In what was earmarked as one of the last big challenges left for Inter, Antonio Conte's men earned a 1-1 draw at the Diego Armando Maradona stadium. Here are some thoughts from the match.
Further Evidence of Inter's Mental Strength
Over the past couple of weeks, one particular statistic has been making the rounds as a sign of Inter's dominance: Inter had not gone behind since their 2-2 draw at the Olimpico against Roma. That streak came to an end against Napoli, and it presented a new challenge to the players. Milan had won earlier and, for the first time in a while, the gap had closed. Inter sides of seasons past would have gone into a panic. They would have frantically pushed forward, desperately hoofing the ball into the box. This season, things are different. Inter didn't significantly change their strategy, rather they sped up their play and pushed forward as a unit toward the Napoli goal. They never looked like conceding a second. Their calm display was rewarded with an equaliser and an incredibly valuable point to take back to Milan.
How Bad was the Own Goal?
Well, it wasn't good. Insigne wasn't really going to score from that angle and Inter had the numbers in the danger area in front of the goal. Handanovic probably should have clutched the ball to his chest immediately but, if it weren't for momentum carrying De Vrij forward, I think the keeper takes hold at the second attempt before anything else can come of it. It was just a very unfortunate moment that can happen to top-class players/teams. Handanovic was on the receiving end of a lot of criticism earlier in the year, but this moment was different and something I don't think we can hold it against him.
Fortune Favours the Brave
To follow on from the above, Napoli helped make their luck by putting the ball into an area that demanded a response from Handanovic. Inter, on the other hand, were guilty of wasting a few guilt-edged chances simply by failing to test the goalkeeper. Darmian, Lukaku and (in the final minute) Hakimi all found themselves with the ball at their feet in the penalty box, and all of them chose not to shoot when the opportunity arose. It didn't cost us too much, but had Inter failed to tie the match I think we would look back with a lot of regret at these episodes. Perhaps Conte will use them as teaching moments to remind the side how they still need to be ruthless despite the healthy lead at the top.
Eriksen With Another Crucial Goal
The goal in the Coppa was a beauty, but Eriksen's strike at the weekend will probably be more valuable at seasons end. For many, this was the perfect example of how important it is to have a player like the Dane in our squad. He hadn't really done that much in the first half, and I will assume Conte was going to sub him out for Sensi or Sanchez as the clock ticked toward 90 minutes. Yet, when the ball bobbled out to his wrong side, Eriksen showed his immense quality by rifling it back across the goalkeeper and into the bottom corner. Players with his technical ability are rare and most would have needed an extra touch to shoot, but not our Chris. Hopefully, this helps boost his confidence further, and he's able to chip in with some more goals/assists before seasons end.
Two Big Matches Coming Up
While the result was not a failure, Milan were able to close the gap by two points and so it is important for the side to return to its winning ways. They're presented with a fantastic opportunity to do that quickly with matches against Spezia and then Verona before the end of the week. Both of our opponents find themselves in the 'purgatory' of the Serie A table - they're almost certainly not getting relegated, nor can they challenge for any European competition. Motivation might be waning, while Inter should be as determined as ever. Milan have two tough opponents in Sassuolo and Lazio next, and so Inter have an opportunity to restore their 11-point advantage and set themselves up to secure the Scudetto in a matter of weeks.
Did we miss anything above? Let us know in the comments below