It’s hard to believe that by kickoff at the San Siro Wednesday evening, 52 days will have passed since we last saw Inter in action (a 3-2 win at Atalanta for those who don’t remember). And truth be told, I’m still not quite ready for the grind of domestic football to resume. Sure, the World Cup isn’t the best football around, but in terms of entertainment, nothing comes close. Last year’s edition was on another level entirely and I’m still processing the football craziness we lived in Qatar. But the relentless machine that is football must continue (the 2 weeks since the WC final is the longest I’ve gone without watching any sort of game in a long time), and Serie A is set to pick back up at full speed. Inter begins a hectic January with a visit from league leaders Napoli, one of seven games in the coming month.
The undefeated Partenopei sit first on 41 points from 15 games (13 wins and 2 draws), 8 clear of second place Milan. Napoli is on an 11-game winning streak in Serie A and has taken down Milan, Lazio, Roma, and Atalanta so far. It also tore through its Champions League group, winning all but one game and boasting a +14 goal differential. To add icing on the cake, Napoli beat Ajax by 7 goals over two legs, including a 6-1 victory in Holland, and conquered Liverpool by a 4-1 scoreline. In short, Napoli has been nothing short of spectacular so far and is by and far the best team in Italy.
Almost two months have passed since its last outing and this is a Luciano Spalletti-coached team, meaning the fear of a winter collapse is never that far away. This Napoli feels different, though, and seems set on vanquishing the ghosts of its recent past that have kept it so close yet so far from the Scudetto on several occasions. Stalwarts like Kalidou Koulibaly, Lorenzo Insigne, Dries Mertens, and Fabian Ruiz all departed over the summer but their replacements have turned into upgrades. Twenty-one-year-old Georgian winger Khvicha Kvaratskhelia has come out of nowhere to bag 6 goals and 5 assists, Victor Osimhen (9g, 2a) and Piotr Zielinski (3g, 5a) are as effective as ever, while Kim Min-jae has filled Koulibaly’s shadow in the backline. Heck, even Hirving Lozano is showing some consistency on the flank with 3 goals and 3 assists. This team has a lot of different weapons and a lot of ways to use them. Perhaps most importantly, everything fits perfectly into Spalletti’s system and makes Napoli all that much smoother.
Inter ended 2022 in 5th, only three points behind second. All things considered, it could have been a lot worse the way things were going at some points of the season. Nonetheless, this is definitely not where the Nerazzurri envisioned itself being. Simone Inzaghi’s side did manage six wins in its last seven to reverse some of the damage from the beginning of the campaign, and advancing out of the Champions League group stage is a major plus. Inter isn’t exactly overflowing with optimism for 2023, however. Marcelo Brozovic’s injury concerns remain as he’s expected to be out for 2ish weeks, Romelu Lukaku looked a shell of himself at the World Cup, Milan Skriniar may or may not leave for a cut-rate price with a contract expiring in a handful of months, and little investment is expected on the market. The top four, it seems, is the goal but beating Napoli to start the year would be a superb way to show that the Nerazzurri are still capable of being a major force on the peninsula.
Inter has a 78W-42D-51L record against Napoli, last losing six games ago in 2020 in the Coppa Italia.
- 3-2 (H), 21/11/21
- 1-1 (A), 12/2/22
Predicted Starting XIs
Prediction: Inter Milan 1-1 Napoli
Rust will be the theme of the day as both teams aren’t quite at their best after such a long layoff. World Cup winner Lautaro will get Inter’s first of the new year but Lozano will answer back to split the points.