Inter produced a fighting comeback to draw 2-2 with Napoli at the Stadio San Paolo on Sunday night in Serie A. The Nerazzurri have not won this fixture since October 1997 and lost their last five competitive visits, including Januarya s Coppa Italia clash. Miguel Angel Britos, Walter Gargano, Christian Maggio, Lorenzo Insigne and Michu were ruled out with injuries, while in-form Manolo Gabbiadini was benched for Dries Mertens. Inter missed Yuto Nagatomo and Jonathan, dropping Mateo Kovacic and Lukas Podolski. Both sides were fresh from surprise defeats, as Napoli fell to Torino and Roberto Mancinia s men were beaten by Fiorentina. Before the start of the game, Rafa Benitez knew a victory would close the gap to within just two points of second-placed Roma. The Giallorossi’s draw with Chievo earlier on Sunday paved the way for the Partenopei to move within two points of the automatic Champions League places in the clash at the San Paolo.
Mancini fielded the 4-3-1-2 with Santon and Da Ambrosio on either side of Ranocchia and Juan Jesus. The Guarin-Medel-Brozovic midfield remained intact with Shaqiri in the trequartista role behind Palacio and Icardi. Juan Jesus was rather harshly booked for holding back Gonzalo Higuain within 25 seconds which meant the Brazilian would miss the next match. Higuan made space for himself on the edge of the box but his curler was fingertipped out from under the bar by Samir Handanovic in a very aggressive Napoli start. Fredy Guarin tried to take advantage of the windy conditions with a lob just over the bar from midfield. Higuaina s angled drive was wide, then he was sent clear on goal by Hamsik and tried to chip Handanovic, but the goalkeeper stayed on his feet and got fingertips to it. Marcelo Brozovic fired over for Inter a few minutes later, but Higuain incredibly fluffed a glorious chance to score on 31 minutes. Mertens whipped in a perfect cross, but the Argentine shinned it over an open goal from six yards. After a catalogue of errors in the Inter defence, Higuain eventually stung Handanovica s fists at the near post. Then, just before the break Xherdan Shaqiri went on a mazy run and fired at goal but it was straight at Mariano Andujar. There were no goals in a frantic first half but they began to flow after half-time as Marek Hamsik and Gonzalo Higuain boosted Napoli into a two-goal lead.
Mancini made a tactical change over the break, moving Davide Santon to left-back for Danilo Da Ambrosio. Mertens was clear on goal only for Andrea Ranocchia to time his intervention perfectly. The Napoli pressure paid off eventually, six minutes into the second half as the Partenopei took a deserved lead with Hamsik heading Henriquea s cross past Handanovic into the bottom corner. Inter nearly equalised immediately when Mauro Icardi met Shaqiria s cross with his head but it flashed past the post. Then, minutes later Danilo Da Ambrosio had a free header from a Nerazzurri corner but it went over the bar. Napoli doubled their lead with a fantastic finish from Higuain, who curled his strike in off the inside of the far post. With power and precision from 20 metres out, it had to hit the upright in order to beat Handanovic. The visitors would not lie down and accept defeat, though. The away side nearly pulled one back through Icardi who struck from the edge of the box, but his effort whistled past the post. Napoli seemed happy enough to defend their lead but their approach was overzealous and proved to be their undoing. The Nerazzurri did get one back in the 72nd minute. After Shaqiria s shot was blocked by his own player the ball finally found its way to Palacio who fired into the bottom corner. Inter were desperately searching for an equaliser with the latest effort being a free-kick from Hernanes which was held well by Andujar. The Nerazzurri completed their comeback thanks to a penalty, as Henrique tugged Palacioa s jersey and received his second yellow card. Icardi stepped up and showed his confidence at the San Paolo with a delicate Panenka chip to equalise. That was the first penalty given against Napoli in 53 Serie A rounds. Despite late pressure from both sides, they both come away from the game with a point each.
Marek Hamsik (Napoli)
Tested Samir Handanovic with his left foot multiple times in the first half. Came to life after opening the scoring with a header flicked into the far corner on the end of Henriquea s cross. Went from scorer to provider after squaring the ball to Gonzalo Higuain for the second goal.
Andrea Ranocchia (Inter Milan)
Defensively sound performance, sliding in to deal with the threat of Mertens dribbling around the top of the box. Didna t put in a wrong foot at all in the back, and nullified all threats coming his way. Very confident display.
Napoli coach Rafa Benitez – who had an unhappy spell as Inter boss between June and December 2010 – was left to rue a series of missed first-half chances, with the usually clinical Higuain particularly wasteful. A draw changes little for either side in terms of their league standing, with Inter six points adrift of the Europa League places. It was a good point to get for Inter after being down but this was far from a stellar performance. They will take a point home but at this stage they need much more than a single point as we approach the final stretch of this season. The latest string of performances does not bode well for Mancinia s men and another year out of Champions League might signal a series of high profile departures from the club in the summer. Inter have to impose themselves on matches from the beginning, rather than waiting until the final stages to make their mark. They are now up to 8th in the Seria A table as they continue their hunt for European football while Napoli remain third and 4 points behind AS Roma, squandering yet another chance to close the gap on the struggling Giallorossi.