Inter Milan v Napoli Preview
San Siro, Milan
MATCH IN A SENTENCE: Two of the three principals in the Serie A title race will go head-to-head on Sunday at the San Siro, where third-place Inter Milan will entertain second-place Napoli with an eye to closing the gap on first-place Juventus.
BREAKDOWN: It was just over a month ago that Inter Milan quite deservedly beat Juventus in Turin, putting an end to the Scudetto holders domestic unbeaten run of 18 months.
At the time Inter were on a decent little streak of their own, but after winning in the league for the seventh time in a row they deflated at Atalanta on November 11, after which they drew Cagliari at home and lost away to Parma.
Injuries had a lot to do with the three-match winless skid, but with Antonio Cassano out of the lineup and Wesley Sneijder banished from the squad for contractual reasons, strikers Rodrigo Palacio and Diego Milito simply weren’t getting enough service to create meaningful scoring chances in the attacking third.
Inter managed a narrow win against Palermo last weekend, but they could only draw Neftchi in the Europa League on Thursday and will have to improve significantly if they’re to stand any chance of beating Napoli on Sunday.
With that in mind, Nerazzurri manager Andrea Stramaccioni has warned his players about losing their concentration against an opponent enjoying some good form at the moment.
“If we play without caution, we could become Napoli’s ideal opponents,” he told reporters at his pre-match press conference. “They are strong in certain areas that could exploit our weaknesses.”
Stramaccioni also reserved special praise for Napoli forward Edinson Cavani, calling Serie A’s second-highest goalscorer “one of the best strikers in the world.”
Napoli, meanwhile, are unbeaten in their last five Serie A matches and are both two points back of Juventus and two points above Inter Milan in the standings. And while a lot of that is down to Cavani, Slovakia international Marek Hamsik has been vital to the cause as well and trails only Fiorentina’s Borja Valero on the Serie A assist chart.
“I believe that this is my best campaign up until this point of my career,” the 25-year-old told Sky Italia earlier in the week. “I’m scoring a lot of goals, but also doing well thanks to the work of the whole side. I’m happy to be at Napoli where we are re-writing history...If we continue on this path then we can go far.”
ESSENTIALS: Inter Milan are still without injured defender Christian Chivu, and midfielders Dejan Stankovic, Joel Obi, Gaby Mudingayi and Ricardo Alvarez are sidelined as well. Defender Walter Samuel is suspended and will be replaced by Matias Silvestre.
Napoli are without injured defender Salvatore Aronica while midfielder Blerim Dzemaili is unlikely to feature at the San Siro.
KEY BATTLE: Look for Inter midfielder Walter Gargano (who faces his former side) to drop even deeper than usual in an effort to help his defenders contain Cavani.
FORMATIONS: Both sides will deploy 3-4-1-2 formations. Stramaccioni will have Cassano playing in the hole behind Palacio and Milito while Napoli boss Walter Mazzarri will start Cavani and Lorenzo Insigne up top with Hamsik operating just behind them.
BETLINE: Inter Milan 13/10; Draw 23/10; Napoli 21/10. Napoli are unbeaten in their last five matches against Inter Milan, having won the last three by a combined score of 6-0.