Two down, one to go. Inter has more or less passed the first two tests of its week with draws against Juventus and Benfica, but now it’s time for the full three points with Serie A action back. Sunday’s opponents, however, are a new-look Napoli under Walter Mazzarri and won’t make it easy at all for Simone Inzaghi’s side.
Napoli’s title defense got off to a rough start with the resignation of Luciano Spalletti to take a sabbatical (although he’s now the Italy manager) immediately after the Scudetto celebrations cooled down in Naples. Rudi Garcia was the man surprisingly chosen to replace Spalletti, and considering his recent track record, it shouldn’t have been a surprise that the Frenchman’s tenure ended the way it did. After never finding his footing in Naples and getting dangerously close to the edge of a cliff mere games into the season, Garcia was finally sacked over the recent international break with disastrous results (his last outing was a 1-0 home loss to Empoli) and star players unhappy. Walter Mazzarri has since taken charge, winning his debut game at Atalanta 2-1 before falling 4-2 to Real Madrid on Wednesday.
The squad itself seems to be fully behind Mazzarri and looks far more alive on the pitch compared to the Garcia era, and while Mazzarri lacks the tactical acumen that Spalletti used so effectively, Napoli is still capable of making some noise in Serie A. Its roster is largely the same from the Scudetto season, minus the departure of Kim Min-Jae, and although new additions struggled to make an impact under Garcia, the odds are in Napoli’s favor that that will change with Mazzarri. Regardless, Napoli has a solid core, especially in attack, where it’s scored the second-most goals in the league. Matteo Politano (5 goals, 3 assists), Khvicha Kvaratskhelia (4g, 3a), Victor Osimhen (6g, 1a), and the latter’s backup Giacomo Raspadori (3g, 2a) will be quite the handful for Inter’s backline, although the Nerazzurri will like its chances of finding some goals of its own against Napoli’s 7th-ranked defense.
Inter’s comeback draws against Juventus and Benfica have certainly proven their mettle, but the former in particular now means that three points are an absolute must this Sunday. Inter’s two-point lead over the bianconeri will disappear should Juve beat Monza on Friday (a likely result), so anything less than a win means Inter would find itself tied for first at best. The good news, though, is that Inter’s heavy artillery will be well-rested for Napoli thanks to Inzaghi’s heavy rotation against Benfica, whereas the Azzurri played its starters against Real Madrid a day later. It’s not a huge advantage, but Inter will need all of the edges it can get to beat Napoli on its own ground.
Inter leads the all-time series with a 79W-42D-52L record, splitting the results last season including a 3-1 defeat in Naples back in May.
Predicted Starting XIs
Prediction: Napoli 2-2 Inter Milan
Inter’s run of draws will continue against a spirited Napoli in Mazzarri’s return to Naples, with goals coming from Lautaro and Thuram for the good guys and a Kvaratskhelia brace for Napoli.