Inter Milan will be hoping to move one step closer towards securing the Serie A title when they take on Napoli on Sunday.
Inter Milan’s bid to end Juventus’s hegemony in Italian football has worked out quite well this season, as they are leading the Serie A table by a whopping 11 points, with just eight games remaining. On Sunday, they could move closer towards what looks like an inevitable coronation as Antonio Conte’s men take on Napoli, at the Diego Armando Maradona Stadium.
Inter have been the Manchester City equivalent of the Serie A since the turn of the year, heading into this game on the back of a sensational 11-game winning streak in the league. One of the main reasons behind the Nerazzurri‘s success has been the defensive solidity, with the club boasting the joint-best defensive record in the league.
However, things could get interesting when they face a Napoli side that has scored the third-highest number of goals so far, just behind Atalanta and Inter Milan. The Partenopei also do have the momentum, having won four of their last five matches – a run of form that has helped them remain in contention in the race for a top four finish.
Napoli are currently fifth in the league table, with 59 points on the board – two behind fourth-placed Atalanta. A win, therefore, could be critical as they look to maintain pressure on La Dea, as well as the rest of the pack in Juventus and Milan. Here, at The Hard Tackle, we will run the rule over these two sides ahead of their enticing match-up this weekend.
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It won’t be surprising to see Napoli emerging as the more dominant team, at least in terms of possession in this game, with Inter Milan mostly sitting back and attacking on the counter. The Partenopei barely managed to create any clear-cut chances, though, when these two teams last met each other, so Gennaro Gattuso will be hoping for a better response this time out.
Victor Osimhen might get the nod ahead of Dries Mertens as the leader of the Napoli attack, following an impressive display against Sampdoria. His dynamism could be useful against the athletic Inter centre-backs, although the Nigerian international is going to be needing additional creative support from the likes of Matteo Politano and Lorenzo Insigne out wide.
Piotr Zielinski should also retain his place in the number ten role. The Pole, however, does have a tendency to disappear in big matches, which is where Gattuso’s option of having Mertens on the bench could prove to be useful. The same cannot be said for Hirving Lozano, who is suspended due to an accumulation of yellow cards.
Gattuso is unlikely to make any changes elsewhere, with Diego Demme and Fabian Ruiz continuing in the double-pivot, just ahead of the back-four consisting of Giovanni Di Lorenzo, Kalidou Koulibaly, Kostas Manolas and Mario Rui as they look to slam the doors shut for a dangerous-looking Inter attack.
Probable Lineup (4-2-3-1): Meret; Di Lorenzo, Koulibaly, Manolas, Rui; Ruiz, Demme; Politano, Zielinski, Insigne; Osimhen
Much like Napoli, Inter Milan won’t have to deal with too many injury-related absentees, thanks in part to their lack of involvement in European football. In fact, Antonio Conte, this week, is set to be boosted by the return of Achraf Hakimi while he is also expected to recall Lautaro Martinez after giving him a breather against Cagliari.
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A trip to Naples awaits…
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The Argentine should replace Alexis Sanchez, thus resuming his attacking partnership with Romelu Lukaku, with Hakimi set to become one of their main sources of creativity, from the right wing-back position. The ex-Borussia Dortmund player is expected to replace Matteo Darmian, even though the Italian did score the winner in the last game.
Aside from that, Conte is unlikely to make too many changes to the side that faced Cagliari last weekend. As such, even Ashley Young may retain his place in the side as the former Manchester United man offers more balance, especially with Hakimi returning to the side.
One more change could see Stefano Sensi making way for Nicolo Barella as Conte looks to renew the midfield trio of him, Christian Eriksen and Marcelo Brozovic, with the Croat being tasked with the responsibility of screening the solid back three of Milan Skriniar, Stefan de Vrij and Alessandro Bastoni.
Probable Lineup (3-5-2): Handanovic; Skriniar, de Vrij, Bastoni; Hakimi, Barella, Brozovic, Eriksen, Young; Martinez, Lukaku
- Inter Milan have won each of their three Serie A games against Napoli under Antonio Conte; the last time the Nerazzurri won four consecutive league encounter against the Partenopei was back in 2000 (6).
- Inter won their last away league game against Napoli, after a winless streak of 13 games on the road against them in Serie A: the Nerazzurri could win back to back away Serie A matches against Napoli for the first time since 1997.
- Among the sides he has faced more than once in Serie A, Napoli manager Gennaro Gattuso has his lowest average points per game tally against Inter (0.17 per match: D1 L5). Among the coaches he has faced more than once, Antonio Conte is one of the two managers (along with Allegri) against whom Gattuso has always lost.
- Inter have won each of their last 11 Serie A games; only the Nerazzurri (17 under Mancini in 2006/17) and Juventus (three times: 12 in 2013/14 under Conte, 15 in 2015/16 and 12 in 2017/18 under Allegri) have enjoyed longer such run in a single Serie A season.
- This is only the fifth time Napoli have won at least 19 of their opening 30 Serie A games of a season: on the previous four occasions, they have ended the season in the top three of the table.
Player to Watch
Fresh from a breather against Cagliari, Lautaro Martinez will be hoping to make an impact upon his return to the side this weekend. The attack has been quite prolific in front of goal this season, netting 15 goals while registering eight assists. His partnership alongside Romelu Lukaku has helped the Nerazzurri emerge as the runaway leaders in Serie A.
Things could get a lot trickier against a quality side in Napoli and indeed, against defenders like Kostas Manolas and Kalidou Koulibaly. In fact, it won’t be surprising to see Lukaku getting pinned down by Gattuso’s robust tactics; so the onus will be on Martinez to make things happen with his dynamism, pace as well as his quality as a snap shooter, as Inter look to seal another win this weekend.
Napoli 0-1 Inter Milan
Napoli have been in good form recently, but they often tend to struggle when it comes to creating opportunities against solid teams. They are also quite vulnerable on the counter, especially from wide areas so the return of Achraf Hakimi could make things more difficult for Gennaro Gattuso’s men, with Tthe Hard Tackle predicting a narrow 1-0 victory for the Nerazzurri.