A crucial 1-0 victory against Serie A leaders Napoli at the turn of the year was all Inter needed to leave behind their 2022 struggles and boost hopes of a comeback, as much as it still seems unlikely.
However, if one forgets the general sense of disappointment surrounding the Nerazzurri’s first part of the season, their recent improvements look staggering – after losing four of their opening eight Serie A games, the Biscione went on to pick up seven wins from the following eight matches.
Beyond the record itself, their resurgence included massive wins at Fiorentina and Atalanta, although their defeat at Juventus in November further highlighted their inability to pick up points against the Serie A top five. Inter still sit eight points behind Napoli, but the gap could have widened to 14 points had they lost.
Inter finally beat a top-five Serie A side
Inter chose the toughest opponent of all to put that poor record to bed, although tradition may have helped in this case as the Nerazzurri have won each of their last five league games against Napoli at the Stadio Giuseppe Meazza.
As much as the extended World Cup break may have had an effect, Inter’s victory over the Partenopei was far from fortuitous. Simone Inzaghi made the most of the little time at his disposal with the full squad to put together a compact and organised side, that knew exactly how to handle the threats Napoli could pose.
Matteo Darmian was wisely picked over Denzel Dumfries to limit Khvicha Kvaratskhelia‘s flair and he did excellently, but it was the team’s overall solidity which impressed, making things hard for the visitors’ most dangerous and creative players.
Such an approach resulted in Napoli mustering only two shots on target, with André Onana forced to make his only real save of the night seconds from stoppage time. More than that, Inzaghi’s side looked strikingly confident in the most delicate moment of the game.
It would have been easy to picture the old Inter side being pegged back in the frenzied closing minutes, perhaps with a nervous mistake paving the way for an equaliser.
Edin Dzeko shows his worth again
Instead, the hosts were able to keep their focus until the very end, with charismatic leaders Edin Dzeko, Nicolò Barella and Milan Skriniar showing their teammates the way with their runs, challenges and off-the-ball movement.
This is particularly the case with Dzeko, whose professionalism and dedication could be of great inspiration to the rest of the team. The Bosnian striker was able to find the net in one of the top five European leagues for the 17th calendar year in a row but, above all, he’s scored all of his Inter goals in Serie A after turning 35, a clear sign of how he is a player that refuses to age.
Should Napoli’s first defeat worry them?
While Inter actually looked more physically and tactically ready for this game, the Partenopei saw some of their main stars struggle to find inspiration, as Victor Osimhen looked far from his best and Piotr Zielinksi, just like Kvaratskhelia, failed to open Inter up at any stage.
However, it is fair to think that, as their physical condition will improve, their offensive prowess will come back as well. Still, Luciano Spalletti should not underestimate the fact that many Serie A teams will be more prepared to face Napoli as the season wares on compared to before. Inter have now provided a blueprint.
Should Napoli adapt themselves to these challenges, it won’t take long before they start picking up wins again.