Pre-Match And Team News
Heading into this match, Napoli were winless since January 11, when they overcame Catania 1-0 at home. As a result, the side were obviously lacking in confidence and therefore weren’t expected to attain any points against the soon to be crowned champions Inter. With just six matches remaining in the season, victory in this clash would ensure that the Nerazzurri maintained their ten point buffer over their rivals Milan, and one step closer to a fourth consecutive Scudetto.
The Partenopei were without several key players through injury, including Walter Gargano, Christian Maggio, Gennaro Iezzo, Leandro Rinaudo and Luigi Vitale, whilst to make matters worse, their captain Paolo Cannavaro was suspended for this clash. Meanwhile, due to the impressive depth of the Inter squad, Jose Mourinho was able to employ an extremely strong starting XI, with Mario Balotelli partnering Zlatan Ibrahimovic up front.
Inter got the play underway at the San Paolo stadium, and it didn’t take them long to impose themselves in the match, as Samuel went mighty close to scoring the opener with a fierce header from close range after just two minutes of play. A free kick sent in to the area by Balotelli was met by the head of Samuel; however a wonderful stop by Navarro prevented the champions from taking an early advantage.
It was all Inter in the early stages, however to Napoli’s credit they managed to respond well, as they went close to opening the scoring themselves on nine minutes, when a Lavezzi effort from inside the area was impressively blocked by a lunging Chivu. As the sides began to settle though, the opportunities started to dry up, as a fierce drive from long range by Balotelli was the closest either side came over the next ten minutes.
As the time ticked by, both sides continued to threaten when in attack, however neither could create any clear cut opportunities that threatened to break the scoreless deadlock. Balotelli and Lavezzi were causing havoc up front for their respective sides, whilst the Nerazzurri were unable to capitalise on their high amount of possession after half an hour of play.
The home side had three chances to score over the next five minutes, with all of them falling to their Argentinean superstar Lavezzi. The man who has been lacking in confidence in recent times, failed to hit the target on all three occasions, as he squandered a long range effort and two free kicks, with one of those taken just inches outside the area. To this point, the Azzurri were yet to test Julio Cesar in goal.
Neither side would be able to create anything over the remaining ten minutes of play in the first half, as the referee brought the opening period to an end. Following an entertaining opening 10 minute period to open the contest, both sides struggled to show any conviction up front from there on, something that was proven by the scoreless outcome, as the players headed for the dressing rooms.
Napoli resumed proceedings in the second half, knowing that if they failed to score in the next 45 minutes of play, it would mean that in seven of their past nine matches of football they would have ended without a goal to their name. With this in mind, it was evident that Donadoni had instructed his players to press forward with more promise and more frequently, however having said this, it didn’t take long for the league leaders to retake control of the match.
The Partenopei continued to get forward often, and impressively they were the better side in the opening 15 minutes of the second half. As was the case in the first half though, they failed to get a shot on target, in fact they failed to get a shot away at all throughout this period. Their best opportunity came on 57 minutes when Denis found himself in possession of the ball deep inside the area, only to see his eventual effort well blocked by Cordoba.
Donadoni made the first switch of the night on 63 minutes, as Zalayeta, the man who scored the winner against Inter in the corresponding fixture last season, was brought on in place of Denis in attack. The substitute was immediately called into action, however yet again, the likes of Chivu, Samuel, Cordoba and Zanetti at the back proved too strong for the Azzurri attackers.
Ibra went close to opening the scoring on 68 minutes, with a thunderous free kick from all of 35 yards. The effort forced Navarro to dive to his right, to prevent the ball from sailing in to the bottom corner. Following yet another missed opportunity, Mourinho made his first change of the night, with Mancini being introduced in the place of a tiring Figo.
Incredibly on 73 minutes, Zalayeta opened the scoring with an exceptional strike from the edge of the area, following a wonderful build up play by Lavezzi. The Argentinean made his way forward, whilst drawing a number of defenders in the process, and his quick thinking to play it to Zalayeta, allowed the substitute to put in one of the goals of the season.
Mourinho responded to the goal immediately, by bringing on Cruz for Vieira, meaning that the Nerazzurri would play with a 4-3-3 set-up for the remaining 15 minutes of play. Despite the attacking change though, the home side were understandably full of confidence following the Zalayeta goal, and remained in control of the match as the 80 minute mark approached.
The Azzurri almost doubled their lead through Blasi on 86 minutes, with a powerful effort from 20 yards, which forced Julio Cesar in to making a wonderful save. Astonishingly it was the first save that the Brazilian keeper made all night, as the match drew to a close.
Following a four minute period of stoppage time, the referee’s whistle brought the match to an end, confirming the fact that Donadoni had finally recorded a victory as coach of Napoli. The result means that Inter’s lead has now been cut to seven points over their nearest rivals Milan, whilst their dismal record at the San Paolo continues, as they have failed to emerge victorious in Naples since way back in 1997.
Napoli (3-5-2): Navarro; Santacroce, Contini, Aronica; Montervino, Amodio (Bogliacino, 89’), Blasi, Hamsik, Mannini; Lavezzi (Datolo, 83’), Denis (Zalayeta, 63’)
Inter (4-4-2): Julio Cesar; Zanetti, Cordoba, Samuel, Chivu (Maxwell, 81’); Vieira (Cruz, 75’), Cambiasso, Stankovic, Figo (Mancini, 70’); Balotelli, Ibrahimovic
73’ Zalayeta (Napoli)
Adrian Del Monte, Goal.com