When Lorenzo Insigne blasted a penalty past Samir Handanovic after just seven minutes, you could almost hear the alarm bells going off in Milan. Back-to-back defeats to its two closest title challengers would have been a death blow to Inter’s Scudetto hopes, but luckily the Nerazzurri managed to avert a crisis of that sort with Edin Dzeko’s second-half equalizer. The disastrous first-half performance will raise many questions over Inter’s true capabilities, especially considering this is no flash in a pan; Inter has been sluggish and in second-gear since the new year. What’s more important for now at least is that the good guys got a result in a stadium it’s struggled in and will be no lower than second by the time the weekend draws to a close. And who knows, maybe the much-improved second half will reinspire some confidence and pep in a team that’s looked just a bit lethargic recently.
Inzaghi made five changes from the win against Roma and brought forth an almost entirely first-choice XI to Naples. The only exception was Federico Dimarco in place of the suspended and injured Alessandro Bastoni. Napoli too was able to draw on its entire roster. Kalidou Koulibaly made his return from the AFCON while Victor Osimhen notched just his second start since an injury suffered in the return leg.
The action got off to a nightmare start for the good guys, with Stefan de Vrij clumsily stepping on Victor Osimhen’s ankle in the box after just five minutes of play. A quick VAR check confirmed the penalty, and Lorenzo Insigne let loose with a missile to the top corner.
LORENZO INSIGNE STRIKES FIRST FROM THE SPOT pic.twitter.com/gtwCcOg2MA— CBS Sports Golazo ⚽️ (@CBSSportsGolazo) February 12, 2022
The hosts settled into command of proceedings and had a handful of chances to double its lead. Piotr Zielinski struck the post with a curling effort before Insigne blasted a close-range volley over the bar near the half-hour mark. Inter, meanwhile, offered almost nothing going forward and struggled to sustain possession thanks to Napoli’s determined high press. The Nerazzurri’s best chance came on 36 minutes with Edin Dzeko meeting a Perisic cross near the penalty spot before sending a header directly at David Ospina in goal. Other than that one flash, it was all Napoli. By the time halftime rolled around, Napoli had a slight edge in possession and 8 shots compared to Inter’s 3. Though the Partenopei didn’t quite dominate, they were in complete control while a limp and feeble Inter were mere spectators.
Luckily Inter came out of the break with other ideas and pulled level out of the blue in the 47th minute. Dzeko whiffed a header but the rebound dropped right to him and he blasted a shot off the crossbar and in from point-blank range.
EDIN DZEKO PUTS INTER MILAN ON THE BOARD SECONDS INTO THE SECOND HALF ⚡ pic.twitter.com/g8kAFtCZgL— CBS Sports Golazo ⚽️ (@CBSSportsGolazo) February 12, 2022
Napoli lost the wind in the sails after Inter’s goal and the game settled into a tense back and forth rhythm. Neither side could afford a loss, but they weren’t quite content sitting back either. Inter created a few half chances but the sole clear look on goal came in the 68th minute for Napoli. A cross found an unmarked Elif Elmas at the back post but a diving Handanovic was there to make a huge save. Both teams started to show their fatigue as the half wore into its final stages, and with European games coming up midweek there was an obvious drop-off in intensity. In the end, what started in red-hot fashion petered out into a 1-1 draw that leaves Napoli wondering what if, and Inter just happy to have survived the first half.
Handanovic - 7: Hard to do much on Insigne’s well-taken spot-kick but made a couple of key saves in the second half to earn a positive rating. Not only did he close down the angle on the aforementioned Elmas chance but he made a solid kick save with Osimhen baring down from ten yards.
Dimarco - 7: Did surprisingly well after a few shaky appearances off the bench recently. Led Inter in touches (88), completed 97% of his passes, and went 5 for 7 on long balls. The Italian did his fair share of defensive work as well, winning 4 duels and making 2 clearances and 3 interceptions.
de Vrij - 5: de Vrij, on the other hand, had a night to forget. Clumsily took down Osimhen on the penalty and was consistently burned by the Nigerian’s speed time after time. His form this season has been concerning and he’s trended even worse recently.
Skriniar - 6.5: Reliable as ever and kept Napoli from finding success down the flank. Made 2 clearances, blocked 1 shot, and 1 interception.
Perisic - 6.5: Inter’s most consistent attacking threat, with 6 crosses, 2 key passes, and 4 accurate long balls. His final product wasn’t quite there, however, and the Croatian lost possession a team-high 18 times and had a 74% passing rate.
Calhanoglu - 5.5: Barely made any impact at either end of the pitch. Notched 0 key passes and just 1 accurate cross, with most of his play characterized by safe, sideways/backward passing in his own half.
Brozovic - 6: Fairly average game by his standards. Didn’t have the same control over midfield as usual, in part thanks to the superb play from Napoli’s midfielders. To make matters worse, he’ll be suspended against Sassuolo next weekend on yellow card accumulation.
Barella - 5: Another decidedly average showing from the recently turned 25-year-old. Maybe he hasn’t found his role in Inzaghi’s system yet, but this season hasn’t been the Barella we’re used to. Despite tallying the third-fewest touches of any Inter starter (and didn’t do much with any of them), Barella managed to lose the ball 14 times, including some costly giveaways in his own half.
Dumfries - 6: Dumfries put in 110% effort and was constantly getting in one-v-ones down the flank, but his end product didn’t always come off. Won 7 of 13 duels, but had a 70% passing accuracy and a team-high 18 giveaways.
Dzeko - 7: The Bosnian got Inter’s all-important goal but wasn’t very impactful otherwise. He had just 38 touches and a 71% passing rate but did lead Inter in shots with 3 (albeit with varied accuracy). You can tell how important a striker like Dzeko is to Inter but he doesn’t have the legs to be the 90-minute threat Inter needs.
Lautaro - 4: The Argentine put on an excellent disappearing show in Naples. It was easy to forget he was even on the pitch at times. Unfortunately, Inter doesn’t quite need a magician to lead the line, but rather a clinical striker. And that is something Lautaro is definitely not. He last scored in mid-December (!!!) and continued a run of awful form against Napoli with 28 touches and 0 shots. Not great!
Inzaghi-Farris - 6.5: The suspended Inzaghi was replaced by his trusty assistant Massimiliano Farris on the touchline, who did about as good a job as could be expected. Going with Dimarco over Darmian paid off, and while waiting until 80 minutes to make a sub might not be ideal, we all saw the danger of changing things up too early last week.
Inter remains one point clear of Napoli in first but Milan will likely leapfrog both teams with a win over Sampdoria tomorrow, The Nerazzurri’s attention now turns to Europe and a Champions League Round of 16 clash with Liverpool on Wednesday. That’s immediately succeeded by a visit from Sassuolo on Sunday in league play. On the bright side, Inter just has to play Juventus and Roma from the top seven in the remaining 14 Serie A games. If the Nerazzurri are going to lift the Scudetto, it’s going to be because it took care of business against the smaller sides (sounds a lot like last year, huh?).
roma and juve in 14 games