and 13 of Juventus.
Handanovic - 4: Should have handled Insigne’s cross with little difficulty. There were no Napoli players in the vicinity and the ball wasn’t struck at a particularly fearsome speed but instead the veteran keeper managed to send it backwards into the goal.
Bastoni - 6.5: Once again was superb on the ball, boasting a passing rate of 91%, 6 accurate long balls, and 1 key pass. He also won 4 duels and made one clearance and interception.
de Vrij - 7: Was helpless on Napoli’s goal when Handanovic slid into his feet and had an overall superb outing. He had a 96% passing accuracy, led the team in touches (96), and won 2 duels, but most importantly of all, de Vrij made a perfectly-timed challenge to stop Zielinski from breaking in on goal.
What a tackle from De Vrij! pic.twitter.com/GHAbbt3Wpr— Condotti SMILEY (@Smiley_1932) April 18, 2021
Skriniar - 6.5: Wasn’t called into action often but was always up to the task. Completed 91% of his passes, won 2 duels, and made 2 clearances.
Darmian - 6: Darmian wasn’t quite as game-changing as he had been recently. He had one opportunity to test Meret but refrained from taking a shot when he perhaps should have. Darmian did send in the cross that created Eriksen’s goal but was generally a non-factor with only 26 touches (second least of any starter).
Eriksen - 7: Though his overall performance left a lot to be desired, Eriksen finally got on the scoresheet with a classy strike. Meret was left helpless on his pinpoint first-time blast to the corner of the goal. He struggled to get going outside of that, however.
Brozovic - 7: Was Inter’s biggest presence in midfield, making 92% of his passes, 5 long balls, winning 3 duels, and adding 2 clearances and 4 blocked shots to his resume.
Barella - 6: Barella came into this on two weeks rest, and looked rusty. His passing accuracy was only 81% and he lost possession 12 times.
Hakimi - 6: Like Darmian, he helped create Inter’s sole goal but was mostly ineffective. His speed opened space for a cross leading up to the goal but his poor final third product was again on display. In the 94th minute Hakimi got in behind the defense but rather than shoot, he cut back right into the defender.
Lautaro - 6.5: While he wasn’t able to make much impact in the final third, Lautaro’s movement and passing constantly caused Napoli problems. Had he received more service he could very well have ended up stealing the headlines, but his touch total was the lowest of any starter.
Lukaku - 6: Unlucky not to score at least once after he struck the woodwork twice but like in the reverse fixture, Koulibaly was able to shut him down.
Inter is back in action Wednesday with a trio to Spezia before hosting Hellas Verona Sunday. For now, news of the new Super League and what it means for Inter will dominate headlines. Buckle in...