San Siro, Milan
April 26,2014; 19:45 BST
Come Saturday evening, and the clash of the Nerazzuri and the Partenopei will be a bittersweet moment for both managers. Walter Mazzarri will face his former team Napoli for the second time in the season whereas Benitez will return to his former home where his stay had been disastrous to say the least. For the home team, revenge will certainly be on the minds for the drubbing they received at the hands of Benitez’ men back in December whereas the visitors will be looking to all but seal third place to book a berth in next season’s Champions League. On the other hand, Mazzarri & Co, will be looking to capitalise on Milan’s slip last night and seal Europa League qualification for next season.
Top scorer Rodrigo Palacio knows the Nerazzurri must be at their very best to get the better of their visitors –
“We have Napoli, another difficult match, and it is important for us to put in a great performance to try to qualify for the Europa League. We’re looking good at the moment and I think we’re having a decent season.”
Team News and tactics
On the injury front, Inter have some key players missing in the form of play-maker Ricardo Alvarez and defender Juan Jesus. Walter Samuel and Rolando are serving their suspensions respectively and hence won’t be available for selection for the fixture. With limited options available in central defence, the trio of Hugo Campagnaro. Andrea Rannocchia and Marco Andreolli are expected to form the back three. With a long term injury to wing-back Jonathan, Italian youngster D’Ambrosio is expected to start on the right and Yuto Nagatomo is likely to start on the left.
In midfield, Esteban Cambiasso is likely to start in the holding role with Zdarvko Kuzmanovic and Hernanes in a three man midfield. Although if Mazzarri opts for a more forward thinking setup, Croatian youngster Mateo Kovacic could well start in place of Kuzmanovic who is a more reserved player attacking-wise.
In attack, Mauro Icardi picks himself on form alongside fellow Argentine top-scorer Rodrigo Palacio. Another permutation available to the Italian coach would be to start Cambiasso in central defense in place of Marc Andreolli(who has seen very little game-time this season) and start Zdavrko Kuzmanovic in the holding midfield role alongside Hernanes and Kovacic.
Expected starting line-up (4-2-3-1): Handanovic (GK); D’Ambrosio; Campagnaro; Ranocchia; Andreolli; Nagatomo; Cambiasso; Hernanes; Kovacic; Palacio; Icardi
Rafa Benitez is likely to have a ull quota of his first team players barring Cristian Maggio who is recovering from a collapsed lung and Federico Fernandez who is serving a suspension. Raul Albiol and Miguel Britos are likely to start in central defence and with a dearth of authentic right backs, January signing Henrique is expected to start on the right. Another of the visitor’s winter signings Faozi Ghoulan is likely to start on the left of a conventional four man backline.
In midfield, the Swiss duo of Valon Behrami and Gokhan Inler are likely to continue their successful partnership at the heart of midfield with captain Marek Hamsik ably supporting them in a more advanced role. Summer signings Dries Mertens and Jose Callejon are expected to start in a three pronged attack with record purchase Gonzalo Higuain leading the line.
The stakes for this game are presumably high as Benitez must be well aware that if his side match or better Fiorentina’s result against Bologna he could finally seal qualification for next season’s Chamions League, albeit in the play-offs. With the Coppa Italia finals also on the horizon, there might be a few first team players given rest with the likes of Lorenzo Insigne and Goran Pandev being given some game-time.
Expected starting line-up (3-5-2): Reina; Henrique; Britos; Albiol; Ghoulam; Inler; Behrami; Mertens; Hamsik; Callejon; Higuain
Players to watch out for
Mauro Icardi( Inter)
The Argentine youngster has been hogging the limelight for all the wrong reasons and off late, some right ones as well. Icardi in recent weeks has come out as a revelation for the Nerazzurri, scoring four in his last three games including a brace on his return to Sampdoria. Mazzarri must be hoping his striker is at his best once again as the hosts look to put some gloss on their disastrous recent outings against Napoli.
Dries Mertens( Napoli)
With the home side in a bit of defensive problems, Dries Mertens could prove to be key for Benitez. The Belgian’s pace and direct running have been a constant source of outlet for the Partenopei all season and the Belgian must look to expose Inter’s frailties on the right with his willingness to be a constant thorn in the opposition defense.
- Napoli have won 5 of their last 6 matches against Napoli in all competitons.
- Inter are unbeaten in last 12 of their 13 Serie A fixtures.
- Inter have scored at least 2 goals in their last 4 domestic outings.
Inter 1-2 Napoli
With the Nerazzuri on the front foot having won two away fixtures quite comprehensively, Napoli will have to be aware of not conceding early and letting the home side get into their stride once again. The visitors must look to expose a leaky Inter defense and if they find their mantra, Inter may have a few problems in dealing with the pace and directness of the Napoli attackers.
A narrow victory for Rafa Benitez and his boys.