Reigning champions Napoli were outplayed by Scudetto hopefuls Inter at the Stadio Diego Armando Maradona on Matchday 14 of the 2023/24 Serie A campaign, as the Nerazzurri went back to the top of the standings with a 3-0 win.
A goal from Hakan Calhanoglu just before half-time put the Milanese giants on the road to victory, before goals from Nicolo Barella and Marcus Thuram ensured the scoreline reflected Inter’s dominance in Naples.
Midfield Masterclass by Inter at the Maradona
Piotr Zielinski was missing from the Napoli engine room until a fleeting substitute appearance, but the performances of Hakan Calhanoglu and Nicolo Barella in the heart of the Inter midfield would have made the Nerazzurri difficult to stop even with the Polish international at full fitness.
With coach Simone Inzaghi’s side struggling to find a breakthrough against the Partenopei, it was the former AC Milan playmaker, Calhanoglu, that took aim from distance and fired past Alex Meret, and give Inter an important first-half lead. The 29-year-old is in the form of his career, with four goals in six Serie A games.
However, it was the timing and quick feet of Barella that was more impressive, bursting into the box and maintaining his balance and give the Nerazzurri a two-goal cushion. The Inter midfield have now contributed the most goals of any top-flight side on the peninsula, with 10 strikes in total.
Away form could help Inter land the Serie A title
Although Inter drew the Derby d’Italia against Scudetto rivals Juventus, those are the only dropped points away from the Stadio Giuseppe Meazza so far this term. With the Nerazzurri having won six of their first seven Serie A fixtures away from home for just the third time in their history.
An acrobatic save from goalkeeper Yann Sommer helped Inter weather an initial onslaught from the hosts, but now have nine clean sheets in 12 – stretching back to the end of the 2022/23 campaign, and conceded the fewest goals on the road in Europe’s top five leagues.
Napoli had bigger issues than Rudi Garcia
Following in the footsteps of a title-winning coach as charismatic Luciano Spalletti was always going to be difficult, so the recently departed Rudi Garcia was always going to struggle in Naples if unable to replicate the stunning start to last season. However, a ten point gap between them and top of the table Inter, was starting to become embarrassing for the reigning champions.
Replacement Walter Mazzarri got off to a winning start against Atalanta on Matchday 13, but the three points were somewhat handed to them through a mistake from La Dea goalkeeper Marco Carnesecchi. The increase in quality that the Nerazzurri brought to Naples, highlighted that there is plenty of work still to be done by the returning coach, though.
The influence of Frank Anguissa has diminished at an alarming rate and Elif Elmas was overpowered by the Inter midfield too often, and the lack of depth in defence was also exposed. Natan is not the answer to the long-term absence of left-back Mario Rui and the loss of Kim Minjae to Bayern Munich last summer seems to have a negative impact on the centre of defence, which pairing coaches choose.